Written by Randy Vogt Thursday, 12 September 2013 00:00
After a standout youth soccer career as a keeper in the Long Island Junior Soccer League (LIJSL), Dani Braga won a NCAA national championship in 1996, played briefly in the pros and returned to the LIJSL as a top coach for the past decade. Being hired as Jericho High School’s boys varsity coach in 2011, he coached the Jayhawks to two consecutive state championships in his two years at the helm so far.
Dani (pronounced like “Donny”) spent his entire youth soccer career playing with the LIJSL’s Syosset Lions as well as playing with the LIJSL Select Team, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association (ENYYSA) Olympic Development Program and Region 1 ODP. He was not the starting goalkeeper at Syosset High School in the early 1990s as his close friend, Sal Fontana, started in goal. But Sal played for the US Youth National Team and, while he was away with the red, white and blue, Dani started for their high school team.
As teenagers, Dani and Sal would go to Stillwell Woods in Woodbury to watch their fathers play with the Syosset Mens-Over-30 team.
Dani served as keeper for West Virginia University in 1994 and 1995, then transferred to St. John’s University in Queens, where he started in goal in 1996 and 1997. He led the Red Storm to the NCAA national championship in 1996, the first NCAA title that a St. John’s team in any sport had ever won as Dani was selected the top college goalkeeper in the country. St. John’s 4-1 win in the finals over Florida International University had a familiar face in the opposite goal as his old friend Sal Fontana was the FIU keeper. Who would have thought that two old friends from the same high school team and same LIJSL club would be on opposite sides in the biggest game of their lives?
Now 37 years old, Dani describes winning the NCAA title as his best moment ever on a soccer field.
After graduating from St. John’s, Dani briefly played professionally with Sporting Lisbon, Caldas and Lourhinese in Portugal as well as the now defunct Miami Fusion of MLS.
He returned to New York and turned to coaching, serving as coach of many Jericho Athletic Association teams during the past decade. The Syosset resident also owns two gyms, LIFT (Long Island Fitness and Training) in Woodbury and Westbury.
Youth soccer aided the high school game as the players that Dani developed with the Jericho Athletic Association were the same players who won the state championship for Jericho High School during his past two years at the helm.
“I think the key to winning the states was instilling a strong work ethic into the boys and having them believe the team first attitude is greater then individual awards. Sacrifice is key to the team goals,” Dani said. “I have trained most of the high school kids on the club level since the second grade. There is a tremendous bond with them, their families and the community that is second to none.”