June 3, 2019
South Bronx United's team picture. South Bronx United Images
“I can’t like—I really appreciate it. I have no words to describe what South Bronx United did for me,” 19-year-old Haitian native Jhonny Theze said. “They really care about me. They love people. They care about you academically, they want you to go to school, go to college. They try their best.”
It’s not hard to tell how much of an impact South Bronx United has on their young players.
SBU is a soccer club that provides a required academic program to their youth players and offers them immigration and social services. They organize recreational sessions for kids that are at least four years of age and have competitive teams from the U-12 to the U-19 level.
In the organization’s 10th year of existence, South Bronx took a major leap, they started a team in a men’s league for the first time, the Cosmopolitan Soccer League.
“This year, our 10th anniversary, was the perfect year to launch our senior team,” co-founder Andrew So said, “because it represents a full cycle of success for young people who come through the South Bronx United program.”
Now because the club is participating in a men’s league, the youths in their academic program who are over 19 can still be in one of their teams and their alumnis can also keep playing for them.
“For them [the players] it’s a sense of pride, the idea that I get to play with my friends again. I get to play with my club again,” coach George Nantwi explained. “Remember some of them have been with us since they were babies—literally. So, for them it’s a sense of this has always been a part of me and I get to continue it as long as I get to play soccer.”
SBU is only the fourth known club in the CSL with organized youth teams.
South Bronx United doesn’t only represent themselves in the CSL but also the league’s second division juggernauts Sporting SC. The well-known fact is that SBU is Sporting SC’s reserve team in the second division.
In most cases, when a club decides to join the CSL, they have to start from the lowest division, Metro 2 (Div. 4 overall), and work their way up. Indeed, SBU was going to play in the Metro 2 Division when they decided to join the league—a division the powerclub feels like is under their level.
Sporting’s founder Ed Romero offered South Bronx the opportunity to become his club’s reserve team in the second division. SBU couldn’t help to say no. It was the perfect soccer wedding, South Bronx United and Sporting Soccer Club.
“The proposal made perfect sense for both teams,” South Bronx coach Andy Jenkins said. “They got what they needed, which was a reserve team so they can play at the division they wanted and we got to enter at a higher level than the very bottom.”
Coaches George Nantwi and Andy Jenkins
The coaches and founders of both clubs weren’t the only ones happy with the partnership but also the guys on the field, the players.
“When I was playing with the U-19, the league was very easy,” Theze, a midfielder who played as high as Haiti’s youth national team said. “I was looking for something more competitive. When they told me I was going to play for Sporting SC’s second team I was really happy.”
South Bronx United star playmaker Jhonny Theze. South Bronx United Images
The Bronx based organization, with Sporting SC by their side, was on their way to the most prominent amateur league in New York. Jenkins explained that they didn’t have much time to prepare accordingly for the much competitive reserve league of the second division compared to Metro 2--the partnership happened a month before the season started.
But they were ready. Although, they were missing players, South Bronx defeated Brishna Res., 5-3, in their first outing and downed giants NYPD Res., 4-2, the following week.
They got a bit ahead of themselves after those first two matches.
“I think we saw at this point, you know, ‘we’re too good for this league, we’re going to win all of our games,’” Jenkins stated.
The Bronx club then lost their next two games to KidSuper Samba A.C. Res., 6-2, and to Central Park Rangers Reds Res., 5-3. Jenkins called those two losses a "reality check.”
The Irishman explained that one of the young team’s main weaknesses was, as expected, being inexperienced.
“A lot of teams we played this year I don’t think have as much talent as we did. But they got results against us,” he said.
“They were smarter than us on the field and they knew the right way to play the referee, they knew the right way for time wasting, things like that, which is real soccer. Something that comes with experience from playing in this league and our guys really struggled with that.”
Another problem SBU faced in their first campaign in a men’s league was not having the right amount players at practices and matches and a lack of punctuality among the players.
What made up for their weaknesses was obviously their talent but also their chemistry on and off the field. Because of the club’s different youth levels, the players have been playing with each other for years therefore there’s a deep sense of family.
“When you see South Bronx United, you just see a family. We’re really close to each other. We do everything together,” an excited Theze said.
SBU finished the season in third place with a solid 9W-4D-3L record. They missed the playoffs by just four points and netted the second most goals in their division, finding the net 57 times in 16 matches.
Even though he’s only 19, Theze was their top scorer, tallying 20 goals. The Haitian is one of the 2019 graduates of the academic program alongside his teammates Ousmane Konate and Alhassane Jallow.
“Jhonny is an extremely talented player, one of the most exciting attacking players you will find in the Cosmos League,” Jenkins said about his Number 10. “He has the ability to go very far.”
Theze will play for Utica College next Fall in the third collegiate division. The Haitian youth national player will hope that his skills and knack for scoring goals will earn him a way to a school from the first division where he belongs.
Playing D1 isn’t only the attacking midfielder’s aim at the college level but also in the CSL. SBU has a chance to join the first division's reserve league next year as their first team, Sporting SC, will play a promotional match against Stal Mielec NY on Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. at Randall’s Island Field 70.
Theze can help Sporting make it to the top division; the first team called him on their roster for Wednesday’s game.
Playing in the CSL’s D1 reserve division after just one season in a men’s league would be quite a story for South Bronx.