FC Motown will play at least one more game this season. A complete second half performance lifted the Morristown, NJ team over North Carolina side Appalachian FC 3-0, in the NPSL East Region Final on Saturday night. Former New York Red Bulls II player Joe Fala scored the local’s second goal to seal the result.
Motown has reached the regional final three times since joining the National Premier Soccer League in 2018. The team previously won the title in its debut league season, going on to reach the national final that year.
With a bolstered roster they look to become the first Garden State amateur team to win a national league title since New York Red Bulls U-23 won the NPSL in 2014.
In his first season as Motown’s head coach Gideon Baah was hard to track down on the field in the mass of players celebrating after the win. When asked about how he felt, the former Red Bull was quick to say just how happy he was. But also he noted one person who wasn’t with the team that night.
“I’m buzzing, I’m buzzing for myself and for the team, especially for the owners, (Dan Karosen and Scott Kindzierski), they’ve put a lot into this project,” He said before taking a step back. “And uh, for Sainclair also. We miss him. We know he would’ve been celebrating with us, you know, so it means a lot to us individually. And as a group.”
For Motown their success in 2022, including a deep run in the U.S. Open Cup, comes with a heavy heart. Following their initial game in that tournament defender Sainclair Tueno was tragically involved in a hit and run accident near Pittsburg, PA. The young man passed away after a months long battle on life support. Since then the group has helped raise money for his family and tried to keep his memory alive through their play.
That has included winning their state league, the New Jersey State Open Cup, and a fourth straight NPSL Keystone Conference title. After Saturday’s match Appalachian FC head coach Dale Parker noted just how deep of a team his group has faced.
“Motown’s not a first year inexperienced program. These guys have been around, they know how to win. They put us to the sword when it really mattered,” He said. Parker himself isn’t a stranger to Jersey soccer either. The England native played for the South Jersey Barons in 2008 after moving into the country. That year in the Premier Developmental League (now USL League Two) helped him prepare his team for what they were in store for against Morristown.
“I played on a very good team with ex-professional players playing at the highest level of college soccer. We knew what we were getting ourselves into tonight. We knew the level was gonna be top quality. Some teams you face have weaknesses, some teams you face have opportunities that you can take advantage of (and we) couldn’t really find too many tonight.”
That doesn’t mean his group was unworthy. The second year Appalachian FC won the Southeast Conference regular season and playoff to reach this stage. The unit might have lacked a star scoring man, but made up for it with youth and cohesion.
Saturday night’s match at Drew University might have been scorching hot, with the temperature sitting at 96 degrees, but it wasn’t for Motown. For the opening half hour the home side and top seed in the region struggled to consistently get the ball out of their own end. Third seed Appalachian FC tallied multiple free kick chances forcing goalkeeper David Greczek into action.
A third minute free kick by App’s Max Landau needed to be saved by the keeper. Five minutes later AFC’s Angelo Fabricio, the biggest threat the team had, received a free kick from 40-yards out in the box but somehow headed his attempt wide right. It didn’t help that Motown’s physicality played against them, including an early yellow for Nii Armah Ashitey that forced him to be subbed off before the halftime whistle.
As this played out Motown continued to play long ball. Short passes weren’t in vogue and players like defender Sammy Pompée and midfielder Danny Cordiero zoned in on trying to break past the backline. That meant either in the air, trying to hit the six foot Fala up top, or aiming for Joe Holland or even Ryan Peterson on the wing.
Baah explained that his players understood what Appalachian was going to be like in this game. Despite this practically being the fourth division, tape still exists and the team studied App’s last game in the NPSL Southeast Conference Final. In that match the sophomore side won, 6-2, and scored in under 10 seconds to start the game.
“We knew they were gonna start hard. They’ve traveled right? A long, long road to get here. They’re not gonna start soft,” the head coach explained. “We just had to contain them. And fortunate for us Dave made some good saves. We contained them. And after that, I think we got the ball rolling and we started to play. We started to be ourselves.”
Around the 20th minute Motown started to get more possession time. Seven minutes later, after keeping their shape, the Celtics went ahead when Pompée netted the game’s first goal. The right back made his way to the side of the net as Cordeiro settled the ball at the top of the App FC box. The midfielder made a diagonal pass to Holland, who subsequently passed right to Pompée who struck from a tight angle with his right foot that nestled into the far post netting.
As the home side dug in they hoped this was the start of something similar to the East Region Semifinal. There, against the fourth seed New York Shockers, a tough goal opened the floodgates and allowed Motown to take a 2-0 lead into halftime. The game clicked into place and the home side, playing at Montclair State University, finished the game with a 4-1 win.
However on Saturday goalkeeper Lucas Daunhauer made multiple stunning saves to keep the match close.
