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USOC qualifying starts this week in New York

Teams in the Tri-State Area will play in qualifying rounds in and around New York City.

Manhattan Kickers FC | Photograph courtesy Enxhi Bega

Earlier, the US Open Cup captured the world’s attention thanks to one player when Lionel Messi brought countless eyes to America’s national championship. While Messi’s Inter Miami will face the Houston Dynamo in the finals on September 27, the seeds of the new year’s tournament are already being planted.

Over 100 teams from around the country are vying for a handful of places in the early rounds of qualifying for the 2024 US Open Cup. They come from various amateur leagues, ranging from regional and national organizations to Sunday league-style amateur outfits.

There will be four rounds of qualifying games between September and November. All of the New York City area teams will be playing in the first qualifying round on September 9 and 10. Other local teams from West New York and New Jersey have byes, but will play in the second round at the end of the month.

There’s a lot of action in the Tri-State soccer scene this week.

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Lansdowne Yonkers FC (NY) vs Olé Football Club (CT)
Sat, September 9 – 8 PM ET
Tibbetts Brooke Park, Yonkers, NY
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The first game to feature a local is also the closest to the Bronx. Lansdowne Yonkers FC is no stranger to the US Open Cup, having qualified four previous times. This year they’re searching for a third straight appearance. Since its founding in 1997, Lansdowne has grown into a formidable soccer entity with a growing youth academy. It won multiple league titles, including the inaugural Easton Premier Soccer League championship in 2021, and two National Amateur Cups, in 2017 and 2021. 

Longtime head coach Sean Kelly left the team following last season. He was replaced by Matthew Kane, a native of Belfast, Northern Ireland, whose previous experience include stints as the head coach of Manhattan Celtic FC, and team analyst of the Ocean City Nor’easters.

The club reached the Second Round of the 2022 Open Cup, losing 3-0 to USL Championship side Hartford Athletic.

Lansdowne will face Olé Football Club from Ansonia, CT. The senior team of the Olé Soccer youth soccer organization only officially launched in Fall 2022 and joined the United Premier Soccer League’s Premier Division. Olé went undefeated (10 W, 0 D, 0 L) in their debut season, logging the best record across the entire league. They eventually lost in the conference championship to national semifinalist Santa Cruz FC. 

Their second season wasn’t as successful. In Spring 2023, they finished fourth in their conference with a record of 6 W, 2 D, 3 L. Despite this, they returned to the conference final, where they lost once again.

Described as a “professional team,” OFC have programs across Connecticut that inlcude thousands of athletes of various youth ages. The team broke ground on a 5,000-seat stadium in Ansonia earlier this year. They also plan to launch a women’s senior team in the near future.

New York Pancyprian Freedoms (NY) vs New York Braveheart SC (NY)
Sun, September 10 – 7 PM ET
Belson Stadium at St. John’s University, Queens

In terms of cup pedigree, not many teams in qualifying have the majesty of the New York Pancyprian-Freedoms. The three-time US Open Cup (then known as the National Challenge Cup) champions won it all in 1980, 1982, and 1983, and qualified – or attempted to qualify (the US Open Cup has a complicated history) – for every tournament since its founding in 1974. The team, formed in response to the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, helps Cypriot and Greek soccer players in the United States.

In recent years, the Pancyprians reestablished their place in the New York soccer circuit. After winning the 2018-19 Cosmopolitan Soccer League First Division (and after COVID canceled the following year before it was completed), NYPF was promoted to the newly formed Eastern Premier Soccer League Metropolitan Division. Since then, Pancyprian has won the Metropolitan playoff title for three straight seasons, and won the regular season double this past year.

Joe Holland, the MLS SuperDraft pick and former Houston Dynamo star, was the team’s leading goal scorer last season and will be returning in the fall. He’ll be joined by forward Shavon John-Brown (New York Cosmos, El Paso Locomotive) and midfielder Luis Argudo (Columbus Crew). 

The Pancyprians are trying to make the Open Cup for the first time since 2016. Originally, the club qualified for the 2020 tournament, but that year’s event was canceled due to COVID.

They’ll face the incredibly young NY Braveheart SC, which was only founded in 2022. The Long Island club team joined the United Premier Soccer League last fall after a successful couple seasons in NISA Nation. Braveheart finished the fall with a record of 7 W, 3 D, 2 L, good enough for fourth in the conference — and a quick elimination in the postseason. The Spring 2023 season ended with them in third place (6-2-3) and a trip to the Northeast – American Conference final.

This is Braveheart’s first attempt at Open Cup qualifying. The next biggest tournament the team took part in was the 2022 NISA Independent Cup. There, it won the Empire Region in the tournament against other amateurs for prize money. However in the regional final against professional NISA side Syracuse Pulse the team lost, 6-2.

