Written by Marilou Giammona Friday, 10 February 2012 00:00
Garden City High School Class of 2007 graduate Joseph Tavernese Jr. recently signed a contract to play soccer for Armadale F.C., a second division pro team in Australia. Upon graduation from Siena College in May 2011, where he attended on a Division I soccer scholarship, Tavernese embarked on a career in professional soccer, initially signing with F.C. New York, which is part of United Soccer Leagues.
“I played professionally [last] summer and I got re-signed for my team, but [the team] folded because we lost our sponsor,” Tavernese said during an interview on Monday, Jan. 30, the day before he was set to leave for Armadale. Undeterred, Tavernese picked up an agent, composed a resume and put together a highlight tape, which included two full games from his senior year at Siena. His agent sent his portfolio to various teams within multiple countries, and Australia came back with the best offer, Tavernese said.He signed an open-ended contract with Armadale, which is located about 15 minutes from the bigger city of Perth. “If I get picked up by a first division team in Australia, which is my goal, or any other [first-division] team in Asia or New Zealand, then I could be there for a couple of years,” Tavernese said.
“There will be coaches and scouts from the first division [in Asia, Australia and New Zealand] coming to watch our games,” so Tavernese could end up playing for any number of countries, including China, Thailand or Japan, he explained. “They send scouts, recruiters and coaches over to watch our games and see if they find someone that they want to come up to the first division, which is inevitably where I want to be … it’s the highest level of playing professionally with the best players.” And, of course, the pay is better, Tavernese added.
Playing in the second division in Australia opens up more doors than playing in the second division in the U.S., according to Tavernese. Major League Soccer is the first division in the U.S., and Tavernese played in the United Soccer Leagues, which is the second division. The difference in this country is that the second division is “not really a feeder system. So, if you’re in the second division in America, you’re kind of stuck there, whereas if you’re in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, places like that, they take the second division more serious and they look to sign people from the second division into the first division,” Tavernese explained. “Going to Australia gives me a much better opportunity to get to a higher division,” he said.
More often than not, if you’re not picked up by Major League Soccer (MLS) right out of college, you get pigeon-holed in a lower division if you continue to play in the U.S. “MLS looks for players overseas, and they look for kids straight out of college,” according to Tavernese. “If you’re not one of the top 10 players the year you come out [of college], you’re probably not going to be in the MLS.”
To be sure, though, Tavernese was a top collegiate player. In his senior year at Siena, he was rated in the top 20 in the country for assists. He was a starter all four years while at Siena, which is a Division I team, and was captain during his senior year. Tavernese was top two in assists in a single season and all time in school history. He also boasts the most appearances in school history.
Prior to deciding on Australia, Tavernese tried to get a European passport, which is a prerequisite to obtaining European working papers. He had his eye on England, but would only have been able to secure working papers for 90 days, then would have had to return to the States for 90 days, and then repeat the cycle. “I’m trying to get a European passport while I’m playing in Australia because Australia gave me a 12-month visa,” he said. For now, his main goal “is to go from the second division in Australia to the first division and basically settle in over there.”
So, what inspired Tavernese’s passion for soccer? “I was always pretty into soccer my whole life, but when I made the state team in freshman year [at Garden City High School], that’s when I got serious about soccer. Each state has its own state team, so I made the New York State team. They pick the top 18 players in the state,” he said. While at G.C.H.S., Tavernese started all four years and was team caption during his junior and senior years. Additionally, he was an All-Conference and All County player and All Conference Player of the Year.
Having had been cut from the state team in eighth grade, Tavernese was on a mission his freshman year. “When I was a freshman in high school, I started to wake up before school and go running, I’d go on the weekends before practice, I’d go out on the field and I’d train and shoot by myself and kind of just start to develop skills to get better,” he said. Shortly thereafter, he set his eyes on getting recruited for college, “and once I got into college, it kind of just went … I would train with the team, wake up before classes, in-between classes, just go to the gym, and train on my own. When I was home in the summer I’d run, I’d train three times a day, I’d coach kids. So basically, all day, every day I was coaching or training myself , just trying to do whatever I could to get better … anything that I thought would help me get to the next level.”
Tavernese credits his father, Joseph Tavernese Sr., with giving him “the desire and passion and love for the game.” Tavernese started playing around the age of three. Tavernese’s mother, Debra, owns Broadway Bound Dance Center of Garden City, and Tavernese did, indeed, do some dancing during his younger years. Asked whether that fancy footwork carried over onto the soccer field, he quipped, “My mom likes to think that it does!” Seriously, though, “I think that it does a little bit ... [with training that involves] going through ladders, hurtles, cones, usually on whatever team I’ve played for, I’ve been the fastest with it,” he admits. “I usually do have really quick feet, and I guess through the blood, through the genes, through when I was younger messing around in her dance studio, probably it definitely did help a little bit to make my feet as quick as they are.”
What advice does Tavernese have for youngsters? “You have to chase after your dreams, whatever they are. … What I tell the kids that I coach is that you have to put 110 percent into whatever you want to do. So, for me, if I had the choice to hang out and spend a late night on a Friday, I’d rather go to sleep early and wake up early on Saturday morning and train so that I could get better or wake up extra early, so that I could play in a game and then go somewhere else and play in another game,” he said. “For me, it was that I wanted to spend as much time as possible training to get better and to do whatever I could while still enjoying the game. …You have to do what makes you happy. For me, soccer is what makes me happy, so I like to be out there all day long constantly playing, constantly training.
“If soccer is something that you want … make sure you always have fun while you’re doing it because if you’re not having fun, even if you’re training hard, in the end you’re not really going to have much passion for something if you don’t truly love it while you’re doing it.”