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For the love of the game

VESTAL, N.Y. — The way Laura Burlacu plays soccer has changed drastically since she was a high-scoring dynamo at Newcomers HS. But that’s more out of necessity than anything else.

The native of Romania came to Queens with an extremely raw yet skillful style honed playing barefoot soccer on the streets of Europe. Burlacu’s style now? Self-preservation.

The Flushing resident went up to the Empire State Games, where her New York City women’s open soccer team won the gold medal, with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a torn quad, both in her right leg. The ACL she tore — for the second time — in 2006. The quad has been injured since her time at Newcomers, where she graduated in 2002.

“I can’t go through eight months of rehab again,” the 24-year-old said. “I learn how not to let it give out ... A lot of people didn’t think I could have come back from this. I should be home in bed.”

Burlacu knows all about rehab. There aren’t many who know it better. She tore her right ACL for the first time in 2002 as a freshman at St. John’s. A year later, playing in one of her first games back from the right ACL tear, she tore her left ACL.

“She was distraught,” said Natasha Lee, Burlacu’s former teammate with the Red Storm, who also played at the Empires. “It was devastating for her.”

The injuries all but ruined Burlacu’s promising collegiate career. As a senior at Newcomers in 2002, she was the TimesLedger All-Queens PSAL girls’ soccer Player of the Year and one of the best strikers in the city. She’s still the last PSAL player to earn a scholarship to St. John’s, where she graduated two years ago.

“It was probably the most disappointing individual situation I’ve seen at St. John’s,” Red Storm and NYC women’s open team coach Ian Stone said.

Burlacu blames the very thing that made her such a unique talent coming out of high school for her injury troubles. The Newcomers team was her first foray into organized soccer and she did almost no conditioning while at the Long Island City school.

“Now I try to make the most out of it,” Burlacu said. “‘If it was up to me, I’d dribble through five people, but my leg would give out. I’m trying to protect my body. I personally think I’m technically better than these girls (at the Empire State Games).”

The one thing the injuries couldn’t take away from Burlacu is her love of soccer. She still plays every Monday at Pier 40 in Manhattan and relishes coming up to the Empire State Games every summer. The game will always be a part of her life.

“I’ll always have a ball in my car or my closet,” said Burlacu, who earned a master’s degree in international law and diplomacy and public administration from St. John’s in May.

Soccer will have to go on the back burner while she tries to find a job. Burlacu says she isn’t sure if she’ll come back to the Empire State Games — that decision is contingent on whether Stone returns as coach. At one time, playing professionally was something she dreamed about. But she knows her injury history won’t allow it now.

“If I were healthy?” she said. “Hell yeah.”

Reach Associate Sports Editor Marc Raimondi by e-mail at mraimondi@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.

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