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Lower League Round-Up: July 13, 2022

Recapping the 2022 NPSL season conference-by-conference

FC Motown wrapped up an eventful season.
Photo by Charlie Duffy/FC Motown

After three months of tough competition the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) has wrapped up its 2022 regular season. Top teams from 13 conferences across four regions around the United States are now preparing for the postseason with multiple trophies up for grabs. These pieces of silverware range from conference trophies, to regional honors, all the way up to the national championship.

For the East Region, two of the four conferences contain teams in the Tri-State Area. In particular, the Keystone and North Atlantic conferences feature locals vying for league hardware.

At this point of the season every team has a different mentality going forward. Winning a playoff game, let alone winning a conference title, would be a huge accomplishment in terms of growth to younger squads. For others anything less than making the national stages of the playoffs might be seen as a failure. Plus, teams looking to make next year’s U.S. Open Cup tournament need to consider their performance going forward. As a national league that is awarded automatic berths in the competition, the NPSL gets to decide which teams are given priority when it comes to those valuable spots. Historically, the eight teams that make the regional finals (national quarterfinals) are the ones to get priority placement in the allocation list. After that it comes down to points-per-game and regional placement.

As one of two national amateur leagues in the country alongside USL League Two, the NPSL represents some of the highest non-professional soccer available to players in the United States. The two leagues both operate in the summer months but NPSL sets itself apart in a few areas. Notably, looser roster restrictions mean teams often feature both college age talent alongside older players, sometimes even former professionals.

With all that said, and with games starting today, let’s take a look at the East Region — with an especially close look at the local teams that qualified for the postseason.

(Note: All matches should be available to watch on Eleven Sports)

Keystone Conference

Sticking to its namesake, the 2022 Keystone Conference playoffs heavily features Pennsylvania teams. In fact, only one New Jersey squad made it into the postseason out of the 11 team conference (the largest in the entire league). As it happens, that lone Garden State team finished the regular season in first place. The semifinal matchups, both scheduled for 7 PM on Friday, July 15, are:

* #1 FC Motown vs #4 Philadelphia Ukrainian Nationals - Drew University (Morristown, NJ)

* #2 Electric City Shock SC vs #3 West Chester United SC - University of Scranton (Scranton, PA)

Coming off a deep run in the 2022 U.S. Open Cup, reaching the third round and winning $25,000, FC Motown might be one of the regional front-runners to win it all this year. The team out of Morristown, New Jersey started the season slow but picked up down the stretch to finish first overall in the conference for the first time since 2018. The squad is full of New York Red Bulls talent, from first year head coach Gideon Baah to former reserve team player Joseph Fala.

Heading into the playoffs the team has a new weapon to help on offensive. Former Houston Dynamo player Joseph Holland made his Motown debut last Friday in the regular season final against Electric City FC. Fresh off an EPSL Finals appearance with New York Panycprian, the MLS & USL veteran assisted on his team’s fourth goal in the 4-2 win. He’ll be filling in a vital set piece specialist need Celtic have lacked up top. They’ll be seeking their fourth-straight Keystone Conference playoff title.

Motown will be facing fourth seed Philadelphia Ukrainian Nationals in the conference semifinals. The team, rich with soccer history since its founding in 1950, joined the NPSL ahead of this season. Philadelphia only lost one game during the regular season with a roster that isn’t afraid to rotate. A possible sentimental favorite based on recent world events, the four-time Open Cup champions have enough talent overall to be a threat without the added emotions.

The last time the two teams met on Saturday, June 25 ended in a 1-1 draw after the Ukrainians tied the game with a late penalty kick.

The other semifinal in the Keystone features two teams in completely swapped situations. Since joining the NPSL in 2013, Electric City Shock SC have rarely been a threat in the crowded conference. However, coming into 2022, a coaching staff full of connections to colleges and especially programs like St. Benedicts lured in a crop of new talent. Heading into the last week of the regular season, Shock led the conference behind an undefeated record. Goalkeeper Aitor Ruiz De Eguilaz’s three clean sheets was among the best in the region. But after the loss to Motown last Friday, the team dropped into second but will still host a playoff game.

On the other hand West Chester United SC seems like a team searching for purpose. After falling in the first round of the Open Cup to FC Motown (controversially) the team has split its season between NPSL and USL League Two. Both squads have done well but left plenty to be desired. In this case, the NPSL team only lost one game but slipped down the standings to where they are now. Harrison Coron leads the team with seven goals in seven games, where he’ll hope to lead his team to its first NPSL Keystone Conference title.

In their last meeting on May 28 a late goal from the visiting West Chester ended the game as a draw, 2-2.

The winners of the conference semifinals will meet on Sunday, July 17. The final will be hosted by the highest remaining seeded team.

North Atlantic Conference

The North Atlantic Conference extends from the Hudson Valley, through central New York state, before finishing in New England proper. The match-ups for this round, both scheduled for 7 PM on Wednesday, June 12, are as follows:

* #1 Hartford City FC vs #4 New York Shockers - Dillon Stadium (Hartford, CT)

* #2 Valeo FC vs #3 Cedar Stars FC - Solomon Schechter Day School (Newton, MA)

Top seed Hartford City leads the pack with an undefeated record of 8-2-0 (26 pts). The team out of Connecticut’s capital city finished first in the conference for a second straight season. City’s work on its backline, led by goalkeeper Jamis Fite, has only allowed eight goals through the regular season.

