Croatia New York Soccer Club has a proud history since its birth in the 1962-63 season. It is impossible to compile a complete history of all the great moments in club history, but hopefully this will bring back some fond memories to all of those who have been part of this great institution.
1960's - Inaugural Years
In April of 1962, an organization called the Croatian Guardian of Liberty, NY founded the Croatia New York Soccer Club. The first President of the club was Jure Rupcic in 1962-63. The next President was Misko Bacani during the 1963-64 season and Tomo Simundich took the helm in the 1964-65 season. Among the other founding fathers and directors of the early Croatia NY were Mirko Curic, Vinko Padjan, Fredi Orsteraicher, Peter Novakovic, Ante Nosic, Andrija Saric, Ante Grbesa, Jozo Alaga and Mile Sucic. Key players of the 1962-63 team were Max Drazic, Ante Vojnovic, Fredi Orsteraicher, Vedran Vucemilovic, Jure Rupcic, Gregor Panic, Vinko Usalj and Captain Peter Novakovic.
The team joined the Eastern District League that year and finished in 7th place in '62-63, 5th in '64-65, 2nd in '65-66 and 3rd in '66-67. Croatia won its first Championship in 1967-68 clinching the Eastern District League Title by one point over Argentina Deportivocali.
In the 1968-69 season the team moved into the National Soccer League (which merged with the German-American League) and took 5th place. The late Flaviano Gobbo captained this team that was powered by Aldo Diminic and three Pavic brothers.
1970's - Symbolic Times
The 1970-71 season was Croatia's first in the German-American Soccer League (present day Cosmopolitan League) and it was an instant success winning the Third Division Championship. The 1971-72 team, led by Captain Fabian Kajtazi and Center Fullback Pero Matinic, led Croatia to its second Championship in as many years this time winning the Second Division.
In the 1972-73 season, Croatia NY entered the G.A.S.L. First Division and remained there until the 1999-2000 season. Although the team never won the First Division until 1986, it was usually near the top of the standings and always played with flair.
The two most significant games of the mid-seventies was the 1973 showdown between Croatia and Dalmatinac in Shutzen Park, NJ in front of 3,500 fans. This game had political overtones and in the end it was Croatia NY prevailing 1-0 with goalkeeper Sime Bjelic recording the shutout. During these years Croatia NY hosted the annual North American Croatian Labor Day Tournament and played numerous international matches including one against Dinamo Zagreb in front of 7,000 fans. The club had now moved from the confines of Van Cortland Park to LaGuardia Field in Queens and it was now a competitive First Division team.
It was rather symbolic that Croatia moved from LaGuardia Field to Downing Stadium in 1977. As the Cosmos were attempting to challenge other more established American sports for market share, the Cosmopolitan League and our club were looking to share the limelight.
General Manager, Mike Miketich, and Coach, Ivo Shine, assembled a powerhouse team that was led that year by the league-leading goal scoring frontline of Dinko Kovacevic, Damir Vukosa and Mario Masina. Croatia played dynamic, attacking soccer while at the same time allowing the fewest goals of any team in the 1977-78 season.
Other key players were John Lucic, Angelko Kalinic, Sime Marucic and Armando Vukosa. Brazilian Goalkeeper, Max Choice, was a rock of stability throughout this season and his Croatia career. Although Croatia had a thrilling season, they could not over-take the NY Pancyprian-Freedoms who won the Cosmopolitan Soccer League crown that year.
Croatia NY finished second once again in the 1978-79 season defeating eventual champion Pancyprians 3-1 and tying them 1-1 later in the season, but losing several games that they expected to win. The highlight of the season came in the season finale when Croatia played the role of "spoiler" of the Blue Star S.C.' s bid to tie the Pancyprians for the league title. Blue Star needed a victory over third place Croatia NY to accomplish this as they trailed the Pancyprians by 2 points. Croatia NY’s dramatic 1-0 victory not only foiled this bid, but it also propelled Croatia NY to another second place finish.
