NOTE: This story originally ran July 12, 2023, and was later updated to reflect the midweek results of the National Premier Soccer League playoffs.
A major tournament is set to take place over the next month featuring teams from across the continent. No, I’m not talking about the Leagues Cup — do I look like a sucker? I’m referring to the National Premier Soccer League playoffs. The NPSL playoffs will see one of the two (or maybe three) major national amateur leagues in the United States crown their 2023 National Champion.
Plenty of teams from the Tri-State Area have qualified for the postseason. They include the defending national champion from New Jersey, and a Hudson Valley side owned by a millionaire. Plenty more local teams are in the fray.
NPSL Playoffs 101: A primer
After starting with just six western teams in 2003, the NPSL is now a major entity that features clubs from across the country. While the United States Soccer Federation does not officially recognize formal levels of the soccer pyramid below the professional third division, it is common practice to put the NPSL in the fictional “fourth division” alongside USL League Two. Officially, the league is the highest tier of soccer in the United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA) and classed as “Tier 1”.
The league is separated into four regions – West, Midwest, South, and East – each with three to four conferences. Every conference has its own table, and almost all hold playoffs to determine the conference champion.
Every conference champion then competes in a regional playoff in which travel times increase and competition gets tougher. Finally, the champions of the four regions compete in national semifinals and a final to determine the league champion.
All of this takes place over the span of a few months. Most of the leagues start in early May, and wrap up regular season play in early July. (Although some West Coast teams start playing games as early as late March.)
The main difference between the NPSL and USL League Two comes down to rosters. USL2 is focused on youth development: Only eight players on each team’s 26-player roster can be over 23-years-old. The NPSL has no such restrictions. That means the league is a mix of teams with different ethos. The clubs range from academies, to semi-pro outfits, to groups focused on ethnic heritage.
In practice, that means there can be a drastic difference in team quality as well.
Since 2011, the NPSL also has the ability to send teams directly into the US Open Cup tournament by league results. That’s where the playoffs come in, especially for local teams.
The first eight spots go to the teams that reach the four regional finals (those four games are also considered the national quarterfinals). But the number of spots allowed to the NPSL changes every year. If the league has more than eight spots, then the regional finalists will be joined by the the best-performing teams based on regular season points per game (PPG). But if there are fewer than eight spots, the regional finalists with the lowest PPGs won’t make the cut.
North Atlantic Conference
As the North Atlanta Conference includes New York State, it holds the most interest for us. In fact, two of the three playoff teams come from the Empire State, including both the tournament favorite and a feared underdog.
This year, Kingston Stockade FC (Kingston, New York) finished atop North Atlantic Conference for the first time since 2017. Only one loss blemished the team’s season, which included seven wins and two draws. If the Stockade sound familiar to you it might be because the team was founded by Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley. The team wasn’t always a top contender, especially when the North Atlantic Conference included teams such as the Brooklyn Italians and New York Cosmos B (RIP), but Stockade has borne success with a thriving fan culture, including a supporters’ group named the Dutch Guard.
Fordham University’s Daniel D’Ippolito plays for Kingston, and he was one of the most proficient scorers in the NPSL this season: His ten goals in eight games was enough to lead the East Region in goals scored, and put him in sixth place nationally.
But D’Ippolito’s strengths could be Kingston’s weakness. The team only scored 24 goals in the regular season, and if D’Ippolito is neutralized it will be a big blow. Defensively, the team has plenty of options to consider in net since all three goalkeepers saw action. Dylan McDermott had two clean sheets in his five appearances while James Cintron also played five games this season.
This is unfamiliar territory for Hartford City, which won the conference in previous years. The last time they didn’t win the North Atlantic Conference was way back in 2019, when Italians and Cosmos ruled the land. Holy Cross University forward Evan Jones is probably the most troubling player they have. The 2021 Patriot League Rookie of the Year has scored four goals in just four games. Hartford is also the only team in the conference playoffs to have US Open Cup experience after qualifying for the last two tournaments.
Meanwhile, the New York Shockers are playing with house money.
Despite only having three wins and four draws this season, the Shockers are slippery. They were the only side to beat Kingston this year, and their 1-3 win was on the road in the Hudson Valley — it’s the same place Saturday’s North Atlantic Conference Final will be. The Shockers followed that game up by winning the regular season final over Valeo FC, 3-0, to snag the final playoff spot. Last season, also playing as the last team into the playoffs, the team pulled off two upsets to win the North Atlantic Conference.
