From the PYSA to RIIL state finals

From the PYSA to RIIL state finals

Left, Pawtucket residents and lifelong soccer players, from left, Jack Brusso, Julian Aristizabal, and Luis Blanco stand in front of where their soccer careers began, on the fields of the city’s McKinnon-Alves Complex. Right, Aristizabal, left, Blanco, center, and Brusso pose for a picture underneath the bleachers of La Salle Academy’s stadium after Tolman and La Salle battled to a 1-1 draw in their regular-season meeting last Sept. 13. The Tigers and the Rams met again two months later in the state championship game, and Tolman came away with a 1-0 victory.
Pawtucket friends look back at journey from youth soccer to high school

PAWTUCKET – Sports have a habit of bringing people together, and that’s what soccer did for a group of boys from Pawtucket.

Last Saturday, three former teammates of the Pawtucket Storm’s SuperLiga travel team returned to where it all started, the McKinnon-Alves Soccer Complex, and Jack Brusso, Julian Aristizabal and Luis Blanco recalled some of their memories from playing on the complex and how that had bonded them for life.

The Pawtucket Youth Soccer Association is where many of the city’s youngsters try their hand – or foot – at soccer, and the ones who truly enjoy the sport and progress at it have usually gone on to take the field for the Storm.

Brusso, Aristizabal and Blanco began playing soccer around the age of 4 and met many other players, who along with them, went on to make a name for themselves on soccer fields across the state.

“I joined the Pawtucket Rec League, and from there, I met these two clowns (Julian and Luis),” Brusso jokingly said. “I started playing for the Pawtucket Storm and I just never stopped.”

These three Pawtucket boys, along with some of their friends, continued to play soccer together, but veered into different directions once they reached high school.

Brusso is a senior at La Salle Academy who was a First-Team All-State defensive standout for the second year in a row. Aristizabal is also a senior striker at La Salle, and they played against Blanco’s Tolman High team in the state championship match last fall, which the Tigers won by a 1-0 score.

Blanco, another senior, had gone to the New England Revolution Academy, but decided to play for the Tigers in his final year of high school. Blanco, who will continue his soccer career at D-II Franklin Pierce University this fall, was also a First-Team All-State striker who was also selected to the U.S. Soccer Coaches’ All-New England and All-American teams.

“Opportunities came about, and I started to push myself when I started to get better at a young age, and my dad started helping me a lot,” added Blanco, who led all Division I scorers in goals with 19. “I started to train and get prepared. My goal was to become a professional soccer player, and it still is now.”

As for last season’s magical season, which saw the Tigers post a 14-0-4 record, Blanco smiled and said, “Undefeated season and state champions,” to the laughter of the two La Salle boys, who both said they wouldn’t have wanted to lose to any other team.

Brusso said that his sister had gone to La Salle and recommended the school to him; Aristizabal said that he wasn’t even supposed to go to La Salle.

“There was a soccer camp at La Salle called the Sting Rays,” he added. “It’s like two weeks right before school starts. I just talked to the coach and Jack Brusso and I managed to get on the team and go to school there. Thanks to soccer.”

For these boys, soccer is life. Both Blanco and Aristizabal come from Colombian families, and they both agreed that soccer is in everything.

Some of the other Pawtucket boys who were born in 2000 and 2001, played for the Storm, and made a name for themselves include Ricardo Benitez, Jonathan Soares, Juan and Roy Barrios, Babacar Sow, Cano Morales, Max Rodriguez, and Cam Toti.

Benitez went to Cumberland High, while Sow eventually transferred to La Salle from Bishop Hendricken. The Barrios twins played for Tolman High, Soares is at Davies, Toti played for Burrillville, and both Morales and Rodriguez played for St. Raphael Academy.

Brusso, Aristizabal and Blanco are seniors and will be graduating from high school in a couple of months, but they had fun looking back last Saturday.

“It’s crazy because everybody takes their own paths once you grow up and stuff,” Blanco said. “No matter what, we are still going to be close, because we grew up together. That’s what I like about Pawtucket; there is diversity here and there’s always going to be that bond between us.

“We just grew up with each other, played with each other, and played against each other, and I just think that’s a bond that’s probably never going to go away.”

Aristizabal laughed as he told Brusso what he remembered about their first meeting on those fields. He said he remembers Brusso wearing super bright, yellow cleats.

All three boys continue to play soccer, despite the high school season being done. Aristizabal and Brusso play for Bruno United, a club team out of Providence, where they have been for at least eight to nine years. Blanco said he will play with the Rhode Island Reds this summer to get ready for his first season at Franklin Pierce, where he plans to study physical therapy.

“I’ve been hoping, since I was little, to become pro, but I’ll have (physical therapy) as a backup, just in case the soccer path doesn’t work out,” Blanco said. “I hope Franklin Pierce helps me become a better soccer player and person and I get to know more people and build friendships.”

Brusso and Aristizabal will stay together for four more years at Wheaton College. They are both undecided with their majors, but say if they can go professional, they will.

“I definitely think college is for academics number one, because obviously, we can’t play soccer forever, no matter if we go pro or not,” Brusso said. “I would love to go pro. If college is the end for me, then that’s okay, because I think college is going to be the best four years of my life.”

Aristizabal echoed his friend’s sentiments.

“Since I was little, I’ve always had the dream of going professional,” he said. “But academics is first. It’s all about the future. And if there ever is a chance I can go pro, I’ll take it, but I have to make sure school comes first.”

Soccer shaped their young adult lives and will continue to shape it in the future. They will always have familiar faces and friends because of long ago days on the soccer field. Aristizabal and Brusso tried other sports, but eventually focused on just soccer, while Blanco has primarily played soccer. They can’t imagine what their lives would be without the sport.

“Without soccer, I don’t know who I would be, as a person, honestly,” Blanco admitted. “That’s literally my whole life. School is important, but everything I do is based off soccer.”

Brusso added, “It’s been too big a part. All of my friends are because of soccer. My whole high school experience was shaped around soccer. My whole life has been 100 percent soccer.”

“I agree with Jack; if it wasn’t for soccer, we wouldn’t be at (McKinnon-Alves) right now or met as many people as we did,” Aristizabal said. “It’s been a cool experience.”

They remembered the pure enjoyment of playing their sport when they were younger and had no pressure. They will hold onto their memories of the “good old days” as graduation and adulthood near, and while they look to continue their success in the future, they said they will stay in touch.

“We’ll probably get together every World Cup and watch it,” Brusso said, as the other two laughed.