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NPSL, USL League Two, UPSL tournaments heat up this weekend

An epic rundown on all lower-league tournament action.

Silverware, baby! | Photograph by John Perd

There are tournaments taking place on all levels of the soccer pyramid this weekend. While Leagues Cup competition between Liga MX and MLS teams might get most of the national press, three national amateur leagues are holding postseason tournaments:

  • The National Premier Soccer League (92 teams, 15 conferences) will decide their regional champions
  • USL League Two (122 teams, 18 divisions) will kick off a 64-team tournament
  • The United States Premier League (over 400 teams, 30 conferences) will continue toward crowning the most important Spring champion in the league’s history

All three tournaments feature teams from New York and New Jersey, and two New York teams are serving as hosts for multi-team pods. There’s a lot of action in the Tri-State soccer scene these next few days.

NPSL East Region Playoffs: FC Motown favorite to repeat

Last weekend, the NPSL held their conference championships across the country. Defending national champion FC Motown (Morristown, NJ) was included in the list of 12 champions, and will now host the league’s East Region playoffs later today.

Motown will be joined by Annapolis Blues FC (Annapolis, MD), West Chester United SC (West Chester, PA), and Hartford City FC (Hartford, CT).

All four teams reached the regional playoffs after pulling off late Conference Final wins. 

Motown needed 120 minutes to beat Atlantic City FC in the Keystone East Conference Final last weekend. A scoreless 90 minutes sent the game to extra time where former professional Christopher Bermudez punched in two before Rodrigo Rocco sealed it to finish 3-0.

Former New York Red Bulls defender and Motown head coach Gideon Baah said afterward that a win was just a matter of time.

“Looking at the course of the season, the two games we played against them we couldn’t win was a tie, we always say they are [expletive] lucky,” Baah said with a laugh after the game. “Sometimes we have to sit back and absorb all these pressures and situations. We knew we were going to come out on top but we had to put in the fight.”

The Annapolis Blues had possibly the wildest Mid-Atlantic Conference Final in history to secure a spot in Montclair. Red cards to both teams, a stoppage-time equalizer, and a penalty kick shootout saw the first-year club advance, 2 (4)-2 (2) in penalty kicks against the Alexandria Reds in front of a crowd of more than 8,000 spectators. It’s expected that plenty of fans will travel up to Montclair on Friday.

West Chester United won the Keystone West Conference Final over Hershey FC, 2-1, via a late goal. It will be their first trip back to MSU since losing the Keystone Final last year to Motown. Finally, Hartford City FC knocked off top seed Kingston Stockade FC, 2-0 AET, in the North Atlantic Conference Final.

Friday’s games will determine both the East Region Finalists and the 2024 US Open Cup priority list. (Teams that reach the national quarterfinals get first priority.) It’s quite likely that whoever loses in the semifinals will not make it to the 2024 US Open Cup tournament.

NPSL East Region Semifinals – Fri, July 21
MSU Soccer Park at Pittser Field (Montclair, New Jersey)
#2 Annapolis Blues FC (0) vs #3 West Chester United SC (4), 4 pm ET
Stream on ELEVEN Sports
#1 FC Motown (4) vs. #4 Hartford City FC (2), 7 pm ET
Stream on ELEVEN Sports
NPSL East Region Final – Sat, July 22, 7 pm ET
MSU Soccer Park at Pittser Field (Montclair, New Jersey)
#1 FC Motown vs #3 West Chester United SC
Stream on ELEVEN Sports
Everything you need to know about the NPSL playoffs

USL League Two: Long Island hosts postseason games

The other major national amateur league is also starting its playoffs this weekend. USL League Two, the amateur arm of the United Soccer League, has a total of 64 teams from around the country competing in postseason action.

The five conferences that make up the USL League Two East Region sent a total of eight teams into the postseason. Four are competing in Virginia while the other four, including the New York and New Jersey teams, are competing at the Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, New York.

The four-team slate will be hosted by Metropolitan Division champion Long Island Rough Riders (Long Island, NY). The team took the division for the second time in three seasons by winning all but two games (one draw, one loss). The Riders are carrying a six-game winning into the playoffs, and will be playing at home.

The Rough Riders came up short in the 2022 USL League Two national championship last summer. But the club have lifted silverware before. Since their founding in 1996, the Long Island side won national titles in 1995 and 2002.

