Record crowd at Dietz watches Stockade FC win huge match

Stockade FC’s Marco Kloster tries to maneuver through Boston City players Michael Rincon and Ronaldo Vieira. (Phyllis McCabe)

A club-record 992 fans saw Kingston Stockade FC come out on top in a thrilling 2-1 top-of-the-table battle with Boston City FC on Saturday, a match which showed the home side playing from strength to strength throughout.

It started on the defensive side, with Stockade goalkeeper Steve Skonieczny’s spectacular denial of an early scoring attempt setting the tone. With Kingston’s offense slow to coalesce, the stingy defense led by Skonieczny and captain Jamal Lis-Simmons ensured the match was Kingston’s to control.

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“They’ve been so steady all season, Juan [Gatti] and Jamal,” said Kingston coach David Lindholm. “Juan hadn’t played a lot of center-back, I don’t think, before this year and he’s really taken to the position really well. And Jamal just brings that veteran leadership. And more than that, he knows where to be, he knows how to get up for games like this and get what needs to be done, done. It’s really impressive to watch. And then the outside backs, Matel [Anasta] and Brandon Curtis had great games as well. It was a really great team performance. And any time you’re talking about defense, Matt Koziol is a machine in the middle of the field.”

Koziol is also a machine on penalty and free kicks this season, a trend which came in handy in the 44th minute when Kingston’s Michael Creswick was brought down in the penalty area. Koziol, sensing he and the Boston City keeper were going in the same direction, targeted the upper right corner of the net, much to the delight of the home faithful.

“He’s automatic,” said Lindholm of Koziol, who has five goals this season, three of them on penalty kicks. “Even when the goalkeeper is going the right way, he can read it and know he has to lift it up a few feet. It’s really impressive.”

Koziol attributed his success to training and putting himself in the moment. “I just make sure I keep a calm head and place it in the corner where the keeper can’t get to it,” he said. “I keep calm, settle down. I rely on what I’ve done in practice and on the training ground.”

Kingston’s offense was invigorated in the second half, spending much more time on the Boston side of the pitch than they had early. The play was chippy, with both sides feeling the pressure of the match and responding with highly physical games. Pedro Espindola, Stockade’s electrifying first-year forward, showed true precision in the 62nd minute, when he chipped the ball in over Boston’s goalkeeper from 35 yards out for his fifth goal of the season. As is customary, Espindola’s emotional celebration spilled over onto the sideline where he embraced some of Kingston’s young supporters. One of the kids’ Stockade caps fell off, and Espindola picked it up, set it on his head, struck a defiant pose, then tossed the cap back to the fan.

“It’s like a Mortal Kombat finishing move,” said Stockade FC Chairman Dennis Crowley. “I’d watch that again.”

Espindola, who hails from Sao Paulo, Brazil and plays for SUNY Albany during the college season, joined Creswick this season to create one of the National Premier Soccer League’s Atlantic White Conference’s most imposing front lines.

“It’s been really fun so far,” Espindola said.” It’s an honor to play here. I feel really welcome when I come out and play. I’m happy about our results and I feel like we can go really far. It’s exciting.”

Suspense at the end

The two-goal advantage held until the 82nd minute, when Boston defender Leandro Carvalho spoiled Skonieczny’s clean sheet and helped create a tense atmosphere for the home side until the final moment of what must have seemed to Stockade supporters an interminably long four minutes of stoppage time.

“I had my heart in my throat the entire match,” Crowley said. “It didn’t matter if we were up one, it didn’t matter if we were up two. There was a game last year in the pouring rain where we were up, we came in at halftime, we came back out and we lost. So I know better than to get myself psyched up against this [Boston City] team.”

Lindholm said he was pleased by what he saw. “It was a great day and a great performance,” he said. “I think it’s what we deserve for the effort we put in.”

In the week leading up to the match, the Twitter accounts of both teams — and many of their supporters — engaged in lighthearted, but also heated, debates over who was truly atop the table. Stockade led on points, but with a game in hand and no losses, the NPSL’s curious algorithm gave Boston City the edge. After Saturday’s big win, the debate was truly over.

“They’re a great team and I’m not going to take anything away from them, but so are we, and we proved that today,” said Espindola. “I wish every game was like this. It’s so competitive. The energy is really high and the quality is high too. It was fun.”

With 992 fans at Dietz on Saturday, Stockade FC broke their previous record of 936 set in the final home match of 2016. Stockade GM Randy Kim joked afterward that they actually surpassed 1,000 fans for the game. “I think technically there were about eight people outside the fence,” Kim said.

Regardless of the total, Kim said the team feeds off the energy of the home supporters at Dietz every single game, an atmosphere unlike any Stockade FC sees when it hits the road.

“The way these kids play, the determination, the passion that they leave out there every match, that’s thanks to those 992, 650, 450 in the rain, that’s what drives them,” Kim said.

Next, Brooklyn

After a 5-0 win at Rhode Island one week earlier, Lindholm spoke of Stockade making the most of their opportunities, a sentiment he shared again after beating Boston City. There’s no greater example of making the most of your opportunities than the Brooklyn Italians of the NPSL’s Atlantic Blue Conference, the next challenge for Kingston. Brooklyn is 4-0-1 on the season, and they’ve gotten there by the skin of their teeth. After exploding to a 4-1 season-opening win against the anemic New York Athletic Club, the Italians have won three matches by a single goal, and drew 0-0 against TSF FC.

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Stockade FC heads to New York City’s most populous borough to take on the Brooklyn Italians on Saturday, June 17 at 7 p.m. For Hudson Valley fans planning to make the trip via public transportation, LIU Brooklyn’s athletic field on Ashland Place is a block away from the western edge of Fort Greene Park and is easily accessible by numerous subway lines: Jump on a Trailways bus (book online with STOCKADE10 for a 10 percent discount) to Port Authority and take the A/C to Jay St./MetroTech, the 2/3 to Nevins Street, or the B or N/Q to DeKalb.

Head down early for lunch or dinner and a massive slice of cheesecake Junior’s Restaurant, a Brooklyn institution that’s been at the corner of Flatbush and DeKalb since 1950. It’s quite literally a five minute walk from Junior’s to the game, and other than the likelihood of an ice cream truck parking just outside the gates on Ashland there is no food to be found at the game.

Stockade FC is also planning a pregame supporters’ gathering at DSK, alternatively known as Der Schwarze Kölner and Die Stammkneipe, a German biergarten and soccer-friendly pub located at 710 Fulton St. With the pregame celebration set to begin at DSK by 4:30, Kingston is planning to head off to the grounds at LIU Brooklyn by 6:15.