If Stockade FC didn’t mete out the measure of revenge they were hoping for when they boarded the bus for a rematch with Hartford City FC on Saturday, they did the next best thing, picking up a point in a 2-2 draw where all the scoring was done before the half.
Stockade FC’s 12-game regular season schedule is equally divided between home games at Dietz Stadium, and road trips to far flung locales like Providence, R.I.; Portland, Maine; Boston; Brooklyn and, last weekend, Hartford — for a rematch with the fledgling club that dealt Kingston a 3-1 loss on opening day.
In the spirit of travel (but not too much travel) we ditched the idea of a long trip on I-84 in favor of a much lower-key experience with Stockade’s New York City supporter’s club at Smithfield Hall, a soccer bar with “elevated pub grub” in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. With Stockade FC reliably streaming games online this season, Smithfield Hall has become the go-to venue for some of the city’s Stockade faithful, thanks to the city’s supporters group’s founder Craig T. Wood, who lives in Queens and works in digital media for Madison Square Garden.
Wood, a recent soccer convert, said he was inspired to take the game more seriously after last year’s Copa América and Euro tournaments.
“That really invigorated my fandom and made me determined to be a soccer fan,” Wood said. “Previously I was a typical American: World Cup, that kind of thing. But then I started paying attention, learning about all the different leagues around the world, the MLS, and about how the U.S. soccer pyramid is so different from everywhere else in the world.”
Delving into the intricacies of American soccer, and the push to challenge for the World Cup, led Wood to Stockade FC, and the team’s co-founder and chairman, Dennis Crowley.
“He was part of what introduced me to these different issues in soccer, with why he founded this team, his approach to this team, his commitment to the long road with this team,” Wood said. “He’s not a millionaire who just wanted something to brag about. He has a goal, a selfless goal: ‘I want our country to win the World Cup.’ There have been 12 or 13 teams that launched in the last year specifically because of what he’s doing.”
Crowley is aware of the groundswell, not only around Stockade FC but with soccer in general, which he says is good for the sport in the United States.
“The story resonates with a lot of people,” he said. “I hear the story from a [soccer] club perspective a bunch. ‘Hey, I’m starting a club in Tennessee because I read this blog post and I’m inspired by what you did.’ I think that’s great. People are connecting with the story in a different way and becoming fans. We need both of those things to work for this to be a success. We need more clubs, we need more players, we need more fans. All three of those things need to happen.”
One soccer team that launched in the last year is Hartford City which, if not inspired by Crowley and Stockade FC to get off the ground, have at least been inspired to birth a crackling rivalry in the National Premier Soccer League’s (NPSL) Atlantic White Conference, a six-team annex of 2016’s Atlantic Conference. The other half, Atlantic Blue, includes two of the three new teams in the Atlantic, with Hartford City the lone inaugural side in the White.
Stockade opened the scoring at Hartford on Saturday, May 27, with Eric Fortier taking an assist from Juan Gatti in the 12th minute. If the two teams’ opening game was settled in the brief gut punch of the first eight minutes at Dietz Stadium three weeks earlier, Hartford condensed the torment to a single minute, with Luke Alvaro scoring twice in a single minute to give the home side a 2-1 advantage. But in his Stockade debut, Victor Guirma nailed a beauty from the top of the box just prior to the half to tie the game at 2-2.
There were moments in the second half where both teams looked set to untie the knot, with Kingston just missing on a few opportunities, and Stockade goalkeeper Steve Skonieczny — and in one instance the left post — proved impenetrable down the stretch.
“They did the same thing at Hartford that they did to us at Dietz,” Crowley said of the suddenly overwhelming offense from Hartford City. “I don’t know if it’s a fluke. It’s tough to watch from the sidelines. We are thrilled to leave there with a draw and a point.”
Smithfield Hall is now the official Big Apple home of the New York City Stockade supporters group (smithfieldnyc.com/fan-clubs/kingston-stockade-fc), but it’s also the headquarters of supporters groups for legendary clubs across the Atlantic, including FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, West Ham United, Inter Milan, Olympique de Marseille; as well as the Gotham Company, supporters of the Portland Timbers of the MLS. Both Barcelona and Portland had matches on Saturday, but both were finished by the time Kingston took the pitch in Hartford. Even with a busy MLS slate, there were enough televisions in the deep venue for the Stockade FC-Hartford City match to be streamed on three screens, with the audio on in the back corner of the left side of the bar as well.
“That’s crazy,” said Crowley of a venue that gave up a couple of hours of sound and vision to a fourth-tier semi-pro soccer team. “It’s a crowd of people hanging around post-FA Cup on a Saturday afternoon.”
Wood chose this venue over some of the others in the city — Nevada Smiths, the Football Factory, and the Mad Hatter are popular soccer bars in Manhattan; the Black Swan, Woodwork, and Banter are among the best in Brooklyn — after doing a bit of scouting.
“I went around to a couple of the soccer bars to see how it worked,” he said. “‘I’m talking about a Division IV U.S. team, so it’s going to be streamed online. Do you have that setup?’ Soccer bars have that setup because there are a lot of foreign supporters’ groups. They’re set up for streaming. Coming to Smithfield, they’re home to Manchester United. They’re home to massive teams. I met with one of the owners and he said, ‘Look, we have these established supporters’ groups, so I can’t promise audio for every game.’ And I totally get it.”
Wood made the trip up to Dietz Stadium with friends for the rain-soaked season opener before settling in to Smithfield Hall.
“It was miserable,” he said. “It was my birthday weekend. We ended up leaving at halftime, and I was so bummed. I wanted to meet the Dutch Guard. I wanted to meet the Keegan Ales guys.”
He’s planning to return to Kingston for the club’s regular season home finale, a two-game stand at Dietz when they’ll host Seacoast Mariners on Saturday, July 1 and TSF Academy two days later. In the meantime, you’ll find him, and the NYC Stockade FC supporters group, at Smithfield Hall, where like a snowball rolling down a hill, they’ve been growing little by little.
“The first event, I was the only person from the supporters group,” Wood said. “And every game I get new people. Tonight we’re five people. This to me is so exciting.”
If you’re in Gotham next weekend, Kingston has a pair of matches that will be screened at Smithfield Hall; they host New York Athletic Club on Saturday, June 3, and they hit the road against the Rhode Island Reds the following day. Wood said the supporters group will be there for each game through the end of the season, save for Saturday, June 17, when Stockade FC visits the Brooklyn Italians at LIU’s Brooklyn campus.
“I feel a lot of responsibility for getting a crowd for the game in Brooklyn next month,” Wood said, adding that he hoped to see many of the club’s Hudson Valley faithful make the trip down as well.
“I’m just excited to be doing this,” Wood said. “I want to meet more people in New York who care about soccer. Soccer in the U.S. is still a bit of a marginal sport. I think it’s growing at an incredible rate. The future of soccer is incredibly bright. People still kind of shit on the sport, but I think that’s changing. American football, the NFL with all of their issues, I think there’s going to be a shift. And I think that’s partly because of the supporters’ culture.”
If you’re unable to hit the road to follow Stockade FC and aren’t close enough to the five boroughs to meet up with Wood and the NYC supporters club, Keegan Ales in Kingston has also been screening live-streams of away games. “Tommy has been so supportive of the club,” Crowley said.