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OaM Lower League Round-Up: August 26, 2021

More silverware for Lansdowne, local Open Cup qualification gets set, and NISA Nation takes shape

The trophies keep on coming for Lansdowne Yonkers in 2021.
Photo by William McGrory

A ton of news surrounding local teams has come out over the past few weeks. Nearly a dozen clubs from nearby states have been accepted into Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup qualifying while others may be taking the next step to becoming professional. But even bigger than that is one team just north of New York has made history.

While God himself (or herself) may be trying to stop us from watching the New York Red Bulls, that doesn’t mean everyone else is suffering! More below:

Lansdowne Yonkers Wins Werner Fricker Cup, 8th Major Trophy in 2021

Stop me if you’ve heard this before; Lansdowne Yonkers has won another trophy in 2021. The successful year continued last weekend when the team won the Werner Fricker Open Cup over ASC New Stars (TX) via penalty kick shootout. They are the first team to ever win both the National Amateur Cup and Fricker title in the same year on two different occasions.

Forward Shaquille Saunchez played the leading role last weekend scoring his team’s only goals in both the national semifinal and final. Club president William McGrory to OaM that the Jamaican international is irreplaceable on the squad.

“I think Shaquille is the fastest player in the EPSL and that’s what makes him such a danger,” said McGrory. “He was huge for us in both games.”

Like the Amateur Cup before it, Lansdowne had to hit the road and play two games over two days. The United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA) Champion of Regions tournament was a group of championships, including Over-30 and Women’s Open Cup, all being held at the Michigan Stars Sports Center in Washington, MI. Lansdowne was joined by three other teams competing for the Werner Fricker Open Cup; FC Minneapolis (MN), Ann Arbor FC (MI), and ASC New Stars.

The cup itself has been around since 1999 and is supposed to be the continuation of the U.S. Open Cup for amateur sides.

“For years, amateur teams kept the Cup going,” said a USASA representative on Twitter. “Then with MLS, we ran qualifiers for USASA clubs. US Soccer went direct qualifying but this is to honor the tradition of the competition.”

Despite only coming into the weekend with 16 players Lansdowne pushed forward into Friday’s semifinal against Ann Arbor. Against a team that made multiple players who’d previously played in leagues like the USL and NPSL Yonkers got an early break 20 minutes in. An errant handball by AAFC earned a red card for one of their defenders and gave the Bhoys a penalty kick.

The hometown side’s keeper correctly guessed the shot and dove low and to his right, keeping the ball out while an incoming defender slid to block the rebound attempt.

The back and forth continued the entire match until the 77th minute. A breakaway attempt saw Saunchez battle a Ann Arbor defender for a break on the left side. The defender tried to pass the ball back to his keeper but the slow attempt was intercepted. Saunchez got around the advancing goalkeeper and slammed the winning goal into the open net.

In the final against the Stars McGrory noted the match was far more physical. ASC had reached the final of the 2019 National Amateur Cup and was looking to win it’s first piece of national silverware.

“New Stars were more physical but in both games we had chances to kill the game off,” said McGrory “I personally think the two matches in Chicago were tougher but this was also difficult and a better level than the previous two times we won it.”

Saunchez capitalized on another fast break in the 27th minute and beat both a defender and the goalkeeper with a dirty backheel kick. While under pressure and with the keeper coming out to snag the ball the striker quietly used his right foot to tap the ball toward the net. It slowly rolled in as two Texas defenders watched on.

ASC tied the match back up just after halftime via a shot from the top of the box into the lower left part of the net past a diving Abdoukarim “Kabo” Danso. That scoreline remained and skipping extra time the match went straight into penalty kicks.

Lansdowne missed the first shot wide right while ASC converted, putting the Yonkers side down early. With the score tied 2-2 in the second round, Danso dove low to his left and blocked the Stars third attempt which leveled the score back. When asked about it McGrory believes when put into that situation Kabo will “always” save at least one attempt.

The Bhoys converted on both their next attempts and in the fifth round the Stars player slammed his shot off the left post, giving Lansdowne the national title.

With the 2021–22 EPSL season set to begin early next month McGrory and his team will be taking a week off to rest and regroup. While the manager might be proud of his side, even admitting that he believes the team potentially set a couple of records, he knows it was all a group effort that goes beyond the people in the clubhouse.