Long Island isn’t the only other historic local team taking part. The Ocean City Nor’Easters (Ocean City, NJ) return to the playoffs for a third straight year. Founded in 1996, the club also previously played professionally, but spent most of their history at the amateur level.

This year saw OCN finish first in the Mid-Atlantic Division (8-5-1). That run of games included the end of a 28-game unbeaten streak dating back to last year across all competitions, which is one of the longest streaks in USL history. That streak was stopped in the regular season finale when West Chester United thrashed them, 6-3. Norwegian Sander Røed (UCLA) led the team with seven goals this season, while Italian Alessandro Arlotti (Harvard) played set-up for eight goals. 

The only non-conference champion competing this weekend is the Hudson Valley Hammers (Wappinger, NY). The team finished as runner-up in the Metropolitan Division (10-1-3), and they’re making its postseason debut on Friday. Originally created by former New York Red Bulls and USMNT star Tyler Adams in late 2020, the Hammers joined USL League Two for the 2022 season.

After finishing last year one spot out of the playoffs, the Hammers ended 2023 with a high-production offense. Two players, Ben Zakowski (Monmouth) and Nick Zielonka (UMass) are both ranked in the top 25 goal scorers across the entire league.

The group is rounded out by Northeast Division champion Seacoast United Phantoms (Hampton, New Hampshire).

Unlike the NPSL, the USL League Two Playoffs won’t do much to shape which league teams will play in the US Open Cup. The national champion will get the league’s top priority spot, but other slots go to Division champions, ordered by points-per-game from the regular season.

USL League Two East Region Quarterfinals – Fri, July 21
Mitchel Athletic Complex (Uniondale, New York)
Seacoast United Phantoms (1) vs Hudson Valley Hammers (2), 4 pm ET
Stream on GameInFrame
Long Island Rough Riders (1) vs. Ocean City Nor’Easters (2), 7 pm ET
Stream on GameInFrame
USL League Two East Region Semifinals – Sun, July 23
Mitchel Athletic Complex (Uniondale, New York)
Ocean City Nor’Easters vs Hudson Valley Hammers, 2 pm ET
Stream on GameInFrame
How Taty Castellanos ended up signing with Lazio for €20 million

UPSL Playoffs: Western New York goes deep

The final “local” in national playoff action is a bit farther out.

FCY New York (Buffalo, NY) is advancing in the UPSL playoffs. After winning the Northeast Regional championship earlier this month, the team has one more opponent between it and a national semifinal appearance.

The club will face Chicago Nation FC (Chicago, IL) in the East Region final this Sunday in Illinois.

The UPSL is a national amateur soccer league in the United States that counts over 400 clubs as members, and that uses internal promotion and relegation between divisions. Unlike the NPSL or USL League Two, the UPSL is not just a summer league. With separate competitions running in the Fall and Spring, teams have a choice to compete at different times of the year based on what suits them best.

For their part, FCY’s history dates back to the 1970s with a deep connection to Yemeni immigrants in Western New York. What was originally the Lackawanna Yemen Soccer Club has grown into a program that trains upwards of 300 soccer players a year. After dabbling in adult men’s soccer in recent years the club joined the UPSL in 2021. Following a rough inaugural season, and an early exit in the Spring 2022 conference playoffs, FCY lifted two trophies in the Spring.

FCY finished first in the Western NY Conference (9-2-0), and tied for the most goals with 32. A semifinal win over Rochester NY FC MLS NEXT, 4-0, (because a dead MLS Next Pro team is still alive in UPSL), and a 1-0 win over United Elite Krajisnik FC gave FCY the conference championship.

In the Northeast Regional playoffs, held in Buffalo, FCY beat top-seed Philadelphia Lone Star FC and Boston Street FC in consecutive days to win yet another trophy.

A win on Sunday against Chicago would send FCY to the national Final Four. That will be held between August 4-6 at Segra Field in Loudon, VA, home to USL Championship side Loudoun United FC. The chance to win a national title is doubly important after it was announced the UPSL Spring National Champion will be directly qualified for the 2024 US Open Cup. Every other UPSL team will need to go through local qualifying if they want a chance at competing in the national tournament.

United Premier Soccer League East Region Final – Sun, July 23, 6:30 pm ET
Mercy Health Sportscore Two (Loves Park, IL)
Chicago City FC vs. FCY New York
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