After sitting 2020 out due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Kingston Stockade FC this week announced plans to return for their delayed fifth season this summer. Their 10-game slate will see the club pitted against National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) foes both new and familiar alike, with half of those battles taking place on their home pitch at Dietz Stadium in Kingston.
Stockade FC Chairman Dennis Crowley said the club was already enjoying the preamble to the new season.
“I think we miss the fans as much as they might miss us,” he said. “It was a you don’t realize it until it’s gone type of thing, and it was, it was really tough not being involved at all last year and not having that outlet to see everyone and experience all that creativity and work and just kind of fun stuff that goes into Stockade. And I don’t think we’re the only ones missing it.”
The club sent out an e-mail on Friday, April 9, informing fans that the 2021 season was coming together, along with what it might look like compared to past seasons. The response was almost immediate.
“As soon as I sent that email out, I got a dozen replies in the first ten minutes with people just like, ‘I can’t wait, I need this, I’m so excited,’” Crowley said. “And I basically felt like, okay, this is the right call. It was the right decision. And we’re excited to get back out there.”
Crowley said he’d previously connected with Kingston officials to make sure Stockade’s return wouldn’t be burdensome as the city, like the rest of the world, tries to emerge from the pandemic.
“And the feedback from them was pretty clear,” Crowley said. “People love the team and they could use something to feel good about; if you can find a way to do it and keep everyone safe, then go for it. And that’s my marching orders.”
As of press time, Stockade officials are still wrestling with whether to go with New York State’s professional or amateur event guidance; given the capacity of 1,500 at Dietz Stadium, the former would allow for a maximum of 500 fans with everyone attending having to show proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test no more than 72 hours before game time, while the latter would allow for 200 fans maximum with no testing.
While few of their past opponents in the NPSL’s North Atlantic Conference ever saw as many as 200 fans in the stands, Stockade FC routinely plays before at least several hundred at Dietz, often surpassing the 1,000-mark. Still, Crowley said they’re leaning toward the amateur option because it favors families.
“Kids aren’t getting vaccines and kids aren’t lining up to get tested,” Crowley said. “A big chunk of the whole Stockade thing is about inspiring kids and getting kids to come to the games…That 200 number gives us more flexibility with getting kids in the door.”
Though they can’t allow everyone back for every game this season, Crowley said the club will more than ever lean on live-streaming to bring Stockade to the fans.
2019 was Stockade FC’s fourth season and its first under head coach Jamal Lis-Simmons, who was previously a captain during his three years as a player for the club. Kingston compiled a 7-3-4 record under Lis-Simmons’ guidance, highlighted by an eleven-game unbeaten streak. Though no one knew it when the season ended that July, the chance to build on that momentum was a lot further away than expected.
“It was a real bummer to cancel the season last year,” Crowley said. “I remember having a conversation with the league about it and that discussion was like, it’s not whether we should cancel the season this year, it’s whether we’re gonna have to cancel the season next year. I think we all knew that we were in for a ride.”
While Stockade FC survived the ride, some of their rivals did not. The Brooklyn Italians and the New York Cosmos were among their regular opponents who opted out of the 2021 NPSL season with the hopes of returning in 2022. The six-team North Atlantic Conference does feature three familiar foes in Boston City FC, Greater Lowell Rough Diamonds and Hartford City FC. The rest of the conference is filled out by a pair of new teams: Valeo FC from Newton, Massachusetts and the Albany-based New York Shockers.
“It’s a blessing to have a team that’s so close, because it just makes for a great rivalry,” Crowley said. “But it’s a curse where, hey, that’s a team right in our backyard, and we might be competing for some of the local talent.”
For the first time, Stockade FC is doing away with the open tryouts, deeming them too unsafe in the current climate. But much of the team’s past successes have come from scouting for invite-only tryouts. Like Lis-Simmons, technical director Dan Hoffay and director of scouting Nick Hoffay have also stayed with Stockade; the trio have begun putting together a team and training is already underway.
“It’s a bummer not to have the open trials because it’s super fun for everyone,” Crowley said. “But I really like level of talent that we have and we’re still able to put a strong squad on the field regardless.”
The 2021 season will unfold over ten consecutive Saturdays between May 8 and July 10. Stockade FC plays its first two games at Dietz, opening with a visit from the Shockers before Hartford City comes to town on May 15. Their remaining home games take place on May 29 (Valeo FC), June 16 (Boston City) and July 3 (Rough Diamonds). Kingston closes out its 2021 campaign at the Shockers on January 10.
Season tickets will not be sold for the 2021 season, and game day tickets will be available online only. For more information, visit www.stockadefc.com.