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Lower League Round-Up: June 15, 2022

NY International secures an emotional Cosmopolitan League title and NISA rolls out their next tournament in this week’s look at the semi-pro scene

NY International FC lines up ahead of their final.
Photo by Mike Battista

Trophies… are cool. Soccer trophies are even cooler. I’m not the first person to have these deep, hard hitting thoughts but they bear repeating. This past weekend teams either finished or announced their intent to win trophies at different levels of the local systems.

While Major League Soccer returned from an international break, the Cosmopolitan Soccer League officially wrapped up its 2021-22 season. As the New York Red Bulls fell to Charlotte FC another New Jersey team won the state cup not far from 600 Cape May Street. And as the U.S. Open Cup prepares to host it’s Quarterfinal matches, including two games with non-MLS teams, another competition pitting professionals and amateurs announced the 36 clubs taking part.

Here’s everything you need to know:

NY International FC Wins League Title, Organizes 5K for Fallen Teammate

On the grounds of John V. Lindsay park on the East Side, shadowed by the Williamsburg Bridge and tower buildings, New York International FC were playing with high emotions. After 90 minutes on Sunday afternoon, the team needed seven rounds of penalty kicks to win the Cosmopolitan Soccer League Division 2 Reserve Final, 1-1 (5:4 on PKs), against Central Park Rangers Reds.

The team came into the match on a ten game winning streak, going the full spring season undefeated, and finishing first in the league table. An early penalty kick by Reed Kessler got his team on the board in the 5th minute and for a while it seemed as though that would be enough. The group, debuting a new light blue kit with a map of New York City imprinted on the front, looked in control. Fans in the bleachers readied smoke bombs and held their good luck Hurley sticks close. All for a team that didn’t officially exist ten months ago.

While NYIFC has been playing since the fall of 2019, its rapid rise through the CSL’s tiers necessitated expansion. The league still follows an old-school rule requiring teams in the highest divisions to field a reserve squad. When the Black and Gold earned promotion last June, that meant gathering enough players to field a whole new roster.

The first team stumbled in the spring and finished fourth on the table, missing out on automatic promotion to Division 1 or a spot in the promotion playoff. However, the team that did finish first ahead of them was also the side who finished second in the reserve league; CPR Reds. They battled NYIFC on Sunday and equalized midway through the second half with a penalty kick of their own, making it 1-1. After 90 minutes both sides remained deadlocked and the game went straight to a penalty kick shootout.

International took an early lead when goalkeeper Zack Wertheim saved CPR’s first attempt before Martin Serrano converted his shot. They held that lead until the third round when Kessler’s second PK of the day was saved, tying the score at two each. Two more rounds of successful attempts sent it to sudden death.

In the sixth round, Rangers’ attempt was off target giving NYIFC a chance to win the game right there. Instead, Bryan Mendoza’s attempt was saved by the Central Park keeper to keep the shootout tied. Next round, Wertheim came up big again and stopped CPR’s attempt and once again putting his team one successful attempt away from a title.

Two months removed from losing in the league’s John Kilby Cup on penalties, Sam Johnson converted from the spot to win the game and the trophy for his team.

The win means more than just another piece of silverware for the group. NYIFC entered the public eye late last year when their teammate, Davide Giri, was tragically killed in a random attack while walking home from soccer practice. The defender and Columbia University student had recently returned from Italy following a year with family during the worst of the pandemic. Giri had become a regular on the reserve side to start the 2021/22 season and acted as one of the leaders of the young group.

The season isn’t over just yet though for International. Next Saturday, June 25, the team is organizing the inaugural Run/Walk for Davide Charity 5k in Astoria, Queens. All proceeds raised from the event will be donated to the Davide Giri Memorial Prize Fund at the Computer Science Department at Columbia University. Established in 2022, the fund will be awarded annually to a graduate student in Computer Science “who has combined excellence in research results with continued outstanding efforts to promote research collaboration.”

Interested runners (and walkers) can sign up on Eventbrite to join the nearly 100 other participants. Those unable to attend but looking to donate can also do so online.

2022 NISA Independent Cup Announces Participants

On Friday, the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA) announced initial details for its 2022 Independent Cup. A new format and confirmed prize money have all been introduced for the competition as it enters its third year. Games will be played between June & July with a full schedule coming soon and games set to be streamed online for free on Eleven Sports.

The Independent Cup began with two main purposes in the summer of 2020; to give NISA teams a meaningful preseason ahead of the fall season and to fill the void of competitive matches between pro and amateur teams. However, with the league now changing to a more standard Spring-Fall season format (meaning the competition is now in the middle of the league season) and the return of the U.S. Open Cup - that meant the Independent Cup needed to change too.

Previously each region was composed of four teams with each playing one-another in a round-robin. In 2022, four team regions return but with a twist as each features three amateur teams and one NISA team. The three amateurs will play one-another once with the best performing squad winning $3,000. That team also moves on to play the NISA professional club for the regional championship with an additional $4,000 going to the winner of that game.

