For the first time in 682 days, Kingston Stockade FC played a home match at Dietz Stadium. Before a reduced crowd of 200. Stockade beat new Albany-based National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) opponents New York Shockers 2-0. It was as perfect a start to a season unlike any other as possible for the home side, who made a stadium that routinely packs over 1,000 fans into the stands for home games feel like a sellout.
“It was awesome,” said Stockade chairman Dennis Crowley. “It felt good just to get everyone back together. And even with only 200 people there, it felt like a huge crowd.”
There were familiar signs in the crowd: the drums and chants of the Dutch Guard Supporters Group echoing across the home ground; volunteers selling merchandise, food trucks and familiar faces even when covered with masks. Even the away bleachers across the pitch saw a few visiting fans make the journey down the Thruway. Somehow, 200 people brought the energy of 1,500 to one of the most special grounds in the NPSL.
“The only way you could tell that it wasn’t full was just by looking right,” Crowley said. “It’s almost like the drums carry more without people in the stadium to absorb the sound. It was loud.”
Prior to the game, Crowley announced that the team would wear their black kits in honor of Tommy Keegan, the local brewmaster and local Stockade supporter who passed away last week.
In its delayed second season under head coach Jamal Lis-Simmons, Stockade FC arrived with mid-season momentum, if not mid-season chemistry. They were aggressive on the offensive end and quick to the ball on defense. And they seemed to play with a joy that was unmatched by the visiting side, getting their first taste of NPSL play and a Dietz atmosphere, which though reserved by design, was still a greater crowd than most clubs in the conference draw even when there isn’t a pandemic.
The starting eleven was a mix of familiar faces — co-captain Scott Zobre, defensive stalwart Joao Avila, offensive dynamo Pedro Espindola — and rookies. Hugo Guerra, in his second season for Kingston, drew first blood, scoring in the ninth minute off a combined feed from Sam LaTorre and Evan Mason, both new players out of Marist College.
Though the two sides traded jabs coming out of intermission, Stockade took control in the 62nd minute as Zobre deftly chipped the ball over the Shockers keeper’s head.
While the offense provided the scoring needed to earn the three points, the defense proved unstoppable, particularly Dylan McDermott, a keeper out of Marist who had eight saves to keep a clean sheet.
“He made three or four really big saves,” Lis-Simmons said. “He was probably our man of the match.”
Lis-Simmons was a three-year captain and defensive force for Stockade FC before moving onto the bench at the start of the 2019 season. After the win he said he looks forward to heading up to Albany for a rematch with the Shockers later in the season, and perhaps the start of a new rivalry.
“It’s always good to create some, some more local rivalries,” Lis-Simmons said. “There are a lot of talented players from the Albany area. Every team in our conference is really tough, and these guys are not going to be any different. I expect a battle of a game and we have to go up to their place.”
The last time Kingston Stockade FC took the pitch for a game at Dietz Stadium was Wednesday, June 26, 2019, as thrilling a result as is possible to have in a 2-2 draw. Down to nine men just ten minutes into the second half, and behind 2-1, Brady Van Epps scored an equalizer in the 93rd minute, sending the team and the crowd of 1,057 into hysterics. Kingston would go on to play twice more that season before ending just shy of a playoff bid. Little did the home fans realize how long they’d have to keep that night close to their hearts.
After the 2020 season was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Stockade FC returns to semi-normal in 2021 with a shorter ten-game slate and strict safety protocols that, at least for the first game, capped the number of ticket-holders in the Dietz stands at 200. In the spirit of all-around good news, Crowley announced that protocol changes would allow for 500 attendees with social distancing rules in effect; the 200 tickets for the team’s first game sold out in two minutes. Just hours after they went on sale the day after the win over the Shockers, the allotment of 500 tickets for their next home match, a visit from longtime rival Hartford City FC on Saturday, May 15, were nearly sold out.