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Italian American Soccer Traditions: The Santa Rosalia Cup

The Santa Rosalia Cup is a Soccer tradition held in Brooklyn, NY every year. Here's what to expect from the game held during the feast of Santa Rosalia. 

For someone who loved the beautiful game as much as Anthony Catanzaro did while growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., late August was soccer nirvana for a 9-year-old kid.

He could look out of his window on 18th Avenue in Bensonhurst and watch the Feast of Santa Rosalia, which meant a special soccer tournament was right around the corner.

Catanzaro couldn't help but notice festivities around the Villabate Bakery and SAD Italian Record, which still stand today.

"That's what made the tournament so dear to me," he said.

That soccer competition brought together some of the best players in the tri-state area in the unique setting of the Santa Rosalia Cup.

"The local coffee shop would have a team, the butcher shop would have a team and the tile store would have one," Catanzaro said. 

Also known as the 18th Avenue Feast, this year's festival runs from Thursday, Aug. 18 through Sunday, Aug. 28. The festival is held in honor of St. Rosalia, the patron saint of Palermo. The 11-day street fair features a sizable variety of food and treats, carnival rides and games, live music, and entertainment every night.

The 2022 Santa Rosalia Cup will be held at Dyker Beach Park on Aug. 14 and 28. The park is located at 334 Bay 8th St. Brooklyn, N.Y. 11228.

Santa Rosalia Banner on 18th Avenue in Brooklyn (Photo Credit: Sal Inzerillo)

The cup, which is a 7 v 7 competition, will include Open and Over-40 Divisions.

The draw is set for Monday, Aug. 8 at 7 p.m.

"We're very excited," Catanzaro said. "Last year's champion, Mola, is back. We play pickup on Wednesdays and Sundays and a lot of the guys are really starting to talk about who's going to play. There's a nice excitement because leading up to the tournament."

Catanzaro, who is vice president of boxing operations with Probellum, could very well be the competition's ultimate spokesman because he has lived it as a fan, player, and organizer.

At the age of 14 in 1982, he got his wish to play in the tournament and it was an opportunity of a lifetime.

"I'm at the age where I can hold my own and I'm getting picked to play," said Catanzaro, who is a member of the cup's sporting committee. "It was my first tournament. As a kid just walking off to the field because it was within walking distance to watch the older guys play and now, I started playing against some of the older guys. They always encouraged me. 'You have talent. You should do a passion for the game. Keep playing. 'I won my fair share of tournaments as a captain. 

"Now I'm just trying to keep it alive and resuscitated after COVID and keep the name and the spirit of the competition going and hopefully the level of play for the next generation."

Local businessmen such as the late Joe Manfredi, former owner of the Manfredi Auto Group and one of the New York Cosmos' original sponsors, also hosted a team. So did Jerry Valerio, who became the president of the Brooklyn Italians. "The teams that were represented were very, very provincial,' Catanzaro said. "The teams were basically all the guys that know each other."

The tournament quickly evolved beyond neighborhood teams as local businesses brought in players from Italy to represent their squads in the summer.

"They started paying the players because the tournament was already competitive and nobody wanted to lose," Catanzaro said.

The ante was raised as teams started bringing players such as New York Cosmos players Terry Garbett, Ferdi De Matthaeis, and Tony Picciano.

"Slowly but surely, it expanded," Catanzaro said. "We would have teams from and players mostly from the tri-state areas from Connecticut from New Jersey and Pennsylvania guys will come in from Florida. It started getting competitive."

And it seemed that each team needed to add impact players.

Catanzaro remembered when Giovanni Savarese scored the game-winning goal for his team in the final. Savarese went on to forge a reputation as a scoring star for the MetroStars (now the New York Red Bulls) and who is now head coach of the Portland Timbers.

The cup also has been a family affair for Anthony Catanzaro, whose brother Paul has been a team manager for Santa Rosalia teams over the years.

To appreciate the tournament's impact, it must be noted that through the years the cup was the place to be for many of the tri-state area's top players.

