Preview: Battle for First in the NPSL National Game of the Week
Friday’s NPSL National Game of the Week between FC Baltimore and Northern Virginia United FC features the top two teams from the Northeast Region’s Mid-Atlantic Conference.
FC Baltimore is second in the conference with a 3-2-1 record in league play (5-3-1 overall), while NVUFC occupies first place with a 4-1-1 record. It’s safe to say that it will be a great matchup.
“Due to the quality of the teams in the conference and congested schedule, every game is important,” NVUFC Operations Assistant Connor Lee commented. “It’s always good to play against another high-level opponent. This is a match between the top two teams in the Mid-Atlantic Conference, and the winner here emerges as the favorite to host the conference final during the playoffs. In addition, FC Baltimore have a rabid fanbase who should provide a difficult atmosphere to play in.”
FC Baltimore Director of Soccer Operations Alex Lubyansky, who is a co-founder of the club, is also looking forward to the matchup.
“This is a huge match with playoff implications on the line. Both expansion clubs seek to build a strong foundation for their future with this inaugural campaign. We expect passion. Multiple organizations are showing up in large numbers to support Baltimore’s Soccer Team. This is a great opportunity to make up for our stumble on the road at Northern Virginia earlier in the season.”
There will be plenty of supporters in the stands and plenty of talent on the pitch.
The home team has serious skill at every position. Quantrell Jones will be key as Baltimore’s goalkeeper. He comes to FC Baltimore with U-17 U.S. Men’s National Team experience. Defensively, the team will lean on Jake Dengler, who was an All-American in the NJCAA for CCBC Essex and is featuring for Loyola this fall. In the attack Baltimore is looking for Lucas Mendes to continue to produce. Mendes was the Gatorade High School National Player of the Year prior to signing with FC Baltimore.
NVUFC is led by a talented trio of defenders: Oumar Ballo, Juan Fajardo, and Daniel Welsh. Ballo (CCBC Essex/UMBC) brings experience from USL side Swope Park Rangers, while Fajardo (VCU) has spent time with the Honduras Youth National Team. Welsh (UMBC/UCSB) has already earned Top Drawer Team of the Week honors this season. Colin Verfurth (VCU) leads the way in the midfield, while Shaka Bangura (Atlanta Silverbacks) and Tommy Buono (Marbella FC) provide offensive punch up top.
FC Baltimore plays a creative, technical, and exciting attacking style of play. They aim to run a high-octane offense that produces a large volume of scoring opportunities. This is a team that has 5-2 and 6-1 wins under their belt this season. NVUFC prides themselves on being difficult to play against, willing to battle, and earn every inch on the pitch. Simply put, this is a game that you will want to see. It’s soccer at its very best.
While their work on the field is important, both clubs are very active in their communities.
“We have done a lot of work with charity organizations in Baltimore this season,” Lubyansky continued. “We have built relationships with many youth clubs in the area and continue to invite everybody out to support FCB. We hope to be a presence in the world of Baltimore soccer for years to come. Some of these ball kids are going to feature for us in the future.”
NVUFC assistant coach Chris Jennings shared what his club is all about.
“We strive to provide an opportunity for young players in our area to get opportunities to play in a top-level environment. We have embraced a collection of players from many different backgrounds, nationalities and local youth clubs-hence our name-Northern Virginia ‘United.’ We strongly believe that DMV youth players are not given enough opportunities to prove themselves on a higher stage and we strive to provide those opportunities.”
Both teams have great fans and supporters. NVUFC drew over 400 people to their home opener against cross-river rivals FC Frederick, which ended in a 2-1 win for the Virginia side. FC Baltimore had 2,037 in attendance for their exhibition game against D.C. United U-23.
What effect will this have on the race for the playoffs? It likely could have a big impact for a conference that is so competitive.
“The parity has been excellent this year,” Lubyansky said. “On any given day the current bottom team can beat the current top team. There are no days off.”
“The conference is very competitive and talented – as evident in how tight the table is,” Jennings concluded. “Each game is a battle and hotly contested.”
There is no question that this NPSL National Game of the Week will be one to remember. Be sure to follow along with the live stream and the NPSL Gameday Twitter account.
Photo Credit: Chris Jennings, Ryan Leung, and Chris Singlemann