The boys’ soccer team has traveled all over the world to prepare for some of its most successful seasons. This year’s squad, which features 20 returning players from a unit that reached the Union County Tournament and North 2, Group 3 championship games last fall, will travel to Costa Rica this summer to face-off against teams from around the world.
Under the direction of longtime and NJSCA Hall of Fame coach Tom Breznitsky, the squad will train and play six games in San Jose and Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Over a 10-night, 11-day trip the players will also explore the beautiful environment and culture that the country has to offer.
Breznitsky has taken past Scotch Plains teams to Brazil three times and to Holland, Germany and Belgium twice.
“We plan these trips accordingly, every two years,” Breznitsky said.
After the team’s trip to Brazil in 2009, it posted a 19-win season that included a trip to the North 2, Group 3 championship game.
“The parents and everyone involved work very hard with fundraising to help defray costs,” Breznitsky said. “We had flower sales on Easter and Mother’s Day and we raised money with canister drives and also golf outings.”
Breznitsky partnered with Costa Rica Soccer Tours to plan the trip. By blending high-caliber international competition, team activities and cultural experiences, the company helps ensure that the trip is one that team members will not soon forget.
Between games and practices, players participate in one of two community projects. The athletes may choose to visit a community center, where they will play soccer with children and distribute donations of clothing or toys. Alternatively, the athletes may elect to promote English literacy by reading English-language books to Costa Rican elementary children.
“Of the previous trips abroad, I think we came back and did exceptionally well,” Breznitsky said. “It’s an experience for the kids to enjoy a soccer culture from another country. There’s a lot more to it than just soccer.”
But of course, soccer and improving as a team remains the paramount goal. “We’re not interested in getting trained by someone from Costa Rica,” Breznitsky said. “We’re interested in playing their best competition and have our kids in shape so they can be a step ahead of everyone else for the high school season.”
When the team returns, it will have about a week to go before practice officially commences for the 2011 season on Aug. 22.
For Breznitsky, this will be his 37th year at the helm of the Raiders, which began with the 1975 season. The fourth-winningest coach in New Jersey and No. 12 in the nation, Breznitsky is four wins away from gaining his 600th victory. He enters the upcoming campaign with a record of 596-136-46 (.814).
“I just love it,” Breznitsky said about his desire to continue coaching. “It’s something I always wanted to do and we’ve always had tremendous success. It keeps you going. I enjoy the kids and there’s no question about the tradition of the program here. I would like to continue - I’m 63 now - for a few more years and then hand it over to a younger guy…. We’ve built a program second-to-none here. If you’re a coach, you coach. If you have a successful program you keep on enjoying it.”
Not one to shy away from games against top-notch competition, Scotch Plains will open at home Sept. 8 against national power St. Benedict’s Prep of Newark.
“We used to play St. Benedict’s in the 1980s and 1990s, played them for 17 years,” Breznitsky said. “Then we stopped playing them. A couple of our kids have acquaintances with some of theirs, so they asked me if we could play them. This could be one of the best teams we’ve had here in six to seven years, so I’m looking forward to the challenge.”