“This was a massive season for us. It has been a phenomenal effort from the coaches, players, and board members who go above and beyond to provide the players with the most professional environment possible.

“This would not be possible without our sponsors and a community that backs our fundraising. This is for Yonkers.”

Local Teams Enter 2022 U.S. Open Cup Qualifying

On Monday U.S. Soccer announced the 92 teams that have been approved to take part in 2022 Open Division Local Qualifying. The tournament, which has been held since 2015, gives teams from state or regional leagues a chance to earn a spot in next year’s Open Cup. It’s unique in that teams in larger national leagues like the National Premier Soccer League and USL League Two cannot take part since they are able to earn tournament spots based on league performance.

In total this group of 92 represents 17 different states, plus the District of Columbia, and 23 different leagues. As National Amateur Cup champions Lansdowne Yonkers FC have already earned a spot in the first round of the tournament.

Of the field nearly a dozen teams from the tri-state area have elected to take part. Given that the qualifying tournament pairs teams together by distance many of the locals will be playing one-another early on. Each is hoping to be one of the last standing after three to four rounds of competition.

The headliners of the group are a pair of former champions; New York Greek American SC (Bronx, NY) & New York Pancyprian Freedoms (Queens, NY). The Greeks are one of the most successful teams in USOC history winning it on four separate occasions (1967, 1968, 1969, 1974). Despite a six year absence since their last appearance in 2015 the Greeks have continued to succeed winning their ninth Cosmopolitan Soccer League title in 2017. They most recently took part in the inaugural Eastern Premier Soccer League (EPSL) season and finished sixth with a record of 7-3-6.

The Freedoms meanwhile are three time Open Cup champions (1980, 1982, 1983) and have taken part or attempted to qualify for every tournament since their founding in 1974. The team originally qualified for the 2020 tournament prior to its cancelation and are seeking a return to the competition for the first time since 2016. This season in the EPSL the team finished second with a record of 11-3-2 and won the Metropolitan Conference playoffs. In the league playoffs the Freedoms fell in the final to Lansdowne Yonkers, 2-0.

The final EPSL team from the area taking part is New Amsterdam FC II. The reserve team to the National Independent Soccer Association team of the same name struggled last season, finishing ninth in the conference with a record of 5-3-8. However the team is already making history as the first reserve team of a professional side to enter local qualifying.

Heading a bit south Jackson Lions FC (Jackson, NJ) will be entering their fifth qualifying tournament in hopes of finally going all the way. After being one win away from qualifying for the 2017 tournament the team has lost in their first match two of the past three attempts. Despite this the seven year old team has become one of the best for young talent in the state and has had multiple relationships with national amateur teams. The Lions are coming off a season where they finished third place in the Garden State Soccer League Super Division but only reached the quarterfinals of the NJ Open State Cup.

While the Lions may have poor luck in the tournament another team has been getting screwed over the past two years. Newtown Pride FC (Newtown, CT) originally qualified for the 2020 tournament by winning the 2019 National Amateur Cup and was set to visit Atlantic City FC for the first round. After that got cancelled, they were one of two amateur teams randomly selected to compete in the 2021 tournament before that eventually got cancelled. Despite both of their entries being taken away the team, which recently won its seventh-straight Connecticut Soccer League Championship, is hoping to finally make their tournament debut in 2022.

Four United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) teams from just outside of the city are also hoping to qualify. The most senior team of the group is New Jersey Alliance FC (Lyndhurst NJ) who have been in the league since 2019 and recently won the inaugural UPSL American Cup. While this might technically be Alliance’s first time in qualifying that isn’t necessarily true. The team has a partnership/merger with the EPSL’s Clifton Elite FC who share much of the same roster. Clifton attempted to qualify for the 2020 tournament but fell in the first round to Lansdowne Yonkers FC.

The next two teams are both entering their third seasons in the league; EFA Metro (Elmwood Park, NJ) and Westchester United F.C. (Mount Kisco, NY). Metro has consistently been one of the top teams in the American Division winning seven games in both Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 but has yet to make a deep playoff run. On the other hand Westchester began it’s UPSL career with an abysmal 2-2-7 record in Fall 2020 before rebounding and making the playoffs with a 7-0-4 record this past Spring. Earlier this month WUFC made a surprising move signing former Puerto Rican national team goalkeeper Ángel Molinari. Neither side has played a regular season game yet this fall.

