By Jessica Opatich and Julia Marsigliano
The Brentwood bench is filled with players, many whom might never see the field during a regular season game, let alone a playoff match. But Brentwood Head Coach Ron Eden never cuts a player for a reason—to keep them practicing on the field rather than running with violent gangs, like the MS-13 and Latin Kings, who roam the streets of Brentwood.
“The ugly part is always there,” Eden said. “For the most part, no one in our program is associated with gangs. Soccer is a safe haven for these kids.”
All of the players on the team are Hispanic, which is not surprising in a community that is 54 percent Hispanic, according to the 2010 Census. “This is a huge soccer community and winning is important,” Eden said. The game brings players, students, parents and faculty together.
More than 250 spectators gathered along the sidelines to watch Brentwood defeat Ward Melville 3-0 in the Suffolk County quarterfinals on Friday, October 30, keeping their undefeated season alive.
“Brentwood played phenomenally,” Brentwood teacher and soccer fan Beatrice Reiser said. “They dominated. They passed well and had good teamwork.”
The teamwork displayed is not surprising since most of these players have played together since they were kids.
“I’ve known these players since I was eight,” star player and center midfielder, Jefferson Portillo said. “I basically grew up with these kids. It’s like a family.”
The team spends a lot of time together. “We go out to dinner together. We go to the gym together and we play together on club teams outside of school,” Brentwood captain Marcos Buruca said. As for gangs, “It’s not something I see very often,” Buruca said.
Even when players remain as focused and dedicated as Portillo and Buruca, violence can still touch players. “I had a player a few years ago who would send nice equipment back to his brother in El Salvador. One day, his brother was shot and killed on the front lawn. He was killed for that equipment,” Eden said.
But soccer remains an escape for many players. “I love soccer. It’s a passion of mine. I’m stress free when I play soccer,” said Buruca, who hopes to get into college and play soccer professionally.
Portillo also has his sights set on playing for a professional team. He has several teams from Mexico recruiting him, Eden said. At the Ward Melville game, a coach from the New York Football Club, which has recently signed top European players, met with Eden and Portillo.
Regardless of future plans, the Brentwood team remains squarely focused on continuing their playoff run and once again reaching the Suffolk County finals, where they fell to Walt Whitman last season. It’s about surviving, Eden said.
Brentwood faced Huntington in the Suffolk County semi-finals on Monday, November 2 winning 1-0. The team plays Walt Whitman, again, for the Suffolk County finals on Thursday, November 5 at 6:30 p.m. at Dowling College.