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Auburndale soccer team heads to Italy for tourney

Playing on the fields of Fort Totten Park, they’re known as the Auburndale Soccer Club, but more than 4,000 miles away in Italy, they’re known by a different name.

“Everyone in Italy knows us as ‘New York Stars,’” said Joe Luongo, the club’s director for the Ciociaria Cup tournament. During the team’s scrimmage last Thursday evening, set to the backdrop of the park’s Civil War-era architecture, Luongo talked excitedly in his Italian accent as he and team Coach Ernest Inneh prepared their players for the international tournament.

Luongo, who was born in Italy and now lives in Whitestone, took a group of Italian players to a different youth tournament, the Viareggio Cup, three years ago. He made some connections and last year the New York Stars were extended an invitation to the Ciociaria tournament, where they made it to the semifinals. The tournament is for players under 17, and Luongo said that last year many of his players were 15, playing opponents two years older´╗┐. This year most are within a year of the oldest of their competitors.

“That year of development makes a big difference,” he said.

Christian, the 16-year-old mid-fielder from Flushing, said he had to play older competition last year.

“The competition [this year] is going to be good. Everyone’s the right age group,” he said.

The Auburndale Soccer Club has more than 1,300 players from all over the area, and during the last scrimmage the 18 players selected to go to the tournament worked on their final preparations before they boarded their flight Saturday.

The invitation-only tournament runs for six days, from May 24-29, and 28 teams will compete from Brazil, Ireland, Russia, France, Croatia, Hungry, Italy, the Czech Republic and northeast Queens.

“Once we get there, everything is paid for — transportation, food, travel. That makes it very prestigious,” Luongo said.

Coach Inneh said the main thing his team has to work on is their focus.

“They’re very excited,” he said.

Goal tending, he said, is where he believed his team would excel.

“Our goalkeepers have played at a high level before. They’re not under pressure; they’re not going to get carried away.”

The tournament takes place in locations across central Italy, and the Stars will be staying in the town of Fiuggi, known for its digestive-aiding water. Luongo said if there’s one thing his players should experience on their trip, other than the tournament, it’s the world-famous water.

“Last year, we were in Rome, and I took the kids to see the Vatican and the Coliseum. One kid was like, ‘What’s wrong with this place? It’s all broken,’” he said.

Luongo said another thing his players can experience in Italy is the chance to be scouted.

“They’re at the right age the scouts are looking for,” he said.

Antonio, the central defenseman from Whitestone, said he had been to Italy once before.

When asked if he’d like to play for a professional team, the 16-year-old said, “Sure, or at least college.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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