Kingston Stockade FC’s magical 2017 campaign ended with a 6-3 defeat at the hands of Clarkstown SC in the National Premier Soccer League’s Northeast Region semifinals at Drew University’s Ranger Stadium on a sweltering Saturday night. Of the estimated 300 fans in attendance at July 22’s tilt, at least 280 were there to support Stockade, having traveled from the Hudson Valley, New York City, and elsewhere. Since they’d come all that way, they figured they might as well be loud, with drums and chants from beginning until long after the end.
Things looked promising for Kingston early on, as the defense repelled Clarkstown’s furious offense over the first few minutes. With the home side’s offense failing to make inroads, Kingston struck first, with Pedro Espindola’s customarily agile footwork helping him shake loose a befuddled defender before an expertly placed goal in the 11th minute.
Both teams had chances over the next half hour, with Steve Skonieczny particularly sharp on numerous swarming Clarkstown pushes. While Kingston fans would openly criticize the officiating throughout, streaking forward Bruce Jeter was blatantly pulled down in the box by his defender in the 41st minute. Espindola put the lead at 2-0, completely faking Clarkstown’s goalkeeper out on the penalty kick.
Kingston nearly made it into halftime with a clean sheet, but a few minutes after an injury ended Jeter’s night, Clarkstown halved the goal on a wild deflection.
“The first half was interesting,” said Espindola. “We knew they were a good team. We scouted them and knew it was going to be a good battle. We came out and we scored two goals, and we absolutely could not get scored on with two minutes to go in the half. That gave them so much confidence. Honestly, I think that was the piece that changed the game.”
Between the 55th and 90th minutes, Clarkstown would go on to score five goals, trying — and failing — to dampen the spirits of the Stockade side and its fans. In a moment which perhaps best encapsulates the relationship between Kingston’s players and supporters, a Clarkstown player who’d just scored a goal immediately ran over to the clutch of Stockade fans where the drums were loudest and the chants most creative and tried to taunt them. Not only did the fans stay loud, but Espindola, who’d earlier been shoved by an opponent and kept his cool even after no penalty was called, had enough, getting between the Clarkstown forward and Stockade supporters and, perhaps in a more colorful way than can be put in print, told him to knock it off.
“They backed me up the whole season,” said Espindola. “They sang my name and gave me so much love. It’s the least I could do. I will not stand someone pointing at them and trying to make fun of them, because I have so much passion for this team and for the fans and for the community itself that it’s not going to happen in front of me.”
Fittingly, captain and defensive stalwart Jamal Lis-Simmons, put the cap on Stockade’s season, refusing to let Clarkstown have the final word by punching in a goal in stoppage time. Kingston’s fans, as they’d done all game long, showered their side with appreciation.
In the grand tradition of the Giants, Jets and Red Bulls, Clarkstown SC is a team that lays claim to New York in its crest, but actually plays its home matches in New Jersey, primarily in Mahwah and, on occasion, at Ranger Stadium in leafy Madison. With its artificial turf, and more significantly, its boisterous Stockade cheering section and wild atmosphere, it was effectively Dietz Stadium South on Saturday night.
“If I shut my eyes it’s like being at Dietz,” said Stockade forward Michael Creswick in the immediate aftermath of the game. “It’s pretty amazing for a road game, especially one we just lost. It’s awesome having all these guys here, and we wanted to shake their hands after the game. They’re as much a part of this team as we are. It’s awesome to have that kind of support already going forward to next year.”
Fans sang for at least 20 minutes after the final whistle, perhaps in part to celebrate the season rather than allow defeat to get them down. Among the supporters making the trip to Madison was Kington Mayor Steve Noble.
“For me, Stockade have truly been a community team,” he said. “They’ve gotten the fans going, they’ve gotten energy going about Kingston. After the last game, when they won [Hartford], my wife and I said, ‘We’ve got to go,’ and we brought the family down here. It’s great to support them. I just can’t believe how many Kingston people are here tonight.”
For the most part, Stockade players and coaches were feeling reflective about their 2017 campaign, and maybe a little shell-shocked by bearing witness to a Clarkstown offense that, among other feats, scored 19 goals in just two regular season games.
In his first season at the helm, head coach David Lindholm moved Stockade FC forward quickly, he and his staff leading them to an 8-5-1 record and a first place finish in the NPSL’s Atlantic White Conference, a significant improvement over their inaugural campaign. Lindholm said he’d get around to planning for 2018, but he wasn’t ready to let 2017 go just yet.
“I don’t want to turn the page too quickly because I want to really be grateful for what we had this season,” he said. “What’s great is I think a lot of these guys want to come back next year, and we’ll want this crew back. It’s a great group, both from a soccer standpoint and from a personality standpoint. When I think back on my days as a player on this level, college guys showed up as a way to stay fit and get ready for their college season. And I think our college players really bought into this as something that is worth giving their energy and their effort and their passion to. And that’s a reflection of Jamal leading the team, and [Club Chairman] Dennis [Crowley’s] effort to build a club that is amazing to play for. We’ll think about next year in a few weeks, but for now I want to be grateful for the season that we had.”
With the win, Clarkstown moved on to next week’s regional final against Elm City Express, a team out of New Haven, Conn. With the loss, Stockade got a taste of what they’ll have to do to continue to improve.
“First half we proved what we can do, and the second half is maybe the level we’ve reached so far,” Creswick said. “We have this experience now, and the desire to get past this level.”
In his first season with Kingston, Espindola’s artistry on the field electrified the fans, who he often included in his goal celebrations. After the game, with the crowd still chanting and celebrating, he said he’d never forget the moment he realized so many of them had turned up for the regional semifinal.
“It was beautiful,” he said. “I couldn’t believe when I walked out on the field and we had that many fans. I had goosebumps. I was so excited, and to score in front of them was just amazing.”
Lis-Simmons, who in his second season once again provided a steadying influence on his teammates and by deed showed gritty commitment to every moment of every game, said he hopes Stockade FC will continue moving in the right direction in 2018 and beyond.
“The season as a whole was unbelievable,” he said. “Hopefully we set a good foundation for this club going forward. Next year hopefully we can continue this momentum and get beyond this point. As long as my legs hold up, I’ll be ready to go. As long as coaches keep calling on me, I’ll be ready for sure. It’s been a privilege to be a part of this club, not just as players and coaches and staff, but the community has really supported us from day one, and I’m just proud to be a part of it.”