His Long Island Rough Riders of the Premier Development League (PDL) are out to conjure something special when they open their 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup account. “It is a 90-minute game [120 if goes to extra time and more if penalty kicks ensue] and you never know what can happen,” said Roche, a native of Dublin, Ireland. “Soccer is a beautiful game, and anybody can beat anybody on any given day. That’s ‘The Magic of the Cup’ right there.”
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(Stephen Roche coaches the Rough Riders as well as Hofstra University's team)
The Rough Riders head into the single-elimination tournament under the tutelage of 31-year-old rookie coach Roche, who also played professionally in the League of Ireland before coming to U.S. in 2010. Roche has had stints with FC New York of the United Soccer League (USL) as well as the Rough Riders before becoming an assistant coach at Hofstra University, where the Rough Riders play their games. “I’ve been in New York for about seven years, five of which I played with the Rough Riders,” said Roche, who was named the Long Island club’s head coach this past February. “I fell in love with America, so I didn’t want to go back to Ireland. I decided to stay, and this is where my coaching career began.”
Outside the Lines
“This is my first role as a head coach. Being a recent player, I think has its benefits, as I can tell from a player’s point of view what [players] are looking for. So, having been a recent player, I think I can relate to them both on and off the field. I admit, that I’m still very young and I'm not shy in asking for advice as I have great people around me.”
The Rough Riders, founded in 1994, have a rich pedigree that stretches back to before the founding of Major League Soccer (MLS) and future clubs New York Red Bulls and New York City FC. The club’s roots are deep in the New York Metropolitan soccer scene. The Rough Riders were members of the United States International Soccer League (now USL) and captured the league’s 1995 title with a roster composed of future MLS stars, such as U.S. Men’s National Team players Chris Armas, Tony Meola, and Venezuelan international and current Portland Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese.
With the inception of MLS in 1996, the Rough Riders stayed within the USL ranks and then captured the D3-Pro League title in 2002 before settling at the PDL level five years later.
(Gio Savarese, Tony Meola & Chris Armas - all above - were USISL champs with the Rough Riders)
Regardless of the team's previous history, Roche says there's no extra pressure for him to succeed. “If there is any pressure I would be putting it on myself,” said the former Millwall and University of College Dublin (UCD) player. “I always have high expectations of myself and of the guys coming in as I will be providing them a lot confidence. But there will also be expectation on them. The team reached the final-eight of the PDL last season and I believe that I have brought in a better squad than last year. So, our expectation is to do better than we did last year and if we reached the final eight last season, there isn’t a reason why we shouldn’t win it this year.”
The Long Island club qualified for this year’s Open Cup after reaching the PDL Conference Finals in 2017, losing to eventual champions Charlotte Eagles in a penalty shootout. Now the Rough Riders are seizing the opportunity to make an impact in the 2018 Open Cup. “The Open Cup is a great competition and we’re in it because of the successes of last season and the work that Flavio Ferri did last year,” said Roche, who played under former coach Ferri of Brazil. “He did a brilliant job last year and I really enjoyed playing for him. The work he did has given me the opportunity to coach the club this year in the Open Cup.”
“The key word is opportunity. It would be great for the club to face or host an MLS team,” said Roche, caught up in that Cup magic. “It would be a great opportunity for the club and for our younger guys. I think we have a lot of future MLS players and it would be a great opportunity for them to show what they can do. It’s an opportunity and all our guys are really focused on making the best of it. We are a win away from playing a USL team and maybe two or three wins away from facing an MLS squad. So, it is a fantastic opportunity for us, but we will focus on playing one game at a time.”
Reviving a Once-Great Name
The Rough Riders coach also knows that the Open Cup is a great opportunity to get his club’s name out there again. They’ll aim at the club’s quarterfinal run of 1997 – when they were a professional side – as a rung to reach for. And he also insists it’s up to the team to get things done on the field when given the chance. “It’s definitely a way to stay in people’s mind.” Roche said. “It is the only competition that we are in the same league as the other teams. With Red Bulls and NYCFC, the teams in town, we must keep our names on people’s list somehow, so the longer we are in the competition the more people keep taking about us.”
“It would be great to play one of the big New York teams in the Cup - I think that would be very special. However, May 9th is our focus and we are not going to take any team lightly.” He said about the game against the Stockade at John Burns Park in Massapequa, N.Y.
(Today's Rough Riders are aiming to make the names ring out again)
“We are really looking forward to the Cup, as Kingston Stockade are a very solid team and they won their conference last year in the NPSL, which is another strong league,” Roche concluded. “It is difficult to know what type of roster they will be putting together, but we’ll be ready. We’ll make sure we’re prepared, have a strong team ready to go and put our best foot forward.”
If his players get their preparations right, according to Roche, there’s no reason not to hope for a little of that Old Cup Magic.