The last team is a totally new face. Oyster Bay United FC (Oyster Bay, NY) only joined the UPSL last month and lost it’s inaugural league match last weekend, 2-1, to NJAFC. The team’s roster includes former New York Cosmos midfielder Joseph Sanchez and defender Dan Giorgi whose extensive resume runs through NYC’s lower leagues to A.F.C. Liverpool.

In the spirit of not leaving anyone out there is one more team from New York taking part. IASC Boom from Irondequoit, NY (a suburb of Rochester) is taking the plunge into Open Cup qualifying for the first time. The team is a partnership between Rochester Italian American Sports Club and UPSL club Roc City Boom, acting as the latter’s reserve team. This past year the group finished first in the Rochester District Soccer League Premier Division with a 12-2-0 record.

While they might be unknown to many fans, the IASC has deep soccer roots. The team won the 1963 U.S. Amateur Cup title, which in turn helped lead to the formation of the professional Rochester Lancers. The Lancers competed in the American Soccer League from 1967-69 and then joined and played in the North American Soccer League from 1970-80.

(Thanks Michael Lewis for that titbit)

The full list of teams competing in 2022 qualifying can be found here. The full first round schedule can be found here.

NISA Nation Announces Inaugural Members

Last week, Atlantic City FC was announced as the first member of NISA Nation. The team, which currently plays out of Egg Harbor Township High School, has played in the National Premier Soccer League since 2018. The team also recently competed in the 2021 NISA Independent Cup.

Since the announcement on Friday they’ve been joined by New Jersey Teamsterz FC (Bayonne, NJ) and Steel Pulse FC (Baltimore, MD).

NISA Nation, which is a byproduct/creation of the third division National Independent Soccer Association, is intended as a pathway for clubs to go from amateur to professional status. One thing to note is that NN is not a single league but an association of leagues from around the country separated into several regions. Nation’s manager director Ron Patel explained to OaM that the purpose of the organization is to act as an incubator and help provide opportunities for clubs to grow, possibly even go professional.

“Our relationship between amateur clubs and the NISA professional league is unique,” said Patel. “As players, staff and front office leadership grow and potentially gain opportunities at the next level, the clubs can benefit.”

NISA Nation is planning to start it’s inaugural competition this fall and plans to have games year-round. Despite the idea teams will use it to go pro, NN will be an amateur competition. When asked about the chance to expand like this Atlantic City’s general manager David Goldstein

“Being able to play year-round will allow us to continue to bring quality players, on and off the field, to the area where they can grow their game and give back to Atlantic City by working and coaching locally,” he said. “We are happy for players to view Atlantic City FC as a stepping stone towards a professional contract at another level or as an opportunity to grow along with a young, ambitious club in a vibrant city!”

One recent Aces player has made the jump to professional status in the last few weeks. Defender Christian Schneider recently signed with NISA side San Diego 1904 FC ahead of the fall season. It’s something that fits Patel’s vision and something that Goldstein is already happy to see happening.

It’s also important to note that while ACFC will compete in NN year round, Goldstein did confirm that they will remain in the NPSL summer competition. One of the program’s key points states that teams that take part will continue to play in their local league. While the NPSL is not affiliated with NISA currently, Patel did make clear that Nation wants to work alongside lower leagues.

“It is important to note that while we’re aligned with the NISA Pro schedule, it’s equally – if not more important – to be aligned with our partner affiliate leagues’ schedules as well – as we champion club and affiliate independence. The EPSL is a crucial partner of ours, and we are very proud to be associated with them. They play soccer from fall to spring while in the Gulf Coast or the Midwest (both regions that will be coming into NISA Nation in the Spring) play their seasons spring to summer or spring to fall. For this reason, we are creating a model that allows flexibility for scheduling so that it works for all amateur soccer leagues around the country, no matter when they play their soccer. All of this while still allowing for promotion and relegation to and from NISA Nation and the affiliate leagues.”