For two weekends in South Brooklyn, soccer — aka the world’s game — takes center stage during the Santa Rosalia Cup tournament.
The tournament made its triumphant return Aug. 14 and Aug. 28 at Dyker Beach Park after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first weekend included the seeding matches, while the second weekend featured the semifinals and tournament championships.
Born and raised in Bensonhurst – the site of the annual Feast of Santa Rosalia – Anthony Catanzaro has spent the better part of his life either watching, playing in, coaching, or organizing the tournament. He grew up attending St. Athanasius and playing youth soccer at St. Dominic, both Bensonhurst.
Starting in the 1970s, the Santa Rosalia Cup began with local cafes, butcher shops, barbers, tile stores, and construction workers, all fielding teams. Given the competitive nature, word spread widely, to the point where players from Italy made it a point to be in Brooklyn each summer for the tournament. Soon, players from throughout the tri-state area, Pennsylvania, Florida, and South America — among many other locations — joined in for the annual soccer tradition.
“It evolved into an extremely competitive semi-pro and professional tournament due to the competitive nature of Italian-Americans,” said Catanzaro, who is a member of the tournament’s sporting committee.
The tournament is a 7-on-7 format played on a slightly smaller field than a regular 11- on-11 contest. Five teams entered the open division, and another three teams squared off in the over-40 division. Winners received trophies, medals, and — most importantly — bragging rights until next year’s tournament. Just under 100 total players competed this year.
A number of notable players with local soccer connections have played over the years, including former U.S. Men’s National Team members Carlos Llamosa, Mike Windischmann, and Carlos Jaguande. Some former members of the St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights, men’s soccer program have also played, including Dominick Falanga, Silverio Conte, Joe Barone, Lucio Russo, Gaetano Messina, Gerardo Leonardi, and Mario Fava.
Of course, the tournament is made possible through the dedicated support of a handful of local sponsors, including Villabate Alba Bakery, A & J Window Repair, Café Romeo, New Dimension Inc., Circus Fruits Supermarket, Salvo’s Pizza Bar, Siag Italian Coffee, and Caffe Sportivo.
For Catanzaro, it’s been a truly personal journey of seeing how the tournament has grown and changed over the years. He began as a spectator in his early teens and soon made his playing debut in 1982 as a 14-year old while he was a student at New Utrecht H.S., Bensonhurst.
“My goal has been to keep the spirit and the competitive nature of the tournament and its roots alive and kicking,” he said. “Hopefully, I can pass it along to the next generation and make it better than how we found it.”
The excitement generated by the tournament reverberates throughout the community. It gives fans a chance to get a firsthand, up-close look at some top pro and semi-pro soccer players.
“It’s tangible instead of watching something on TV,” Catanzaro said. “You hear the sounds of the game, and you look at the speed and the competitive nature. This tournament allows you to rate and gauge yourself against some top players.
“When you get on that field, you forget everything for the hour and a half. You’re concentrating and locked in.
“It’s a beautiful way to express yourself in an artistic way on the field.”
For more information about the tournament and for a full recap, check out the Santa Rosalia Cup Instagram page — @torneodisantarosalia.
The tradition is back, and so is the spirit of soccer in South Brooklyn.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.