Before Major League Soccer and several other national leagues were born, the competition was a sweet spot in the schedule for many players before they returned to college or their respective semi-pro or amateur teams in September.

Here is just a smattering of the who's who in local soccer that participated:

* Carlos Llamosa, a former member of the U.S. men's national team and a 2002 World Cup veteran who survived the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center

* Mike Windischmann, who captained the USMNT team at the 1990 World Cup in Italy

* Joe Barone, a former Brooklyn Italians player and head coach who became chairman of the National Premier Soccer League. He is Fiorentina's general manager in Italy's Serie A.

* Sadri Gjonbalaj, a former pro indoor and outdoor player who scored a goal in five USMNT appearances

* Former New York Cosmos Gerry Reardon participated. The Cosmos' late scoring star Giorgio Chinaglia has been a special guest of the tournament

* Several Long Island Rough Riders players, including Travis Rinker, Jim Rooney, Chris Armas, now an assistant coach at Manchester United, Lawrence Piturro, Anthony Roros, and Danny Mueller who like, Savarese, were members of the squad's 1995 U.S. Interregional Soccer League championship team. Other Riders who participated in the tourney included Ronan Wiseman, among others

* Doc Lawson (three USMNT matches) and Juan Carlos Michia, who competed for the New York Arrows (Major Indoor Soccer League)

* Former Olympian Amr Aly, a former star at Columbia University

* One-time Long Island University stars Roger Chavez and Jorge Acosta

* Dragan Radovich, Antonio (Junior) Superbia, Osidis Machado, a big-time scoring threat among local semi-pro teams, Bill Manning, Gerardo Leonardi, who were members of the Brooklyn Italians' 1991 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championship team. Manning is president of Toronto FC (MLS)

* Gaetano Messina, one-time St. Francis graduate who went on to work for KLM and Alitalia Airlines and coached the former's soccer team

* Franco Paonessa, a local standout who played professionally and for the Puerto Rico national team  in the kickoff match of the 1994 World Cup qualifying

* Carlos Jaguande, former Brooklyn Italians standout who played twice for the USMNT

* Alan Bodenstein, who helped to spray paint the Downing Stadium dirt green for Pele's debut in 1975, forged his reputation in indoor soccer before becoming a coach. Bodenstein, who has represented the USA at the Maccabiah Games, has been the director of coaching for the Fort Wayne United FC (Indiana)

* Juan Carlos Osorio, who once played for the Brooklyn Italians, has guided the Mexican national team, Red Bulls and Chicago Fire, among his other coaching pursuits

* Jamal Canal, who became one of the area's top goalkeepers with the New York Apollo and several amateurs and semi-pro clubs as he played at a high level into his forties

* Barry Nix, a two-time Ivy League player of the year with Columbia University

* Paul Maxi, a goalkeeper with the Buffalo Stallions (MISL)

Well-known local coaches such as Arnie Ramirez (Long Island University) and Mike Rybak and Tony Noto, who were Brooklyn Italians coaches, have been interested spectators.

The cup also has boasted top-notch game officials as well-respected referees John DiSalvatore and Feliks Fuksman have worked the middle of matches.

And there also have been some celebrities participating. Last year Brooklyn Nets head coach and former NBA standout Steve Nash, who is the older brother of one-time Canadian national team midfielder Martin Nash, was a guest player.

Again, this is a partial list because we did not want to break the internet. After all, so many standout players from all levels of the game participated through the years.

Who will attend this year's cup?

Your guess is as good as ours. You'll have to show up to find out.

Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis has covered 13 World Cups, seven Olympics and 25 MLS Cups. He was soccer columnist for New York Daily News and has written for Newsday and The Guardian. Lewis, who has been honored by the Press Club of Long Island and United Soccer Coaches, is the editor of FrontRowSoccer.com. He can be reached at socwriter@aol.com and @Soccerwriter on Twitter. His latest book, Alive and Kicking: The Incredible But True Story of the Rochester Lancers, is available at Amazon.com.