Crown Heights Caribbean soccer players trounced by a squad of Orthodox Jews last year are itching for a rematch this weekend. But while competitive juices are flowing in advance of Sunday’s game, organizers say the game is about promoting harmony in the historically divided neighborhood.
The Orthodox Jews handily defeated two Caribbean teams at Soccer for Harmony’s inaugural tournament in December – dispelling a few stereotypes about the players, many of them devout Yeshiva students from Israel, along the way.
“We never heard of them being involved in soccer,” said Frank Nicholas, who coaches the Caribbean team, part of the Central Brooklyn Soccer League. “We figured it might be an easy game. We figured they’re probably not as good. But we got surprised.
“My guys can learn a lot from them,” he said. “We’ll be a little stronger, a little quicker, a little faster. We’ll try to win this time.”
Not if the Jewish team from Eastern Parkway has anything to say about it.
“We’ll fight on the field. We’re going to bring everything we’ve got,” said Nathan Abikasis, 29.
“We are small and skinny, and they’re bigger,” he said. “Then we realized that we’ve got the technique.”
The tournament was launched by nonprofit Seeds in the Middle, which runs a soccer program for kids at Hamilton Metz Field.
Organizers decided to start games for the adults they saw using the neighborhood field, often in separate squads.
“They both love soccer. That’s one of the things that can bring them together. They’re different, but that’s one thing they have in common,” said Brooklyn Crown Heights Eagles coach Josef Cabral.
The tournament is held in honor of Christopher Rose, a 15-year old killed by a gang trying to steal his iPod in 2005, whose dad is one of the organizers.
“It’s a universal game, no matter where you go. You don’t even have to understand the language, you can play soccer,” Nicholas said.
But the sense of camaraderie won’t dampen the fierce competition. “This time we’re ready for them. We’re going to give them a run for their money,” said one of the Caribbean players, Richard Campbell, 17, of East New York.