U.S. Soccer
US Soccer

USA Falls to Croatia 2-1 in Opening Match of 2016 Tournament Dell Nazioni

SLOVENIA (April 26, 2016) – The U.S. Under-16 Boys’ National Team fell to Croatia 2-1, in its opening match at the 2016 Tournament Delle Nazioni in Slovenia.

The U.S took the lead in the 16th minute with Gabriel Segal assisting Ulysses Llanez for the first goal. Minutes later, Croatia’s Ivan Brnic equalized. In the 24th minute, Croatia took the lead with a strike from Nino Kukovec, creating the final 2-1 scoreline.

The U.S. will face Slovenia on April 26 at 11 a.m. ET.

- U.S. Under-16 Boys’ National Team Match Report -

Match: U.S. Under-16 Boys' National Team vs. Croatia
Date: April 25, 2016
Competition: 13th Tournament Delle Nazioni
Venue: NK BRDA; Slovenia
Kickoff: 11 a.m. ET
Weather: 60 degrees, sunny

Scoring Summary:           1              2              F             
USA                                    1              0              1
CRO                                    2              0              2             

USA – Ulysses Llanez (Gabriel Segal)                           16th minute
CRO – Ivan Brnic                                                             19
CRO – Nino Kukovec                                                       24

USA: 1-Nicholas Defreitas-Hansen; 3-Luke Hansen, 5-Leonardo Sepulveda, 4-Michael Pellegrino (14-Eduardo Blancas, 49), 2-John Hilton; 10-Luis Arriaga, 6-Taylor Booth, 8-Marcelo Palomino, 11-Ulysses Llanez (7-Jose Rivas, 49); 9-Gabe Segal (19-Konrad De la Fuente, 56), 21-Indiana Vassilev (20-Nicholas Mendonca, 56)
Subs Not Used: 18-Dominic De Almeida, 15-Roberto Hategan, 17-Alexsi Morel, 12-Alex Rando, 13-Sebastian Serpa
Head Coach: Shaun Tsakiris

CRO: 1-Renato Josipovic; 2-Nikola Mihanovic, 3-Raul Milinovic, 4-Mario Vuskovic, 6-Toni Fruk, (9-Mateo Nikl, 46); 8-Ivijan Svrznjak, 10-Tomislav Krizmanic, 11-Luka Jancic (19-Ivan Dakovic, 60); 15-Marin Vujcic, 17-Ivan Brnic (18-Matteo Tadic, 46)
Subs Not Used: 5-Tin Hrvoj, 7-Bruno Jenjic,12-Luke Dubrovic, 13-Marko Ravlija, 14-Mario Nikolic, 16-Domagoj Stranput
Head Coach: Mladen Ivancic

Stats Summary: USA / COR                                         
Shots: 8 / 9
Shots on Goal: 2 / 6
Saves: 4 / 1
Corner Kicks: 1 / 2
Fouls: 12 / 12

Misconduct Summary:
CRO – Marin Vujcic (caution)                      25th minute
CRO – Renato Josipovic (caution)              70

*Match was played in two 40 minute halves.

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U-16 BNT Apr 26, 2016

- U.S. Under-16 Boys’ National Team Match Report -

Match: U.S. Under-16 Boys' National Team vs. Croatia
Date: April 25, 2016
Competition: 13th Tournament Delle Nazioni
Venue: NK BRDA; Slovenia
Kickoff: 11 a.m. ET
Weather: 60 degrees, sunny

Scoring Summary:             1              2              F             
USA                                   1              0              1
CRO                                   2              0              2             

USA – Ulysses Llanez (Gabriel Segal)                              16th minute
CRO – Ivan Brnic                                                               19
CRO – Nino Kukovec                                                          24

