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Former Cosmos Player Passes on Love of Soccer Through Coaching

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Imagine spending your 23rd birthday making your professional debut in a nationally-televised game at a sold-out stadium. One of the fans in the stadium is your own father and it’s Father’s Day. To top it all off, your childhood hero, Pelé, has just come out of retirement and is your new teammate.

It sounds like a story out of Hollywood, but that’s actually what happened to Tony Picciano on June 15, 1975 at Downing Stadium on Randalls Island. The result was a 2-2 tie vs. the Dallas Tornados and their American star, Kyle Rote Jr., and that game is remembered 40 years later for helping give a jolt to the American soccer boom.

Tony played for the Cosmos for one more year, in 1976, when their home games were in Yankee Stadium, the home of the current MLS expansion franchise, New York City FC.

Tony was born and raised in Buenos Aires and played for the youth teams of the famed Boca Juniors. At the age of 11, Tony, his parents, and younger sister emigrated to the United States and he started playing for Palermo FC of the Cosmopolitan Junior Soccer League (CJSL). It was then on to LIU Brooklyn from 1971 to ‘75, where he was honored as All-State and All-Metropolitan for the Blackbirds and received the 1975 Dolly King Athlete Excellence Award. The award is presented annually to the student-athlete who exemplifies leadership, sportsmanship and achievement that the late William "Dolly" King personified as a student-athlete, administrator, and coach.

“Throughout my early career, I played offense and midfield and I was a scorer,” Tony said. “As a captain in my senior year at LIU, I was asked to help develop the incoming freshman on defense.”

While at LIU, Tony also played for Palermo FC’s first team which competed in the Cosmopolitan Soccer League (CSL). He also played for Calabria Roma of the Italian-American Soccer League (IASL). In the 1975 North American Soccer League (NASL) Draft, Tony was selected in the third round by the New York Cosmos. After the 1976 season, Tony was hired in passenger service for KLM-Royal Dutch Airlines and played for the KLM Blazing Bravos for the next decade.

“It was amazing traveling to different countries to play international games and represent KLM,” Tony commented.

He moved to Malverne, Long Island, where he has lived for the past 32 years, and became a youth soccer coach, eventually earning his NSCAA Advanced National Diploma and CPR/AED Certification. Tony coached his two sons playing for Merrick, Port Washington and Rockville Centre in the Long Island Junior Soccer League (LIJSL) and for the past 18 years, he has coached many of the LIJSL’s top players in the Player Development Program (PDP). He led the Boys-Under-16 and Girls-Under-16 PDP squads to undefeated trips through Europe in 2005 and 2006.

“Although the certifications and trophies are nice, let’s not forget that Tony has a great love of coaching youth soccer players,” commented ENYYSA President Richard Christiano.

“I don’t play soccer any longer, but I have committed to pass on all I learned for the love of the game by coaching,” Tony added.

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