Mark Casasanto Jr. has perpetually pursued renown for his soccer clubs but has never coveted individual merit. The 20-year-old acquired the former in the fall, as his Community College of Philadelphia Colonials captured their first Eastern States Soccer League title and accepted the latter last week in receiving the Conference Player of the Year distinction.
“I’m definitely proud to be a winner again,” the young man said Tuesday from his home on the 2400 block of South 20th Street. “As for getting an award, that’s an added bonus to our fantastic season.”
The Girard Estate dweller and first-year attendee at the Center City-situated facility had begun his time there timidly, a partial product of lingering memories from injuries suffered while a Roman Catholic High School player and of enrollment at a new institution following a year at The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College. Eventually earning the captaincy, he regularly logged 90 minutes per tilt and proved a focused factor in the squad’s championship plans.
“I knew I’d be joining a solid team,” Casasanto said of last year’s league runner-up. “I just wanted to be a reliable leader and take on the pressure of helping us to win as much as possible. I think my interest in taking on the stress has been one think that’s helped me succeed.”
Having aided the Colonials’ run to the regular season crown, he anticipated a thrilling playoff slate and rejoiced Oct. 30 when his unit topped Williamson and Trade 4-1 on penalty kicks. Notching a goal on his boot, he brought to completion his return to a sport that before his post-secondary school graduation hiatus had occupied him since age 3. Going from reluctant to raring as a collegiate athlete, he yearns to build on last season’s success over the summer and fall, with peers from Roman and Ss. Neumann-Goretti High School, 1736 S. 10th St., set to suit up for the impending Division 1 junior college club.
“Many times during the year, I needed to be in a leadership role, and I respected those opportunities,” the right fullback, who tallied four goals and six assists during the campaign, said. “That desire to help everyone to believe in themselves won’t go away, especially after what we achieved.”
While looking to be an apostle of positivity, Casasanto has attracted many disciples who have found themselves likewise infatuated with displaying sportsmanship and orchestrating championship celebrations. Commencing his career with the Southeast Youth Athletic Association, Seventh Street and Packer Avenue, he benefited from his father’s coaching tutelage and quickly accepted soccer’s calling to take him from being a three-sport aficionado to a solo pastime practitioner.
“The game definitely became something I felt I stood out in doing,” Casasanto, who in picking the globally adored endeavor kicked baseball and floor hockey aside. “Every practice and match, I wanted to be out there competing and growing.”
Meshing masterfully with his mates, he captained the 2006 outfit that won Team of the Year kudos from the now-defunct Philadelphia KiXX and generated more attention in becoming an initial member of the South Philadelphia Soccer Club. Never one to downgrade the team concept in search of the limelight, he reveled with multiple indoor and outdoor groups in co-captaining city championship aspirations and United Junior Soccer League title quests. “I definitely have enjoyed being a competitor, and I really believe I’ve gained even more awareness of what it takes to make it through traveling,” Casasanto, whose wanderlust has found fulfillment through numerous stops, including a pair of medal-winning trips to the Keystone Games for Team Metro, said. “Getting that integration has been vital.”
The heavily-sought star elected to trek outside of South Philly in attending Roman, with nine of his South Philadelphia Soccer Club Strikers colleagues likewise choosing the Center City site. Captaining the freshman squad, he gained offensive MVP honors even when missing time because of mononucleosis. Making the switch to varsity, Casasanto, who confessed he had known high school competition would intensify his physical preparation, quickly learned that his mental might would also have to be untiring, as he suffered a season-ending broken leg as a sophomore and a similar year-concluding concussion and neck sprain while a senior. He proved his commitment to the Cahillites in the latter matter by refusing to let Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia trauma doctors cut off his jersey to scan him, a decision that endeared him even more to the fans of the eventual Catholic League semifinalists.
“I loved my time at Roman and really wished we could have won the title,” Casasanto, who scored the Coaches Award and Senior Choice Best Soccer Player plaudit in ’12, said. “I made great friends there, so that counts more than winning, though.”
With recollections of his injuries nearly inescapable, he limited himself to playing in a men’s league while pursuing culinary interests at The Restaurant School. The instruction spawned immediate doubts, so he sought out Community College, where he has certainly enriched his athletic nature and become more of an influence for sister Julianna, a Penn Charter School attendee who will extend her soccer journey at Chestnut Hill College.
“I intend to ride out my time at CCP and see what happens,” Casasanto, who assists his father at the Northwest Philly-based Imperial Security, said of the immediate future. “I have so much love for the game that I definitely want to coach. There’s time to decide.”
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