USA: 1-Nicholas Defreitas-Hansen; 3-Luke Hansen, 5-Leonardo Sepulveda, 4-Michael Pellegrino (14-Eduardo Blancas, 49), 2-John Hilton; 10-Luis Arriaga, 6-Taylor Booth, 8-Marcelo Palomino, 11-Ulysses Llanez (7-Jose Rivas, 49); 9-Gabe Segal (19-Konrad De la Fuente, 56), 21-Indiana Vassilev (20-Nicholas Mendonca, 56)
Subs Not Used: 18-Dominic De Almeida, 15-Roberto Hategan, 17-Alexsi Morel, 12-Alex Rando, 13-Sebastian Serpa
Head Coach: Shaun Tsakiris

CRO: 1-Renato Josipovic; 2-Nikola Mihanovic, 3-Raul Milinovic, 4-Mario Vuskovic, 6-Toni Fruk, (9-Mateo Nikl, 46); 8-Ivijan Svrznjak, 10-Tomislav Krizmanic, 11-Luka Jancic (19-Ivan Dakovic, 60); 15-Marin Vujcic, 17-Ivan Brnic (18-Matteo Tadic, 46)
Subs Not Used: 5-Tin Hrvoj, 7-Bruno Jenjic,12-Luke Dubrovic, 13-Marko Ravlija, 14-Mario Nikolic, 16-Domagoj Stranput
Head Coach: Mladen Ivancic

Stats Summary: USA / COR                                           
Shots: 8 / 9
Shots on Goal: 2 / 6
Saves: 4 / 1
Corner Kicks: 1 / 2
Fouls: 12 / 12

Misconduct Summary:
CRO – Marin Vujcic (caution)                            25th minute
CRO – Renato Josipovic (caution)                   70

US Soccer

Leo Sosa’s Long Road Home…to Kansas

It was grass and farmland as far as Leo Sosa’s eyes could see. The flat landscape and country roads stretched out in every direction. He was in a new country, a long way from home, on his way to a new school and a new life in the middle of nowhere. “I looked out the window,” said Sosa with a warm smile, “and asked myself, ‘what am I doing here?’”

He was heading to Concordia, Kansas – population 4,200 – and about a million miles from where he started. “If you’ve been to São Paulo then you know: it’s like New York City – so picture that, but with many, many more people!” the FC Wichita midfielder told ussoccer.com, his English smooth and still accented with his native Portuguese. He considers life’s twists and turns and how they can catch you off guard and drop you right where you’re meant to be. “I came from a place where I’m taking trains, subways – everything’s packed all the time and there’s a crunch of people everywhere and traffic and noise….and then here I am, all of a sudden, in Kansas.”

(Since 2015, FC Wichita has gone from strength to strength in the NPSL)

Sosa never heard the word Kansas before. He didn’t know anything about it – where it was, what it meant. “I looked out the window and I thought, ‘what am I going to do? How will I make myself busy here?’” he laughed, on the eve of his team’s 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Third Round game against NTX Rayados in Dallas.  

Sosa & Kansas: A Love Affair
But Sosa fell in love with Kansas. “I guess I just realized I didn’t want all that other stuff anymore. The craziness,” said Sosa, the son of former Uruguay international and professional player Charles Sosa. The 25-year-old was reared in the academies of some of Brazil’s top clubs. Juventus first and then Corinthians, where he spent his formative years between 8 and 16 playing with and against the likes of future global superstars Neymar Jr. and Marquinhos. He learned his trade as a deep-lying midfielder with vision and smarts. He was called into camp for Brazil’s youth national teams and he had a future spreading out in front of him with a ball at his feet.

“At my first school in Kansas, at Cloud Community College (in Concordia), they took me in and they treated me like family,” said Sosa, who remembers his father’s lessons – the way he always stressed the importance of education. Charles reminded his talented son that soccer careers end early and you need to have a plan. “I was thousands of miles from everyone I loved, from my family and all of my friends, but they took care of me there in this little town in the middle of a new country. The people were so humble and they taught me the language. They treated me like their own family and I never forgot that.”

