For the short term future, professional soccer is over in the Tri-State Area. The New York Red Bulls’ season finished last month and the only other pro side to make a postseason (Syracuse Pulse) flamed out in their league’s quarterfinal. The FIFA World Cup is starting up soon but that comes with a ton of moral baggage (i.e. terrible host country). So what can fans do in the interim?
Well, it just so happens a soccer tournament kicked off last weekend across the state.
The New Jersey Men’s Open State Cup began its 109th edition on Sunday when lower division teams faced off in both qualifying and first round games. Teams from across the state were divided based on a random draw last month by the New Jersey Soccer Association. A majority of the field comes from the Garden State Soccer League (GSSL), an adult amateur soccer league sanctioned by the USASA, and its three men’s divisions. However two more joined the tournament from the regional Eastern Premier Soccer League (EPSL).
Of note, the GSSL acts as a feeder league into the EPSL. The Garden State’s Super Division champion has a chance to seek promotion into the EPSL’s Metropolitan Conference every season. However no team has taken up the opportunity since the agreement came into place back in 2020.
Eight clubs were given First Round byes including both EPSL teams and the highest seeded GSSL Super Division teams. The rest were drawn randomly, including which four would enter the competition in the qualifying round.
Interestingly, defending champion FC Motown will not be competing to defend its title. The side is taking the year off from Garden State Soccer League play due to budgetary reasons. While the organization will still field teams in both the National Premier Soccer League and USL League Two in 2023, both are higher tier than state division leagues. Meaning they are not allowed to compete in the competition.
Magnetic FC (GSSL A Central Division, 2022/23 Record: 4-0-3 - 12 Pts - 3rd place out of 11)
Cruzeiro USA FC Reserves (GSSL A North Division, 2022/23 Record: 1-3-2 - 6 Pts - 8th place out of 11)
Vllaznimi AACC (GSSL Super Division, 2022/23 Record: 0-1-5 - 1 Pts - 10th place out of 10)
Princeton International FC (GSSL B Central Division, 2022/23 Record: 4-2-0 - 14 Pts - 2nd place out of 9)
The first of the qualifying round games kicked off at 10 AM on Sunday morning. Hosts Magnetic Football Club (Cranford, New Jersey) were only able to get one goal past the visiting Cruzeiro USA FC Reserves (Newark, NJ). Meanwhile the affiliate of Brazilian side Cruzeiro Esporte Club knocked back four goals at Rahway River Park to advance.
Later on in the day Vllaznimi AACC (Pompton Lake, NJ) cruised past Princeton International FC at home, 5-2. Vllaznimi, a part of the Albanian American Cultural Center of Riverdale NJ, last made waves in the tournament when it reached the 2017-18 State Cup Semifinals.
While Princeton’s tournament ended early, the first year club is currently in second place in the GSSL B Central Division. With two games to go before the winter break, promotion into the next tier is a real possibility for the grassroots group.
Since both winners advanced to the “First Round”, they’ll play their next games this coming weekend. Both teams will host matches this coming Sunday, November 13th. Cruzeiro will take on Jersey Shore BOCA FC (Ocean County, NJ), probably at Newark’s Ironbound Stadium, while Vllaznimi face New Jersey Revolution FC (Towaco, NJ). The rest of the field will next play in two weeks on November 20’s Quarterfinal games.
Waiting in the wings are Hoboken FC 1912 & Real Central NJ (Ewing, NJ), who will play the winners of this weekend’s games later this month.
SC Vistula Eagles (GSSL A North Division, 2022/23 Record: 1-1-2 - 4 Pts - 9th place out of 11)
Rahway FC (GSSL A North Division, 2022/23 Record: 3-3-0 - 12 Pts - 3rd place out of 11)
Milford FC Reserves (GSSL B North Division, 2022/23 Record: 4-0-2 - 12 Pts - 4th place out of 11)
Birmingham Athletics (GSSL B Central Division, 2022/23 Record: 2-1-2 - 7 Pts - 6th place out of 9)
Englewood Red Devils FC (GSSL A North Division, 2022/23 Record: 3-3-0 - 9 Pts - 2nd place out of 11)
3-3 (3:2 Penalties)
Milford FC (GSSL A North Division, 2022/23 Record: 4-1-1 - 13 Pts - 1st place out of 11)
NJ Santos FC (GSSL A Central Division, 2022/23 Record: 2-0-4 - 6 Pts - 7th place out of 11)
Cruzeiro USA FC (GSSL Super Division, 2022/23 Record: 3-1-4 - 10 Pts - 5th place out of 10)
South River FC (GSSL A Central Division, 2022/23 Record: 1-2-2 - 5 Pts - 9th place out of 11)
German American Kickers (GSSL Super Division, 2022/23 Record: 3-1-2 - 10 Pts - 4th place out of 10)
NJ Devils FC (GSSL A Central Division, 2022/23 Record: 6-1-0 - 19 Pts - 1st place out of 11)
Passaic FC (GSSL B North Division, 2022/23 Record: 6-1-0 - 19 Pts - 1st place out of 11)
Yet another reserve team advanced in the competition as SC Vistula Eagles (Garfield, NJ) knocked off Rahway FC, 4-2, at Joseph LaFaso Field in Garfield. It’s a disappointing result for Rahway, who returned to the competition after taking the 2021-22 edition off. In their last attempt, the side reached the Round of 16 before falling to eventual champion FC Motown.
Garfield’s reserve squad will host Jackson Lions FC in the next round later this month.
The third, and final, reverse side also won their first game when Milford FC Reserves (West Milford, NJ) punched their ticket to the Quarterfinals. The group took down fellow GSSL B Division side Birmingham Athletic (Summit, NJ) in West Milford. While the regular season is still young, the result reflects the current standings. Milford, which plays in the North Division, has won four of its last five games. Meanwhile Birmingham struggled in the Central with a record of 2-1-2 (WDL) over the last month.
Milford’s next game will be against Kearny Scots American AC of the Eastern Premier Soccer League.
While Milford’s reserve team moved on, the first team fell in the closest game of the First Round. Englewood Red Devils FC and Milford FC needed penalty kicks to decide a winner after playing to a 3-3 draw. The home side Red Devils moved on, 3-2. Similarly, Cruzeiro USA FC (Newark, NJ) was upset by New Jersey Santos FC (Hillsborough, NJ) while the former’s reserve team advanced. The Super Division side reached the Quarterfinals of last year’s tournament and even had two of the top scoring players in that year’s competition.
The lone silver lining is that players from either Milford or Cruzeiro can jump over to their reserve teams for the rest of the tournament.
Englewood’s next foe will be NJ Ukrainian Sitch SC (Newark, NJ), a near century hold club with deep ethnic roots in local soccer history. Santos will host current GSSL Super Division leaders SC Vistula Garfield in its next game.
In probably the biggest clash of cool logos on Sunday, German American Kickers (Trenton, NJ) beat South River FC, 3-1. As the Super Division side in the match the Kickers win isn’t really a surprise. The five-time state cup champion (1987, 1992, 1994, 2003, 2007) is one of the oldest teams in the competition having been founded in 1952. They’re next match will be against another top division GSSL side when they host Ironbound SC (Newark, NJ) on Sunday, November 20.
The final game of the round saw a minor cupset as New Jersey Devils FC (Newark, NJ) fell to the visiting Passaic FC at Newark’s Riverfront Park. Both clubs currently lead their respective GSSL Divisions, but on Sunday night the lower tiered Passaic found its footing first. Passaic will host GSSL Super Division side Bulldogs SC (East Brunswick, NJ) in the Quarterfinals.