By Randy Kim, Kingston Stockade FC General Manager
KINGSTON, N.Y. — One week after the self-proclaimed "biggest match in club history," Kingston Stockade FC now has to dust itself off and go it again. No time to bask in any glory; the next "biggest match ..." is already on the calendar. And naturally, the trend will continue should the club win yet again this weekend.
Such is the nature of playoff soccer.
By virtue of an impressive 2-1 home win over Hartford City FC in the Atlantic White conference championship this past Saturday, Stockade FC now travels to Clarkstown SC Eagles in an NPSL Playoffs Powered by Mitre Northeast Region Semifinal showdown. The match takes place on Saturday, July 22 at 7 p.m. ET at Ranger Stadium on the Drew University campus in Madison, New Jersey, and the winner of the one-off showdown advances to the Northeast Regional finals against either Elm City Express or Legacy 76.
(NOTE: Stockade FC has booked a Trailways bus to take fans between Kingston and Madison. Schedule and pricing details can be found here.)
But perhaps just as importantly, the winner of Saturday's match in New Jersey would be one of the last eight remaining teams in the playoffs, meaning the winner would be guaranteed a spot in the 2018 U.S. Open Cup — a long-stated goal of Stockade chairman Dennis Crowley — as the NPSL gets a minimum of eight U.S. Open Cup spots.
"When we first created Stockade, we were open about the fact that one of our big goals was to qualify for the U.S. Open Cup," said Crowley. "To have the chance to pull this off in just our second season has to be seen as a tremendous accomplishment for all involved. I'm very, very proud of the coach, the players, the volunteers, and, most importantly, the fans in the Hudson Valley that have come out to support the club."
Stockade captain Jamal Lis-Simmons echoed Crowley's pride in all the team has achieved so far.
"It's just unbelievable. To think that we just started this last year and that we've reached this level in our second year, it's just unbelievable," said Lis-Simmons. "I've been in this community my whole life. Talent has always been here, and just hearing this first from Dennis and having this vision, I knew that there was enough talent here to make some noise. I knew the community would come out and back us, and this is just unbelievable at this point."
It's worth noting that falling in the regional semifinals wouldn't necessarily mean that Stockade won't take part in the U.S. Open Cup, a competition that was founded in 1914 and is the world's third-longest-running open soccer tournament. It only means that the club wouldn't have a guaranteed spot, as the NPSL is still unsure of how many of the league's teams will qualify for the esteemed domestic competition. In years past, up to 18 NPSL teams have made it into the U.S. Open Cup, so, again, Stockade's fate wouldn't necessarily be sealed with a loss.
That said, Cup qualifications aside, the club has aspirations of taking this run in the NPSL postseason as far as they can, even if the competition is going to get tougher and tougher from this point forward.
"There are a lot of good teams left. Everybody's going to be good at this phase," said Stockade coach David Lindholm. "We're going to need to play our best soccer, and we're going to need to get a little luck, and if we do those things, it's just four wins to the national championship. So, we're going to do our best to prepare, but it's just going to be putting out there what we have and seeing if it's good enough."
The Stockade captain also feels as though this playoff run still has some life left in it.
"We feel great," said Stockade captain Jamal Lis-Simmons. "We feel like we have a deep team, lots of talent, and we're not done. We've got games left in us for sure."
Stockade's next playoff opponent, Clarkstown SC Eagles, haven't lost a match since June 10. Here's a closer look at Clarkstown's 2017 season:
- Clarkstown finished the regular season with a 6-2-2 record (wins, draws, losses) in the Keystone Conference, good enough for 2nd place.
- Clarkstown advanced to the Northeast Regional Semifinals by virtue of a 3-1 win at New Jersey Copa FC in the Keystone Conference championship. The match actually featured a literal kiss-the-baby goal celebration by the home side that made it on to ESPN's SportsCenter.
- Clarkstown's losses came at home against New Jersey Copa FC (1-0 on May 31) and away at Buxmont Torch (2-1 on June 10).
- Clarkstown has a +31 goal differential over its 10 regular-season matches, with 40 goals scored and 9 goals allowed.
- Clarkstown has a +19 goal differential courtesy of two matches — a 10-0 win at home against Greater Binghamton FC and a 9-0 away win at Hershey FC. That said, Binghamton and Hershey only won a combined 3 of 20 matches this season, with Binghamton losing every one of the 10 matches they played this season.