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Soccerpalooza: CSL hold promotion playoffs at Randalls Island on Sunday

The stakes are high in the 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th tiers of US Soccer.

NY International FC play at Randalls Island | Courtesy Liam Winn

It’s playoff time in New York City. And no, not in Major League Soccer, or any professional sport. (Thank you Rangers for always breaking my heart.)

The Cosmopolitan Soccer League is celebrating its 100th year of operation in 2023. The league, formerly known as the German American Soccer League, has housed some of the best amateur soccer in the country for a century: US Men’s National Team players, US Open Cup champions, and internationals from across the globe have played in the Five Boroughs through the league.

Today, the CSL is nowhere near where it was in terms of national importance. If MLS is the first tier of the US soccer pyramid, the CSL’s divisions sit somewhere between the sixth and ninth tiers of American soccer. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to watch. This weekend, all four of the CSL’s divisions will be holding playoff tournaments in New York City. Both silverware and promotion are on the line. 

In fact, the highest tier is playing for a chance to advance out of the league. One of the cooler aspects of the CSL is that it acts as a feeder league that sends teams  into the Eastern Premier Soccer League, a regional league with clubs along the East Coast.

So, let’s go over all the playoff games briefly. And if you’re interested in learning more about the CSL, check out their accounts on Twitter and Instagram.

CSL Division 1

The top division of the Cosmo League does not have a postseason playoff. Promotion and relegation are solely determined on the 20-game regular season. 

Two teams are still fighting to win the top division. New York Athletic Club currently sit in first place with 36 points, level with second-place Central Park Rangers Red. Two head-to-head wins give NYAC the advantage, which leaves the title to the final day.

The top team in Division 1 not only wins the league, they will have the opportunity to climb another level of the pyramid by opting to compete to join the Eastern Premier Soccer League’s Metropolitan Conference. If they decline, that opportunity goes to the runner-up. 

I say opportunity because the EPSL is fed not only by the CSL, but by the Garden State Soccer League and the Long Island Soccer Football League, but a total of two teams are promoted. If all champions want to make the move to the ESPL, then there will be a playoff match to determine which sides go up.

I should note that the New York Athletic Club was in the EPSL for their inaugural 2020-21 season, and was also one of the first teams relegated from the league.

The two teams relegated from Division 1 this year are Missile FC, who return to Division 2 after only one season, and Zum Schneider FC 03 II, the reserve side to the first team, which play in the EPSL.

  • Manhattan Kickers vs NY Athletic Club at Randalls Island Field 70 – Sunday, June 4, 8 pm ET (Streaming on GameInFrame)
  • NY Shamrocks SC vs Central Park Rangers Red at Randalls Island Field 74 – Sunday, June 4, 8 pm ET (Streaming on GameInFrame)

CSL Division 2

Perhaps it’s the hipster in me, but Division 2 has always held my interest more than the top tier. It has more teams, including plenty of historic sides, and houses some serious outfits. Since the clubs in both Division 1 and Division 2 are required to field reserve teams, the organizations need to be smart with roster depth. For 2022-23, the CSL split Division 2 into East and West conferences.

The easiest way to understand the Division 2 promotional playoffs is to think of the NBA Play-In Tournament. The regular-season champions of both East and West conferences will play one another, and the winner are promoted. Meanwhile, the runners-up from the regular season will also play each other. The loser of Game 1 and the winner of Game 2 will play for the final promotion spot.

As for relegation, one team from each of the conferences will spend next year in Division 3. SC Eintracht, winners of the 1955 National Challenge Cup (known today as the US Open Cup), and CD Iberia, both only won two games each this season, and will be going down.

  • NYPD FC (W1) vs New York Ukrainians (E1) at Randalls Island Field 70 – Sunday, June 4, 12:00 pm ET (Streaming on GameInFrame)

NYPD FC have been trying to reach the top tier of the CSL for years, and finally seem destined for the promised land. With a team composed entirely of New York’s Bravest, both active and retired, this is a group that has athleticism but no professional experience. Retired Lieutenant Ronnie Mejia has led the team since 1997 as both a player and coach. Playing out of Flushing Meadows in Queens, NYPD won 11 games this year, and started the season with a six-game winning streak.

Their opponent is the former national champion New York Ukrainians. They are looking to return to the top division of the CSL for the first time in over a decade. Despite being two-time league champions during the 1960s, the historic side have been sitting towards the bottom of Division 2 in recent years. However, the 2022-23 season was different. Only one loss set NYU up with a conference title, and a shot at winning the division. In terms of the roster, a few names stick out including former Harvard Crimson Luke Sager, and Hasier Larrea, who featured on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 – Manufacturing & Industry in 2017.

Besides world events making Ukrainians an easy sentimental favorite, the team is also won the National Challenge Cup champion in 1965.

  • NY International FC (E2) vs Manhattan Celtic II (W2) at Randalls Island Field 74 – Sunday, June 4, 2pm ET (Streamed on GameInFrame)

New York International FC have been busy. Since their founding in 2019, the group were promoted twice (with some thanks to COVID), and already sit at the precipice of a third jump. That isn’t even including the reserve team, which won the Division 2 playoff title in their first season last year in an emotional penalty kick shootout. 

After starting this season losing two of three, NYIFC went undefeated the rest of the year. While many CSL teams draw from players with a common identity, whether that be ethnicity or based on profession, NYIFC’s strength is its diverse roster. Players to watch include Josh Adejokun, who left London ninth tier side Clapton Community FC last year, and former Philippines Football League champion Joshua Dutosme.

