Stockade FC looks to improve as season opens May 4

Action during the recent friendly against Newtown City FC. (Photos by Phyllis McCabe)

Kingston Stockade FC will open its fourth season of local soccer at Dietz Stadium on Saturday, May 4. They’ll host the New York Cosmos, the reigning champion of the North Atlantic Conference of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL).

The game will mark the official debut of head coach Jamal Lis-Simmons, the club’s former defensive star who hung up his boots and picked up a clipboard at the end of last season. He takes over for David Lindholm, who stepped down after two seasons at the helm. Lis-Simmons said his squad of familiar faces and new recruits are ready for the rigors of the 2019 season.

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“So far, so good,” he said. “I’ve been satisfied with our training sessions for the last month or so, and I think guys are excited for the season to begin. It’s obviously a big challenge with the Cosmos coming to town, but we’re looking forward to the opportunity.”

Kingston had its best season in 2017, going 7-4-1 overall, winning the Atlantic White Conference of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), earning a 2-1 victory over Boston City FC in the conference finals on July 15 of that year, and locking down its first-ever trip to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Last year the club dropped to a 3-5-2 overall record, though their season included highlights like a 5-1 home win over Boston and a thrilling come-from-behind 4-4 tie against the NPSL’s defending champs, Elm City Express.

Club Chairman Dennis Crowley said the Open Cup appearance, a 6-3 loss to the Long Island Rough Riders of the Premier Development League (since renamed USL League Two), was a thrilling taste of what can happen when things go right. The only trouble is, things don’t always go right. 

“The best and the worst thing for the club was getting a taste of the Open Cup,” he said. “Because now everybody is like, ‘We’ve got to get back in. We’ve got to win and get back in.’ Everyone wants that. And it’s achievable, because we’ve done it. And it’s a little bit of folklore for the new guys coming in too, for the guys who haven’t been on the team before.”

Getting back to Stockade’s winning ways is crucial, though the nature of the semi-pro league means the team may not be in a position to realize its full potential for the first few weeks of the season. Many clubs in the NPSL rely on talented college players to fill out their rosters, but those players can’t fully commit themselves until their college season is complete.

The new college recruits include Noah Robinson, a defender from Saint Joseph’s College of Maine; defender and midfielder Joao Avila of Marist College; Siena College midfielder Tyler Swanbeck; midfielder Paul Makaj of Fordham University; and defender Riccardo Iafrate of the University at Albany.

“Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be getting some of these new college players, and we’re navigating that,” said Lis-Simmons. “It’ll get a lot more interesting as we get all of those guys into play and see where everybody is in relation to each other.”

Kingston will also see the return of key veterans like striker Pedro Espindola, forwards Michael Creswick and Bruce Jeter, and midfielders Mikey Lanzetta, Scott Zobre, and Juan Parada. The player names have been trickled out on social media, but as of press time this week a full roster has yet to drop. That’s partly due to the growing popularity of Stockade FC among soccer players.

“Every season the profile of the club gets a little bit bigger,” said Crowley. “And every season you’ve got more players from further away who want to come spend their summer in the Hudson Valley.”

Lis-Simmons, a captain and defender beginning with Stockade’s inaugural season before taking the reins as coach last autumn, agreed.

“Our club has gained some good notoriety in the first three years,” said Lis-Simmons. “I think there is a little bit of a buzz, and guys see some of the success we’ve had and the special home field atmosphere that our community has created. It’s an environment guys want to be a part of.”

Home sweet Dietz

The home field atmosphere, with the stands at Dietz Stadium filled and the buoyant energy and noise coming from the Dutch Guard Supporters Group and the Percussion Orchestra of Kingston (POOK), is unrivaled in the NPSL’s North Atlantic Conference.

“From a support standpoint, the community has been behind us every moment since the club started,” said Lis-Simmons. “We’re expecting a great home field environment, which we always have.”

Crowley said the club hopes to build on that fan experience at Dietz, especially with the KCSD transferring its partial ownership to the City of Kingston. That imminent move will not only allow for the city to spend grant money for stadium improvements, it also means Stockade FC can arrange for beer to be sold at home games.

“We have permission to have the beer tent in Dietz Stadium,” said Crowley. “The language that I agreed upon with the mayor is that there’s Keegan Ales at Dietz Stadium this year. We’re not going to be more specific than that.”

Food trucks are also in the works, though they would only sell items that are not available in the permanent concession stand.

The club is also improving its merch offerings, introducing an iron-on heat press to put names and numbers on jerseys. Two new t-shirts will also be available: One says “Support Local Soccer” and includes the Stockade FC logo; the other is the latest installment in the club’s popular “International Edition” line, which sees the print in the Stockade FC logo rendered in Arabic, Japanese and Russian. The new shirt is in Hebrew.

“It’s a sign of solidarity [against] the anti-Semitic stuff that’s been happening in the Hudson Valley and throughout the U.S.,” said Crowley. 

New head coach Jamal Lis-Simmons.

Soccer, Skywalker-style

The season opener takes place on May 4, a date which in recent years has taken on a Star Wars theme — “May the 4th Be With You” — and Stockade FC is playing along, taking on the role of the Rebel Alliance against the Cosmos’ Evil Empire. Fans turning up in Star Wars costumes will get in for $5, and there will be a costume contest at halftime. Stockade FC fans hope the Cosmos take the Evil Empire casting to its natural conclusion, by losing in the end.

“They’re a big team that has the ability to sign players and they have a deep-pocketed owner,” said Crowley. “I expect them to be one of the best teams in the league.”

The Cosmos have already begun their season with a modest 2-0 win over New York Athletic Club, and Kingston is hoping New York’s looming Open Cup match — a home battle against Black Rock FC slated for Wednesday, May 8 — will make them vulnerable. 

“To get a win out of them this year would be especially sweet,” said Crowley.

For Lis-Simmons, the game against the Cosmos is one of many this season, and he hopes they’ll come away with a win to set the tone for the challenges ahead. 

“We’re excited to start the season,” Lis-Simmons said. “We like our chances. Health is a big thing, but if we can stay healthy we have the pieces to be able to compete for this conference. In terms of the game stuff, our mentality is to try to win every game. We’re in the process of trying to put together a game plan to try to get all three points against the Cosmos.”

More games than ever

Stockade FC plays in the NPSL’s North Atlantic Conference, and its schedule of 14 regular season games is the longest in club history. That schedule includes seven home matches, starting with the Cosmos, followed by visits from New York Athletic Club (Friday, May 24 at 7 p.m.), Hartford City FC (Sunday, May 26 at 6 p.m.), the Rhode Island Reds (Sunday, June 2 at 6 p.m.), the Greater Lowell Rough Diamonds (Sunday, June 9 at 6 p.m.), Boston City FC (Saturday, June 22 at 6 p.m.) and the Brooklyn Italians (Wednesday, June 26 at 7 p.m.). The Rough Diamonds were formerly known as Greater Lowell NPSL FC before undergoing an extensive rebranding during the offseason.

In addition to Kingston’s seven regular season home matches, the team will travel to each of their North Atlantic Conference foes’ grounds during the season, closing out the regular season campaign with visits to Boston City FC on Sunday, June 30, and the New York Cosmos B on Saturday, July 6.

Tickets for individual home games are $8 for adults, $5 for kids 12-and-under, and $2 for kids wearing anything soccer related. Season tickets are $40 and are available at Dietz Stadium on game day and at www.stockadefc.com.

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