Black Rock FC – Prep School to the Cup

With roots in New England's top prep schools, Black Rock FC found out how good they could be in an international tournament in 2014. Now they're up & running in USL League Two and ready to make waves in the 2019 U.S. Open Cup.
By: Michael Lewis
While growing up in New London, New Hampshire, the first soccer pennant seven-year-old Jon Moodey hung on his bedroom wall was that of the New York Cosmos.

Moodey's father bought him one as they were leaving Giants Stadium after a game in the 1980’s.

“Soccer in America in that time wasn't much," Moodey said. "For a young kid growing up there weren’t a lot of soccer role models. It just wasn't a big thing. I grew up playing youth soccer and never had seen the game on TV and never understanding what soccer looked like done properly. That was the first game I ever saw."

He still has the treasured souvenir.

"It is the longest-standing article I have in my archives," Moodey said.

Today, Moodey and his Black Rock FC team of college and prep-school players find themselves with an opportunity to add a Cosmos pennant to their collection, usually traded in pregame ceremonies, and perhaps a high-profile scalp as well in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

Black Rock visits the Cosmos in a first-round match in New York City on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Big Day for Black Rock
"I recognize what the Cosmos mean on the U.S. soccer landscape," Moodey said. "I'm thrilled they're still doing well. It's awesome opportunity to play a legendary organization and test ourselves in that way. It's a great honor and it's something that I'm really excited about."

Who could blame him? After all, Black Rock has been around as a youth club for six years and an amateur side for one year. When the Open Cup first-round draw was completed on April 10th, more than one soccer observer probably asked the same question: Just who is Black Rock FC?

The simple answer is that it was a team that competed in the Premier Development League (PDL) last season and captured the Northeast Division with a 9-2-3 record. Black Rock has returned for a second season in the renamed competition -- USL League Two.

(Black Rock FC are just getting started as a club, but they're moving in the right direction)

The more complicated answer and how the club was established needs more context and history lesson.

First, the soccer organization is not to be confused with the nickname of the CBS Building in New York City -- Black Rock. No relation at all.

Black Rock FC is the brainchild of Moodey, the organization's CEO and coach of the USL team. He coached the Berkshire School, a prep school in Sheffield, Mass. in the western part of the state for 11 years, turning it into a powerhouse, winning three national prep championships while forging a 54-game unbeaten streak in the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council League.

Youth Roots
The club started as a youth team and grew out of Moodey’s desire to give his young players an outlet to play outside of the school season. There were restrictions. The youth team could not play more than two times a week, meaning a game and a training session.

In 2013, the side was a Sunday soccer team, but things would change soon enough. IMG Academy asked Moodey if he could bring his juggernaut Berkshire squad down to compete in its Super Cup to play some leading Under-17 teams, such as Tottenham and Toluca after a high-profile squad bailed out two weeks prior to the start of the tournament in December 2014. 

Moodey's reaction? "Whoa!"

But the Berkshire team was not allowed to play in the offseason.

"I told them we have this club, a makeshift club called Black Rock and we can possibly bring them," Moodey said. "So, they were like great. I told them Black Rock's better than Berkshire because it's a composite team of the best prep school players from five schools. So, I took the best of Berkshire, South Kent, Loomis and Salisbury [schools] and we had a mixed team. I said, 'Trust me, they'll be good.'"

But perhaps no one realized how good.

Hasty Preparations, Big Results
In only two weeks, cotton Black Rock FC t-shirts were made as the trip was organized, with the help of the parents. Ray Selvadurai, director of coaching of the Manhattan Soccer Club, for whom two of Moodey's players were playing as guest players, helped out coaching.

Something magical happened. Black Rock FC finished ahead of Toluca, Brentford and Bradford City and reached the finals against Tottenham Hotspur Academy, the English U-19 champions at the time. Black Rock FC lost 2-1 in extra-time.

"It was incredible," said Georgetown University forward Ifunanyachi Achara, who was a member of that Black Rock team and who is the captain of the USL side this year.

(Former NYCFC and Black Rock forward Jack Harrison helped give the USL League Two club its name)

"It was pretty cool," Moodey said. "That's when we realized we had something interesting going on with our unique program."

One uniform company inquired about sponsoring the team. 

"A lot of people were asking who we were and what was going on," Moodey said.

And perhaps why it was called Black Rock.

Former New York City FC forward Jack Harrison, who starred at Berkshire, helped name the club in his sophomore year, Moodey said.

A place called Black Rock actually happens to be located on the Berkshire campus.

Hiking Inspiration
"Black Rock is a hike," Moodey said. "It's a big cliff like an outcropping. We used to hike the players for fitness ... and they would look out. It was a spectacular view. When I was talking to them, the players knew how much it meant to me. I always took the guys hiking, trying to challenge them in different ways. Somewhere along the way Black Rock evolved."

The club has produced seven professional players, two who were chosen in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft. You might have heard of them. One was Harrison, the very first pick of the 2016 draft, and Bermudan international Zeiko Lewis, selected by the New York Red Bulls as the 17th overall choice in the 2017 draft. Harrison is now with Leeds United, which will be involved in a playoff for an English Premier League berth.

