When the season began with an away 2-1 loss to Greater Binghamton FC, Clarkstown Eagles owner/head coach Oliver Papraniku was not worried. He knew that he had put together a squad that could compete with any team in the competitive Keystone Conference and the Northeast Region of the NPSL.
Under the watchful eye of Papraniku and George Gjokaj, the Eagles went on to win its next four games, all by a goal difference of three or more and all being clean sheets. Then they ran into a defiant Hershey FC that forced them into a come from behind 1-1 draw, bringing an end to their win streak.
The next two games were clean sheet wins. The Eagles seemed to be rejuvenated and on their way to a Keystone Conference title. That was until they traveled to Pennsylvania to play against a very determined Buxmont Torch team who the Eagles had just beaten by a score of 2-0 the week before. The Torch beat the Eagles this time, the first clean sheet the Eagles had experienced against them this season. The Torch were now in a position to make a run for the conference title themselves.
The Eagles came into Hershey this past weekend knowing that a win against the Hershey FC would mean a Keystone Conference title and a spot in the Northeast Region playoff.
Defender/manager Ethan Evans, who suffered a season-ending foot injury midseason, pumped up the players in the locker room before the game and it had the effect he intended. The now confident Eagles team came out and scored its first goal of the game in only the third minute on a cross from forward Bljedi Bardic to the other Eagles forward, Ariel Mesa, who beat the keeper low.
The Eagles scored a second time in the 25th minute of the first half when forward Martin Dadaj found midfielder Semso Nikocevic in front of the goal mouth where “Sammy” buried his shot in the back of the net. The Eagles did not stop there. Mesa scored his second goal of the contest in the 67th minute off a cross from Nikocevic. The final goal came off the boot of Josue Ortiz in the 81st minute when Bardic earned his second assist of the game. It was the first goal of the season for “Neymar” and the last score in the 4-0 contest win for the Eagles. Keeper Bryan Lopez earned his seventh clean sheet of the campaign with some nifty saves to keep the ball out of the Eagles’ net.
The Eagles earned their seventh win of the campaign, all clean sheet wins, and the team’s first playoff spot as well as the conference title. This comes after a successful team effort this past spring in which the team won the prestigious New York Manning Cup title.
In the locker room after the game Papraniku was ecstatic about the win, the conference title, and the team’s first foray into the Northeast Region playoffs. But he reminded the team that this was just the first step in the team’s goal of winning the region title and a spot in the national playoffs.
“Our team is talented enough to go all the way to a national title if we continue to play as a team and not individuals, and with the same enthusiasm that has gotten us this far,” he told the team. “Next stop, the semi-finals as we work our way through a national title run.”