In its fourth season, local soccer team Kingston Stockade FC returned to its winning ways under new Head Coach Jamal Lis-Simmons, compiling a 7-3-4 record, highlighted by an 11-game unbeaten streak. As the long off-season gets underway, Lis-Simmons and Club Chairman Dennis Crowley look back on what the team accomplished in 2019, and look forward to the future.
“The club continues to exceed all expectations every year,” said Crowley. “I mean the emotional connection that people are able to have with the club and community through the product on the field. This is unrelated to wins/losses/draws or playoffs/not playoffs.”
Even with their successes on the pitch, “not playoffs” is where Kingston wound up this season, at least partly because they play in the National Premier Soccer League’s North Atlantic Conference, which includes perennial powerhouse the New York Cosmos, who as of press time are two wins away from being crowned the league champion.
“Eleven games unbeaten will be a record we’ll talk about for years to come, and we will continue to try to beat seasons from now,” said Crowley. But what’s so hard to swallow sometimes is that it’s a great headline for the season, but we still didn’t make the playoffs. Our conference is just so competitive.”
With two teams per-conference earning their way into the postseason, Kingston also trailed longtime nemesis the Brooklyn Italians in the standings when it was all over. But in the two games the teams played against one another, Stockade firmly established themselves as a club that will not back down.
It started with the sixth game of the season, by which time Kingston was 3-1-1, having rebounded from a 2-1 loss to the Cosmos and a deflating 1-1 draw at Greater Lowell Rough Diamonds to win three straight. On a cold and wet night at the Aviator Sports complex in Brooklyn on Wednesday, May 29, Kingston’s Danilo Markovic scored in the 90th minute, the 1-1 tie the first point Stockade had ever earned against the Italians.
On Wednesday, June 26, the action moved to Dietz Stadium, where Kingston fell behind 2-1 to Brooklyn, then went down to nine men around 10 minutes into the second half. Before a crowd of 1,057, Brady Van Epps scored an equalizer in the 93rd minute for one of the club’s defining moments, not just in 2019, but in its four-year history.
“It was impressive the way we fought for the point in Brooklyn, and then to find a way down two men to earn a draw at Dietz, it’s still an unbelievable thing to think about,” said Lis-Simmons. “In order to establish a rivalry, it’s got to be both teams getting results. And for us it was big going into the season having never gotten a result against them, it was huge for us. And hopefully it’s something we can grow off of and turn this into a real rivalry next year.”
For Crowley, the home draw against Brooklyn, with the crowd riding out a long storm delay in their cars before returning to the stands, was unforgettable.
“I’ve never experienced anything like that anywhere, in all the stuff I’ve done all throughout the world in all sorts of different sports,” he said. “The club continues to create moments like that. And that is the essence of what this season was for me. We’re just going to keep creating moments like this. You don’t know if it’s going to be good, you don’t know if it’s going to be bad. This club has a way of touching the community in a way that gets a real emotional, meaningful response.”
Kingston would close out the season with a pair of tough losses, the first a 4-2 result on the road against a Boston City side that only won two all season long. The Cosmos, who are likely headed out of the North Atlantic Conference and into the NPSL’s new Founders Cup professional league, blitzed Kingston to the tune of 6-0 in the last game of the season. Those two losses, Crowley said, may postpone Stockade’s return to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, a feat they achieved after they won the Atlantic White Conference in 2017.
“I want us to qualify for the U.S. Open Cup again,” said Crowley. “Of course I want us to win a conference championship and a regional championship, but I have a soft spot in my heart for the Open Cup just because that’s what inspired the creation of the club. I want an Open Cup home game in the Hudson Valley. That’s my new stretch goal.”
One way of ensuring they get back to the Open Cup is to continue improving on the success of Lis-Simmons, who was voted by fans as the top coach in the North Atlantic Conference for 2019. It may also come from both veterans and players who established themselves this season returning to the fold in 2020. Van Epps and Noah Robinson, Tyler Swanbeck and Conner Rezende, Afonso Pinheiro and Justin Jaime, along with many others, showed their mettle during their first season with the team.
“I think we’ll have a good amount of guys returning,” said Lis-Simmons. “Some guys played really big roles for us and I’m definitely excited to have them be a part of this club going forward. But we want to continue to improve. We want to continue trying to find talented players. While I know a good portion of guys are returning, we’re also going to continue to look to bring in talented players and if possible create an even better roster.”
Crowley said the addition of food trucks and the Keegan Ales beer tent at Dietz for home games were crucial steps in building on the match-day atmosphere, but there is still work to be done moving forward, including increasing attendance.
“I’d love to get to the point where it’s a given that we get to 1,000 fans per game,” Crowley said. “I think food trucks help us get there, and I’d like to continue that culture of bringing vendors in.
Crowley added that one area where Stockade FC might be coming up short is in getting the word out.
“People that know about the club love it, but there are people who have no idea that Stockade is an adult team, that we’re very good, and the match days are amazing,” he said. “I constantly hear from people who say, ‘This was my first game and it was amazing. I can’t believe I didn’t know about this.’ We need to get better at that.”