On offense, the team’s main concern involves its lack of a main striker. As of now rising UMass junior Alec Hughes leads the team with nine goals (ranked fourth most in the East). However Hartford’s weakness is still in their defense which allowed 21 goals this season. Earlier this year, the team suffered greatly because of this in the U.S. Open Cup, falling 3-0 to local qualifier Oyster Bay United FC.

Both Valeo FC and New York Shockers are sophomore teams in the league looking for their first playoff win. Valeo (Newton, Massachusetts) fell to eventual champion Hartford in last year’s semifinals. Meanwhile the Shockers lost a thrilling penalty kick shootout to Kingston Stockade in front of a packed crowd in Albany, New York.

Valeo’s Matthew Bell has eight goals through ten games this season (tied for fifth in the region). The Marshall University commit scored the lone goal in his team’s 1-0 win to close out the regular season.

The lone first year team in this group is Cedar Stars FC, which is honestly a tough group to pin down. Officially out of Middletown, New York, the Cedar Stars brand is hardly rare when it comes to soccer training in the northeast. This new amateur outfit in NPSL hasn’t set the world on fire in terms of performance. A weak offense (12 goals for) and -6 goal differential would normally rule them out as a playoff team. However five draws and a few crucial wins set them up in the playoffs. The team’s leading scorer this season is Gunnar Studenhofft (6 goals), an Orlando City SC academy product and Cayman Islands national team player.

Hartford swept the regular season series against the Shockers, including a 3-1 win on the road in the final game of the season. Similarly, home team Valeo also beat Cedar Stars both times they met over the past two months.

The winners of the conference semifinals will meet on Saturday, July 16. The final will be hosted by the highest remaining seeded team.

Mid-Atlantic Conference

With the loss of heavyweight Christos FC to USL League Two this season, the Mid-Atlantic Conference is wide open for a club to win. That sentiment is even more true considering the conference increased its playoff from three teams to four for 2022. The playoff match-ups, both scheduled for Wednesday, July 13 at 7 PM, are:

* #1 Alexandria Reds vs #4 FC Frederick - Limerick Field (Alexandria, VA)

* #2 Northern Virginia United vs #3 Virginia Beach City FC - Nike Soccer Park (Herndon, VA)

For Alexandria, the 2022 season is both its first and most successful NPSL season. Previously known as the Greater Lowell Rough Diamonds (Lowell, MA), team leadership relocated to Alexandria, VA during the pandemic. After multiple fruitless seasons including a winless 2021, a 7-1-2 record and 22 points cleared the new side to the top spot.

They’re flanked by Northern Virginia FC, better known as NoVa FC. The club will be playing for the National Amateur Cup next month and also competes in USL League Two. Forward Carter Berg leads the team with 11 goals which ranks him eighth overall in the NPSL’s golden boot tracker.

The rest of the field includes two more Virginia teams in FC Frederick and Virginia Beach City FC. The former, which lost both of its previous meeting with Alexandria by two goals this year, is searching for its second conference championship after last winning it in 2018. Beach City and NoVa will be looking for their first wins against one another this season. Their last two games, including the regular season finale on July 9 in Norfolk, ended in 1-1 draws.

The winners of the conference semifinals will meet on Saturday, July 16. The final will be hosted by the highest remaining seeded team.

BONUS: Southeast Conference

While not *local* geographically, the Southeast Conference is the fourth and final member of the NPSL’s East Region. Its playoff champion will join the other three in the regional finals for a chance to play in the national playoffs. Specifically, they’ll be playing the champion of the Mid-Atlantic Conference. The games, both scheduled for 7:30 PM on Wednesday, July 12, are:

* #1 Appalachian FC vs #4 Apotheos FC - Ted Mackorell Soccer Complex (Boone, NC)

* #2 Georgia Revolution FC vs #3 North Alabama SC - McDonough High School Stadium (McDonough, GA)

Born out of the Appalachian State Mountaineers men’s soccer team being cut in May 2020, Appalachian FC earned its first league honor this season by winning the Southeast top seed. They are also well known for their sasquatch mascot and social media presence. Their opponent will be Apotheos FC, a first year NPSL team out of Georgia hoping to grow out of their already established academy structure.

The other semifinal features Georgia Revolution FC, last season’s conference champion, and North Alabama SC. The latter had an impressive glow-up, doubling its win total from last season from two to four to make its first ever NPSL postseason.

Interestly, both top seeds in the Southeast have losing records against their playoff opponents. Apotheos won their first meeting against App., 2-1, in Boone before the two teams played to a scoreless tie in Georgia later on. Likewise, the Revs tied 1-1 on the road in North Alabama before losing, 3-2, in their regular season finale.

The winners of the conference semifinals will meet on Saturday, July 16. The final will be hosted by the highest remaining seeded team.

East Region Finals

Even if a team wins their conference championships, the playoffs keep going. After that, the four East Region conference champions will be seed 1-4 based on regular season PPG. The match-ups will be as follows:

Regional Semifinals (Wednesday, July 20 - hosted by higher seed)

* Keystone Conference champion x North Atlantic Conference champion

* Mid-Atlantic Conference champion x Southeast Conference champion

Regional Final (Saturday, July 30 - hosted by higher seed)

* Highest remaining seed x Lowest remaining seed

The regional champion will move on to the national playoffs scheduled for early August.