This year five local amateurs will be competing against both active New York NISA teams.

The most local of the regions in the “Empire Region”and contains two New York City teams, one upstate New York squad, and a quality Pennsylvania team to round out the group. The headliner of the amateurs in Lansdowne Yonkers FC out of the Eastern Premier Soccer League (EPSL). While they’ve been talked about plenty of times in OaM, it bears mentioning that Lansdowne is coming off an incredibly successful year. The team won the inaugural EPSL league championship (which seemingly qualified them for this competition), won the New England Region in last year’s Independent Cup, and reached the Second Round of this year’s Open Cup.

Joining them in amateur round-robin are two NISA Nation squads. For the uninitiated, NISA Nation is an amateur league associated with NISA the third division professional league. Ultimately, it hopes to bridge a gap for teams wanting to make the jump from a NISA affiliated amateur league into professionalism. Teams gain experience playing at a higher level and have the chance to potentially foster connections with investors or sponsors.

First of these two teams is New York Braveheart SC out of Long Island, NY. The team, which joined NN in February this year, is having a decent start in its new league going unbeaten in six games (four wins, two losses). Allentown United FC (Pennsylvania) is the last amatur team in the Empre Region and also plays with Braveheart in the Northeast Region (Conference) of NN. They’ll look to improve on their Independent Cup result from last year after finishing third in the Mid-Atlantic.

The winner of the amateur round-robin will go on to face Syracuse Pulse for the regional championship. The upstate team’s inaugural season isn’t going well as they currently sit in last place in NISA’s East Division. Notably, they lost in the second round to Morristown, NJ side FC Motown in this year’s Open Cup.

The other region featuring locals is the Northeast which might be considered the “champions region” considering every amateur team in it won league honors in the last year. New Jersey Alliance FC out of Clifton, NJ made history when it won the inaugural NISA Nation Northeast Region title during Fall 2021. Currently, they lead NN’s Northeast Region (Conference) and are perfect (8-0-0) with two games to go this season. They’ll be facing off against another league champion in New York Contour United (Long Island City, NY). Contour won the 2021 Spring United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) season and became the first local squad to win a national amateur men’s league since 2015. After taking the fall off, Contour is back in form with some rumors indicating they are exploring more professional leagues to play in. Finally, Steel Pulse FC (Baltimore, MD) rounds out the amateurs and is the most southern team playing in the group. They won the 2020-21 Eastern Premier Soccer League Mid-Atlantic Conference regular season title but were unable to compete in the playoffs due to last year’s Independent Cup. They finished as runner’s up in their group last year to NISA side Maryland Bobcats FC.

These three teams will play one-another to move on and face Flower City Union out of Rochester, New York. The team that lost to DC United in the U.S. Open Cup, and still got Hernán Losada fired, is currently fourth in NISA’s East Division with three wins and ten losses.

Overall, the competition has a lot of quality teams but is still lacking in some merit. The addition of prize money for winning different phases of the region is welcome. The many competitions amateur teams can take part in are sometimes described as money sinks by those involved. While three to four thousand dollars isn’t life changing, it’s better than nothing and probably worth playing for.

But, the competition is still held back by its small scale. The winner of each region should move on to a national bracket. While costs and scheduling are a concern, especially with the cup now being played in the middle of the league season, having multiple champions in a single tournament reduces stakes. In fact, the NISA Independent Cup isn’t even a “cup” as regional champions win a shield trophy for their accomplishment.

Hopefully over time, these sorts of things continue to be worked on. But for now it will be fun to watch and root on the local players and squads as they compete.

FC Motown Win Third Straight State Cup

On Sunday night, just over a mile south of Red Bull Arena, FC Motown defeated Hoboken FC 1912, 6-2, to win the 2021-22 New Jersey Men’s Open State Cup. It’s the third straight state cup for Motown and fourth since 2018.

Two goals each from Franco Catania and former New York Red Bulls II player Joseph Fala led the team. Ben Assane Fall and former Haitian professional player Junior Delva both added one goal each to their team’s tally.

Newark’s Eddie Moraes Stadium, more commonly known by its previous name Ironbound Stadium, played host as a neutral site for the match. Motown and Hoboken traded goals for the first 28 minutes and entered halftime tied 2-2. But in the end Morristown’s roster depth showed through and four unanswered goals in the second half clinched the result.

Depending on the decisions of both clubs this could be the first of two playoff matches between Motown and 1912. Each team won the top division of their respective league this past season. Both the Cosmopolitan Soccer League (Hoboken) and Garden State Super League (Motown) are affiliated with the Eastern Premier Soccer League and act as “feeder leagues”. As champs, both teams have the opportunity to seek promotion into the EPSL’s Metropolitan Conference for next season. If they both accept, they’ll play a promotional playoff to determine which will join for 2022-23. If either declines, the runner-up from that league will be offered the spot in the playoff.