The former Syracuse University keeper made his presence known in the 13th minute when Holland got a bouncing shot off that was kept out by the keeper. On the ensuing corner, Motown got a header attempt on net near the opposite post but Daunhauer made a dive to keep the ball out. Even after Motown went up Daunhauer continued to impress including a solid save after a on-target Fala shot in the 37th minute.
Coming into the second half App FC nearly tied the game right off the restart. A 46th minute run up the left side saw the visitors make a long pass into the box. Motown defender Jean Voltaire miss-hit a clearing attempt with an App’s Fabricio nearby to pounce on it. The forward’s shot from the top of the goal area hit off the crossbar and down onto the goal line, but not passed it according to the linesman. Greczek grabbed the bouncing ball as most of the players watched the official, some in viable disbelief that the goal wasn’t given. In the aftermath, the former Greenville Triumph keeper struck a long kick past midfield to a charging Fala who nearly doubled Motown’s lead. The forward battled three defenders before breaking to the left and shooting a ball high over the crossbar.
As the half wore on the visitor’s speed decreased and tired legs set in. While both teams have had fixture congestion over the last two weeks thanks to the playoffs, App’s long distance had to be a factor. The group had already undertaken a trip from Boone to Alexandria, VA for the semifinal (14 hours round trip) and that match was in rainy Mid-Atlantic conditions.
“That’s the game at this stage of the season. You gotta do what you gotta do,” coach Parker said. “We had a 50 minute training session in between the two games and obviously a 10 hour ride up to here. Fortunately, we got in last night, which helped, but took its toll on us.”
From then on Motown’s experience really showed through. In the 70th minute, a sloppy App pass through the midfield was intercepted by Motown and passed onto the left side to Ben Assane. The former First State FC player, who competed against his current club during the 2021 season, ran down the line and cut into the middle past two defenders where he shot on goal. The shot came right at Daunhauer who blocked it but failed to keep it controlled, allowing Fala to run in from the right side and punch in the team’s second goal. It was a rare error on the night for Daunhauer but ultimately put the game out of reach for his team.
Elsewhere Holland, who formerly played with Houston Dynamo, was a vital connecting piece in the midfield. By the time he scored the team’s third goal in the 74th minute after recovering his own rebound attempt it almost felt like he’d earned it. Not by a consistent attacking mentality but just from helping the rest of the team.
As the result reality set in, the noise in the stands remained high. While a majority of the 200 or so faces were excited, the traveling contingent still raged on in support of the visitors. The Squatch Guard, App FC’s dedicated supporter’s group, assembled 20 strong in the Ranger Stadium bleachers. Parker was incredibly grateful to the people who made the nine-hour drive from Boone to show their support for the club and his players.
“It’s what it’s all about,” he said to OaM after the match. “To have this many fans travel this far, you wouldn’t see that anywhere else in the world. You really wouldn’t, you know, non-league in England, everything’s close together, you can travel on a bus together. Here the country’s so vast, you gotta find a way and these guys have found a way tonight. It certainly felt like we had an extra player when we needed it and we had their support at the end there when we needed it the most. So it means everything to us. Obviously when we play at home, it’s 1500 fans, it’s a crazy atmosphere. Just having a small part of that tonight certainly helps us get through those tough moments.”
The long trip from North Carolina hasn’t stopped the @thesquatchguard from showing up. Kickoff coming up between @fc_motown & their @AppalachianFc in the @NPSLSoccer East Region Final. #NPSL pic.twitter.com/CaUV93kTNS— Michael Battista (@MichaelBattista) July 23, 2022
Motown’s next challenge will take place 1,300 miles southwest. The NPSL re-seeds teams after the regional finals based on regular season Points Per Game. Despite a first place finish in the Keystone Conference, Motown finished the regular season with a 2.3 PPG. That is only enough for the 3rd seed among the final four teams. Therefore, the club will head to Tulsa, Oklahoma to face off against NPSL Lone Star Conference and South Region champion Tulsa Athletic. The game is scheduled for this Saturday. The same day as RBNY’s huge friendly match against FC Barcelona at Red Bull Arena.
What’s funny is that no matter which player was asked about it none seemed phased by the upcoming trip. Even with the seeding not confirmed on Saturday night many of the players were just eager to get to the next game. Baah shares that sentiment one hundred percent.
“I would say we are not just trying to win the cup. We are gonna win the cup. So whatever it takes and the boys are willing to sacrifice their time, their energy, whatever they have to accomplish this goal.
“Of course, playing on the road sucks. Playing on the road is very difficult, all the traveling and all those things. But I think we are more motivated. We are more willing to go through bricks and walls to bring this home. So it’s gonna be a challenge regardless, but we will just try to find a way around it and get to our ultimate goal.”