This Saturday, Kingston Stockade FC will host its first-ever playoff game at Dietz Stadium after finishing the regular season at 7-4-1, good enough for the top spot in the National Premier Soccer League’s Atlantic White Conference and a first-round bye.
Kingston’s opponent will be Hartford City FC, which handed Kingston a deflating season opening loss in the rain at Dietz Stadium two long months ago, and the teams battled to a 2-2 draw in Hartford three weeks later. In the loss, Kingston was without many of the college players who have become integral to their chemistry and success this season; in the second, the team was still figuring itself out. From then on, Stockade went on a tear, while Hartford struggled through much of the remainder of the season, only securing a playoff bid this past weekend.
Kingston will be at full strength to open the playoffs, with forward Michael Creswick available for the first time since the team beat Seacoast United Mariners on the road in late June, and other players who might have been feeling the effects of two straight months of running around in the summer heat ready for action.
“At this point in the season there are always people who are carrying little nicks and dings, but for the most part we’re healthy and ready to go,” said Lindholm, adding that the team was focusing on itself in playoff preparations rather than worrying about who they’ll be facing. “For the most part this season we’ve tried to play to our strengths rather than modify what we do based on the opponent. We’ll have a practice this week after we know who we’ll be playing, so we’ll be able to talk about that a little bit, but it’s much more important for us to play our game, and play it well.”
Should Stockade FC advance past Saturday, they’d next play the winner of the Atlantic Blue Conference, which would mean hitting the road. All three teams — Elm City Express, Brooklyn Italians, and TSF Academy — have more points than Kingston, and would therefore play host in a game on Saturday, July 22.
“I like our chances in the playoffs,” said Stockade Chairman Dennis Crowley. “The team is playing well and capable of amazing things. I’m just excited to sit and watch and see how we do. But regardless of what happens this season is a success for us.”
Crowley has often spoken about the measures of success for Stockade FC, both in the short and long term. Whether they’re on track or ahead of schedule is less important at the moment than it will be after next season, and the one after that.
“From the chairman’s seat, all I’m trying to do every year is make sure we had a better season than the year before,” Crowley said. “I have high expectations for the long term, but I love what we’ve accomplished this year.”
In addition to making the playoffs for the first time, Kingston also won on the road, something they hadn’t managed in 2016. And in a loss to TSF Academy on Monday, July 3, they also broke their own attendance record with nearly 1,300 fans on hand.
Though Crowley might not admit to currently considering it, the further Stockade goes in the playoffs, the better their chances of making the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, a knockout competition which gives lower tier clubs in the NPSL, and even amateur teams, a chance of maybe facing off against the country’s top sides in the MLS. Crowley has said that Stockade FC grew out of his seeing the New York Cosmos, who play in the NASL, battle New York City Football Club, a well-funded, star-studded MLS side, in the fourth round of the 2015 Open Cup, a fierce 2-2 draw decided by penalty kicks.
“To qualify for that tournament, whenever that happens, that’s going to be a huge honor,” Crowley said.
The pyramid rises
The chance to take on bigger teams higher up the U.S. soccer food chain is an undeniable goal, especially as it would further put Stockade FC in the public eye. Though he’s been pegged as being anti-MLS, what Crowley said he really is pro-U.S. soccer, which means doing what he can to help improve the quality and reach of the game beyond the professional leagues.
“I want us to create almost an alternative universe,” he said. “I just want to make the D4 stuff a little more accessible and approachable. There’s a distance between the players and the fans [in the MLS], and it’s kind of the same thing with the community and the front office. If you want to come and be a part of [Stockade FC], just show up on Saturday and we’ll put you to work. The whole thing is volunteer-driven.”
The NASL, D2 soccer in the U.S. soccer pyramid. sees its teams flying across the country for matches, something that would be impossible to manage for most D4 teams.
“Some teams will never be able to do that,” Crowley said. “Will Stockade ever be able to do that? And then you look at Chattanooga [FC] and Detroit [City FC], and they could probably pull that off. Right now, we’re in D4 where you run on a $100,000 budget, and then in D2 they’re running on a $10 million budget. There’s nothing in between. The infrastructure has to be built, and then you have a fully functioning pyramid.”
But while Stockade FC’s popularity continues to rise, what does that mean for its future, not only at Dietz Stadium, which has a capacity of 1,500, but in Kingston? Will Stockade FC ever outgrow the Hudson Valley? Crowley said no.
“We didn’t get into this game to build an MLS team,” he said. “We got into it so we could build something cool in Kingston. There’s no plans to move anywhere else. If it peters out at 1,000 fans, that’s our problem and we’ve got to go make soccer fans where they don’t exist. Moving the team is not on the table. The thing that’s really exciting for me is, okay we have 1,000 fans. How do we get to 1,500? How do we get to 2,000? Where do those people come from? Rhinebeck, or parts of Kingston where we’re not hanging up flyers yet? And I think it’s the latter.”
Crowley talked about the club’s fondness for Dietz Stadium, and whether they might have to look into renting bleachers to put behind the stands should attendance continue to rise, an option he added might not even be allowed. It’s the sort of challenge he seems to enjoy.
“In the tech world you always talk about good problems to have,” said Crowley, who is co-founder and executive chairman of the app FourSquare. “If we were growing so quickly we outgrow our office space, that’s a good problem to have. And they’re good problems to have until you have them, and then they’re just problems. Right now, that would be a good problem to have, and I’d like to think that when we get there we’ll have an answer for it.”
Kingston Stockade FC will host Hartford City FC in the Atlantic White Conference final on Saturday, July 15 at 6 p.m. For more information, visit www.stockadefc.com.