NORTHEAST REGION FINAL PREVIEW: A TALE OF TWO CENTER BACKS
Clarkstown SC Eagles and New Jersey Copa FC have a lot in common. First, they both come out of the Northeast Region’s Keystone Conference. Second, they both play their home matches in New Jersey. Third and perhaps most importantly, both teams have an extraordinary center back that anchors a stingy defense.
Chris Riordan has been with Clarkstown for two seasons, playing for the Eagles in both the 2015 and 2016 NPSL seasons. He spent four years as a collegiate player at Monmouth University before heading to South America to play in the Paraguayan First and Second Divisions from 2011 through 2014.
Riordan has grown into one of the league’s top central defenders with much credit due to the experiences he has had and the work of the Clarkstown coaching staff, most notably owner/head coach Oliver Papraniku.
Clarkstown arrives at this regional final with a 1-0 win over Legacy 76 in the second round of the playoffs. The Eagles had a bye during the opening round thanks to finishing first in the Keystone Conference and earning the #1 seed in the region.
The regular season was clearly a successful one as Clarkstown finished with a 10-1-1 record, remaining undefeated for much of the season. The team didn’t even miss a beat when prolific goal scorer Bljedi Bardic signed midseason with the NASL’s Puerto Rico Football Club. Lucas Befi stepped right in to lead the team in goals and also come up with his share of assists.
Riordan has been quite pleased with the team’s performance so far.
“We’ve been very successful this season because we worked hard and have lots of quality on this team. We had a great mix of young players that were hungry and seasoned veterans that bring a lot to the table.”
The match against Legacy was a particularly tough one as both teams battled it out to live on in the playoffs.
“It was a tough game, a game of two halves,” Riordan added. “We did well in the first half and our opponent really came on in the second. We defended very well from the forwards all the way back to the goalkeeper. Our forwards worked hard, our midfield was excellent, and our backline was solid.”
Next up for the Eagles is NJ Copa FC, a familiar opponent. The two sides have faced off twice this season, the results being a draw and a win for Clarkstown.
“Both of our games with them were close,” Riordan concluded. “It is going to be a tough game and we respect our opponent, but we are confident in our ability to come up with the win this weekend.”
Riordan’s counterpart on NJCFC is Andrew Santos, a FC Copa Academy alum and a four-year standout at Manhattan College.
Santos was quick to praise the work of NJCFC’s youth program, having been part of the FC Copa family since beginning as a U-13 player. He also mentioned that ten players from the current NPSL squad have come up from the youth ranks at FC Copa.
“It is a testament to the kind of players that this club is producing. We play for each other, the badge, and to fulfill our dreams.”
Playing in the NPSL has been a dream come true for Santos and perhaps no moment was more special than Wednesday’s 1-0 win over New York Cosmos B.
“It was a moment that I’ll never forget. We stuck together and we ground out a win.”
NJCFC had a very successful regular season, finishing second in the Keystone with a 6-1-5 record. Santos said it was a great run, but not one without adversity. The team had a five-game unbeaten streak to start the season, picked up their only loss at the midpoint, and claimed a handful of draws along the way.
“After we dropped a game 2-1 to Clarkstown, we picked ourselves and kept going. We played hard, stuck together, and had fun.”
The end result of this total team effort was clinching a playoff spot in a tense race to make the postseason.
Many people viewed NJ Copa FC as an underdog going into the first two rounds, but that certainly wasn’t the case as they defeated both Fredericksburg FC and New York Cosmos B. Simply put, they beat two national champions in a matter of five days. FFC (then known as RVA FC) and Cosmos B won national titles in 2013 and 2015 respectively.
“We knew we were the underdogs,” Santos concluded. “It was all in the same to us. We go out and play. It’s soccer and there are 22 players and a ball. Anything can happen. One thing is for certain, we’re going to play our game.”
As you can imagine, the Northeast Region final between Clarkstown SC Eagles and New Jersey Copa FC is going to be one to remember. These two center backs are going to play a huge role in the game and quite possibly determine the final result.
This great matchup will kick off at 4:00 pm on Saturday, July 23rd at Ramapo College in Mahwah, New Jersey.