In an interesting anecdote to the 1978-79 season, the Croatia NY Reserve Team distinguished themselves by recording a "perfect" winless season by going 0-18-¬0. There was little resemblance between these teams and the powerful Croatia NY Reserve Teams of the mid and late 1980's, yet there are two players who faithfully endured the hard times. These players are Captain Stephen Perry and Defender Vlado Mostarac. Perry has set the record for most appearances of any player in a Croatia uniform playing over 360 games from 1975 to 1988 and Mostarac and first team winger Mario Masina are second closely behind.
Among the other longstanding players of this era for the Croatia NY Reserves were Sveto Budija, a steady fullback who served as an integral part of the Club's Board of Directors, Zeljko Cerjak, who was always a great guy to play with, Zdravko Cruyff Milos and Joe Bosnak dedicated forwards, goalkeeper Zdenko Mostarac, and fullbacks Alex Jomback and Andre Mirkine. This era might not have produced many wins for the reserves, but it was never short of fun.
The 1979-80 season proved to be another strong one for the First Team even though a late season slump dropped them to a third place Cosmopolitan Soccer League finish. Center forward Dinko Kovacevic had assumed the role of player-coach and the nucleus of the past two year's teams was enhanced by the additions of midfielder's Isni Ukperaj and Joe Camaj.
Early 80's - Lean Years
The 1980's have been a cyclical decade when Croatia's won-loss percentage suffered through some very lean years at the beginning of the decade only to ascend to the glory days of the mid-eighties. The 1980-81 season was disastrous for Croatia as the nucleus of the team disappeared due to injuries, retirements and geographic relocation. It is impossible to replace players such as Dinko Kovakovic, Damir and Armando Vukosa and Max Chicote and not suffer. Croatia won only 3 games that year losing 15 and the season culminated with a humiliating 10-0 loss to the New York Freedoms at the Metropolitan Oval before 1,000 fans.
After the 1980-81 season it was obvious that changes needed to be made both on and off the field. Mike Miketich, who had done a fabulous job of single-handedly holding the team up for all those years, passed the torch, on to new President, John Maracich; new Coach, Nino Bosanac and new General Manager Steve Perry. Miketich went on to build one of the finest Junior soccer programs in the New York area which produced a crop of outstanding players for Croatia's current Senior teams such as Jure Kauzilar, Robert Bogdanovic, Vinny Naletelic, Anthony Naletelic, Hrvoje Abicic, Gerald Maric, Peter Vuletic, Ivica Cogelja, Maurice Radalj, Denis Peros and Ante Radalj.
The new management immediately brought some new life into Croatia as the team finished in the middle of the pack in the '81-82 and '82-83 seasons. The club left Downing Stadium and moved to the beautiful Croatian Land in Boonton, NJ as its home field. The nucleus of these teams included Marinko Skoblar, Sime Skara, Mario Masina, Zvonko Zekanovic, Angelko Kalinic, Nino Bosnak and in the later part of the '82-83 season Ivica Mastic and Tony Donlic.
The 1983-84 season was a turning point for Croatia NY. The team became a C.S.L. powerhouse recording a second place finish narrowly behind champion, Sportsfriends. The addition of Insi Ukperaj, Marijan Maksuti, Edi Bogdanovic, Tony Donlic and Mario Masina, gave Croatia NY a record of 12-3-3 and much respect around the league.
The First Team followed up this season with another second place finish in 1984-85 as it was bride's maid to Bergen Kickers this time. The addition of skill players such as Paxton Rose, Luis Quijamo, Edi Acosta and Dragan Lozancic added new dimension to Croatia NY's already strong lineup.
