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Istria soccer deals with dwindling youth program

As he sits in the Istria Sports Club on Astoria Boulevard in Astoria, Carlo Bucich has mixed emotions about the club’s soccer program.

On one hand he is thrilled the Over-30 team he helps to coach has been so successful, having recently finished first in the Long Island Soccer Football League and advancing to the regional semifinals.

But then there are the youth teams, of which there are only two (technically one and a half since the U-12 team merged with Brooklyn-based Gjoa). Bucich, the club’s first vice president and member since 1978, said the changing culture of Astoria has a lot to do with the club’s decline on the youth level.

“The people who moved out to Long Island didn’t want to (travel to help) with the program,” said Bucich, who also is president of the Cosmopolitan Junior Soccer League. “Their children became members of whatever team on Long Island.”

The Istria Sports Club has been around since 1959, when a group of about 13 men in their mid-20s emigrated from Istria, an area in southern Europe about 50 miles east of Venice. Currently part of Croatia, the hilly peninsula belonged to Austria, Italy and Yugoslavia in the last 100 years.

The club’s senior teams achieved great success through the years, including winning the prestigious Dr. Manning Cup in 1972, which crowned them New York state champions.

Based on the achievement of the senior teams, Bucich, Lillian Moscheni, Franco Legovich — who has since moved to Staten Island and heads club powerhouses Silver Lake on the club level and Monsignor Farrell in the Catholic High School Athletic Association — and others decided to start a youth program for their children.

The success on the junior level was not exactly immediate.

“Our first year was terrible, understandably,” Bucich said. “I don’t think we came close to even tying a game, never mind winning, but the following year we won the ‘B’ division with the Under-10 and three or four years after that we started increasing the number of teams. Within five years we had seven youth teams. We were hanging in there for three, four, five years. We were very successful.”

But then the neighborhood changed and most of the original Istria players moved east, and for a time the Istria Soccer Club rejected integration.

“Our members were not as receptive as the Cosmopolitan Junior Soccer League to open the doors to everybody,” said Moscheni, Istria’s secretary. “Our club did not do that, and I think that was our downfall.”

Bucich offered another explanation.

“I think the Istria Sports Club turned the attention to other things. This was a dilapidated facility,” Bucich said of the Istria Sports Club, which features a restaurant serving regional favorites. “It was nothing and our attention went into trying to get our membership to enjoy a better facility. As the last 10 years we’ve done nothing but improve here, and I think the facility is terrific.”

While Istria on the senior level continues to flourish, the junior level is not dead just yet. The U-14 team, which merged with Gjoa, advanced to the State Cup semifinals where it fell to Merrick.

And according to Istria treasurer Claudio Bulian, help is on the horizon.

“I can see resurgence with our 30-year-olds,” he said. “When they start to have children, they will start to play in our club.”

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

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