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Rough Riders bring soccer close to home

Luke Magill of the Rough Riders, right, races

Luke Magill of the Rough Riders, right, races his opponent to get to the ball in a game against the Western Mass Pioneers at Cy Donnelly Stadium in St. Anthony's High School in South Huntington. (June 12, 2010) Credit: Photo by David Pokress

If all that watching the FIFA World Cup in South Africa on television has you fired up for more corner kicks, headers and free kicks, then you're probably looking for someplace to satisfy your soccer itch closer to home. The Long Island Rough Riders are happy to fill the bill - right here in South Huntington.

While you won't find any David Beckhams or Landon Donovans on the field, here's the good news: The spectators aren't blaring any yellow horns.

"I've been a Rough Riders fan since they began," says Bill Gerham, 59, from the sidelines during a recent home match. The East Meadow native remembers bringing his nephews to games more than a decade ago, when they were kids. Now they buy him tickets.

ABOUT THE TEAMS

"Our players are a mix of college and pros," says Rough Riders president and former soccer player Peter Zaratin. "We're a platform for players wanting to get into Major League Soccer or play overseas."

That means the men and women who take the field are skilled - some are on professional contracts, many are former college soccer standouts - but all are still accessible to fans.

Indeed, there was a good-size crowd for a recent Saturday evening women's game, with many spectators lining up for players' autographs as more fans arrived for the men's match.

AT THE GAME

"It's a lot of fun," says Bruce Murray, 48, of West Babylon, who was attending his first game with fellow soccer parent Sheila Seward. Both have children who play the sport, making them among the soccer moms and dads that Zaratin says is the franchise's target audience, along with boys and girls ages 9 to 12.

"It's great that what we're trying to teach our players they can see well executed here on the field," says Seward, 48.

Rough Riders games tend to be fast-paced, with high scoring and many shots on goal.

The games have commentators, and breaks in play are livened up with music, giveaways, fan interaction and other family-friendly activities. A concession stand sells candy ($2), bottled water and fountain drinks ($2), along with pizza by the slice ($3).

FOR THE KIDS

Local kids who play soccer in the Rough Riders' club leagues typically serve as "ball" boys and girls during games. But from time to time, Rough Riders staffers go through the stands and invite a lucky kid to take on the job of chasing balls that go astray.

GOOD TO KNOW

In the spirit: The team's colors are royal blue, white and red. The mascot is Teddy, named after President Theodore Roosevelt.

The beginning: The Rough Riders started in 1994. The men's and women's teams each won their first United Soccer League national championship in 1995.

Goin' pro: U.S. National Team member Edson Buddle is a Rough Rider alum, having played here in 2000.

Long Island Rough Riders

Men's team plays 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 8 p.m. Wednesday and 6:30 p.m. July 18; women's team plays 3:30 July 18; all games at Cy Donnelly Stadium at St. Anthony's High School, 275 Wolf Hill Rd., South Huntington, 516-622-3900, liroughriders.com

Admission: $10 ($8 ages 5-16)

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