Mid-Late 80's - Glory Years
The 1985-1986 season was the greatest season in the history of Croatia New York Soccer Club as it swept all four Cosmopolitan Soccer League Championships and Cups and established itself as one of the greatest teams in the history of the league. The First Team recorded a won-lost percentage of 20-1-4 winning the First Division Championship and Cosmopolitan Soccer League Cup. The Reserve Team compiled an undefeated season of 21-0-1 on its way to sweeping the First Division Reserve Title and the Harry J. Saunders Cup. Throughout the season Croatia NY was the most talked about team in the New York soccer scene as its lineup now included three ex-Cosmos: Boris Bandov, Mark Liveric and Tony Donlic, and two former Romanian National Team players: Marius Ciugarin and Chris Vranceanu.
It seemed that everyone had an opinion about Croatia NY that year, some positive, some negative, but in the end no one could deny the greatness of this club. As Sportsfriends coach and Cosmopolitan Soccer League representative Gordon Vinton said as he handed the League Championship plaque to Captain Edi Bogdanovic on July 13th, 1986 after Croatia NY defeated Gotschee 2-1, "Enjoy this boys, because no team in this league has ever had a season like this."
Despite their dominant records, both teams battled down to the final games to clinch the League Championship with Sportsfriends in second, close behind. In the first showdown on April 22nd, 1986 Tony Donlic, Dragan Lozancic and Paxton Rose scored to lead Croatia NY's First Team to a 3-1 triumph over Sportsfriends. In the Reserve game John Feeley tallied 2 and Oscar Barriga 1 to power Croatia NY to a 3-1 victory. In the return matches at Sportsfriends Oval one month later the First Teams drew 1-1 and the Reserves won 3-0 to virtually clinch both league titles for Croatia NY.
Among the other fond memories of this unbelievable year were the dramatic 2-1 "come from behind victory" over Hota-Bavarians on their home field, the Cosmopolitan Soccer League Cup Final victory over Hota, the Reserves battling 3-2 overtime quarter final win over Queens United and 1-0 overtime win over College Point in the final to win the Saunders Cup, the tremendous fan support throughout most of the year, Ivica Mastic goal scoring streak at the end of the season after Mark Liveric and Tony Donlic went down with injuries, the stellar play of Captain Edi Bogdanovic, Dragan Lozancic, Marijan Maksuti, Boris Bandov, Luis Quijamo and Chico Mieles and both teams running around the field with Cups held up high.
The 1986-87 season was another second place for both teams - Tony Donlic took over as coach and Jure Kauzljar G.M. The club is fortunate to have an outstanding President in Pero Bozanic, and active board of Directors and wealth of young talent on the field.
The 1988-89 season saw Croatia NY recapture the League Championship with a record of 13 wins, 2 losses and 3 ties, ending Hota-Bavarians two year reign as champions. Ivan Gecevic and Marijan Maksuti anchored the defense while Manfred Kapper and Dragan Lozancic led the team in scoring.
1990's - Transitional Years
The Reserve Team, led by player-coach Stephan Perry, continued its winning tradition, capturing the Cosmopolitan Soccer League Reserve Championships in the 1988-89 and 1989-90 seasons. The Reserves also won the Heidecker Cup in 1990 and the Harry J. Saunders Cup in 1991. These accomplishments gave the First Team excellent pool of players to choose from during the season.
The Highlights of the 1990-91 season for Croatia NY were clearly the two International matches it hosted. On May 27, 1990 a second half goal by Captain Edi Bogdanovic shocked a crowd of 3,500 fans as Croatia came back from a 1-0 deficit, to tie Dinamo Zagreb 1-1 at the Croatian Land in Boonton, NJ. On September 9, 1990 Croatia NY hosted Hajduk Split in front of 3,600 people at Downing Stadium in New York. After a scoreless first half, Hajduk prevailed with 3 second half goals.
Croatia NY finished the 1990-91 season with an 8-6-4 record under the coaching of Reno Lonic. In Croatia NY's first appearance in the Jadranski Susreti soccer tournament, Croatia NY captured its first of three titles in an exciting penalty shot shoot out against Sabunjar.
