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A truly Cosmopolitan league: CJSL marks 70th anniversary

Today, 70 years after its humble beginnings as an offshoot of the hugely successful adult Cosmopolitan Soccer League, the CJSL proudly...

By Dylan Butler

The Cosmopolitan Junior Soccer League is a pioneer in youth soccer as the oldest league of its kind in the country.

Today, 70 years after its humble beginnings as an offshoot of the hugely successful adult Cosmopolitan Soccer League, the CJSL proudly boasts arguably the most diverse soccer league in the country with its membership truly representing New York’s cultural diversity.

“We have everyone playing here,” said CJSL secretary Emil Cohill, a Woodside resident considered a legend in the league. “We’re much more broad-minded and liberal than other leagues.”

The CJSL is home to 35 to 40 clubs — about 140 teams — in all five boroughs, although its roots are based in Ridgewood.

Until 1977, the league was known as the German-American Junior Soccer League and it included teams from New Jersey, upstate New York and even Long Island before the inception of the Long Island Junior Soccer League.

But as the soccer neighborhoods changed, so did the membership of the league.

“They were totally German and obviously after World War II things started to change. The ethnic groups began to be more than just German,” said CJSL president Carlo Bucich. “The Italians, Greeks and Hungarians followed, and then you had all kinds of ethnic groups from behind the Iron Curtain.”

Bucich said it was natural for those coming across the Atlantic to bring their sport, as well as their culture, with them to the new world.

“When I came over and I saw a guy with a bat hitting a ball, it made no sense to me, whereas rolling a soccer ball meant everything,” said the Jackson Heights resident, a CJSL board member for 20 years.

Seventy years after its inception, the CJSL continues to cater to the immigrant soccer player and, according to Bucich, a large portion of the league is made up of the growing Hispanic population.

One of the biggest problems today’s urban soccer players face is finding playing fields in the city — a combined problem of availability to fields and fields being in disrepair.

Of course, just as the CJSL is in search of quality fields for its games, so too are baseball, football and other sports organizations.

“There are just not enough fields available. It’s a serious problem,” Bucich said, adding that Take the Field, a not-for-profit organization that has renovated high school fields throughout the city, “has obviously helped us a lot indirectly, but still the need is so great.”

Like so many others, Bucich originally got involved in the CJSL because he had a soccer-playing son. But even now that their children are grown and out of the league, Bucich, recording secretary Lillian Moscheni, Cohill and others continue to contribute countless hours of service.

Why?

“Stupidity,” Bucich joked. “All of us basically fall in the same camp; it’s dedication, pride and just the love of the sport. I don’t know if there’s any other reason.”

Added Astoria resident Moscheni: “There’s nothing like seeing children compete when they’re playing on the field. It's really lovely.”

Throughout the years, some of the top players in the country have called CJSL home, including Mike Windischmann, Claudio Reyna, former New York Cosmos great Werner Roth and current MetroStars forward John Wolyniac, a former standout at Staten Island-based Silver Lake.

“When I saw John Wolyniac play the other day,” Bucich said, “I admit I did get goose bumps.”

While the CJSL doesn’t have the luxury of lush playing grounds as neighboring LIJSL does, it is home to famed Blau-Weiss Gottschee, the New York Yankees of youth soccer, as well as a solid crop of young soccer players.

A CJSL Under-10 select team, comprised of players from a variety of clubs within the league, finished its season last weekend by easily winning its fourth tournament of the summer. The club, coached by Miguel Brunengo, went 17-1, scoring 113 goals while conceding just 19 in 18 games.

“It’s funny to see kids all season battling each other and then come together to form a great group,” Brunengo said. “Their skill and ability to comprehend what we do in practice is amazing. I haven’t seen anything like it in eight years of coaching.”

Understanding the changing face of youth soccer, with the emphasis for many clubs on quality rather than quantity in terms of competition, Bucich said a premier division, which is slated to start next spring, addresses those concerns.

“We are looking towards a new era for our league, to give choices to clubs within the league,” Bucich said of the collaboration with U.S. Club Soccer, which would include teams from U-13 to U-17.

“Some clubs want better, stronger competition and they feel maybe within the league there’s maybe not enough,” he said. “We’re going to give them an opportunity to join a U.S. Club Soccer format that would allow them to play against the top teams from within the region.”

Under the direction of Bob Russo, the youth coordinator of Downtown United, the CJSL is also looking to improve its budding girls’ soccer program.

As for the immediate future, Bucich is looking forward to the 70th Anniversary Dinner-Dance, which will take place at Terrace on the Park Oct. 24.

While the dinner-dance is primarily for the parents, coaches, administrators and alumni, the following day the league also will host the Soccer Festival Weekend at the Verrazano Complex in Brooklyn, which would include small-sided games for the children of the league.

“It’s a chance to get these clubs together, away from the field and into a different atmosphere where maybe they'll look at each other differently,” Bucich said.

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

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