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Lower League Round-Up: August 4, 2022

It’s New York vs the world in finals across the lower league landscape

Queensboro FC II players celebrate with the United Premier Soccer League East Region trophy following their win over Chicago Nation FC last month.
Photo courtesy of Robin Hsiao/Queensboro FC

Here’s a controversial take: winning a league title in an amateur league is far harder than winning a professional one. There’s usually more teams to contend with, the skill gap is far greater even within a single team, costs are far more prohibitive, and the list goes on. Teams winning at a lower level will face challenges, both on the field and off it, that are worthy of praise. It’s no surprise really that consistent success at the lower levels isn’t common.

So with all that said, it should be a big deal when a local team has a chance to win a national title. But when three are all playing for one the same weekend it becomes bigger than that.

This weekend has the potential to be historic for the New York-New Jersey area. The three major national amateur leagues are all holding their championships across the country over the next few days. The National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), United Premier Soccer League (UPSL), and USL League Two all have different ethos when it comes to how they think the amateur game should be. But what they all have in common is a Tri-State team in line for a national title.

To show how rare this is, here’s some data. Since both NPSL & USL2 have been active together starting in the early 2000s they’ve only had one year when both their national champions came from the same state. That season, 2009, had California side Sonoma County Sol [NPSL] & Ventura County Fusion [USL2] win it all but both were separated by nearly 400 miles. After the UPSL began play in 2011, the feat happened two more times. In 2019 The Miami FC [NPSL] and Tropics SC [UPSL] won national titles in Florida. Then two years later in 2021 two Texas teams won in Denton Diablos FC [NPSL] & Foro 360 Pro [UPSL]. Although, Foro’s Fall 2021 title was won during the early months of 2022.

The three locals competing this weekend have a chance to join this list and more. The two New York state teams can become the latest in-state pair to share national honors. However, if the lone New Jersey team joins them it will be the first time all three national champions come from a single metropolitan area.

So please join me in trying to forget about the New York Red Bulls loss last weekend in the U.S. Open Cup. It’s time to get hyped for trophy weekend!

Queensboro FC II Reach UPSL Nationals

Queensboro FC II are only two wins away from a national title in only their first season of play. The group is heading to Columbus, Ohio this weekend to compete in the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) national semifinals at Historic Columbus Crew Stadium.

Head coach Diego Gomez has a lot of thoughts and feelings about how much his team has progressed. When asked about what it meant to take a first year team this deep into a playoff tournament he was eager to gush.

“It made me proud of the level of growth of the players,” coach Gomez told OaM in an email. “We are the youngest team left in the competition. That means a lot for us.”

The coach has a lot to be proud of. His team came into the UPSL’s Northeast - American Division, one of the league’s toughest, and finished with a near unbeaten record (8-1-1). Their division competition included Oyster Bay United FC (2022 U.S. Open Cup participant), New Jersey Alliance FC, and the multi-league legacy program Philadelphia Lone Star FC. In the team’s second ever match on April 13 they hosted and defeated Oyster Bay, 1-0, with their opponents only six days removed from the Open Cup.

Former LA Galaxy academy product Jonathan Santillan grew into the team’s top scorer. His 12 goals led the team during the regular season. Meanwhile on defense the team, led by keeper Daniel Alzate, allowed only seven goals in ten games.

Coach Gomez and his team do have a lot of feelings and thoughts about this season, which included winning the Northeast Premier championship. But one thing he isn’t feeling; surprised. After seeing his player’s develop over the last few months, especially against top UPSL competition, he doesn’t think their run to the national stage should be a shock.

“The club made an effort to invest in the academy,” Gomez said. “We are the only non-MLS team with a residency for players. Also I think that these two years focusing on only one team was the right decision so we can put all resources on making sure we have the best talent in the team and that we give them the best conditions to develop their talent. Also, my colleagues have worked really hard from the scouts to the Athletic Trainer to make this a successful program and to get the most of what we got.”

As he alluded to, QBFC II is a reserve side without a first team. The professional team’s debut in the second division USL Championship was delayed from 2022 to 2023 due to pandemic complications. That gave the organization time and resources to develop more internally. That includes the reserve team, youth programs, and women’s teams that launched in the USL W League this year.

While the team had no comment on the professional side’s current status, the foundation around it is still growing. Coach Gomez even said he and his team are contemplating entering the U.S. Open Cup qualifying tournament this fall. If they do so and qualify the team would be one of the youngest units to ever reach the tournament proper.

QBFC 2 will be taking on Beaman United FC (Murfreesboro, TN) on Friday, August 5th at 7 PM. The game will be broadcasted online free on the UPSL’s official YouTube channel. The winner of the match will move on to Sunday’s final against the winner of Orange County FC (Irvine, CA) and Dodge City Toros (Dodge City, KS).

