North Atlantic Conference
Boston City FC
2018 was a seachange for Boston City FC. After two seasons of making the playoffs, the club would move down the standings, finishing ninth in an eleven team conference. For the Lions it was a massive fall off from their record of success. According to club official, Michael Preston, it’s not something that was lost on them. “The honeymoon period from a very successful 2016 and 2017 was clearly over and we had got away from some of the ideals first set out by the club. A change in head coach and a new influx of players will right the ship.” With new leadership and players, the club has set a conference championship as their goal. That would be a first for the Lions. Returning to the club this season is team captain Gabriel De Souza and his central defensive partner Marcelo Cunha. Also returning is Ironsides Crew (the club’s supporters group) Player of the Year Goalkeeper Jacob Wagmeister. Wagmeister had spent the beginning of last season on the bench, but was called into duty in the second half of the season and excelled in the opportunity. That backline will have to improve from last season if Boston plans to move up the table. A rivalry match circled on the calendar for Boston FC is Kingston Stockade, who closed out the 2018 with a convincing win 5-1 over the Lions. Payback can be a big motivator!
Big changes are in the works for Boston City FC. According to the club, a new home field is about to be announced. Paired with that big news is an impending announcement of a new head coach for the club. Those changes are sure to set a new tone for the club and inspire the team to climb the table in 2019.
Few clubs in the NPSL can claim the pedigree of the Brooklyn Italians have. The club was originally founded by Italian immigrants in 1949 in the Metropolitan Soccer League. Over the next 60 years, the club would play in several leagues, under multiple iterations of their name. During that era, they would also chalk up two US Open Cup Championships in 1979 and 1991. However, it wasn’t until 2010 that the club joined the NPSL and began it’s current run of success. Italians has qualified for the playoffs six out of nine seasons in the league. That track record of consistent excellence has also paid off in the US Open Cup, where the club has qualified for the competition seven of those nine seasons.
Being good has brought some rivalries into play, the biggest of which is with N.Y. Cosmos. Last season Brooklyn beat the Cosmos in the U.S. Open Cup 3-2, but Cosmos returned the favor in the NPSL Conference Final, beating Brooklyn in a close match that went to penalties. The loss in the Conference Final was especially tough for the club, because they felt capable of advancing further in the national playoffs. With the bitter taste of disappointment in their mouths, they come into 2019 committed to being “ruthless when we have the chance to finish teams off and close out games.” With just over half the club returning, that lesson should be front and center for the players. Those players will be lead by returning player, Faouzi Taieb, last year’s captain and an accomplished college player from UCSB.
Greater Lowell Rough Diamonds
Established in 2016, Greater Lowell NPSL FC decided to rebrand over the offseason. The new name, Rough Diamonds, references the developing talent the club aims to polish. With a new name, 2019 is a great chance to start a new winning tradition.
The Rough Diamonds finished the 2018 NPSL regular season just below mid-table, 4-6. That was good enough for a seventh place finish in the eleven team conference. GM Cooper Hall saw the positives from that finish - “Last season was a huge step in the right direction for us. Although the end of season standings may not show it, we had a real opportunity to extend our season into the postseason.” And viewed from a multi-season perspective, it was a step up from 2017, as the club doubled their win total and moved out of last position in the conference.
For Greater Lowell, the matches against Kingston, Hartford City, and Rhode Island are the big ones. And grabbing wins against those clubs certainly will certainly set the Rough Diamonds up for success against the more well-known members of the conference. Returning for 2019 is defender Patrick Hamilton, who has been with the club since day one. With his veteran leadership, the club expects to improve and qualify for the playoffs. The club motto is “Training and Character” and the improvement year over year is a sure sign that the club’s hard work is beginning to pay off. With an overhaul of the coaching and addition of more support staff, the trajectory should continue towards improvement.
Hartford City FC
When we spoke with Director of Football, Nick Balistierri about what he learning from his club’s 2018 campaign, he summed it up like this “Last year we learned it takes a deep bench, a motivated squad and dedication towards accountability to make it through the season. Like everyone injuries happen, suspensions happen, people come and go, but you have to deal with it. The resilient teams who can adapt continue playing through the summer.” That resilience has powered Hartford into the playoffs the last two seasons, but the club has yet to earn a home playoff game. That fact certainly sticks with Balistierri as a reason they’ve failed to achieve more success in the postseason - “A few mistakes cost us matches and points, those points could have turned into a home playoff match.”
The Colts, nicknamed after several elements of their emblem, are a strong competitor in their conference. Their goal for 2019 is to win the conference and spark a deep run in the national playoffs and with half the team returning, that goal isn’t that unlikely. That experience will play a key role in their hopes of returning to the top of the table. Led by 2018 East Region Goalkeeper of the Year, Hami Kara, and Andre Morrison, a center back who was drafted in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft, the defense should be backbone of success for Hartford. The match circled on the calendar for the club is Brooklyn Italians. The final loss of the season came against them, in the playoffs, but Hartford was short many of their starting players. Revenge is on their minds.