Players to watch include former 2015 MLS SuperDraft pick and Puerto Rico national team forward Sidney Rivera. His journeyman career includes time with Louisville City, Puerto Rico FC, and FC Motown. Centre-back Luis Altuve played professionally in Venezuela and has Open Cup experience with another Long Island side, Braveheart’s UPSL rival Oyster Bay United FC.

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Manhattan Kickers FC (NY) vs NY Renegades FC (NY)
Sun, September 10 – 8 PM ET
Randall’s Island Wards Meadow Fields, New York City

The only team to come from the historic Cosmopolitan Soccer League is Manhattan Kickers FC. The team, which has no relation to the similarly named NYC non-profit youth soccer school, was founded in 1973 by graduates of Middlebury College in Vermont. 

It’s difficult to gauge the team’s standing because it hasn’t been a major player in the CSL for some time. However, in the offseason, the club acquired Stephen Ojo, a City College of New York alumnus who regularly finished as one of the league’s top scorers in previous years. He’ll join a core with veteran leadership such as keeper Ben Yabrow (AFC Cleveland) and midfielder Toric Robinson (Antigua Barracuda FC).

“We feel we have a strong core, however, the 2023/24 season needs to be the season where the excuses about consistency end and where we show how we can really play when everyone shows up for each other,” head coach Bryan Baracaldo told HRB.

Of note, Baracaldo has juggled coaching the team with being a frontline medical worker and married father of two. That includes playing games during the early days of the pandemic in 2020 and then resuming play during the winter COVID surge later that year and 2021. While the virus has gotten more contained since then, the coach, who also still plays for his team when called upon, still works as a nurse practitioner at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan.

“I thought soccer was over for me, it really felt like the end of times but now we’re here and the experience increased my appreciation for my family and soccer more than ever,” Baracaldo said. “I’m not only grateful for the opportunity to still play and coach but to have a career that has allowed me to put everything into perspective by helping patients that show bravery every day; this is a gift I continue to learn from.”

Manhattan entered Open Cup Qualifying for the first time last year. In its first game, they lost, 5-0, to their former league-mate Lansdowne Yonkers FC. Baracaldo noted that last year his team didn’t have a core group and their scrimmages beforehand were not competitive enough. This time around the team has had three scrimmages and four training sessions since Aug 15th to get ready for both qualifying and the CSL season.

Based in Hicksville, Long Island, NY Renegades FC are a relatively new club from the United Premier Soccer League. This is the team’s first foray into Open Cup qualifying. After joining the United Premier Soccer League in Fall 2022, the Renegades won both regular season and playoff honors in UPSL Division 1, the league’s second tier. 

Promotion to the UPSL Premier Division in Spring 2023 saw more success with a 7 W, 2 D, 2 L record in the Northeast – American Conference. That earned the Renegades runner-up in the final standings but the team lost its first conference playoff match soon after.

So far this season the Renegades have won both regular season matches they’ve played (6-0 vs FSA Pro & 3-0 at Union SC).

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Zum Schneider FC 03 (NY) vs New York Greek Americans SC (NY)
Sun, Sept. 10 – 8 PM
Jack McManus Field, New York City

Founded in 2003, Zum Schneider FC 03 is a German Heritage club that was related to the now-closed East Village beer hall in Lower Manhattan. While the restaurant shut down in 2020 due to COVID, the soccer team has continued to thrive in the Eastern Premier Soccer League. 

Since jumping from the Cosmopolitan Soccer League to the EPSL in 2020, Zum finished in the top four every year and advanced to the conference playoffs. Midfielder and team captain Deniz Oncu, an NYU graduate, has been instrumental in that success both in the middle of the field and on defense. Two-time EPSL leading goalscorer Tomas DeAndrade (St. Francis Brooklyn) and Ryo Koiso will also be key names to watch in September.

This will be the first time Zum has ever taken part in the US Open Cup in any form.

Founded in 1941, the New York Greek Americans SC of the EPSL are one of the great legacy teams in the Northeast. The club won National Challenge Cup in 1967, 1968, 1969, and 1974. Those four trophies tie them for the second-most of any team in the competition’s century-long history. The team are also a nine-time Cosmopolitan Soccer League champion, which are the second-most titles in league history.

The Greeks finished the 2022-23 EPSL season with a record of 15 W, 1 D, 4 L in the EPSL Metropolitan Conference. That was enough to make the playoffs, where the team fell to Lansdowne Yonkers FC, 3-1. This year, the team is trying to make the Open Cup for the first time since 2015.

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