The 1991-92 season saw the beginning of a new era with the retirement of Stephan Perry and the emergence of a new Board of Directors and generation of leaders. Frank Maric took over the Club as President with Jure Kauzljar running the every day operations of the club as General Manager. Under Player/Coach Zlatko Vuletic, we were able to field an all Croatian team lead by such key players like Ivan Gecevic, Denis Peros, Vinny Naletelic, Ivica Cogelja, Gerald Maric, Peter Curko, Ivica Saric, Sime Miocic, Anthony Naletelic, Ante Radalj, Matt Sikiric and Bo Nikolic.
Key players absent from this team were Captain Dragan Lozancic and Hrvoje Abicic who were participating in the war efforts in Croatia NY. The team finished in fourth place with an 8-5-5 record. In June of 1992, the team secured their second Jadranski Susret championship as the defeated Zablace 1-0 in regulation play, on a goal by Zlatko Vuletic. On the Fourth of July in 1992 Croatia NY was honored to host N.K. Vukovar, a third division team from Croatia NY, at the Croatian Land. Croatia NY won this friendly international match with a score of 4-2, with goals by Ivica Cogelja, Igor Vukic and two goals by Bo Nikolic.
Croatia NY finished the 1992-93 season with an 8-7-3 record. The team was able to salvage a fifth place finish. After a dismal performance in the first half of the season, Croatia NY rebounded with five wins, one loss and two ties in the spring. June of that year also brought Croatia NY their third consecutive championship in the Jadranski Susreti Tournament. As we were able to prevail over Istra-Blue Angels in a penalty shoot out.
The 1993-94 season had all the ingredients of a championship team. Anchoring the defense were goalkeeper, Denis Peros and sweeper, Ivica Gecevic. Playmakers Zlatko Vuletic and Dragan Lozanic gave the team a game-winning midfield. On the attack, there was the dynamic goal-scoring duo of Robbie Gretton and Mike Caputo. The first team ended the first half of the season in first place with a record of 6-1-2.
Unfortunately when the spring season resumed, the team was missing three key players. Ivica Gecevic suffered a season-ending knee injury, Mike Caputo signed with the Lexington Blue Grass Bandits in the U.S.I.S.L. and Dragan Lozanic relocated to Washington D.C. Unable to replace these players, the team struggled in the second half of the season, finishing in third place with a record of 9-4-5.
The 1994-95 season appeared to be promising for the team. The team moved its home field from the Croatian Land to Downing Stadium on Randalls Island. Sadly, the game took a backseat, when Stephen Perry lost his battle with cancer on October 5, 1994. The nucleus of the team had played with Steve over the years and grieved the heartbreaking loss of a friend, teammate and mentor. The team failed to gain any momentum in this season, finishing with a record of 7-6-5.
The 1996-97 season was a transitional and challenging year for Croatia NY. In the summer of 1996, President Rajko Corluka appointed Ivica Saric as General Manager and Brian Kenny as Head Coach and they, along with Vice President Tony Sucic, set out to rebuild the team following the departure of several long time First Team players. Injuries and inexperience made for a trying time for both the First Team and Reserves. As winter set in, the First Team sat near the bottom of the First Division table with a record of 2-8-2 and the specter of relegation hovered over the club.
Bolstered by the additions of goalkeeper Ante Vucetic, defender Ivica Cogelja and midfielder Peter Curko and the unwavering commitment of Hrvoje Abicic, Jure Abicic, Dion Burrow, Gerald Maric, Rob Gretton, Ante Radalj, John Saric and Brian McGinley, the First Team delivered a remarkable string of results in the spring, going 5-0-1 in its last six matches including a 2-0 away win over Clarkstown, a 1-1 away draw with championship contender St. Barnabas and a 2-0 away win against defending Champion New York Athletic Club.
While this team will not be remembered for League or Cup glory, it must be remembered for its resiliency. Its six match unbeaten streak to end the season vaulted Croatia NY to a 4th place finish in the League and more importantly, secured the Club’s First Division status and ‘set the table’ for the 1997-98 season.
