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How Newtown Pride almost beat the house — again

The crowds turned on Newtown Pride after they started slowing down the pace at The Soccer Tournament: The tactic won games but lost fans.

Courtesy Newtown Pride

The cheers rang out as Nani sprinted across the field at WakeMed Soccer Park. The man and his team had won their Semifinal in The Soccer Tournament and secured a spot in the $1 million final. But really, it felt as though the cheers were less about who won than who lost.

Newtown Pride FC, the defending tournament champions and legit amateur soccer powerhouse from Connecticut, had become the villains of TST 2024.

The Pride were annoyingly efficient in the group stage. Only allowing one goal in their three games, the team dominated possession throughout their matches. But one only needs to look at the time when their Target Score Time goal went in the back of the net to see how they started to bother people.

None of the team’s Target Score Time goals came until after the 58th minute during the group stage. That included the knockout rounds, where games routinely went nearly twenty extra minutes before the game-winning goal was scored.

If you can’t follow why this matters, remember that after three minutes in TST time, a player is removed from the field.Newtown would consistently hold the ball and wait, seemingly wanting fewer players on the field to make scoring easier. Even in the Round of 32 game against Hashtag United, which was a blowout 3-0 win, the Pride still held the ball so long it became 3-v-3.

Crowds started to hate this. A year ago, the story of Newtown Pride being supported by their community and being the little guy made them the fan favorite. This year fans, broadcasters, and even celebrities like Pat Macafee took every chance to boo them.

There’s even a case to be made that Newtown’s opposition hated the tactics just as much as the fans did. In the team’s Quarterfinals match against Reggae Rovers, Newtown's Juan Carlos Gonzalez hit the game-winning goal with the match down to 2-v-2. The game made it to that point with Newtown holding onto the ball and, in the words of broadcaster Lloyd Sam, “papercutting” opposition to death. After the final goal went in, both teams got heated and needed to be separated.

Yesterday, Nani FC’s Adriano dos Santos was red-carded for headbutting a Newtown player on the sideline. It happened in Target Score Time. This was after a long stretch of Newtown playing their brand of soccer.

I’m so glad we got to witness it. Because as bad as it was, it boiled down to a bunch of amateur players, mostly from the indoor soccer circuit, saying “screw your entertainment, I want my money.” And I guarantee anyone else in that position, and with that talent, would do the same thing. Scumbag soccer is still soccer, and I wish it worked out for the Pride.

Was the soccer entertaining? Oh, god no. It was awful.

It was watching cold, calculating work from guys trying to earn a paycheck. This is the type of soccer fans would see if TST was an actual league instead of a one-week spectacle. It would be paramount to the shift in baseball or the antics of Sean Avery screwing with Martin Brodeur in the NHL that got goalie interference rules changed.

But TST isn’t just entertainment for fans. It’s essentially gambling for the teams and players. You pay a minimum $40,000 fee to enter the tournament, but only one team is going to walk away with $1 million. Sometimes you gotta play boring to win big.

It isn’t that dissimilar to the summer soccer tournaments you see around the country that pull amateur players away from their normal teams. Countless times you’ll follow a league team and suddenly every Haitian or Greek player is gone for a game or two. It’s all because they went to Florida or Maryland to try and win a buy-in event. But the only ones who win in the end are the organizers and the top team — everyone else is just poorer.

Newtown, in 2024, is just poorer. But you can’t knock a strategy that got them to the Semifinals and inches away from a second straight Final.

So go ahead TST,  change your rules. Add a shot clock during Target Score Time. Maybe a limit on moving behind midfield while on offense. But whatever you do there will be a new angle for a working-class team, a new place for the everyman to learn. There will be a new tactic that will once again be exploited, and I hope it is by Newtown Pride FC.

Some teams have Nani. Others have Pat Macafee or J.J. Watt. Some teams are backed by Division I university alumni. But the team you will always need to worry about most is the one that best understands the rules.