In the final weekend of their inaugural season, Stockade FC picked up a single point, their 1-1 draw against New York Athletic Club on Saturday a 90-minute being a crash course on the team’s road struggles. The final game, a 6-0 loss to the New York Cosmos B the following day, was more of an anomaly.
The Cosmos are the defending National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) champion, having gone undefeated in 2015. They were comparatively less dominant this season, though they still finished the regular slate with a 12-2-2 record, good for 38 points. Less than a month ago, Stockade hosted the Cosmos at Dietz Stadium in Kingston, falling 4-2 in a game that was decided partly in the first half and partly in the waning minutes of regulation. Between those lines, Stockade fought valiantly on both ends of the pitch, a pair of Michael Creswick goals proving far more valuable than a win: That second half, right up until the Cosmos put the game away with an insurance goal, proved Kingston belonged.
Last Sunday, at the Hofstra Soccer Stadium in Hempstead, it was all Cosmos, as the home side all but put the game away with a four-goal first half. Franklin Castellanos hit the back of the net nine minutes into the game. Another nine minutes in and the Cosmos blew the game open, scoring three more goals over a six minute stretch.
“They’ve got a terrific team,” said Creswick. “That 4-2 result at home [on June 18] was almost uplifting in a way, because you know you’ve given them a challenge. Sunday was just, I don’t know. We gave away goals way too early. I don’t think we were prepared for a battle. Heads went down and frustration set in. Once you’re 4-0 down in 20 minutes, you’re not really thinking of coming back. We had a couple of chances to stick a goal in our side of the tally, but it was what it was. Luckily it was the last game instead of early on in the season, which could have really damaged us.”
Team captain and defensive stalwart Jamal Lis-Simmons gave credit to the Cosmos for the completeness of their attack.
“It was a tough way to end the season,” he said. “That leaves a bad taste in your mouth. But they’re a quality team, and if you’re not on top of your game that’s exactly what they can do to you.”
Kingston did have to rebound from a pair of season-opening road disappointments, the first a 1-1 draw at Greater Lowell United FC on May 8 in which they gave up the tying goal in the final minute of the game. In their second game of the season, Stockade FC were over an hour late for their matchup against the Brooklyn Italians, a game which they lost 3-0. But then they came home for a three-game stretch at Dietz, winning three in a row by a total of 7-0. The last win of that early run game at the expense of New York Athletic Club, a 3-0 result on May 29 in which the team looked sharp in all facets of the game. They did not have the same fortune in Pelham Manor on Saturday, as another lead quickly slipped away.
For Kingston, it was a rare scoring opportunity for Lis-Simmons, who nailed a diving header off a Dylan Williams cross 35 minutes in. But in a familiar refrain, the team gave up a goal shortly thereafter, with the game-tying shot for the home side coming at the 39-minute mark.
“New York Athletic Club, the last time we played them, were on the back end of a doubleheader,” said Creswick. “We won pretty easily that day, but we still should have beaten them [on Saturday] for sure. But that’s something we’ve got to work on for next year, how to close out games when we take the lead, especially away from home. Home teams, whether they have fans or not, are going to try and protect their home field.”
Creswick added that in its inaugural season, the home wins, before crowds that nearly reached 1,000 in early July, were crucial in helping the team galvanize soccer fans both locally and well beyond.
“Getting home victories was probably a little bit more important than away victories this season,” though next year a couple of road wins would be very nice,” said Creswick. “If you told us at the start of the year we were going to win five games and they’d all be at home, I think we’d take it just because of the importance of reaching the local community. To have a local team performing well at home helped get a few hundred of those people through the door, I’m sure. It was critical to a lot of our season, because if we hadn’t gotten those results it would have been a longer season.”
The team’s popularity also meant fans turned up at some games on the road. Against New York Athletic Club, Stockade Chairman Dennis Crowley said the bulk of the modest crowd was there for the visiting side.
“I think there was maybe 40-50 people there, and I think all but a handful were there for us,” he said. “There were people who’ve been following the club that were in Westchester or New York [City] that just weren’t able to make it up to Kingston for a home game. I’m surprised by the number of people who follow the club remotely, whether through Twitter or Facebook, or maybe they watch the stream, but they haven’t been able to come to a match yet. We had a couple of those people come out, which is fun. One fan at a time.”
And now Stockade FC enters the off-season with plenty of work to prepare for their 2016 campaign. The club finished in seventh place in the Atlantic Conference, with a 5-8-3 record. They scored more goals than half of the teams atop them on the table, and they gave up fewer than two of them. But in the end, they struggled with holding on to leads, especially on the road.
“Our first game we were robbed by the officials,” said Creswick. “That should have been a victory. And apart from that, I think our inexperience and naivety was kind of an issue. We gave away a lot of late goals.”
In 2017, Stockade FC will no longer be a novelty. They’ll have experience and expectations, and they’ll have to figure out how to win on the road. And the real question, especially for fans, and especially for the kids who lined the fences at Dietz after every home match for autographs and photos, is which players will be representing their side. Creswick, the team’s leading scorer, said he hopes he’ll be among them.
“My experience with the club has been great,” he said. “Dennis and [GM] Randy [Kim] have been awesome. All my family and friends over here in the U.S. have been involved this year, buying the merchandise and coming to most of the games. I think it would be a shame if I tried to look somewhere else. It would not be the same experience.”