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Lower League Round-Up: February 3, 2022

We preview the New Jersey Open State Cup as snow sidelines much of the local amateur schedule

Jackson Lions line up for an Open State Cup match last year.
Photo by Sal DeSimone

After spending last weekend shoveling and not getting wine from the New York Red Bulls, it seems like as good a time as any to talk about the lower leagues. Two weeks back I previewed both of the main cup tournaments taking place in the Cosmopolitan Soccer League. In that piece I promised to go over a couple of the upcoming events featuring local sides.

The recent snow ultimately has affected both of the CSL competitions with makeup dates still being worked out. However, today’s topic has a better chance of getting played.

The 104th edition of the New Jersey Men’s Open State Cup is entering the Quarterfinal Round. The field of 30 teams has been whittled down to eight, including two powerhouses that can meet before the final. The tournament winner, which is open to all New Jersey teams competing in amateur leagues, receives both the trophy and clinches a spot in the 2021 U.S. Adult Soccer Association (USASA) Region I tournament.

Winning the regional tournament and the eventual National Amateur Cup is a huge deal for any team. The national champion earns prize money and a spot in the following year’s U.S. Open Cup tournament.

For some teams the state level tournament is just a chance to test their strength against other New Jersey squads. Young and newer groups jump in, possibly competing for their team’s first ever silverware. Winning the competition would be a milestone for these types of squads. For others, the state cup may as well be a stepping stone.

As previously mentioned, hopefully these articles pique your interest in some of the great teams playing in our backyards. Enough at least that you look into them, whether that be giving them a follow on social media or even heading out yourself to watch them play. All of these games are currently scheduled to be played on Tuesday, March 1.

(Full competition schedule)

The Favorites - FC Motown & Jackson Lions FC

Larger teams within New Jersey have multiple teams playing in multiple leagues. As of 2022, both of the tournament favorites neatly fit into this category. The first of these should not surprise anyone who follows what I write for OaM.

FC Motown (Morristown, NJ) won its first match in the competition against South River FC, 4-0, last December in the Round of 16. Goals from former professional Kene Eze, Sainclair Tueno, Emiliano Caballero, and Orlando Neto overwhelmed the smaller side for South River, NJ. Motown has won the tournament three times in the last four years.

Jackson Lions FC was the only other champion during that stretch (2018-19). The Lions also won their opening cup match in convincing fashion by downing Ironbound SC (Newark, NJ), 7-1. The team, which joined the National Premier Soccer League in December, was led by Kevin Esteves and Daniel Pizzimenti with two goals each. Miguel Alves, Walter Calderon, and 2021 CF Montreal SuperDraft pick Giuseppe Barone all scored one goal each.

Both Motown and Jackson are one win away from clashing in the semifinals. To most observers either side could easily win the whole competition thanks to their roster depth. While Motown keeps separate rosters between its Garden State Soccer League team (which is allowed to compete in the cup) and it’s national league side (NPSL & USL League Two) that doesn’t mean the talent isn’t there. One recent addition that has paid off is former Haiti Under-23 Nerlin Saint-Vil. The winger has a professional pedigree from the Caribbean and has devastating speed along the side that has baffled opposing defenses.

Of note, Saint-Vil played in both legs of a 2018 CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 series while with Dominican Republic side Atlético Pantoja. If that sounds familiar, it’s because their opponent was the Red Bulls.

To their credit, the Lions have grown since their founding in the mid-2010s into one of the state’s best teams. Their depth may not be as flashy as their northern rivals but it is just as dangerous. Included on the squad are names like David Nigro, who made the All-MAAC First Team and Championship Team twice while playing for Monmouth University.

Motown and Jackson will need to beat Vistula Garfield SC and Bulldogs SC (Sayreville, NJ), respectively, if they want to make the semifinals at all. Motown will also need to keep fresh for it’s other important tournament match later the same month. The team qualified for the 2021 Open Cup and will compete in the First Round between March 22-23.

The Other Side of the Bracket

It wouldn’t be fair to just talk about one side of the bracket though. One of the four remaining teams will make the cup final. Each one of them is looking to play spoiler and two of them have been in this competition for the long haul.

White Eagles SC (Paterson, NJ) is one of two teams remaining in the state cup that played its first match in the qualifying round during early November. To reach the quarterfinals the team beat Empire United, Scarlet Internationals FC, and most recently Vllaznimi AACC. Deandre Cheong leads his squad with three goals, including two against Vllaznimi in the Round of 16 win, 3-0, last month. Having been founded in the early 1990s by members of the Serbian Orthodox Church of Saint John the Baptist in Paterson, the team holds deep ties with their ethnic community. Their matches are even played at the Serbian Land (Srpsko Imanje) grounds, also known as White Eagles Soccer Complex, in Hope, NJ.

Their opponent in the last eight is one of the oldest continuously operating soccer teams in the United States. Hoboken FC 1912 is a five time state cup champion with wins in the 1940s, 1960s, and most recently taking the title in the 2011-12 tournament. Despite playing the New York based Cosmopolitan Soccer League, Hoboken has been a regular feature as an independent entry.

In Hoboken’s opening match two months back they decimated NJ Santos FC Reserves (Bridgewater, NJ), 8-0, at their home field of Laurel Hill Park in Secaucus. In 90 minutes Kevin Halliday and Theodore “Teddy” Sisco both notched hat-tricks and jumped into the top five for goals scored all tournament. Defender Jordan Cimring knocked in the other two goals to close out the contest. It follows how Hoboken is doing in the CSL this season going undefeated (8-3-0) in Division 1. They currently sit in second place on the table.

The last quarterfinal is between two teams based in the city of Newark. It’s a clash between a legacy institution and a newer organization with a deep youth player system.

Sport Club Português was founded in 1921 and is one of the strongest and oldest ethnic organizations on the East Coast. With its centennial anniversary only recently celebrated last year, the organization has been a regular in northern New Jersey lower division soccer for most of its history. It has previously won the state cup one one occasion (2012-13) during a three year stretch where Portuguese organizations dominated.

While the group’s main team is currently sitting near the bottom of the GSSL Super Division, that didn’t stop the group from running rough shot over Cruzeiro USA FC B in its first game, 5-2. That match was played at Ironbound Stadium in Newark, which is also the home of the Português’ very familiar sounding next opponent; Cruzeiro USA FC.

Cruzeiro, fully known as Cruzeiro Esporte Clube U.S.A, is a recent addition to New Jersey soccer after starting in Ironbound in 2020. As an offshoot of the Cruzeiro program, named and related to the historically successful Brazilian side Cruzeiro Esporte Clube, the club’s focus is on youth development. In its short tenure the U18s won EDP Soccer silverware, winning the Central Atlantic Premier in Spring 2021, and currently sit in second place in the GSSL Semi-pro Division.

Like White Eagles, Cruzeiro began the tournament in early November’s Qualifying Round by beating NJ Santos FC, 4-0. The first team under head coach Daniel Prado has been a high offense menace in each game it’s played. Forward Arzheen Othman earned a hat-trick in his team’s 5-2 win over Newport Chinese FC in Round 1 before following that up with two more goals against six-time tournament champion Scots-American Athletic Club of Kearny.

He and teammate Emiland Elezaj are both tied for tournament top goal scorer with five each (though Elezah’s fifth came with Cruzeiro B against SCP).