clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Cosmopolitan Soccer League playoff preview

What to know as New York City’s historic amateur league closes another season

2021 Cosmopolitan Division 3 finalists New York International FC line up on Randall’s Island
Photo by Brandon Hill

The end of spring might not seem important in the American soccer landscape with most professional leagues only about a quarter way through their seasons. However in New York City the beginning of June means the culmination of another Cosmopolitan Soccer League season, as has been the case for nearly a century. With the inclusion of a new top division and an entirely new partner league, it promises to be one of the more interesting postseasons yet for the city’s top amateur clubs.

The CSL is currently divided into four divisions with promotion/relegation instituted between them. Now directly above the CSL is the Eastern Premier Soccer League, a new joint venture between multiple state leagues that features promotion-relegation between itself and multiple feeder leagues.

In essence, if a CSL team gets relegated from the EPSL it goes back to the CSL, while a team from New Jersey would get relegated to that state’s league. Meanwhile a CSL team can be promoted into the EPSL if they win a promotional playoff match against the champion of another feeder league.

Example:

CSL D4 → CSL D3 → CSL D2 → CSL D1 → EPSL Metropolitan Conference

If you’re wondering why the current CSL Division 1 isn’t on this list it’s because that tier did not hold a playoff tournament this year and is instead focusing on the promotional playoff match between it’s champion, New York Shamrock SC, and the Garden State Soccer League Super Division winner. With no GSSL champion set, and the possibility no playoff match is needed should no New Jersey team want promotion, that match won’t be talked about.

Division 4

The fourth division is probably the closest to tradition when it comes to playoffs. Of the nine teams competing in the lowest tier of the CSL, which also began play in the Spring with an eight game season, the top four teams qualified for the postseason. FC Partizani NY, the team that finished first overall who have somehow practiced with controversial “rapper” Tekashi69 (no I am not kidding), already earned automatic promotion to Division 3 meaning one spot remains for the champion.

Guyana Veterans became the first CSL team this season to win a playoff trophy when they defeated New York Croatia, 2-0, this past weekend on Randalls Island. The first year team’s win over the early 60 year old Croatia side, which won the league’s top division back in 1998, is a great example of how much chaotic fun the lower divisions can be. In fact to get to the final, both Guyana and Croatia had to beat higher seeded favorites in #2 Brooklyn Bound SC and #1 Partizani.

Guyana now has the chance to join a wide open Division 3 that’s already full of tough competition. Promotion is not mandatory though so we’ll have to see if they take the offer (though Partizani already look to be heading up according to their Twitter).

Division 3

With eight teams qualifying, the CSL’s third division houses the largest postseason in the league. After three weeks of tough competition the final is set between New York International FC and Lansdowne Yonkers FC Metro. Both teams competed in the division’s North Conference this season (with nine teams in it and nine more in the South) and while NYIFC are the better team on paper, looking past records shows a way closer and more interesting match-up.

The first to qualify for the final was Lansdowne Yonkers’ reserve team, with the main side currently playing in the EPSL’s Metropolitan Conference. The Metro team, named after the previous name of the CSL lower leagues, beat Ridgewood Romac SC via penalty kicks before pushing past D3 South Conference champion CD Iberia, 2-1, in the quarterfinals.

Gene O’Driscoll, who acts as both a coach and player, is confident about his group’s chances against NYIFC and considers his team the favorite to win.

“We can beat teams on the ground, we can beat teams with the long ball, we can beat teams on set pieces,” said O’Driscoll to Once A Metro. “We know that we ourselves are the best team we’ve come across all season. Even the younger guys on the team have years of experience and have played in big finals over their careers.”

His reasoning has a huge point backing it up since his group handed International it’s only regular season loss, 3-0, last month near the end of the regular season. Despite being one of the last team’s in the playoffs with a record of 4-2-2, the team’s defense has been stout this year. Players in the back like Peter Hatzer and fullback Martin Sutton, along with 32 year old midfielder Emmet Hunter who is back playing soccer for the first time since he was 18, has been a bane to opposing offenses. Their work, plus keeper Aidan Tansey, has kept the team’s goals allowed to a mere 19 during the regular season, about two per game and two less than NYIFC’s total.

Landsdowne Yonkers FC Metro lines up for a league match
Photo by Gene O’Driscoll

The Metros have also been gaining results over the past few years winning an Eastern New York state cup (Strumpf Cup) in 2017 and won their conference in 2019 before falling in the divisional final.

Unlike International and CD Iberia, which have both clinched promotional spots due to them winning their respective conference, Lansdowne has no plans to seek promotion should they win. The team has previously turned down chances to jump up and coach O’Driscoll believes his side is better suited to the lower divisions of the lower division.

“We’re happy where we are - our eyes were always on doing enough to qualify for the playoffs and then winning the whole division outright, the most important prize.”

To O’Driscoll, his group represents what Lansdowne was before it grew; a group of locals and immigrants playing in the drudges of the lower leagues. Almost an out-and-out old-school pub team. That same low-kay mentality rises all the way up to the coaching staff with five different guys acting as head coaches. Now he’s just hoping the group will be able to hold its first team practice since April to get ready for the big match.

On the opposite side of the pitch New York International FC might also fit that same description O’Driscoll used for his own group. Founded in 2019, with roots dating back through two previous team incarnations, NYIFC is a group that’s been garnering notoriety through social media and, as of late, its on the field performances. Like its namesake says the whole roster, including team staff, is representative of 20 different nationalities and team president Nick Platt wants his group to be a community-driven soccer club.

To get here, New York had to beat Central Park Rangers Black, 1-0, before narrowly escaping 10-man New York Greek Americans Over-30 via penalty kicks after regulation ended scoreless.