(Leo Sosa is among the top midfielders playing the NPSL - Photo courtesy of KWCH 12)

Sosa wasn’t the lone foreigner at Cloud – not by a long shot. The team, in his first year, was comprised of players from all over – Brazil, France, Spain and a handful of kids from Kansas too. “Can you believe that?” asked Sosa, who's developed a deep affinity for country music that his friends back in Brazil find puzzling. “All of us there in the middle of Kansas. We all learned so much every day. We learned so much from each other.” 

One thing Sosa didn’t need to learn was his way around the field. He brought with him from Brazil a technical ability and tactical awareness that was above and beyond that of his teammates and opponents. He stood out in the Western Division of the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference. He won everything on offer before transferring to Friends University in Wichita, where he still has one semester in his business administration degree before graduating in December. In 2015, he was called in for preseason with United Soccer League (USL) pro team St Louis FC, but his international status complicated matters and he was passed over. Reading United and Ocean City Nor’easters, Premier Development League (PDL) sides always on the hunt for top talent, came calling too – but Sosa couldn’t afford a plane ticket to Pennsylvania or the Jersey Shore.

“That was the year FC Wichita started up and so I decided I’d stay the summer in Kansas and play with them,” said Sosa, who likes to talk about being in the right place at the right time – on the field, in the Open Cup and in his new home in the geographical middle of a vast country. And just like he was in his first steps in Concordia, Sosa was folded up into the community at his new club, competing and making big waves in the amateur National Premier Soccer League (NPSL). “The people just made me feel at home right away – they treated me so well. The love was just crazy. I got offers to go to different teams, but I just didn’t want to leave Wichita. I’ve been here ever since.”

FC Wichita, a Club on the Up
With players like Sosa and the Tayou Brothers (Frank and Uzi) and all-time top-scorer Matt Clare, FC Wichita has grown into an NPSL power. They won their region two out of the club’s three years in action and they’re now just one game away from meeting a Major League Soccer (MLS) team in the Fourth Round of the 2018 U.S. Open Cup. The win in the last round, a 4-3 scorcher over USL pros Tulsa Roughnecks, was considered a shock result to those outside the club. But Sosa and Co. don’t think so. “We expected to win, so for us it was no upset,” said Sosa, who was in the side that was unlucky to lose out to Saint Louis FC 3-4 at this same stage in the 2017 Open Cup. “We let something slip away last year. We’re ready to do it this year for real – we know we have the quality to win.”

(FC Wichita are now one win away from playing an MLS team in the 2018 Open Cup)

The next round is a tricky test against NTX Rayados, wild card amateurs from Dallas, Texas who also beat pro opponents in the Second Round. Both teams know the winner gets a dream date with a top-tier pro team and, as a result, Sosa expects fireworks, “It will be a battle,” said the midfielder, a sudden steel in his voice. “Two amateur teams fighting to play a first division [MLS] team. It’s all or nothing and a chance to put yourself out there to show how good you are. There should be lots of contact – lots of physicality. We’re not gonna’ give up and neither will they. Everything’s on the line.”

Regardless of what happens, Sosa’s found a home. And that’s no small thing. If, as he expects, FC Wichita put down stakes as a pro club in the next few years, he’ll remain there and play the game he loves. If he has to travel to realize his dreams on farther fields, he won’t turn his back on the state of Kansas and the city of Wichita, where he’s been welcomed so warmly. “It’s a peaceful way to live life here,” he said, thinking about the long road from there to here and then to now. “Wichita is a pretty big city, but in 15 minutes you’re out there on those country roads again. You’re watching the sunset. They say there’s no place like home and you know it when you find it.”

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U.S. Open Cup May 23, 2018
US Soccer

MNT Players Finish Strong in Club Campaigns

For 20 of the 22 players called to Philadelphia with the Men’s National Team, the club season came to an end last weekend. Several played an instrumental role in strong finishes for their professional homes, while others started to see the light of first-team football. As they aim to carry that club momentum into play for their country, take a look at how the current MNT crop fared down the stretch abroad.


