After netting trophy, coach is shooting for more


By Judith Stiles

With the old-timers at the Cosmopolitan Junior Soccer League there was a running joke for years that went, “I’d rather watch paint dry on the wall than watch girls play soccer.” When these gentlemen were young, girls never played soccer, and it was unthinkable — little ladies booting the ball on the pitch. Then came the explosion of girls sports in the 1980s with girls teams springing up everywhere. Now in 2003, there is a seismic increase in the number of girls playing soccer across the country, where you find as many girls teams as boys teams (if not more) registered at tournaments nationwide.

This fall the Cosmo League celebrated its 70th anniversary and at the anniversary dinner, president Carlo Bucich proudly praised the inclusion of girls teams in C.J.S.L. He wholeheartedly gave support to continuing the improvement of girls soccer programs within the league. With Cesar Markovic leading the way, the Downtown United Soccer Club hired the first woman coach three years ago, Laura Rizzo. A recent graduate of Hunter College, Rizzo now holds a masters degree in education and a “D” license for coaching soccer.

“The license courses are very informative and give coaches the opportunity to expand their tactical and technical knowledge of the game,” says Rizzo. Last year she used this knowledge to bring out the best in every player on the newly formed U-10 (under 10 years old) girls team. The squad was formed as part of the Girls Soccer Development Program, spearheaded by DUSC’s Bob Russo. With her new team, Rizzo faced the challenge of shaping a largely ragtag group of beginners into a competitive travel team.

Teaching girls basic ball skills, the rules of the game, how to be competitive with opponents while being cooperative within the team, at times seemed impossible. Yet the U-10 girls managed to bring a first-place Division 2 trophy home to DUSC at the end of the year.

This year, coaching the 2003 girls U-12 team has also been an enormous challenge for Rizzo. Because DUSC did so well in 2002-’03, the girls were bumped up to Division 1, the toughest level for this fall. Rizzo was again handed a team of very mixed ability, age and size. Although she had enough decent players before the season began, she decided to gamble by adding a new player who had played almost no soccer before. Newcomer Charlotte McGuckin was known to be a fierce competitor on her ice hockey team, and in tryouts she showed outstanding athleticism. Rizzo had the vision to put her on the team. It’s paid off because McGuckin has become a terrific defender (without her hockey stick).

“Girls should still be trained and taught the same skills as boys, but I’ve found that girls don’t respond as well to the in your face approach as boys do,” says Rizzo on working with girl soccer players. “The majority of females are turned off by yelling and screaming and instead respond much better to positive reinforcement which builds their self-confidence and motivates them.”

In a very short time she whipped this motley team into shape and now the U-12 girls are undefeated in Division 1 as the fall season is about to come to a close. “This is a dedicated bunch of girls who give everything out on the field,” says Rizzo of her winning team. And if you watch the team play, it is clear that the coach’s love of the game is contagious. The girls really enjoy soccer, playing with as much effort on the field in practice as if it were a playoff game.

Spring 2004 is looking good for girls at C.J.S.L. First, DUSC is poised to hire another topnotch woman coach. Second, because C.J.S.L. Girls Select teams took first place at several tournaments last summer, they earned the support of the league to continue year-round. And third, thanks to Milton Espinoza of the B.W. Gottschee Club, several teams from The Big Apple League in Queens have partnered with C.J.S.L., creating the largest girls division in the league so far.

Even the running joke with the old-timers seems to have evaporated from the clubhouse chitchat. The gentlemen are actually following the girls’ season out of the corner of their eyes with unusual interest and enthusiasm (just a bit, they would admit in a whisper).