They’ll look to become the second straight New York-based team to win the UPSL Spring Season. Last year, New York Contour United (Garden City, NY) finished undefeated and took home the national title.

FC Motown Reach NPSL National Final

After FC Motown’s win in the National Premier Soccer League East Region final last month, head coach Gideon Baah simply said, point blank, “We are gonna win the cup.” It wasn’t like Mark Messier’s famous guarantee for the New York Rangers in 1994. But after last weekend’s national semifinal it might be just as storybook.

Over 1,000 away from home the team scored two goals in the final five minutes over South Region champion Tulsa Athletic. The 2-1 win for #3 seed FC Motown set up a surprise home championship match this Saturday at Montclair State University. That game will be played at 7:30 PM at MSU Soccer Park, the same venue that New York Red Bulls II call home.

Speaking to OaM after the match Baah still maintains he never had any doubt in his players even while trailing in the dying moments of the match. For him, he still believed they were going all the way at that moment.

“Apart from having the confidence of winning the championship, we also have the belief,” the former RBNY defender said via text message. “From the pressure we were putting on Tulsa athletics , we knew we (would) be rewarded and push the game to extra time. This group of guys have a strong mentality and the will to grind out wins. My confidence in this team is never shaky even if we are losing.”

The night of back and forth soccer didn’t start in Motown’s favor. Coming into the match with main striker Joe Fala the team was missing height up top. Every cross and every attack seemed to go a few inches too high for players like Joseph Holland or Ryan Peterson. Meanwhile Tulsa’s offense kept Motown keeper David Greczek on his toes all night.

Oral Roberts University forward Reed Berry was a constant problem for Motown to handle. Eventually the Tulsa striker opened the scoresheet just after halftime in the 47th minute. A cut up the middle of the box saw a shot that beat Greczek to his right from 12-yards out.

A few formation adjustments and subs were all Baah could do to help his team in the final 45 minutes. In the last 20 things started to get better and possession slowly turned towards Motown. Eventually the same team that needed late drama in all three (well four) of it;s Open Cup games this year had one more trick up its sleeve.

Coby Handy’s low shot from the left side bounced just the right way to get into the net near the opposite post. Four minutes later, a failed attempt to clear a Motown cross was intercepted by Holland on the left side. He shot low and to the right, like Handy, and scored to break Tulsa’s heart.

Now Motown prepares to host it’s second ever NPSL National Final. The team nearly sold-out Drew University back in 2018 when it fell to The Miami FC 2, 3-1. Now a much larger venue and a much more traveled opponent await them on Saturday. Crossfire Redmond (Seattle, WA) upset #1 seed Muskegon Risers and have been a wildcard postseason.

For Baah, this game is huge for everyone involved.

“The final is a big game , not only for the players but also for the community as well,” he explained. “Motown is representing what the city and states stands for in soccer and we are going into the game to make not only ourselves proud but the entire state of New Jersey.”

The NPSL Final will be streamed live, for free, on Eleven Sports.

Long Island Rough Riders Reach USL League Two National Final

After a rain washed out their national semifinal on Sunday night, the Long Island Rough Riders woke up bright and early for their rescheduled match on Monday. The 10 AM kickoff against North Carolina Fusion U-23 saw the historic New York team win, 2-0, and move on to Saturday’s national final. This is the team’s first appearance in a league’s final in two decades.

Long Island rode into the championship game behind a game-winner from playoff Golden Boot leader Matthew Vowinkel. The 2021 MLS SuperDraft pick (FC Cincinnati) scored a diving header just before halftime off a feed from Niklas Roessler. Not long into the second half team captain Bjarne Thiesen scored his team’s second goal. A corner kick from Roessler was headed into the net past the Fusion keeper.

The team’s playoff journey has taken them across the south. The first two rounds, hosted by Lionsbridge FC in Virginia, saw the Riders knock off Ocean City Nor’easters, 3-1, and Vermont Green FC, 2-1. The following weekend, the team traveled to Knoxville, TN for the Eastern Conference Final on Friday, July 29. An extra time goal by Vowinkel gave the team its first conference title since 2011 over Seacoast United Phantoms, 2-1 (AET).

With a history dating back to 1994 the Rough Riders are looking for their third ever league title. The team that formerly rostered Chris Armas won the previous professional iteration of the USL (the USISL & USL D3-Pro League) in 1995 and 2002, respectively. It’ll be hoping for its first-ever amateur league title.

New York rides out to sunny Ventura, California to face Western Conference champion Ventura County Fusion. The home side is playing for their second national championship and first since 2009. The game will be played at Ventura College Sportsplex at 7 PM local time (10 PM EDT). A stream will be available for fans to watch on Eleven Sports.