First Qualifying Round – US Open Cup 2016
Southie FC v. Battery Park Gunners
Saturday October 17, 2015
Madison Park High School, Roxbury, MA
Kick Off: 12:00PM
Some say Madison Park High School is where it all began. On a blisteringly cold December afternoon in 2012, Steve Bayley hosted a tailgate for the USASA USOC bid between MPS & East Providence Sports. There was maybe six people crazy enough to ignore the conditions and tailgate for this clash of division five titans. Alcohol, steak, and eggs were consumed and the impossibly puzzling qualification process to the USOC was discussed. This is where I truly became hooked on this concept of non league football in America.
Three years later, I found myself back at Madison Park High School for the First Round of Qualifying for the 2016 US Open Cup. This is the inaugural season of US Soccer fully controlling the qualifying rounds between amateur clubs – where only 56 teams across the country registered. In recent years, the amatuer governing bodies were allocated bids to the tournament, and were responsible for holding separate qualifiers. Non League America was on site in Roxbury, MA to witness history as Southie and FC Battery Park Gunners would take the pitch in the first ever US Soccer controlled qualifier.
Southie FC of the Massachusetts State Soccer League is in their third season, and would be making their third attempt at qualification. Sean Bakhtiari, team manager and President/CEO of Daily Soccer Digest, believed his squad was much more prepared this year. “We now know how the process works, we’re familiar with the teams competing in the Massachusetts qualification process and our leaders have kept everyone focused & fit leading up to this match. We have a core group of leaders who’ve been with the club since 2012 and these guys have done a tremendous job guiding our newer/younger players,” stated Bakhtiari, before this massive match up against the Battery Park Gunners of the Bay State Soccer League. Battery Park is notoriously one of the best amateur clubs in New England, having won the USASA Amateur Championship back in 2013.
A picture perfect autumn day, high winds and heavy beats from the nearby apartment complex set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. Southie FC and Battery Park Gunners took the field, the whistle blew and the audience of the 14 soccer fans went wild. Both sides played very cautiously in the first 15, with Southie FC controlling the tempo. Quick passing and aggressive ball movement created a few early opportunities for Southie FC, adorned in beautiful highlighter green kits. Battery Park looked sluggish as Southie won a free kick outside of the box, and capitalized with a spot-on header into the top right corner of the net in the 18’ minute.
Shortly after the goal things, got bat shit crazy. An altercation off the ball led to two players shoving and screaming at each other. Some say punches were thrown. Some say the United States Open Cup First Round Qualifying happened. After much debate with the fourth official, the referee made the decision to send both players off. Double red cards. Both teams would have to play the rest of the match with 10 men. A comedic parade took place where the referee tried to corral both banished players off the field – ultimately both players ended up over a fence a mere 10 yards from the sideline. Eventually, the game started up again and the half ended without much incident.
The second half was plagued with more delays, a few more heated exchanges and plenty of poor officiating. The boys in neon green continued to impress, keeping their cool throughout the latter 45, and rounding out their second match in 3 days. On Thursday evening, the MSSL squad had played in a MSSL Cup semifinal, which they won 4-0. “We’re just taking it one game at a time,” Sean commented before the Saturday contest. “Our guys want to defend our MSSL cup title. However, once we had a lead in the second half we did sub out a couple key guys to keep them fresh for Saturday’s match. I guess it could be viewed as a challenge to play two big games in three days, but we look at it as a good way to prepare for the USOC.”
Southie certainly rose to the occasion as they secured the victory with a 70’ goal after a failed offside trap by the Battery Park defenders. In the second half we saw a handful of yellow cards, typical of a high caliber qualifier, and the moment of the match absolutely came when the ejected Southie FC player was moved even further away from the pitch for harassing the assistant referee on a poor offsides call. Battery Park looked lifeless in the final moments of the match. Thus, Southie FC secured the victory and advanced to the Second Qualifying Round of the USOC 2016, where they will play the winners of Boston Olympiakos and Mass Premier Soccer on November 15th at 4:00pm in Lawrence, MA.
It was a good feeling to be back out on the sidelines watching lower league soccer in America. I finally felt back at home. The new format for qualification will certainly allow for better coverage of the cup, and hopefully it creates more interest in the depths of amateur soccer. I am wrapping up this article and heading off to two more qualifiers this Sunday. We’ll see you there. We know this guy will be there:
GPS Omens at Boston Olympiakos – 2PM, West Roxbury High School
Newport FC at Worcester FC – 7:30PM, Foley Stadium, Worcester, MA