Jericho High School coach Dani Braga on the right with assistant coach Jim Whalen
By Randy Vogt, Director of Public Relations, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association
September 5, 2013-This is a story of two goalkeepers not letting a competitive rivalry get in the way of a lifelong friendship and one of the keepers returning to Long Island to coach kids today.
After a standout youth soccer career as a keeper in the Long Island Junior Soccer League (LIJSL), Dani Braga won a NCAA national championship in 1996, played briefly in the pros and returned to the LIJSL as a top coach for the past decade. Being hired as Jericho High School’s boys varsity coach in 2011, he coached the Jayhawks to two consecutive state championships in his two years at the helm so far.
Dani (pronounced like "Donny") spent his entire youth soccer career playing with the LIJSL’s Syosset Lions as well as playing with the LIJSL Select Team, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association (ENYYSA) Olympic Development Program and Region 1 ODP. Curiously, he was not the starting goalkeeper at Syosset High School in the early 1990’s as his close friend, Sal Fontana, started in goal. But Sal played for the US Youth National Team and while he was away with the red, white and blue, Dani started for their high school team.
As teenagers, Dani and Sal would go to Stillwell Woods in Woodbury to watch their fathers play with the Syosset Mens-Over-30 team.
Dani served as keeper for West Virginia University in 1994 and 1995, then transferred to St. John’s University in Queens, where he started in goal in 1996 and 1997. He led the Red Storm to the NCAA national championship in 1996, the first NCAA title that a St. John’s team in any sport had ever won as Dani was selected the top college goalkeeper in the country. St. John’s 4-1 win in the finals over Florida International University had a familiar face in the opposite goal as his old friend Sal Fontana was the FIU keeper. Who would have thought that two old friends from the same high school team and same LIJSL club would be on opposite sides in the biggest game of their lives?
Now 37 years old, Dani describes winning the NCAA title as his best moment ever on a soccer field.
After graduating from St. John’s, Dani briefly played professionally with Sporting Lisbon, Caldas and Lourhinese in Portugal as well as the now defunct Miami Fusion of MLS.
He returned to New York and turned to coaching, serving as coach of many Jericho Athletic Association teams during the past decade. The Syosset resident also owns two gyms, LIFT (Long Island Fitness and Training) in Woodbury and Westbury.
Youth soccer aided the high school game as the players that Dani developed with the Jericho Athletic Association were the same players who won the state championship for Jericho High School during his past two years at the helm.
"I think the key to winning the states was instilling a strong work ethic into the boys and having them believe the team first attitude is greater then individual awards. Sacrifice is key to the team goals," Dani said. "I have trained most of the high school kids on the club level since the second grade. There is a tremendous bond with them, their families and the community that is second to none."
With 123,843 youth soccer players––68,587 boys and 55,256 girls––and more than 25,000 volunteers, the non-profit Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association (ENYYSA) stretches from Montauk Point, Long Island to the Canadian border. Members are affiliated with 12 leagues throughout the association, which covers the entire state of New York east of Route 81. ENYYSA exists to promote and enhance the game of soccer for children and teenagers between the ages of 5 and 19 years old, and to encourage the healthy development of youth players, coaches, referees and administrators. All levels of soccer are offered––from intramural, travel team and premier players as well as Special Children. No child who wants to play soccer is turned away. ENYYSA is a proud member of the United States Soccer Federation and United States Youth Soccer Association. For more information, please log on to http://www.enysoccer.com/, which receives nearly 300,000 hits annually from the growing soccer community.