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Frankly addicted

It’s an anniversary Frank Alesci wasn’t about to celebrate. It was July 8, 2007 and the late-afternoon California sun had baked the turf at Concordia University, a small Catholic school in Irvine.

The Ridgewood native had just rounded the goalkeeper, ready to tap in his second goal of the Premier Development League season. But Alesci, in his second year with the Bakersfield Brigade, was pulled down by Miguel Benetiz and the talented midfielder instantly heard the sound soccer players everywhere fear.

Pop.

The sound actually came from his left knee as a result of a torn anterior cruciate ligament. But, Alesci said, it reverberated throughout his body.

Alesci knew exactly what would follow — surgery, a lengthy rehabilitation and, most painful of all, the inability to play the sport he loves.

“I just saw it as a minor setback,” Alesci said. “I knew I was going to come back and come back stronger.”

For Alesci, soccer is more than just a sport. It’s a belief, an obsession and, in many ways, a drug. When he’s not playing, he’s watching. And when he’s not watching, he’s sleeping and when he’s sleeping, he’s dreaming about soccer.

“I always have to be around the game,” he said. “I need it.”

Without that fix, Alesci attacked his rehab vigorously, at times so intensely that his coach at Long Island University, T.J. Kostecky, had to pull back the reins. Some 2,777 miles away and five months later, Alesci was in Brooklyn, back running, back training.

It would be considered a remarkably rapid recovery if one didn’t know about Alesci’s unquenchable desire to succeed, his will to play soccer for a living.

That could happen sooner than later. Following a successful spring season, which saw Alesci score two goals and LIU defeat Rutgers, he is ready to begin his second year with the Blackbirds. Two years ago, Alesci burst onto the collegiate scene, earning All-Northeast Conference first team honors as a freshman, finishing second on the Blackbirds in scoring.

But the 6-foot junior has missed two of his first three seasons at LIU because of grades and the torn ACL. He has played more PDL games (39) than games for the Blackbirds (16).

“He can’t be more responsive to coaching, he’s very eager to gather and apply information,” Kostecky said. “He’s very good on the ball and with the ball. He’s very good at getting behind people and his service is accurate and dangerous.”

Alesci, 21, has already drawn interest from the Kansas City Wizards and the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer, as well as the Seattle Sounders, which will join the league in 2009.

And Alesci has just about all the tools to play soccer for a living. Having developed his skills at famed Ridgewood-based club Blau Weiss Gottschee, Alesci, who is back in the PDL this summer playing for the Brooklyn Knights, developed into a sound technical player with incredible vision.

“He’s got skill, vision and agility,” Knights coach Joe Balsamo said. “The only thing he has to do is changing speed to be better. If he can do that, he can be a professional player.”

While he plays in the center of the LIU midfield with longtime teammate and close friend Mohammed Mashriqi, Alesci has played on the right side of midfield for the Knights, which has clinched the PDL Northeast Division regular-season title. That’s also where he is being projected to play as a professional.

“It’s been a great experience,” Alesci said of playing with the Knights. “I’ve learned a lot from all the older players. They encourage me. They push me. I’m so happy right now.”

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

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