An injury limited Weston McKennie at times this past spring and kept him from full participation at the MNT’s March camp, but he rallied to play an important role as Schalke clinched second place in the Bundesliga. The runner-up finish, the Miners’ best since 2009-10, secured an automatic spot in the UEFA Champions League. The 19-year-old midfielder played in all but one of Schalke’s league games after the March international break and went the full 90 in three of its last four matches.

“It was a wonderful feeling at such a young age to be able to say that I’m going to play Champions League next year,” McKennie said. “To have the season that we did have, it was very emotional and very lively. To be a part of a group like that, with a lot of people not believing that we probably would finish second in the league, it was an amazing feeling.”


Borussia Dortmund has endured an up-and-down season, but the club’s fourth-place Bundesliga finish narrowly clinched Champions League qualification for the third-straight season. Just 19 years old, Pulisic started all seven of BVB’s games since March. Though Dortmund finished the season in a three-way tie for third on points with Hoffenheim and Bayer Leverkusen, they ended up in fourth based on goal differential. 


In two seasons on loan in the Dutch Eredivisie, Matt Miazga has helped lead Vitesse to unprecedented success. Last year, the 6-4 center back figured prominently in the club’s run to the KNVB Cup title, the first trophy in its 125-year history. This year, Miazga made almost every appearance he could for Vitesse, scored four goals and led the club to the Europa League playoffs with a sixth-place league finish. 

💛🖤 #vitesse #playoffs

Una publicación compartida de Vitesse (@mijnvitesse) el

Vitesse entered the four-team European play-offs with a chance to clinch international competition for the second straight season. The club handled ADO Den Haag by a 7-2 aggregate score in the semifinals before a series against fifth-place Utrecht with a Europa League qualifying spot on the line. Vitesse came away with a 5-3 aggregate triumph, and the 22-year-old defender provided the exclamation point in the final’s second leg with a 38th-minute header.

“We were fighting for something important. For me, it was great getting the game-winning goal,” Miazga said. “It was a good end to the season. We qualified for the Europa League; that’s important for the club. It was an important chapter for me at Vitesse where I was an important player for the club.”


As his MNT teammates arrived in Philadelphia on Sunday, Jorge Villafaña picked up some hardware. A 1-1 draw with Toluca gave Villafaña’s Santos Laguna a 3-1 aggregate victory in the Liga MX final. With the championship, he becomes just the third American ever to take home both the M.L.S. and Liga MX titles, alongside Herculez Gomez and Omar Gonzalez. 

Gracias a Dios por un campeonato más,thank God for another championship 🙏🏻🏆🙌🏻🏆🥇

Una publicación compartida de Jorge Villafana (@jvillafana19) el

Los Guerreros qualified for the Liguilla with a fourth-place regular season finish. After a strong showing in the MNT’s 1-0 March victory against Paraguay, Villafaña played a key role for Santos down the stretch. He appeared in all three rounds of the club’s Liguilla triumph.


On loan with Telstar from English Championship side Reading, Andrija Novakovich lit up the Dutch second division with 19 goals, good for second in the Eerste Divisie. The 21-year-old’s scoring efforts led the White Lions to their best finish since 1994 and clinched a spot in the second round of the promotion playoffs.

A Novakovich goal helped Telstar take down De Graafschap 3-2 in the first leg of its playoff. Behind on aggregate in the second leg on the road, the MNT forward equalized the series with a critical goal in the 75th minute, but De Graafschap answered in the 80th to edge Telstar 6-5 and win the series. 


After a spell outside the starting lineup, MNT goalkeeper Ethan Horvath went back into action for Club Brugge at a crucial juncture. The Blauw-Zwart finished the Belgian First Division A regular season as the top seed for the six-team championship playoff, and Horvath was drafted back into the starting XI at a crucial stage. The 21-year-old backstopped Brugge to a 3-1 win against Sporting Charleroi on May 10 before another admirable performance in a 1-1 draw at Standard Liege three days later, to clinch the Belgian league title. 


