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Brooklyn Knights heading for success

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By Dylan Butler

Well, you know the rest. But in the case of the Brooklyn Knights and the Metropolitan Oval, the famous words from the movie “Field of Dreams” are more than just a sports cliché.

After helping renovate the storied soccer staple and erasing a threatened $372,000 tax foreclosure by the city that could have turned the Oval into a shopping center or an apartment building, soccer enthusiasts Jim Vogt and Chuck Jacob knew it was time for the next part of the plan.

Three years later, the Brooklyn Knights is one of the most recognized names in youth soccer with 10 teams, including two recently added girls’ teams, ranging in ages from 10 to 23.

Gone from the Met Oval is the dirt strewn field, replaced by FieldTurf.

Before FieldTurf began sprouting up at area high schools, Belson Soccer Stadium at St. John’s and even Giants Stadium, it was at the Oval, thanks to a generous $250,000 grant from Nike.

A clubhouse, locker rooms and new lights were added to the facility, which also received a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Soccer Foundation (a U.S. Soccer Foundation commercial currently airing on national networks during soccer games was filmed at the Oval and features Brooklyn Knights players) and is owned by the not-for-profit Metropolitan Oval Foundation.

“Five years ago it seemed like a long shot that the Metropolitan Oval could be saved for soccer. After a lot of hard work, not only did we save the field, but it is a state-of-the-art soccer facility for the kids of New York City,” said Jacob, a successful lawyer who is the chairman of Greater New York Soccer, which owns the Long Island Lady Riders. “Now the job is to build the program through great coaches and affiliating ourselves with other soccer organizations that have the same vision we do.”

And the renovations continue at the Met Oval, which is tucked behind 60th Street just off Metropolitan Avenue in Maspeth, an errant corner kick from the Brooklyn border.

A small field for the club’s youngest players, the 4- to 9-year-olds in the Brooklyn Knights Soccer Academy, is being built on top of the hill that has a stunning view of the Manhattan skyline. The field will also be available for the other Knights teams for small-sided games.

Even the subtle addition of a sign above the entrance to the complex is a welcome addition to visitors, many of whom drive past the facility, which is bordered by row houses on one side and railroad tracks on the other.

As for the Brooklyn Knights, so named because the Premier Development League team (U-23) originally played at Jefferson Field in Brooklyn, the club is building into one of the area’s top youth soccer organizations thanks to a combination of committed volunteers — many of whom are proud soccer moms and dads — and a stellar group of coaches.

Heading the team’s coaches is Mike Windischmann, perhaps the most celebrated Queens soccer player ever.

The former captain of the U.S. National team at the 1990 World Cup, Windischmann, who played at the Oval as a youth, is the Knights boys’ technical director.

“The Brooklyn Knights are looking to give players an opportunity to grow as soccer players. Player development is the key to success, and I believe the club is going in the right direction,” said Windischmann, the former Forest Hills boys’ soccer coach. “We have had success in the past and are looking for more success in the future. I’m hoping the players in our organization can have the same experiences that I had as a soccer player.”

Added Vogt: “The good thing about Mike is that he’s a product of the neighborhood. The experience he has, the stories and what he brings to the players — the value is just incredible. If we don’t send a player on the national team, then we failed.”

While the national team may still be a few years away, the Brooklyn Knights are sending their first group of players to college.

Almost the entire U-19 boys team, including TimesLedger PSAL Player of the Year Richie Lesmes (St. Peter’s) and Long Island City standout Carlos Moncaleano (Stony Brook), have obtained college scholarships, in part because of playing for the Brooklyn Knights.

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

Posted 7:18 pm, October 10, 2011
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