44° Good Morning
44° Good Morning
SportsHigh SchoolBoys Soccer

Familiarity of Jack Roberts, Michael Blumberg brings title to Jericho coach Dani Braga

Jericho's Jack Roberts, right, and Jake Zorfas celebrate

Jericho's Jack Roberts, right, and Jake Zorfas celebrate at the final whistle in a Class A semifinal against Goshen. (Nov. 16, 2013) Credit: Adrian Kraus

The journey started with two best friends in the second grade.

It began with a 27-year-old soccer trainer.

And, of course, it also started with a dream.

Jack Roberts and Michael Blumberg, the two captains on the Jericho boys soccer team, first met their high school coach Dani Braga when they were both 7.

At that time, Blumberg and Roberts both played on a Jericho youth team, which their fathers coached. The fathers soon solicited the training help of Braga, who won an NCAA national championship in 1996 playing goalkeeper for St. John's, ran his own soccer training company and had previously instructed Roberts' older brother.

"Dani is a funny, charismatic guy and ever since the first days, we looked to him as a father-figure," Roberts said.

Along with Blumberg and Roberts, about 10 other players from that youth team developed their soccer skills under Braga. The group later all joined the Jericho varsity team.

And in 2011 Braga joined his prodigies when he was named coach of the Jericho boys soccer team.

With a foundation built on familiarity, Jericho (14-4-4) netted its unprecedented third straight state Class A championship on Nov. 17. Braga became the first coach on Long Island to win three straight state championships in his first three years, according to Newsday records. The only other Long Island high school to win three consecutive boys soccer state titles is Southold, which did it in 1979-1981 and 1983-1985.

"Since I was in the second grade, I dreamed about this situation," said Roberts, a sweeper. "When Dani became the coach when I was in 10th grade it became so surreal. I still can't grasp the feeling that we won again."

Yet it was never easy for Jericho this season. Beset by injuries, the Jayhawks at one point had a 3-3-2 record.

"We were always confident but at one point we had to ask ourselves what was going on," said Blumberg, a midfielder. "Teams just came out wanting games more than us."

That noticeably changed after a practice on Oct. 1, which was when Braga informed the team they were on the verge of missing the playoffs. Jericho responded by winning five of its final seven regular-season matches to earn the No. 7 seed in the Nassau Class A playoffs.

A different player stepped up every game for Jericho. Andrew Greenblatt and David Greenbaum each scored four goals in the playoffs. Jake Zorfas and Tyler Amodio played well defensively during the state tournament and goalkeeper Reed Ginsburg made 12 saves in the final.

Jericho and Pittsford Mendon were named state Class A co-champions after a scoreless state final match, which included two overtime periods, at Middletown High School. Yet despite having to share the title, Braga said the group he's developed "exceeded even my wildest expectations."

"Before our last game, Dani told us he loved us and the last 10 years have been the best years of his life coaching us at Jericho," Roberts said. "After the game he said he'll remember this run forever."

So will Roberts and Blumberg.

More high schools