This week’s Lower League Round-Up has a little bit of everything. A local league with a heavy New York City focus is looking to expand its reach in a big way. Meanwhile, a historic national competition is ready to let the little guys play starting this fall. Finally, a lower division professional team just up the road has just hired a familiar face as their new head coach.
Read all about it below!
EPSL Receives New Status, More on Horizon
The Eastern Premier Soccer League (EPSL) wrapped up its season earlier this summer when Northern Virginia FC defeated the New York Pancyprian Freedoms for the league championship, 2-0. Since that game, the league has been moving forward with plans that both directly impact the 2022-23 season while also going further. These announcements range from new teams joining to a potential arrangement between other national amateur leagues.
The EPSL Metropolitan Conference kicks off less than 3 weeks from now. Our feeder league, the @CosmoLeague has a near century history of amateur soccer in the region. Here are the Metropolitan Conference teams with the most top division titles. pic.twitter.com/Ky7QwZHXcO— Eastern Premier Soccer League (@EPSLsoccer) August 22, 2022
Earlier this month, it was announced the EPSL had gained provisional status as an official multi-state (or “Regional”) league from the United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA). While the new designation won’t affect anything on the field, it does give the league more integration with USASA Region I in the northeast. The league’s four conferences are currently spread across nine states, including the locally focussed Metropolitan Conference (NY and NJ). The hope among teams is that this change will allow for more direct communication between association and league should issues arise. It also means the EPSL will have votes during any future USASA meetings.
One of those meetings next month might have a big motion on the table. Reportedly, the EPSL is looking to form a partnership with other premier amateur leagues around the country. The plan is to unify the leagues on standards for competition and potentially form a new national tournament. In this case the champion of the EPSL would play the champions from the other partnered leagues, potentially in a single location over the course of a weekend, to crown an overall champion. A partnership between the regional leagues could potentially elevate the whole group to something that challenges national amateur outfits such as the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL).
The EPSL, as of this writing, is still an amateur affiliate league for the professional third-division National Independent Soccer Association (NISA). Other affiliates include the Midwest Premier League (Midwest), Gulf Coast Premier League (South), Mountain Premier League (Colorado area), Southwest Premier League (California, Nevada, etc.), and the Cascadia Premier League (Northwest). Reports are that this relationship has been strained however with multiple clubs reportedly not being paid promised solidarity payments from NISA teams for player transfers.
U.S. Open Cup Qualifying
Last Wednesday, U.S. Soccer announced the 107 teams taking part in 2023 U.S. Open Cup qualifying. With 25 states (and Washington DC) represented, that includes a good number of Tri-State locals vying to get into next year’s tournament. It’s a good thing too since many RBNY fans are probably still trying to forget the loss to Orlando City SC in last month’s semifinal.
Open Cup qualifying is the only route available for teams playing outside of either professional leagues or select national amateur leagues. Those playing in smaller, recognized amateur leagues enter into this knockout tournament that lasts between three to four months. The last teams standing will join the First Round proper of the 2023 Open Cup. Currently, it seems as though nine spots are up for grabs and the schedule is as follows:
September 17-18, 2022 – First Qualifying Round
October 15-16, 2022 – Second Qualifying Round
November 19-20, 2022 – Third Qualifying Round
December, 17-18, 2022 – Fourth Qualifying Round
Matchups will be announced later this week by U.S. Soccer on Thursday, August 25.
First up are the five teams entering from New Jersey. New Jersey Alliance FC (Lyndhurst/Clifton, NJ) had a stellar season going 7-2-1 (WDL) in the United Premier Soccer League. While the team fell in the divisional playoffs, it did take home silverware in another league. An undefeated 8-2-0 record helped Alliance with the NISA Nation Northeast Region for a second straight season. They’ll look to improve on their qualifying history after bowing out in their first game last season.
Lower down in terms of league size we have the state-level Garden State Soccer League and its two entrants. Jackson Lions FC (Jackson, NJ) may have recently joined the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) but its state league team is still a force. They finished second in the GSSL Super Division this past season and have been a constant in Open Cup qualifying since 2017. Yet, the group is still seeking its first appearance in the tournament proper. Last year, the Lions won their first game against EFA Metro but roster issues forced a forfeit in the next round.
They are joined by potential darkhorse SC Vistula Garfield (Garfield, NJ). Despite a middling season in-league behind powerhouses Motown and Jackson, Garfield made a statement in national cup qualifying. The team knocked off Motown to reach the National Amateur Cup regional tournament and beat Fall River FC in the first round. A run in qualifying could be the latest accomplishment for the oldest Polish soccer club in the United States.
The aforementioned Eastern Premier Soccer League will have two Garden State squads competing. Real Central New Jersey (Lawrenceville & Ewing, NJ), named after a fictionalized part of the state (fight me), recently completed their sophomore season in USL League Two. In EPSL play, the team reached the playoffs for the newly created Delaware River Conference but fell to Philadelphia side Salone FC, 9-1, in their first match.
Most interestingly, the final EPSL and New Jersey team is Scots-American AC (Kearny, NJ). This is a team that represents a major piece of American soccer history with a deep connection to the U.S. Open Cup. To demonstrate just how old the Scots are, one only needs to realize the team is older than the tournament itself. Founded in 1895, just under two decades before the first edition of the National Challenge Cup (U.S. Open Cup), the Scots have been operated in some form for over a century.
The team competed in the second ever Challenge Cup tournament in 1914–15 and were a constant presence in those early editions. The last time, on record, the team played in the competition was a May 23, 1948 Second Round loss to Elizabeth S.C. (NJ). With a whopping 27,115 days separating their tournament games this is a must-see for any soccer history nerd. They’ll look to improve after finishing second to last in the EPSL’s Metropolitan Conference (record of 2-2-14) and just avoiding relegation to the GSSL.
