The Beautiful Game: SJU Hosts NYC Soccer Gala

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Big Apple is home to some of soccer’s most prominent figures, and those stars were out in full force to celebrate the game they love at the New York City Soccer Gala, hosted by St. John’s University.

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“This gala has been positioned as an opening, marquee event on the yearly soccer calendar,” said Dave Masur ’03Ed.D., St. John’s University’s Head Men’s Soccer Coach. “Our goal is to highlight the great progress of Major League Soccer, United States soccer and the New York soccer scene, especially as we head into an exciting World Cup year.” 

Created by four of New York City’s Division I Men’s Soccer programs (St. John’s, Fordham University, Long Island University, Brooklyn and St. Francis College), the gala – held at the New York Athletic Club – honors some of the biggest stars of professional soccer, in addition to honorees from each of the participating colleges.

Honorees included:
Joseph Barone, St. Francis College
Ben Boehm, Gottschee Soccer Club
George Gjokaj, St. John’s University
Mark Lugris, Fordham University
Dr. Joseph Machnik, Long Island University
Shep Messing, New York Cosmos
Coach Mike Petke, New York Red Bulls

Other guests included Claudio Reyna, former captain of the United States men’s national soccer team and current Director of Football for New York City Football Club, and Sunil Gulati, President of United States Soccer.

“We have a ton of star power here with us this evening,” said NBC News4 New York Sports Anchor Bruce Beck ’09HON, who served as the evening’s Master of Ceremonies. “And we’re all here for one thing: to honor the past and present of New York City soccer while celebrating our great tradition.”

Each of the honorees shared an intense passion for the game of soccer, with careers ranging from record-setting players to influential coaches. 

Gjokaj, a former captain of the St. John’s Men’s Soccer team, reflected on how much soccer has always meant to him and how profoundly it shaped his life.

The education I got through this game, and through St. John’s University, molded me into who I am, and all my successes today I owe to this community,”

“We’ve all received so much from our coaches and our universities, and I’ve found that when you give back and help someone else experience that same nourishment, it’s a wonderful feeling. So always remember to give back to whoever gave to you.”

Petke, one of the top young coaches in Major League Soccer, echoed Gjokaj’s sentiment. In his first season as Head Coach, Petke helped the New York Red Bulls win the Supporters Shield, and he reflected on how he wouldn’t have achieved this success had it not been for his mentors. 

“Throughout the past year, I relied on a lot of the things I learned from many of the people in this room,” he explained. “Right now, there are more coaches in Major League Soccer who are former players than who are not – and that’s something we can all be proud of, and a direct effect of everyone here.” 

As the night concluded, Masur noted the importance of gathering so many of soccer’s greats under one roof for a grand celebration.

“At times, the competition of sports creates a divisive atmosphere,” Masur said. “I think it’s clear that the gala is an opportunity to break down those barriers, to create positive energy and show appreciation for one another. And this year’s honorees continue that story, one of dedication and passion to the game we love.”