(Black Rock will field a raft of New England-based collegiate players at #USOC2019)

In their inaugural USL season, Black Rock acquitted themselves well, winning the division and finishing the regular season with a three-game winning streak. They were eliminated by the New York Red Bulls Under-23 side 2-1 in the conference semifinals

Still, that could not take the luster off a memorable season.

"It was a good first year," Moodey said. "A couple of our players signed pro contracts. We were happy with our first year. Of course, like all things it was imperfect. We were happy and are looking to build on that this year."

Moodey used a rather unconventional way to bring the team together.

"We tried to build it as a residential model," Moodey said as the players lived in residence at a YMCA cabin camp in Connecticut.

Learning & Living Together
"They were doing service there to earn their meals and cabin stay. So, it was like a barter system. We had reduced costs to use the facility. It was very much a grassroots endeavor. That took some getting used to, but we came together as a team and bonded as it and that was a big part of it. They learned to trust each other, working side by side, living together, taking their meals together."

For Achara, that chemistry was valuable in so many ways.

(Black Rock FC present and future)

"I was a little surprised because we have a lot of young players on our team," he said about the success at the beginning of the season. "We talked about it to use it as a year to learn. Once we started playing, ... we knew we had something special. The chemistry and the family dynamics that we had. I [later] was surprised that we didn't go as far as we could have."

Achara and Black Rock will get another opportunity in 2019.

Being a USL League Two club, there will always be a changing of the guard as players grow older, perhaps turn pro or get a job in the real world. This year's team is a mash-up of some veterans and younger players from local prep schools.

Key Players Returning
Some key returnees include central midfielders Jethro Dede (St. Lawrence University) and Jethro Dede (Wesleyan), outside backs Zachary Kalk and Ahria Simons (both Dartmouth) and forwards Ousseni Bouda (Stanford University next year), Cole Venner (University of Connecticut), Michael Suski (Boston College next year), who is the 2018 Connecticut Gatorade player of the year, and Miguel Yuste (Yale University).

"We covered our bases pretty well," Moodey said. "We've got a good mix, former players and a couple of new invitees, but mostly former Black Rock players."

Last year's division title was good enough to book a spot in the Open Cup, which brings us to Wednesday's encounter in Manhattan.

Black Rock hasn't had much time to prepare. Many of Moodey's prep school and college players have had some other priorities as they have been taking their final exams.

(Many of Black Rock's players will still be finishing up exams when the Open Cup kicks off)

"We're looking to get the best squad we can together," he said. "I can tell you that May 8 is not an easy date on our calendar. We don’t have any hired guys coming in. They're all 18- to 22-year-olds. We're going to be young, a little green, but our guys won't lack confidence and we'll go out and give it our best. That's what we always do."

Moodey figured his team will have one day of training after arriving in New York City Tuesday and before an evening classroom session at the team hotel and a morning tactical walk game day.

"Going into this match, the grandeur of the moment -- in some ways I'm going to let them play," he said. "They do well when there's not a ton of pressure and they're just out playing with their typical passion and enjoyment. Rest assured I would love to [get] through a round and turn a few heads. That would be amazing."

Cup Opportunity to Turn, Take heads
Of course, the beauty of the Open Cup is giant-killing potential. The Cosmos, for example, have stunned NYCFC twice and the Red Bulls once in the competition. As favorites, the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) club also has been upset, most recently 3-2 by the Brooklyn Italians in the 2018 play-in round.

"We want to prove ourselves," Moodey said. "I want to show people what we can do. I think we've built up some good early success and we have the attention of some investors. That will help us with some of the philanthropic things we want to do with our club around education and leadership. We're taking good steps. This game is a highlight for us."

Achara was familiar with the Cosmos history from the heyday of Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and Giorgio Chinaglia. He wanted to use Open Cup games as a springboard for Black Rock's promising players.

(Black Rock open their 2019 USOC account against a big name in American soccer: the NY Cosmos)

"I think they probably have something Black Rock doesn't have, experience and more professional players," he said. “This is the kind of matchup that gets us excited. We want to put our players [against] teams like the New York Cosmos, who can see we have really good players and other teams can also watch."

Winning in the Open Cup would put Black Rock into another orbit.

"It is a big deal," Achara said. "Last year it was our first season and we were excited just to play. Now, it's like we have set up these standards for ourselves, goals that we have to reach. The Open Cup is like the first test. Of course, we want to be better than last year."

Aiming for the Stars
Moodey has set some goals for his club, and some are pretty lofty.

"Short term is to solidify the foundation a little bit more," Moodey said. "We've got all these really interesting programs that we're running, and we have some other ones we'd like to introduce. Right now, we're kind of maxed out in terms of what we're able to do until we get next level investment to generate new revenue streams."

Black Rocks ultimate goal? To be have a pro soccer club.

"We'd like to continue the pyramid where we could probably have an affiliate pro club, not necessarily in the U.S.," Moodey said. "It could be in a smaller European market, could be in the U.S.

"For our big picture, what I would love to do is continue sort of a pathway where our young players, from the minute they arrive in prep school - and we have players as young as 12-years-old entering into our youth academy system and boarding schools -- we'd like to be able to carry them in sort of a way that we feel is unique in terms of developing them as young men, focusing on their character, the underpinnings of a good player. The character, the humility, the mindset. We feel that’s our pathway right now. We're scratching the surface."

Given what Moodey and Black Rock FC have accomplished, it probably wouldn’t be wise to bet against them.