For many, soccer and tradition go hand-in-hand, but few clubs can match the long-standing tradition of the Mineola Portuguese Soccer Club. The club’s history goes back to 1936 with the founding of its men’s program, making it one of the oldest soccer clubs in the United States and, according to club president David Neves, one of the first real cultural soccer clubs.
“Our history stands for itself,” said Neves. “We were founded at a time when there weren’t many culture-based soccer clubs. We concentrate on offering high-level, competitive soccer. We don’t consider ourselves a recreational club.”
The entire club consists of around 350 people across three programs. Many of the players are Portuguese, but several other ethnicities are represented as well, including Italian, Irish and Polish, among others. The men’s program, which routinely has 20 to 25 participants in a given year, has a long and competitive history that includes several state championships, with the most recent occurring in 2010. Several former players have gone on to have professional careers, most notably Carlos Mendes, the current captain of the New York Cosmos.
In addition to the men’s program, the club recently created two youth programs. There is a “minis” intramural program, made up of about 70 kids ranging from three to 8 years old and a youth travel program that’s made up of about 250 kids. Despite the size of the program, parent Russel Sargeant considers it to be a very attentive and friendly environment for his kids.
“I have two sons who play for the club,” said Sargeant, who also manages one of the youth teams. “It has a community feel. It’s growing, but not massive. The kids aren’t just cogs in a wheel. They never feel lost in the crowd. Everyone there knows them. Everyone takes the time to get to know everybody.”
Neves counts the addition of the youth programs as one of the best things the club has done.
“Every door that’s opened in my life was because of soccer,” Neves said. “So it’s important that we’re giving these kids an opportunity to go to college because of soccer, that they can maybe get scholarships like I did. Both youth programs were started five years ago from scratch, with no players. Now we have 17 teams.”
Not only does Neves see a chance to provide young soccer players with opportunities, but he also believes youth soccer can help to shape their lives for the better.
“It’s a new way to meet people,” he said. “It keeps kids off the streets and offers them a way to socialize. And it also teaches them how to win and how to lose, which is so important in life. If you go for a job and don’t get it, how do you deal with that? So it’s not just about scoring goals.”
It’s also about life lessons.
“My kids learn how to be resilient,” said Sargeant. “If something goes against them, they battle back. They’ve become better leaders and I’m proud of the way they interact with their teammates.”
The club also does much to give back to its community. They are one of several organizations that help to run the Mineola Portuguese Parade and also help with New York Portuguese leadership conferences. Neves believes that, more than anything, keeping soccer alive and well in Mineola is a top priority.
“When I played, we used to have to travel 40 minutes to find high-level soccer,” he said. “Mineola has the biggest Portuguese community in New York and we want to keep our players around here. Mineola is our home base.”
Yet there have been obstacles. Neves and his staff are in the process of trying to get village field permits for his teams. The teams currently hold their practices at several different locations, one being Cantiague Park in Hicksville. Besides general inconvenience, the practices cost roughly $500 a night and about $25,000 in out-of-pocket fees for the year, which the club must depend largely on parents to provide. Despite the challenges, Neves knows his club’s longevity is no accident and is confident that they will prevail.
“It’s the leaders who have organized this club and the passion that’s kept this going,” he said. “We’ve had obstacles, but right now we’re set up to succeed for, at an absolute minimum, the next 10 to 20 years.”
To find out more, visit www.mineolaportuguesesc.com.