Former SJU standout traded to MetroStars

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After spending less than half a season in Columbus, Ohio — and making just one appearance with the Crew — former St. John’s soccer standout Jeff Matteo will begin his first full season in Major League Soccer with the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, who traded for the 22-year-old midfielder last Thursday.

Matteo and defender Chris Leitch were sent from Columbus to the MetroStars in exchange for the rights to midfielder Ross Paule.

“I’m a bit surprised, but I hope it’s a better situation for me here and hopefully I can help out my team,” Matteo said from Columbus last Thursday. “I have no complaints. I’m excited to play in New York. It’s really where I want to play, in front of my hometown. My dad and mom love it. I think they’re more excited than I am.”

Matteo, who was signed to a developmental contract by the Crew last year, played well in preseason training in Florida and even scored a goal against the MetroStars in an exhibition game March 10.

A coincidence then that he was traded to the MetroStars just four days later?

Actually, yes.

“He can hit the ball with both feet, but he’s going to make or break himself with other things,” said MetroStars coach Bob Bradley. “He’s a young player with a great deal of heart to even have gotten where he is and I know he is determined to get further. He’s a good passer and he has a good feel of how to play.”

Matteo, who hails from Stormville, a suburb of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., was drafted in the second round of the 2002 MLS SuperDraft (20th overall).

Along with former teammate Shalrie Joseph — who was also picked in the second round by the New England Revolution — Matteo trained with Monza of Serie C1 in Italy before returning to the United States and signing with the Crew in August.

At St. John’s, the 5-foot-5 crafty midfielder was a two-time first-team All-Big East selection and was named Big East Midfielder of the Year in 2001. In four years, Matteo played in 88 games, scoring 55 points on 17 goals and 21 assists. He scored the lone goal for St. John’s in a 2-1 double overtime loss to Indiana in the 2001 NCAA semifinals.

“I saw Jeff a number of times when he was at St. John’s and I felt he was a hard-working, smart player who did a lot of the little things that helped his team win,” Bradley added.

Matteo has been racking up the frequent flyer miles of late, having flown from Florida to Columbus and then joined the MetroStars in New York Friday to depart for two weeks of preseason training in Argentina.

In his debut, Matteo played the second half of a 1-1 tie with the Cefar Select team Monday. Should Matteo make the club, his first regular season game will be at Giants Stadium against his former team, the Columbus Crew April 12 at 7 p.m.

“He was a developmental player with Columbus for part of the season and we still need to see where he can fit in,” Bradley said. “I’m not in a position to say what his role is yet. We’re at the starting point and we still need time to see where he fits in.”

Matteo should be one of three former Red Storm standouts playing in MLS this season. After three stellar years with the Milwaukee Rampage of the A-League, goalkeeper Dan Popik from Syosset was signed by defending MLS Cup champs Los Angeles Galaxy last week.

Popik, a starter at St. John’s from 1998-1999, was named Milwaukee’s team MVP last year, boosting 1.09 goals against average to lead his team to the A-League championship.

Also expected to make his MLS debut this year is Joseph, a two-time first-team All-Big East selection. The versatile 6-foot-3 Brooklyn resident has started two games for the Revolution in the preseason.

Joseph, who had seven goals and 1 assist for the New York Freedoms of the D3-Pro League last year, will join former Queens resident and U.S. National team player Carlos Llamosa on the New England defense.

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

Updated 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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