Off the field, the team has been known to not take itself seriously on social media while also taking risks with new ways to engage the public. Back in February the team held a FIFA simulation tournament to help pick sponsors for it’s upcoming training kit. Now only last week, the team released the Charity Kit with proceeds set to go to Heal Charlotte (NC) and WeDo GoodWorks (NYC), which I unbiasedly suggest you go pick up.

On the pitch, this is the best season the team has ever had under any name. Beyond making its first playoff appearance the team won silverware for the first time when it won the D3 North Conference. Team manager Gary Philpott has said his team’s strength has come from it’s roster depth, with players like Edvin Löfgren and Jack Atherton combining for over ten goals. But he knows in preparing for a regular season rematch he needs to keep things on the level.

“The preparation for this week is about keeping it simple and making sure the team is focused,” said Philpott in an email. “It’s been a run of tough games, and the emotions were high (Sunday) with the dramatic penalty shootout win, but nothing has been won yet. We still have one final hurdle and the objective is to keep everyone tuned in and realizing what’s at stake. The hard work and preparations have been done over the course of the season. It’s about showing up ready and putting in the final piece of work.”

The final is scheduled for this Sunday, June 13, at Randalls Island Field 75. Kickoff is set for 7:30 PM, with plans being explored to have a stream and fans being encouraged to attend.

Division 2

The second division of the CSL focuses on the top three finishing teams. Almost akin to the EFL’s promotional system, the top finishing team overall (Borgetto FC) won the divisional title and secured the first promotion spot and the second and third place teams in the table will play one-another for the second spot into the league’s top tier.

This year the final spot is between two ethnic clubs, FC Japan and FC Sandžak.

Japan, the table runner up, is one of (if not the) largest Japanese soccer clubs in the United States. After finishing the shortened, spring-only season with a record of 7-0-3, head coach Shinobu Ninomiya believes following his team’s core philosophies will lead them to more success. The team’s practices are for any player, competitive or not, to take part in it meaning no real strategy changes are going to take place prior to the playoff match. With an organization formed from players of different backgrounds, such as locals with Japanese heritage, workers from Japan who are working in the U.S. on a temporary assignment, and students, the organization has a lot of depth while also remaining open.

That’s how players like striker Ken Mochizuki have developed into one of the leagues most effective play makers whose able to dribble around nearly any backline or how defender Takenori Nishibayashi has became a knowledgeable team lead whose experience in both the game and life has been invaluable to the club.

FC Japan are one of the more noteworthy clubs in the entire Cosmpolitan League structure
Photo by Ayaka Kawai

“We play not only to win games, but give players an opportunity to develop interpersonal experiences having recently moved to America,” said coach Ninomiya in an email. “I am always telling my players ‘Believe what you have been doing, play as a team, the best results will come!’ When we play FC Sandzak, I believe my players will give their best to achieve the best possible results!”

It’s also unrelated, but FC Japan has one of the best kits in the city across any league. It’s fire, it’s clean, it’s got culture and history, and it’s awesome. It makes me want Japan to qualify for the World Cup in four years just for the off chance they can play at Metlife with organization members in the stands.

While Japan might have a larger base (and cooler jersey), FC Sandžak might best be described as a more densely talented group. The team, whose logo is a mix of two historical Bosnian flags and who shares a name with a German lower league team, got into the playoff via a win in the last week of the regular season. Going into the final match, the team sat in fourth behind Central Park Rangers Red and needed a win against them. Three goals from Mesih Čekić, Fero Drurovic-Šabović and Esmir Sükür Vučetović launched the team past CPR Red in both the match and the standings.

History wise, the team is fairly young only starting back in 2018. However the group started off with a bang winning the Metro Division 2 (old name for D4) South Division before falling in the final. Still the team earned promotion into D3 for 2019/20 and was a promising contender before the pandemic cancelled the season. When the league reshuffled for 2020/21, Division 3 became Division 2 meaning, technically, Sandžak has been promoted two times in three seasons.

Head coach Kemal Hot’s group has one of the best offenses in the division this season, scoring 27 in ten games which only trails champion Borgetto in terms of most by a D2 team. FC Japan is going to need to contain this offense if they want to make it through regulation. They did it earlier this season, winning 3-0 in early April in Sandžak’s only loss of the year.

In that, the game has similar characteristics to the Division 3 final; It’s old blood vs a new group. Kickoff is scheduled for 5 PM this Sunday on Randalls Island Field 75.

Eastern Premier Soccer League

Within the EPSL is the new de facto Division 1 conference for CSL, now called the Metropolitan Conference with new teams joining such as Clifton Elite FC from the Garden State Soccer League (a feeder league) and Philadelphia Lone Star F.C.

After a full Fall/Spring campaign, the final match day became decision day when Lansdowne Yonkers FC won the regular season conference title over New York Pancyprian Freedoms thanks to a 2-2 tie and tie-breakers. Winning the Metro Conference gave Yonkers a spot in the EPSL’s inaugural playoffs and they eventually will be joined by the playoff winners from the three conferences; the Metropolitan (NYC, NJ, PA), the Mid-Atlantic (MD, VA), and the Northeast (New England).

Lansdowne’s win also secured them a spot in the upcoming NISA Independent Cup, thanks to the EPSL’s affiliation agreement with the National Independent Soccer Association.

In a mild upset, fourth place Doxa SC defeated third seed Zum Schneider FC 03, 2-0, to book a spot in the Metro playoff final against the Freedoms this weekend. That match is scheduled for this Sunday at 7:45 PM at Icahn Stadium, the understatedly pretty stadium in the midst of the quiet heart of soccer in New York City on Randall’s Island.