On the other side are Manhattan Celtic FC II. With the first team playing in the EPSL, the organization continues to field a reserve team in the CSL — plus a reserve team for the reserve team. 

Like NYIFC, Celtic II started the year slowly and lost four of five to open the season. But since then, the team have been undefeated and rocketed up the standings to finish second. Cameron Thacker is responsible for 14 of the team’s 44 goals.

CSL Division 3

With 14 teams taking part in Division 3, the CSL elected to split the division into two conferences, East and West, for the 2022-23 season. Each team played 19 games, two against their own conference foes and one match against each of the other conference’s teams. Both the East and West regular season champions earned automatic promotion to Division 2.

However, the number of promotions could jump to three. A four-team postseason playoff includes the regular season champion and runner-up from each conference. If one of the runners-up wins the tournament, they will also be promoted.

The two teams that finished last in each conference were relegated. Both Panatha USA (East) and NY Legacy FC (West) will be in Division 4 next year. Initially, a relegation playoff was planned for the two sixth-place finishers, but that was nixed.

  • Central Park Rangers Green (E1) vs Labëria FC (W2) at Randalls Island Field 74 – Sunday, June 4, 4pm ET (Streaming on GameInFrame)

Founded in 1999, the Central Park Rangers have grown in size into a program with multiple men’s teams and youth sides, all mostly playing in the CSL. Considering the fact that seven CPR teams play in the CSL pyramid (not including the Over-40s) it’s impressive to see multiple teams make the playoffs while trying to not share players. 

Labëria FC, which are named after the Albanian professional football team, are hoping to win their second piece of silverware in three years. After taking CSL’s Saunders Cup in 2021, the group has continued to be a fierce opponent. A loss to West champion Central Park Rangers Young Boys to close the season could be a bleak omen to its playoff match against the other CPR team however.

  • Central Park Rangers Young Boys (W1) vs Falco FC (E2) at Randalls Island Field 70 – Sunday, June 4, 4 pm ET (Streaing on GameInFrame)

Yes, you are reading this right: Two Central Park Ranger teams will be promoted to Division 2 where they will join Central Park Rangers United. Central Park Rangers Young Boys are a talented squad that lost just one of its final ten games.

Their opponent on Sunday are Falco FC, who won Division 4 last year and are looking for their second straight promotion. They only scored 33 goals this season, but the stout defense allowed only 16 goals.

CSL Division 4

The lowest tier of soccer in New York City also has the simplest playoff setup: The team that finishes first in the 18-game season is automatically promoted to Division 3. The second promotion spot is determined by a four-team tournament: The winner is promoted, unless that team already won the regular season, in which case the runner-up is promoted.

As this is the lowest tier, no team can be relegated.

An undefeated season and automatic promotion for New York Galicia is already a historic feat. A 16-win season, including the third most goals scored across the entire league (not counting reserves), has Galicia with a chance to win even more silverware. Forward Santiago Coelho Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at NYU School of Medicine, scored 13 of the team’s 59 goals. Named after the northwestern region of Spain, the club consists mostly of Spaniards, and is heavily influenced by the region and especially clubs such as RC Celta de Vigo.

On the other side, Vibes FC is holding to its name: They’re here to vibe. Despite a point reduction penalty this season, Vibes scrapped into the final playoff spot over Central Park Rangers 1999 by a single point. No doubt that was helped by a four-game unbeaten streak to close out the season including two wins where the team scored four goals in each. Like many lower division teams there aren’t names people will recognize. Though if you really need a reason to root for Vibes, besides the stellar name, you can look towards Stefano Oppici. The player previously helped coach for various NYCFC community soccer programs in the late 2010s. A much younger Stefano represented Downtown United Soccer Club in the 2009 Superdome Sports Red Bulls Cup.

  • NYC AlphaStars Club (2) vs Tibet FC (3) at Astoria Park – Sunday, June 4, 6 pm ET

The exciting thing about lower-division soccer is how new teams can pop up out of nowhere. Take NYC AlphaStars Club, which just appeared in late 2021. This season the Stars have had two main stars on their roster: Jeovaughn Hewitt and Ahmed Salaudeen combined for 23 goals across 18 games to lead their team to a 12-2-4 record. A shaky end to the season saw the group drop two of four and tie a game, 3-3.

Considering the team can lose in the playoffs and still be promoted, things are pretty good for Alpha.

Tibet FC is a product of The Tibetan Community of New York & New Jersey (TCNYNJ). Joining the league post-COVID, the team named after the mountainous region are looking to continue their climb to the summit. Entering its first taste of playoff action the team has lost three of its last four games.

Bonus: EPSL Metropolitan Conference

Without getting too deep, the Metropolitan Conference of the EPSL is like Division 1 of the Cosmo League but on steroids. The league has plenty of historic teams with national amateur soccer credentials. Included in this weekend’s conference playoffs are two former multi-time US Open Cup champions, and a 2022  and 2023 US Open Cup participant.

The EPSL format is simple: Each of the league’s four conferences hold a playoff, and the champions of each move on to the EPSL Finals. The semifinals and final are held at a single location over one weekend. Lansdowne Yonkers won the EPSL in 2021, while New York Pancyprian Freedoms reached the final last year before falling to Northern Virginia FC.

One game even takes place at Belson Stadium, home of NYCFC II. Some New York City fans might want to see what the amateur neighbors are up to.