North Atlantic Conference Semifinal – Wed, July 12, 7 pm ET
#2 Hartford City FC vs #3 New York Shockers
Mansfield Athletic Outdoor Complex (Mansfield, CT)
Stream on ELEVEN Sports
Update: Hartford City FC 2 – 1 New York Shockers
Hartford City advance to the North Atlantic Conference Final
North Atlantic Conference Final – Sat, July 15, 7 pm ET
#1 Kingston Stockade FC vs #2 Hartford City FC
Tenney Stadium (Poughkeepsie, NY)
Stream on Stockade FC website
Keystone East Conference
The Keystone Conference has historically been filled with some of the NPSL’s toughest teams. In recent years it housed multiple US Open Cup participants, national amateur champions, and teams that compete in various high-profile tournaments outside of the league. This year, the growing conference was divided into the the Keystone East Conference and Keystone West Conference, and both will hold a final this Saturday.
It’s a change, but some things stay the same: It’s no surprise that the top finishing team in the newly created Keystone East Conference is FC Motown (Morristown, NJ), the defending NPSL champions.
FC Motown went undefeated in the regular season with eight wins and two draws. In the national rankings, the team is the highest in the East Region based on PPG. Coached by former New York Red Bulls defender Gideon Baah, the team has proved their excellence good. But repeating as champions in back-to-back years is difficult — even at home.
On offense, the team has a lot of weapons, but nobody produces with consistency. Former Houston Dynamo FC player Joseph Holland leads the team with five goals, but three of those came in the regular season final, an 8-0 win over First State FC. Former Greenville Triumph and Chattanooga FC star Christopher Bermudez and Yusuf Cuceoglu had four goals each, but they weren’t spread across the season. You also have players like former New York Red Bulls II forward Joseph Fala who scored three goals (but fewer than he did last season), and Ghanian professional William Opoku Mensah, whose three goals could be considered a low tally.
Defense is where Motown really shines. The back line has only allowed eight goals this season, bolstered by goalkeeper David Greczek, who was drafted by Sporting Kansas City and played for Swope Park Rangers (now Sporting Kansas City II in MLS NEXT Pro). Greczek has four clean sheets, and allowed just one one goal allowed in four more. Not bad for a 10-game regular season.
Motown appeared in the last five US Open Cup tournaments. Regardless of the national title ambitions, they’ll be looking to win at least two games to set themselves up for a seventh appearance in the tournament.
Atlantic City FC (Atlantic City, NJ) is the thorn in Motown’s side this year. The purple team from the Jersey Shore is the only one in the conference not lose to Morristown this season.
Despite winning just five games, ACFC allowed just eleven goals in ten games, earning three shutouts. One of those clean sheets was a scoreless draw against Motown. But Atlantic City had to battle to make the playoffs against Jackson Lions FC. The final match between the two pitted teams even points. A late goal by Drew University’s Kevin Kiernan saved ACFC’s season by drawing the game even at 1-1. Atlantic City reached the playoffs on tiebreakers.
Atlantic City previously qualified for the canceled 2020 Open Cup tournament. A win on Saturday would give the team its first NPSL silverware and put it one win away from essentially guaranteeing its return after being robbed of the national stage three years ago.
Keystone East Conference Final – Saturday, July 15, 7 pm ET
#1 FC Motown vs #2 Atlantic City FC
MSU Soccer Park at Montclair State University (Montclair, NJ)
Stream on ELEVEN Sports
Keystone West Conference
The other half of the Keystone Conference features all Pennsylvania teams in the table — and a small surprise in the runner-up.
Despite being the weaker of the two Keystone groups, West Chester United SC (West Chester, PA) still proved itself as a powerhouse. An unbeaten season with seven wins, three draws, and zero losses set the team up for another run in the playoffs as the club looks to win its first-ever conference title.
The scary thing about head coach Blaise Santangelo’s group is that there isn’t one killer player: It’s a solid conducive unit. The team allowed only seven goals all season thanks to a great defense led by starting goalkeeper Alex Dolce (Fordham University), and back-up Ryan Gross (Lehigh University).
