Heading into the holiday weekend, Kingston Stockade FC was in the enviable position of having the top of the table and a coveted first-round playoff bye in the palm of their hands. Picking up six points would have sealed the deal regardless of what happened elsewhere, but after a thrilling 4-2 rain-soaked win over Seacoast United Mariners on Saturday, Kingston fell to TSF Academy two days later. But by then, thanks to a hotly contested draw between Boston City FC and Hartford City FC on Sunday, the Atlantic White Conference belonged to Kingston.
In just its second season, Stockade FC have gone from a club of disparate but talented parts to a team in the truest sense, where opportunities are there for everyone to step up and make a difference. On Saturday, that player was midfielder Marco Kloster.
Seacoast United has the misfortune of being a pretty good team in a very good division of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL). They’ve won just two matches in 10 tries so far, though one of those wins came at the expense of Hartford City FC, a club Stockade FC was unable to figure out in both a loss and tie early in the season.
Whether it was the Mariners playing up to the challenge of facing the top team in the table, or Kingston failing to match their intensity, the two teams played to a scoreless draw through the first half, one which ended with a torrential downpour that pushed the start of the second half back by nearly an hour.
Kingston coach David Lindholm said that the extra time gave his side a chance to collectively focus on the task at hand and try to come out and play the game their way.
“At halftime I just said that there are some little tactical things we can adjust, but ultimately every one of us needs to pick the level of intensity up a little bit,” he said. “And they did. I thought we came out much better in the second half.”
But it was the Mariners who struck first, when Jackson Fotter found the perfect angle to punch the ball past Kingston goalkeeper David Giddings at the 62-minute mark. But two minutes later, Kloster hit the back of the net for the first time, repeating the feat five minutes later to give Kingston a 2-1 lead.
Nothing is ever easy, of course, and Carlos Lopez equalized for Seacoast United at the 73rd minute. With over half the damp crowd of 735 sticking around after the downpour, it began to feel like a draw might be the best the home side might hope for. At 79 minutes, Kloster completed the hat trick, making it absolutely clear that a single point was not enough for Kingston in the match. And just for good measure, Pedro Espindola, who’d threatened several times throughout, deftly sidestepped a defender at 83 minutes and ultimately sealed the 4-2 win.
“It was a wild second half,” said Lindholm. “Marco got it done for us. We were a different team in the second half, but still not the best version of ourselves.”
Kingston was without their team captain, Jamal Lis-Simmons, who regularly sets the defensive tone with a combination of grit, leadership, and a veteran understanding of how to track the ball. Lindholm said his absence on Saturday was noticed, especially in the second half.
“He has a big presence,” Lindholm said. “We know what Jamal gives us, and I think it’s easy to take it for granted.”
But in the end, Stockade was victorious, still atop the table and, if nothing else, already a lock for their first playoff visit in the club’s brief history. Kloster said winning was important not only for the team, but also the Dietz devotees.
“The crowd stayed after the rain, and we wanted to give them the win,” Kloster said. “We practice day in and out for moments like this. Everybody worked hard. As a team, we want to make this crowd happy. That’s what we work for and that’s why we put in one-hundred percent every day. Games like these are tough. You’re playing in the rain, and they’re a tough team. Thank God we have great leadership on the team and everybody was locked in to get the victory.”
Record crowd at Dietz
With a potentially table-shifting match at Boston to close out the regular season scheduled for Saturday, July 8, Kingston was hoping to settle the issue of the top seed before Independence Day. The win against Seacoast United helped, but even before Monday’s match against TSF Academy, the deed was done. On Sunday, Boston City and Hartford City played to a 3-3 draw, the result ensuring that the former was mathematically unable to catch Kingston for the top spot. It was good news for a tired Stockade club that came into Monday’s matchup against TSF Academy fatigued following Saturday’s game.
Before a record crowd of 1,129 on a sweltering Monday evening, Kingston faced a tough TSF side still in the hunt for playoff position in the NPSL’s Atlantic Blue Conference.
TSF struck first, but Eric Fortier equalized off an assist from Matt Koziol just before the half. fortier again equalized at 58 minutes off an assist from David Siriboe-Nkansah, followed 10 minutes later by a score from Koziol that gave Kingston a 3-2 lead. A controversial handball from TSF to settle the ball before a goal at 81-minutes may not have undone Kingston’s efforts entirely, but it did eventually point the way to the visiting side’s Almir Batista Jr.’s 85th-minute score that put Stockade down 4-3. To their credit, Kingston threatened for the remainder of the match, though they were unable to find the goal.
Stockade FC will host its first-ever playoff game on Saturday, July 15. First they’ll finish the regular season at Boston City FC, a club they’ve already beaten 2-1, and a club they may find themselves facing again in the postseason. Boston City will host either Hartford City or Rhode Island Reds in an as-yet unscheduled match in the days leading up to Stockade’s playoff opener.