Even if you haven’t followed NPSL, you’ve probably heard of Dennis Crowley, cofounder of Foursquare and Dodgeball. He’s also the chairman of Kingston Stockade and an outspoken leader in the lower league community. His eye for design is all over the club’s aesthetic. The slick look of their kits and crest, however, doesn’t win games on the field. After a fantastic 2017 campaign that saw Kingston win the conference and proceed to the regional semifinal in the NPSL National Playoffs, 2018 would be less successful. Stockade finished 8th in the conference, with only three wins to show for their effort. Technical Director for the club, Dan Hoffay, pointed out two issues to explain the club’s poor showing - “injuries derailed a very talented team...depth is a major factor when playing in USOC and league season.”
Going into 2019, the club hopes to see Pedro Espindola return to form. After scoring eleven goals in their successful 2017 campaign, Espindola was bitten by the injury bug all of 2018. Matched with Afonso Pinheiro, with USL/PDL experience, Kingston is convinced their offensive production will outshine their 2018 effort. Certainly the club will achieve a higher finish than last year, but, with so many talented clubs, 2019 should be a bitter fight in the North Atlantic Conference.
New York Athletic Club
The New York Athletic Club was founded in 1868 and has been a training ground for Olympic athletes that goes back to 1896. The list of athletes who have trained at NYAC reads like a who’s who of American Olympic sports. Along with the names you know, the Club also serves many who simply want to get in shape. From this bastion of fitness and athletic achievement, sprang the New York Athletic Club soccer teams.
NYAC has two soccer teams, both men’s and women’s, though the women’s team has had a much greater run of success. But maybe the men’s side is showing signs of life. The club climbed from last place in 2017, to a very respectable sixth place finish in 2018, more than tripling their number of wins. Will that lead to better results this season, hard to tell.
New York Cosmos B
If there’s a club in this preview that everyone has heard of, it’s the Cosmos. The brand is soccer royalty in this country. From Pele and the roaring NASL years in the 1970s to the reboot in 2012 to the purchase of the club by outspoken chairman Rocco Commisso, the Cosmos are the example of non-MLS success and have many fans because of that fact. Cosmos B came to NPSL in 2015 and kicked it off by going undefeated and winning the National Championship. Since then, the club has consistently achieved success, winning 2 more conference titles, including 2018. However, since their first title, Cosmos B has struggled to return to the Championship.
2019 will see a strong squad returning to the field for the club. Bledi Bardic, the club’s leading scorer in 2018, is returning for 2019 and will be joined by returning team captain, Danny Szetela. Adding to the existing talent, Cosmos B added International talent Ricardo Bocanegra. The talented midfielder is a product of Liga MX club Atlas. He also played with the Mexican U23 side. These players will be led by the returning NPSL Coach of the Year, Carlos Mendes. There’s every reason to assume Cosmos will be near the top of the table this season.
The only speedbump for New York may be the upcoming Founders Cup. Just over the horizon, it may be a distraction for the team during the 2019 NPSL regular season. On the other hand, the club could use this regular season as a tune up opportunity, heading into Founders Cup ready to compete. What is definitely clear is that Cosmos B are a strong, experienced side which are sure to threaten the rest of the conference.
Rhode Island Reds FC
Rhode Island came so close to making the conference playoffs last year, finishing a single win from qualifying. This is a position the club has found itself the last 3 seasons, the last club standing of those who didn’t qualify for postseason play. While it might be easy to see that as a negative, it’s also a sure sign that the Reds have been consistently effective at putting together great rosters year over year. One of the highlights of those strong rosters is the versatility of the player pool. Club President Ruben Paz offered an example of that versatility - “Derek Blanchette, who we normally play in an attacking role, makes a great defender. We had a shortage at the position for our match against Lowell Rough Diamonds and he fit the role perfectly. He played much like Andy Robertson from Liverpool, always hustling down an attacker, coming up to aid in the attack, just everything you could want out of a defender and more. I think its something that ultimately lead to us winning that match last year. I always try and look at the positive things and that is major positive along with others to take into this upcoming season and be able to build on.”
Moving out of the regular season into the postseason is a big hurdle for the club, but with 85-90% of the roster returning, lessons learned from past seasons may be what’s needed to make the leap. Issac Addai Nani, a former conference leader in scoring, and Stavros Zarokostas, who helped lead his college side, URI, to a NCAA A10 Conference Championship last year, return to lead the Reds in 2019.
Paz stressed that the leadership don’t necessarily see the Reds as a club, but as a family. “At the end of the day, we're a Family. Kabba [Joof], the chairman, has done a great job conveying this fact to everyone who plays for this team. Yes, the soccer and the product on the pitch is important, but it more about building our community around us. The best way to describe the reds is like your best friends mom. The one who always has the door open and has a seat her table for you. Regardless if her child is home. You know at any point you can go over your friend's house and their mom will make you a sandwich no questions asked. That's the Reds, we've had players leave us and come back and for the most part, they'll always be embraced with open arms.”
Photos courtesy of club social media and Protagonist Soccer, unless otherwise mentioned. Custom art designed by Laura Mills. Previews written by Dan Vaughn with input from David Baker and Joshua Duder.