The team fell in last year’s Eastern Conference Final to Motown in a penalty kick shootout. While West Chester United can’t immediately get revenge in Saturday’s final, it will be a chance for the team to win its first playoff silverware in a national amateur league. (The club also competes in USL2). It will also be a step to getting back into the US Open Cup after an upset loss to Ocean City Nor’easters in the First Round of this past tournament.
West Chester United host runner-up Hershey FC (Hershey, PA), who hope their performance is as sweet as the chocolate from their town. Despite being in the league since 2013, this will be Hershey’s first-ever postseason match.
The team has constantly hovered around the bottom half of the Keystone Conference since their inception. But this year the team opened the season winning three of four games, and drawing against West Chester United. While Hershey’s pace slowed, they did enough to hold on to second place. Hershey’s record of five wins, two draws, and three losses was bolstered by a nine-goal season from Brian Son. The Central Connecticut State University attacker will be entering his junior year this fall, and an upset against WCU to give Hershey its first silverware would be a great resume booster.
Keystone West Conference Final – Saturday, July 15, 7 pm ET
#1 West Chester United SC vs #2 Hershey FC
YSC Sports (Wayne, PA)
Stream on ELEVEN Sports
In terms of proximity, the Mid-Atlantic is likely the least interesting to HRB readers. But in terms of storylines there are a few teams worth mentioning. The conference is the only one in the East Region to feature a four-team playoff, with the top seed playing the fourth and second versus third.
Annapolis Blues FC (Annapolis, MD) had a near perfect debut season, both on and off the field. Performance-wise, the team finished with a record of eight wins, one draw, and one loss — and that one and only loss was due to a stoppage-time goal in the final game of the season. The young core is mostly college-aged Maryland talent that has gelled to quickly become one of the best teams in the country. The Blues are led by 2022 Gatorade Player of the Year Jacob Murrell, the first player signed by the club, who scored 10 goals this season.
Off the field, the Blues have done stellar work integrating with the community. Games at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial stadium averaged 7,749 fans per regular season home game. That includes a 8,368 turnout for their home opener, setting a new NPSL regular season record.
The team is the brainchild of Michael Hitchcock, a former DC United executive with multiple lower division teams to his name. He’s part of an ownership group that also includes former pros and Maryland locals Kyle Beckerman and Alex Yi.
They’re joined in the conference playoffs by #2 Greenville United FC (Greenville, NC), #3 Alexandria Reds (Alexandria, VA), and #4 Grove United (Richmond, VA). The third-seed Alexandria finished the regular season by handing Annapolis its only loss of 2023 thus far. That stoppage time game-winner was scored by former DC United standout Chris Odoi-Atsem.
Mid-Atlantic Conference Semifinals – Wednesday, July 12, 7 pm ET
#2 Greenville United vs #3 Alexandria Reds
John Paul II Catholic Athletic Field (Greenville, NC)
Update: #Greenville United 0 (3) – 0 (5) Alexandria Reds
Alexandria Reds win on penalty kicks, advance to the Mid-Atlantic Conference Final
#1 Annapolis Blues FC vs #4 Grove United
Navy-Marine Corps Stadium (Annapolis, MD)
Stream on ELEVEN Sports
Update: Annapolis Blues 4 – 1 Grove United
Annapolis Blues FC advance to the Mid-Atlantic Conference Final
Mid-Atlantic Conference Final – Saturday, July 15, 7 pm ET
#1 Annapolis Blues FC vs #3 Alexandria Reds
Navy-Marine Corps Stadium (Annapolis, MD)
Stream at ELEVEN Sports
Regional Standings are used for determining hosts in conference finals and the East Region playoffs. The highest seed remaining after this weekend will host the four team regional on July 21-22.
- FC Motown – 2.6 ppg
- Annapolis Blues FC – 2.5 ppg
- West Chester United SC – 2.4 ppg
- Kingston Stockade FC – 2.3 ppg
- Greenville United FC – 2.1 ppg
- Alexandria Reds – 2.0 ppg
- Atlantic City FC – 1.9 ppg
- Hershey FC – 1.8 ppg
- Hartford City – 1.7 ppg
- New York Shockers – 1.3 ppg
- Grove United – 1.2 ppg