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Leon, Gatti lead Brooklyn Knights into 2004 season

The Peruvian-born Bellerose resident is switching gears and will play for the Brooklyn Knights of the Premier Development League in the United Soccer...

By Dylan Butler

After 10 years on Long Island playing for the Long Island Rough Riders, Daniel Leon has come home.

The Peruvian-born Bellerose resident is switching gears and will play for the Brooklyn Knights of the Premier Development League in the United Soccer Leagues.

The Knights open their season Saturday night against the Reading Rage at the Metropolitan Oval in Maspeth.

Leon is no stranger to the Oval or to Knights coach Dan Fisher, who was an assistant coach for the Rough Riders two years ago.

“I used to play here a lot when I was young. I was on Eleftheria and played on this field,” Leon said. “It feels like home, it’s like coming back to my old club.”

The Knights are coming off the most successful season in club history — which played into Leon’s decision to switch — finishing third in the tough Northeast Division with an 11-4-3 record and missing the playoffs by one game.

Three members of the Knights team last year — Chris Wingert (Columbus Crew), Gary Sullivan (Colorado Rapids) and Chris Aloisi (Los Angeles Galaxy) — were selected in the MLS SuperDraft.

Two others, Jordan Cila (Colorado Rapids) and Joe Afful (Atlanta Silverbacks of the A-League) have signed professional contracts.

“It was a pleasure to coach them. These are guys, like the Chris Wingerts of the world, who have played at a very high level and they go from a national team coach to training here a week later,” Fisher said. “You know we’re doing something right. We’re right up there with other clubs.”

For the most part, this is a new-look Knights club. Only about seven players — Alessandro Acquista, Richie Lesmes, Carlos Moncaleano, James Hunt, Pablo Orantes, Chris Lefferts and Rob Fucci — return from last year’s team that went undefeated at the Oval.

Hemir Niebles returns to the club after being drafted by the Los Angeles Galaxy and playing for the now-defunct New York Freedoms.

The philosophy of the team has also changed a bit. The last two years the Knights’ roster has been exclusively comprised of Under-23 players, mostly from local Division I colleges.

While the college players, like former McClancy standout Chris Megaloudis, will remain the core of the Knights, the team also has several veterans, including Leon and keeper Billy Gatti from the Rough Riders.

“I expect that we do at least the same or actually better than last year,” Leon said. “Last year was all young kids, and this year we’re supposed to bring experience to the team. That experience with the young, we should do a little better than last year.”

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

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