So when they make the tournament proper and beat the New York Red Bulls, I can take solace. Solace in knowing that Kearny is still superior to Harrison when it comes to soccer. You can keep Omar Sowe, we got John Harkes and he actually won an MLS Cup! Forget the Biergarten and whatever bar Torcida is going to in Newark. After it’s over you can drown your sorrows at the Scots Club in Kearny knowing it’s not Gerhard Struber’s fault. It was just inevitable.
Getting back on track, New York state has eight clubs competing in qualifying. Oyster Bay United FC (Oyster Bay, NY) is returning after qualifying for last year’s tournament. The UPSL side finished second in the Northeast - American Division before falling in the divisional final. They’re actually joined by the same team who beat them in that final. Queensboro FC II (Queens, NY) are coming off a historic 2022 as well. The reserve team to the yet to launch USL team reached the UPSL national semifinals and finished third overall in the league.
The regional EPSL is sending three New York City area teams into qualifying. Without question, at least one of them is a front runner to make the tournament. Lansdowne Yonkers FC (Yonkers, NY) is hoping to make the Open Cup for a second straight year. Reaching the second round was a high point of a downward 2022 for the team. Failing to win any league or regional hardware has been a major reset after the incredible 2020-2021 run the group had.
Joining Lansdowne from the EPSL are two former Open Cup champions. New York Pancyprian Freedoms (Jamaica, New York) are trying to get back to the tournament for the first time since 2016. The Freedoms have three Open Cup titles (1980, 1982, 1983) and have qualified or attempted to every year since their founding in the 1970s. Likewise, their major league rival New York Greek American SC (Maspeth, Queens) has done slightly better in Open Cup play. The four time champions (1967, 1968, 1969, 1974) is one of only two teams (alongside the Seattle Sounders) to ever win the competition three straight years.
Both the Freedoms and Greeks were knocked out of 2022 qualifying by Oyster Bay United last fall. Meaning there is potential for some juicy revenge match-ups.
That leaves the final New York City area club to go over. Manhattan Kickers FC (Randall’s Island, NY) isn’t a powerhouse in the historic Cosmopolitan Soccer League. They weren’t fighting for promotion to get into the EPSL. In fact, head coach Bryan Baracaldo and his group were fighting not to get relegated out of Division 1 the past two years. Regardless, they are one of the standouts among the city teams because, well, they have the shortest resume. But there’s no time like the present to start adding to it.
Two more teams from west New York are also competing. Sahara Gunners FC (Buffalo, NY) and IASC Boom (Rochester, NY) will probably face one-another in the first round of qualifying based on distance. IASC, which stands for Italian American Social Club, competed in qualifying last year and is the reserve team of UPSL side Roc City Boom.
Another semi-local hoping to get in is Newtown Pride FC (Sandy Hook, CT). The 2019 National Amateur Cup champions qualified for both the 2020 and 2021 tournaments before their cancellations. They’ll be seeking their first Open Cup berth facing off against tough northeast competition. From Pennsylvania, eight teams have entered including four time champion Philadelphia Ukrainian Nationals (North Wales, PA) (1960, 1961, 1963, 1966), amateur powerhouse West Chester United SC (West Chester, PA), and Philadelphia Lone Star FC (Philadelphia, PA).
(Note: West Chester just won the Werner Fricker Cup this past weekend. Full story on Brotherly Game.)
The teams above have a tall task ahead of them. Winning their way into America’s oldest active soccer competition is going to be tough in the stacked northeast. But also any team that does qualify will have to follow up on what was a successful 2022 for locals. The previously mentioned Oyster Bay United ran the gauntlet in qualifying before knocking off a national amateur team. Lansdowne automatically qualified last year as national amateur champions and took down USL League Two side Ocean City Nor’easters (Ocean City, NJ) via penalty kicks. Both are now looking to get back, with the latter now needing to go through qualifying as well.
Another big performer last year was FC Motown (Morristown, NJ). The team reached the third round and took home $25,000 as the best performing amateur side. They aren’t competing in local qualifying as winning the NPSL National Title earlier this month should earn them an automatic spot. That will be officially announced sometime in late December or early January.
Tab Ramos Named Hartford Athletic Head Coach
Finally, I’ll step on Ross’ toes a bit here. Usually something like this would go in this week’s Red Bulls Paper Revue but it just missed the cut. At noon on Monday, Hartford Athletic of the second division USL Championship named former MetroStars midfielder Tab Ramos as their new head coach. This news was first broken by the “Nutmeg State” Podcast earlier that morning.
Ramos, a Uruguay native who grew up in Kearny, was the first player to sign with Major League Soccer in January 1995. The following year, the midfielder joined the MetroStars and spent eight seasons with the team. With over 100 caps with New York, Ramos’ name is still enshrined in the upper ring of Red Bull Arena as a team legend.
Following his retirement Ramos eventually became a coach for the U.S. Men’s National Team system, especially in youth areas. The former USMNT player, who made three World Cups with the senior team during the 1990s, spent a decade as either an assistant or head coach with the U20 national team. He also spent a few years as an assistant coach for the senior national team, joining three months before the 2014 World Cup. In 2020, prior to the pandemic kicking off, Ramos joined Houston Dynamo as head coach and remained there for two seasons. His overall record with the team finished at 10-21-26.
Earlier this year the Red Bulls defeated Hartford, 2–1, in the Third Round of the Open Cup. Those looking to see the former Metro star in person will have their chance at the end of this month. Athletic travels to Montclair State University on Wednesday, August 31 to face New York Red Bulls II.