After months of rigorous training, much of it indoors and behind closed doors, Kingston Stockade FC will open its third-ever season with a couple of friendlies, a warm return to the friendly confines of Dietz Stadium, and will then open the year by playing in the 105th edition of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup just days before the National Premier Soccer League season gets underway.
Stockade FC earned their bid into the national tournament on the merits of their 2017 sophomore season, their first under Head Coach David Lindholm, which saw the semi-pro side thrill local fans on their way to an Atlantic Conference White-winning 8-5-1 record. The club, a popular choice among pundits to make the Open Cup, had an opportunity to punch their ticket last year, but their season-ending 6-3 loss to Clarkstown SC in the Northeast Region semis in late July left them wondering over the long, lonely winter whether they’d make the cut. Well, left some of them wondering, because neither Lindholm nor Club Chairman Dennis Crowley would admit to any sleepless nights.
“It was out of our control, so worrying about it wasn’t going to do anything,” said Lindholm. “It seemed like there was sort of a ranking for NPSL teams and it depended upon how many spots US Soccer was going to assign the league, and it didn’t seem like lobbying would get us anywhere, so it was just a waiting game.”
“I didn’t even consider it,” he said. “I’ve been so distracted getting everything ready for the 2018 season.”
Stockade FC is among 52 open division teams in the Open Cup, just 19 of which are from the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL). All open division teams will play in the tournament’s opening round on Wednesday, May 9. Their opponent and the location of the game will be revealed in early April. While Kingston will likely be paired off against a team that’s relatively close geographically, Open Cup rules prohibit teams from the same qualifying pool matching up against one another. So no familiar NPSL foes in the first round; their opponent will either come from the smattering of local qualifiers or those in the Premier Development League (PDL). The tournament will see a tiered bracket and eight rounds of single-elimination play until a champion is crowned in September.
But while they wouldn’t cop to wondering if they’d make the Open Cup, both Crowley and Lindholm were very clearly pleased with the selection.
“When we were starting the club, we really didn’t have a sense of what was realistic and what was not,” Crowley said. “I remember there were moments during the first season where we won a couple of matches in a row and I was like, ‘Oh my God, we’ll make the Open Cup.’ And of course we ended up in the middle of the table and we were far from qualifying. Last season we won the conference championship, but we didn’t win the playoff game that would have given us an automatic berth to the Cup. And I remember looking at a lot of other teams around the country and thinking, ‘I don’t know if we’ll make this. Maybe that was one of our best chances.’ So have it come through and for us to play in it this year, it’s awesome. There’s no ceiling over what the club can do. We’ll tick that goal off and add another one that seems equally hard to achieve.”
Like Crowley, Lindholm said the Open Cup has always been a dream.
“It’s a really cool tournament, and it’s an opportunity to say that we’re playing the same tournament as the best players in the country and the best teams that America has to offer,” he said, “It’s really exciting, and to be in that conversation as a team that represents the Hudson Valley and with these players that take so much pride in that … Guys like Jamal [Lis-Simmons, two-time Stockade team captain], who grew up playing here and says all the time that he wants to put Kingston on the [soccer] map. It’s a dream come true and a great opportunity to represent the Hudson Valley.”
Knockout tournaments across different levels of competition are a long-established practice in soccer, and even though the sport’s recent rise in this country appears likely to stick, the Open Cup has survived through many fallow periods. Begun in 1913-14 as the National Challenge Cup, the Open Cup was the first nationwide tournament in the United States, with previous tournaments largely played regionally due to the impracticality of brisk long-distance travel.
Travel is still a factor in today’s Open Cup, though that’s largely because many teams in the lower-tiered leagues simply can’t afford to pay for transportation and lodging, even with the prestige the tournament brings. U.S. Soccer has sought to combat those issues by pairing clubs relatively close to one another in the opening round, with travel reimbursement available the longer a club stays alive in competition.
According to the rules of the Open Cup, each team in the opening round has an equal chance of hosting their first game, meaning Kingston’s could be played at Dietz before a decidedly partisan Stockade crowd. That decision will be revealed by U.S. Soccer on April 4.
Should Stockade advance, the second round is scheduled for May 16, the third May 23, and the fourth June 6. After that is the round of 16 in late June, the quarterfinals in mid-July, the semifinals in early August, and the finals scheduled for September 26. When Stockade insiders announced their 2018 tryouts, they talked about the upcoming season and how the schedule was beneficial because it allowed players to build energy between games. Now, at least as long as they stay alive in the Open Cup, the team is going to be very busy.
“I think it’ll add a little bit of urgency to the training sessions, but I don’t think it’ll change the way we’ll prepare a whole lot, or the way I’ll go about training,” said Lindholm. “But it’ll really encourage the guys to be working hard, even on days they’re not in training, to get a workout in, to touch the ball, just to be as ready for that as they possibly can. And that’ll be the message that I’ll send too: The season starts fast and starts hard, and the first game we’ll play will be this unbelievably important one.”
The team’s season officially gets underway with a home match against the NPSL’s Rhode Island Reds at Dietz Stadium on Saturday, May 12, just three days after the Open Cup’s opening round.