In 2007, the Southampton Soccer Club was in its infancy as a small community-based organization, with only 35 players. But executive director Andreas Lindberg and other founders had a vision of expanding it into something greater, creating a club that would develop youth soccer enthusiasts from across the East End of Long Island and gain a reputation as one of the top clubs on Long Island.
More than 10 years later, Lindberg and the club have realized that dream, and the proof lies not only in the numbers — with 350 male and female players — but also in the steady rise in competition each year. Several teams within the organization have ascended the ranks, playing in elite divisions and tournaments outside of the Long Island Junior Soccer League, against some of the best clubs in the Tri-State area and beyond, and winning to boot.
This month, three Southampton Soccer Club teams will represent their club on an international stage, as they travel to Sweden from July 14 to 20 for the Gothia Cup, commonly known as the World Cup for youth soccer players.
The Gothia Cup is a juggernaut of an event. There are roughly 1,700 teams from 80 countries in attendance, and 4,350 games will be played on 110 different fields during the tournament. Southampton is sending three boys teams: the boys 2003 squad (which refers to their birth year), which is an under-16 team; the boys 2005 (U14) team; and the boys 2006 (U13) team.
The Southampton players will square off against teams from Lebanon, Sweden, England, Denmark and Norway, to name a few, and they will also have a chance to see some of the world’s most famous youth soccer clubs in action, including Right to Dream from Ghana.
Lindberg has had the Gothia Cup on his radar as a goal for the Southampton Soccer Club for more than a year, but he has been intimately familiar with it for his entire life. He is a native of Sweden and grew up playing in the Malmo FF soccer club’s youth organization.
An East Quogue resident, Lindberg eventually moved to the United States, and played soccer at Southampton College. He then got his start coaching the men’s team there, before moving on to the head coaching position at C.W. Post (Long Island University), which he developed into a Division II powerhouse before taking the head coaching position at Division I Seton Hall University in 2017.
Malmo FF is the top pro team out of Sweden and has played in the Champions League. Malmo, on the southwestern tip of Sweden, a stone’s throw from nearby Denmark, is Lindberg’s home town, and is roughly three hours south of Gotenburg, where the Gothia Cup is held. A contingent of 110 people associated with the club, including players, parents and coaches, will leave for Sweden on July 11 and come back on July 21.
The 50 players who are competing on the three Southampton teams all play at the highest level of any teams in the Southampton Soccer Club, competing in Division I of the New York Club Premier League, which is a higher level of competition than the Long Island Junior Soccer League. The teams, like many of the other teams within the Southampton Soccer Club, include not only players from Southampton, but also from Westhampton Beach, Hampton Bays, Mattituck, East Hampton and Sag Harbor, as well as a few who live in New York City but come out on weekends to be part of the club.
While there are a few players who reside outside of Southampton Town, Lindberg said that the fact that the club has reached such an elite level without drawing star players from a wide geographic location is a point of pride.
“We’re still a community-based club,” he said. “That’s why having these three teams play at this level is really cool.”
Playing in the highest level of the New York Premier League is good practice for the three squads that will head to Sweden. The 2005 team in particular has been making club history. It qualified to play in a national premier league next year, which will mark the first time in the club’s history that any of its teams have done that.
“We want these kids to go to college,” Lindberg said. “We want the kids to reach a really high level of soccer.”
Taking on the kind of teams that attend the Gothia Cup will certainly achieve that goal, and it will also be a culturally enriching experience for the players. They will fly into Denmark and then spend the first three days visiting Malmo, and playing scrimmages against teams within that club, before a three-hour bus ride to Gotenburg. The opening ceremonies for the tournament take place in front of 50,000 people.
“It’s a really big deal. It’s like the Olympics,” Lindberg said. Each team is guaranteed four games and could play as many as seven if they advance far in the playoffs.
Taking such a big group on a long international trip is not easy, logistically or from a financial standpoint, and Lindberg pointed out that it would not be possible without the support of parents and other community members who helped out with fundraising and made the commitment of time and money to make the trip possible.
On the coaching side, Lindberg will be joined by Gary Easlick, the club’s director of coaching, as well as Will Towle, who is the head coach for both the 2003 and 2006 teams (Lindberg is the head coach for the 2005 team). Sean Collins and Jorge Rojas serve as assistant coaches for all three teams.
Lindberg added that three parents in particular — Tony Panza, Kristy Stevens and Jessica Insalaco — have been instrumental in helping put the trip together. He hopes it becomes a tradition for the club, another example of its continued growth and commitment to supporting and developing youth soccer players on the East End.
Lindberg also pointed out that the girls teams have been making strides in the Southampton Soccer Club in recent years, with the girls U16 team finishing fourth in the LIJ premier division this year. It was the first time a Southampton Soccer Club girls team had made it to the premier league of LIJ. He’s hoping that the club will bring a girls contingent to the Gothia Cup in the near future, as part of the continued development of the club.
“It’s super exciting,” Lindberg said. “We’re consistently getting kids to go to college these days, and it’s just a really cool thing to see. Our hope is that we can take teams to this every other year.”