By Aaron Tomich/NPSL.com
Two NPSL clubs with well-established programs in the South will meet each other for the very first time on a national scale come Tuesday, March 22.
Georgia Revolution FC will compete in the First Round of the 2022 U.S. Open Cup against fellow NPSL team Southern States SC, with first kick set for 8:30 pm ET (7:30 pm CT) at The Oakes in Hattiesburg, MS, the home field of the Stars.
Having finished first in the East Region’s Southeast Conference with an 8-1-1 regular-season record before reaching the East Region semifinal, Georgia Revolution knows that it can build on that momentum heading into the match.
“Guys know that when they come here to our club, that they are joining a winning culture,” said Georgia Revolution general manager Eric Morrison. “The expectation is to win the conference championship and to advance to the [U.S.] Open Cup.”
Southern States finished the 2021 campaign with a 9-4-1 regular-season record while reaching the South Region final in the NPSL Playoffs to cap off its first season in the league. The opportunity to represent the league in the Open Cup is a grand moment for the club.
“We are obviously excited to be playing in the tournament as a way to represent our region of Mississippi,” said Southern States SC Stars head coach and director of coaching Carl Reynolds. “Ultimately, we also want to be a credit to the NPSL within a national tournament, and if we can do that, regardless of the outcome, we’ll be proud of ourselves.”
Though the Revs will be without some players from the 2021 season due to NCAA rules, the team looks to its key eligible returning stars to make the most of this Open Cup opportunity.
Midfielder Alhaji Tambadu, a three-season veteran with the Revs, looks to help anchor the Georgia side with his ability to step up and play box-to-box. Center forward Brad Kay, who was named NPSL All-Conference in 2021, will bring a strong offensive and scoring presence. Morrison said that goalkeeper Chris Banfi and forward Karim Tmimi will also make an impact for the Revs.
The match next week is the first meeting between the two sides, so the strategy for either club is to focus on what their strengths are.
“We try to play front-footed and really go after the ball,” said Morrison. “Our formation generally changes depending on who we are up against, so with the Open Cup match, we are really going to dig deep and be creative with our approach.”
For the Stars, Reynolds says his side’s philosophy in play will be simple: to have the ball as much as possible and create many chances from the dominance of possession.
“We want the ball,” said Reynolds. “For this match, we are going to stick to our principles of play by making sure that we are in complete control of the ball and the flow of the game.”
Facing similar roster challenges alongside the Revs, Southern States’ Open Cup side will feature a combination of core returning players and newcomers to the squad. From the back line, goalkeeper Hector Grajeda returns after his NPSL All-Conference and All-Region honors. Center back Samuel Dadzie along with midfielder Liam Bennett and forward Tom Shephard are additional Stars’ returners that will make an impact in the Open Cup contest.
Both NPSL clubs are eager for the first kick as they prepare to participate in the nationwide tournament, knowing the impact is great and the chance to advance is one to take advantage of.
“We are excited to take advantage of this opportunity and go out there and roll with it,” said Morrison. “We’re going to play our game, have fun and hope we can win a game or two.”
Photo Credit: Bree Hicken and Jesse Jones