MADISON, N.J. >> Kingston Stockade FC’s stellar season came to an end on Saturday night with a 6-3 loss to the Clarkstown SC Eagles in the National Premier Soccer League’s Northeast Region semifinals at Drew University.
Pedro Espindola scored a pair of first half goals to give Kingston a 2-0 lead, but Keystone Conference champion Clarkstown (Rockland County) responded with six straight goals before Stockade captain Jamal Lis-Simmons added a late goal in the 90th minute for the Atlantic White Conference champions Stockade in the loss.
With Kingston up 2-0, the Eagles caught a break when Stockade surrendered an own goal in the 44th minute to make it 2-1.
Christopher Katona scored the equalizer in the 55th minute before Daryl Kavanagh got the go-ahead goal for the Eagles in the 60th minute.
Maximiliano Garcia added goals in the 79th minute and 89th minute to make it 5-2, before Julian Valerio rounded Clarkstown’s scoring.
With the victory, the Eagles advanced to this Saturday’s regional final against Elm City Express (New Haven, Connecticut), which advanced to the final with a 4-0 victory over Legacy 76 (Williamsburg, Virginia). As two of the eight remaining teams in the NPSL playoffs, Clarkstown and Elm City are guaranteed berths in the 2018 U.S. Open Cup.
In just its second year of existence, Kingston finished 8-5-1. Stockade clinched the Atlantic White regular season title before earning the conference championship by defeating Hartford City 2-1 in its first-ever playoff game.
Stockade coach David Lindholm said the Eagles were the toughest opponents Kingston faced this season and added Clarkstown was simply very good on every spot of the field.
“They were very deep, (and) we made a few mistakes,” Lindholm said. “When they had a chance to put it away, they did. They were very technical, good with the ball, off the ball, they made runs that forced us to do a lot of work and put our defenders into tough positions.”
This left Stockade fatigued and less prepared to defend, Lindholm added.
“We were not at our sharpest,” he noted. “They put us in really difficult positions and did it consistently for 90 minutes.”
Despite the loss, the first-year head coach said the season was a great season overall.
“It was a wonderful season. I didn’t know what to expect,” Lindholm said.” It was wonderful start to finish to work with this group.”
As of Sunday morning, Lindholm added the team hasn’t talked much about the loss.
“We want to reflect on this year and be grateful for everything we were able to accomplish and be grateful for everything we were able to bring together this year,” Lindholm said.
He added that a lot of his players were already talking about next year.
“They want to be back and accomplish more than this season,” Lindholm said. “We have high expectations, and have a great group to use as starting point.”
Lindholm also hopes to be back as head coach next year and added he plans to talk to Stockade Chairman Dennis Crowley soon.
“I learned a lot, had a great time working with these players, everyone through Dennis though the volunteers that worked day in and day out to make this club work,” Lindholm said. “You learn about personalities, how to work with a team that has guys with a huge age range, guys as young as 18-19, and as old as their mid-30s, everyone has different goals and expectations.
“The key is trying to find a way to get everyone on the same page.”
Lindholm said he could always lean on experienced players like team Lis-Simmons to help him with the process.
“Jamal is a voice of reason and voice of experience,” Lindholm said. “He’s seen so much in this game. He helps players see the bigger pitcher.
“They’re young, they’ve got a lot of soccer to play. They take advantage of every opportunity they’re given. Every team he’s played on plays better because of his presence, and that’s certainly true of us.”
Lindholm also credited veterans like Juan Gatti, Michael Creswick, Eric Fortier and Scott Zobre for helping the team’s many college players.
“I could basically list the whole roster of guys who are out of college and their attitude really helped us,” Lindholm said.
Looking ahead to next year, Lindholm said they want to work on improving the player experience.
“I think one thing we want to do is provide the best environment for players to be in,” Lindholm said. “We want this to be the best possible environment for a college player to learn and develop in the summer months.
“We’ll work ways to do that even better than this year.”
Even with the loss, Lindholm noted hearing the cheers of the large number of Stockade fans who made the trip down to New Jersey on the fan bus or in their own cars as a “transcendent experience.”
He estimated that 90 percent of the people in the stands were rooting for Kingston, giving it the feel of a home game.
“They continued to cheer for us after a really difficult game, they continued clapping 20-30 minutes after the final whistle, it is something I’ve been lucky to experience,” Lindholm said. “I’ve never experienced anything like that before.”
Sports editor Ron Rosner contributed to this report