The 1997-98 season marked Croatia’s third and most recent Cosmopolitan Soccer League First Division Championship and made Rajko Corluka the third Club President to preside over a Championship team. The strong finish to the previous season coupled with the return of Zlatko Vuletic, Denis Peros, Ivica Gecevic, Russ Turlecki and the additions of Rich Webb and Yassini galvanized the team and made everyone cautiously optimistic about the possibility of adding another League Championship to the club’s storied history. To do so, Croatia NY would have to overcome defending champion New York Athletic Club which had won three consecutive First Division Championships and a St. Barnabas team which was intent on capturing its first League title after successive second place finishes.
The optimism was not unfounded. The First Team started the season with a five match unbeaten streak, including a 3-2 win over NYAC and leading to a ‘top of the table’ clash with an undefeated St. Barnabas. On a mild October afternoon at the Croatian land, Croatia NY defeated St. Barnabas 1-0 in a well played match behind a second half goal from Rich Webb. At 6-0-0, Croatia was sitting atop the First Division but would not get through the fall schedule unscathed. The team dropped three consecutive one goal matches before defeating Blau Weiss Gotschee 4-2 at the Croatian land to finish 7-3-0 at the winter break.
Croatia NY resumed the season in the spring with a win over Poughkeepsie but lost a pivotal away match to St. Barnabas and dropped to 8-4-0. As a result of the loss to St. Barnabas, the team needed to win its six remaining matches to win the championship. The team was up to the task and reeled off five consecutive wins and finished the season on June 14th with a home game against Polonia S.C. which needed three points to avoid relegation. After a scoreless first half which saw Denis Peros deny Polonia with several strong saves, Croatia NY finally broke through in the 70th minute when Yassini ran on to a ball played out of the midfield by Zlatko Vuletic and finished coolly. Russ Turlecki’s goal in the 85th confirmed the result and the Championship for Croatia NY and condemned Polonia to the Second Division.
Winning such a competitive league is never easy and always special but what made this Championship so memorable was that it was fifteen years in the making. The nucleus of the team had played Junior, Reserve and First Team soccer together for Croatia NY and over those years had been mentored by Mike Miketich, Frank Maric, Stephen Perry and Stipe Dumancic. "For many of us, that season capped many wonderful years with the club. After the Polonia match, there was nothing more satisfying than having Marija Misevic, the longtime Treasurer and supporter of the club, give me a big hug and a kiss and tell me that she was proud of us. She had literally watched us grow up together and it was gratifying to think that we had validated the support Marija, Mike, Frank, Stephen and Stipe and many others had given us over the years" reflected Head Coach Brian Kenny.
2000's - Dynamic Years
After the 1999-2000, Croatia NY ran into hard times and they folded as an active soccer club. However, fervor for the team and soccer was never lost. After 6 long years, a number of former players led by Tomislav Radalj, Ivica Kajic, Petar Vucetic and inspirational player/coach Zlatko Vuletic, became the nucleus of the present day Board of Directors and brought the team back.
Due to our longstanding history with the league Croatia NY was asked to return to the First Division. Instead of taking the easy road to the top, it was decided to earn promotion by merit alone. With a new generation of Croatian players, led by Filip Loncar, Mark Loncar, Vjekoslav Luburic and John Drazic and long time First Team players such as Bo Nikolic, Hrvoje Abicic, Ante Radalj and Ivica Saric, Croatia NY entered the Fourth Division of the Cosmopolitan Soccer League and gained promotion to the Third Division. Along the way, Croatia NY entered a number of tournaments throughout the tri-state area, winning the inaugural Rudar Club Indoor Soccer Tournament, and earning respect for their flamboyant and exciting brand of soccer which has been the mark of so many Croatia NY teams.
Currently, Croatia NY is atop the board in the Third Division where they expect nothing less than to earn promotion to the Second Division and eventually gain entry into the First Division where they rightfully belong.