America’s youth soccer landscape is teeming with leagues.
National leagues like MLS Next and the Girls Academy developed during the pandemic, joining established ones like the ECNL.
Regional powerhouses like the Capital Area Soccer League, now under the FC North Carolina umbrella, have been around for several decades.
But they are all babies, compared to the Cosmopolitan Junior Soccer League. The New York metropolitan-area organization is 90 years young.
Its numbers – 80 clubs, 300 teams, 25,000 players – may not be the biggest. Its famous coaches over the decades include Manny Schellscheidt and Dieter Ficken. and its most renowned players — Arnold Mausser, Werner Roth, Mike Windischmann, Claudio Reyna, John Wolyniec, Gregg Berhalter – may belong to earlier eras. Its clubs – Manhattan Kickers, Chelsea Piers, Brooklyn United, 5 Star Soccer Academy – may be unfamiliar.
But students of soccer history recognize other names: BW Gottschee, Hota Bavarians, Ukrainian-American Sport Club, Brooklyn Italians, SC Gjoa, Eleftheria Pancyprians. They may not be as German, Norwegian or Greek as they once were. But those clubs, and the CJSL, played a vital role in the history of American soccer.And they’re still kicking. Current U.S. national team winger Tim Weah and the Philadelphia Union's Olympic hopeful Jack McGlynn played for BW Gottschee.
The Cosmopolitan Junior Soccer League is celebrating its 90th anniversary and inducting a new class into their Hall of Fame. Among the members: longtime Soccer America columnist Paul Gardner. For decades he has reported on its players, its clubs, and its impact on the U.S. game.
"Think about that. An American youth soccer league ... founded in 1933! ... before most Americans had any idea what the sport was all about, way before the term soccer mom was ever heard. Founded by mostly German immigrants in Queens. And it's survived all those years. It now has tradition, it has history, it even has its own share of dignity. And it has inspired tremendous loyalty over the years." — Paul Gardner, Soccer America, 2009
At its founding in 1933 as the German American Junior Soccer League, it was the first “youth soccer league” in the nation. (“Junior” is a throwback to an earlier time; that was the term used overseas.) It was spawned by the German American Soccer League, which was founded in 1923. The original youth teams were part of adult clubs, organized by immigrants hungry for a connection to the game they had left behind.
New York was filled with them, from all over Europe.
In 1977, the name change to “Cosmopolitan” reflected changing immigration patterns.
Today, the CJSL remains one of the most diverse soccer leagues in the world. Dozens of languages can be heard on its fields each weekend, from Spanish and Russian to Albanian and Haitian Creole. The CJSL – affiliated with U.S. Youth Soccer’s Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association – offers year-round outdoor and indoor programs for boys and girls ages 7 to 19, along with coach and referee education programs.
The organizational structure of the CJSL was a model for the leagues that began forming around the country. When the United States Youth Soccer Association was founded in 1974, the CJSL was one of its first members.
Current CJSL leaders (clockwise from top left) include: treasurer Jim Svendsen, president Ron Restrepo, league director Dimitrie Draguca, vice president Paul Kontonis and referee liaison Chip Reed.
Jimmy Svendsen has been involved with the CJSL for over 40 years. (That’s impressive – but still less than half its history.) He began as an 18-year-old coach with Sporting Club Gjoa, which had Norwegian roots. That same year, he joined the CJSL executive board.
Svendsen has served as president, vice president and secretary; right now, he’s treasurer. He is also a member of the league’s Hall of Fame.
“Soccer in New York is really fun,” he says, reflecting on his decades-long involvement. “It’s ground level. There are all nationalities and ethnicities. It’s great to watch games all over the city.”
Gardner has certainly done that. He spent decades on the sidelines of muddy or dusty fields, watching young players who learned the game from coaches who held full-time jobs unrelated to soccer. Having learned it from their own fathers, they eagerly passed their passion along.
“He’s always been a fan of the players,” Svendsen says of Gardner. “He has always championed the growth of the league.”
Also being inducted into the CJSL Hall of Fame: George Gjokaj (FC Westchester, SUNY Purchase College), Dusanka Maurisic (New York Croatia), Frank McCarthy (SC Gjoa, BW Gottschee), Ivo Mohorovic (Istria SC and Metropolitan Oval) and Sig Samuelsen (SC Gjoa).
Today, the Cosmopolitan Junior Soccer League has a bit more in common with its suburban counterparts. Some fields are artificial turf; some players speak only English. It has changed with the times.
But the CJSL is still a distinctly New York league. And, Svendsen says, it will never forget its near century-old roots.Photos courtesy of CJSL