The New York Pancyprian Freedoms and the Cedar Stars Academy, who met in the 2019 Cosmopolitan Soccer League championship game, met again in the 2020 US Open Cup qualifying tournament. Photo: Michael Battista
The three-time US Open Cup champion New York Pancyprian Freedoms advanced to the Third Round of the Open Division Local qualifying tournament for the 2020 US Open Cup with a win over its Cosmopolitan Soccer League (CSL) counterpart Cedar Stars Academy (“CSA Westchester” in tournament logs), 2-0, on Sunday afternoon. The first game of the Sunday slate was a rematch of the 2019 CSL Division 1 championship game, which the Freedoms also won.
CSA’s loss in it’s USOC qualifying debut means New Jersey is now down to zero active participants after starting the 2020 process with a record number (3). The last Garden State team to reach the tournament proper through the qualifying tournament was FC Motown in 2017, which beat two Cosmopolitan Soccer League sides on route to its only tournament appearance as a Local Qualifier (the team has since qualified through league results in the National Premier Soccer League in both 2018 and 2019).
For the Freedoms, which have began the league season on a slow start only winning one of its first four games, the win over a top team not only in the CSL but the region is something staff, like midfielder Justin Tristino, hope can be a huge boost.
“It’s big for the team as a whole,“ Tristino said. “We started [the year] a little bit slow. But we came out today and made a statement. Probably our best game I’ve seen us play yet.”
Pancyprian Freedoms team captain Andreas Chronis, who has previous professional experience in Greece, said that his team did what it needed to do
“For us, the objective is to go as far as we could and to play as well as we could,” the Queens native said. “Today our coach [Stratis Mastrokyriakos] said that ‘we actually played soccer today, we enjoyed the game and we were out there fighting.’ That’s what we want to do win or lose and as we keep going forward we just want to show that we can play soccer with any team out there.”
Despite playing a man up for nearly three-quarters of the game the tough competition forced the Freedoms to play smart. Goals from Adam Himeno and second-half substitute Nicholas Psarras only came after the team wore down their competition.
The game started in a back and forth despite the Freedoms getting a majority of the early shots.
The Cedar Stars tried to play around the Pancyprian players, including fast runs up the wing especially from midfielder Maxi Garcia. For New York, the majority of time consisted of either trying to move the backlines of CSA and open space for long chances.
Chronis admits that as the weather deteriorated, he and his team tried to use it to their advantage.
“We wanted to test their goalie. They were dropping off us quite a bit … That was our strategy, to let them know we’re not here to just play passively. We want to attack and get opportunities on net. And if it just so happened that the goalie dropped the ball we would be there to put it in.”
One of those opportunities came in the 7th minute when his teammate James Thristino was fouled in the box. Chronis stepped up for the penalty kick but Stars keeper Derby Carrillo guessed right on a shot to the lower left and blocked it out for an unsuccessful corner. Chronis said afterwards he couldn’t remember the last time he failed to convert a penalty.
As the visiting team’s bench and coaches showed frustration for the lack of finishing, including a very vocal Mastrokyriakos, CSA passed the ball in a more organized fashion for most of the first 45 minutes. The home team did not have the majority of actually shots at goal, but compared to the ones the Freedoms were producing, CSA looked to be playing a longer more developed game that it was unable to culminate into anything.
The turning point came in the 27th minute as a collision between two players escalated. Cedar Stars’ Garcia and a Freedoms defender collided hard, with an audible thud, but neither player went down. Words were exchanged as both went chest-to-chest and after some physicality Garcia threw an open first punch / slap and made contact with the other player. A red card sent him off as the rest of the Freedoms held back their infuriated teammate while the Stars manager and owner, Oliver Papraniku, tried to make a point to the fourth official.
From his perspective, explained in an email following the game, both players should have been tossed from the game. Regardless,play would continue with only 10-men and the CSA wing losing a key piece to get around the defense.
The second half was almost all Freedoms, and despite Carrilo making a number of saves his team began to be vocally frustrated as plays failed to develop out of their own end.
Right as rain began to pick up in the 65th minute, with the dozen spectators either dawning umbrellas or heading for nearby sheltered viewing areas, Himeno scored the gamer winner off a cross from the left side by Chronis.
More chances for the Freedoms, including a point-blank shot that was saved by Carrilo, gave CSA hope for tying. One chance down the right side late by First Round hero Ovan Oakley seemed to have promise, but a raised flag seemed to deflate any momentum as both head coach Austin Friel and Papraniku were issued a yellow card for conduct.
The game finished when Psarras, who had only entered the match nine minutes prior, received a long pass from a broken up CSA play. His run into the zone brought Carrilo out from net but he was unable to block the sub from playing around the right side and kicking into the open net for the last play of the game in the fourth minute of stoppage time.
The team now moves on to play Brockton United FC, the last side remaining from the state of Massachusetts, where the Freedoms will once again be the road team.
For Chronis he knows how much this tournament means not only to him but everyone on the Freedoms.
“I think the further we go in this tournament the more opportunity we have to show what kind of caliber we have as an amateur team,” he said. “We have a lot of players that are actually good, a lot of young players that want to play at the highest level that they can and this is probably the only opportunity they have, and us as a team, to continue to go forward and to improve what we have.”