Bolton stood in danger of relegation on the final matchday in the English League Championship. The club needed a victory against Nottingham Forest coupled with help from other results to secure another season in the second division.

The 20-year-old Robinson played the full 90 minutes in a thrilling 3-2 victory. Down 2-1, Bolton scored in the 86th minute to equalize and took the lead in the 88th. Favorable results elsewhere ensured another season in the Championship after the club won promotion from League One in 2016-17. 

What a season. WE’RE STAYING UP 😆😆😆

Una publicación compartida de Antonee Robinson (@antonee_jedi) el


Greuther Fürth entered the final matchday of the 2.Bundesliga season with a clear task at hand: escape relegation. Fürth hadn’t fallen below the second division since 1997, and on the road against Heidenheim the club needed a result. In his first full season as a professional starter, MNT midfielder Julian Green ensured that it wouldn’t happen this year. He found the back of the net in the 54th minute with a well-placed rocket of a shot from beyond the top of the box. 

“It was a tough season for the whole group there, but at the end we made it. I’m happy to score that goal,” Green said. “I could feel that my personal game was getting better and better from game to game, so it was an important season for me. I always want to win, and I give my best for the team. Nobody wants to have a relegation stand behind his name. That’s normal. At the end, I’m glad that it didn’t happen.”

In the final table, Fürth finished one spot above a trip to the promotion/relegation playoff. Tied with Erzgebirge at 40 points, it came down to goal differential. The 21-year-old’s goal secured the side its 22nd straight season in one of Germany’s top two divisions.


First, Eric Lichaj’s screamer of a goal eliminated Arsenal from the FA Cup. Then, his brace in the match convinced his wife to let the Lichaj family get a dog. Now, the BBC has named the goal as the best of the entire FA Cup, based on fan votes. 


After a fall move from M.L.S. to the Danish Superliga, Hamid made three April appearances as the Wolves took home the league title for the first time since 2014-15. 


While Keaton Parks spent most of the season with Benfica’s B team, the 20-year-old made a cameo appearance in the Aguias’ final game for the first team. The club battled to the finish for second place in the Primeira Liga, Portugal’s final Champions League qualification spot.


Paris Saint-Germain clinched its fifth Ligue 1 title in six years last month with a 7-1 victory against Monaco and completed “the double” with the Coupe de France championship following a 2-0 win over Les Herbiers earlier this month. The 18-year-old Weah made three appearances for Les Parisens this season, and earned his first start last week against Caen.

Mes 4 meufs❤️😂......🔵🔴

Una publicación compartida de timothyweah (@timothyweah) el

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MNT May 23, 2018
US Soccer

NCFC Through to 4th Round as Nor’easters Lose Steam

North Carolina FC of the all-pro United Soccer League (USL) were in no mood for generous romanticism in their Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Third Round contest at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. A productive day from Austin Da Luz and Marios Lomis, who each bagged a goal and an assist for the home side in a comprehensive 4-1 win, was enough to see off a spirited challenge from Premier Development (PDL) hopefuls Ocean City Nor’easters, who’ve earned a reputation as giant-killers with six wins over professional teams in recent Open Cup tournaments.

It was no surprise when the hosts took control of possession early in the contest. Ocean City’s young amateurs were happy enough to sit back and make sure they got their defensive shape right, aiming to hit out on the counter-attack only when the opportunity arose. But despite doing all the right things in the early going, the Nor’easters fell behind in the eighth minute when 30-year-old veteran Da Luz controlled brilliantly on the left side and sent an inch-perfect cross through the penalty area. The ball was met in a blare by Marios Lomis, who poked home past Alec Smir from close range with the studs of his left boot. 

(Lomis hit home NCFC's first goal before the ten-minute mark - photo Daniel Neal)

The setback didn’t faze the spirited visitors, always among the top teams in the PDL summer league. They drew level ten minutes later after NCFC failed to take full advantage of the momentum gained by their opening goal. Matteo Bernatti applied heavy pressure on the home side’s defense and sent the ball arcing up into the air over the penalty area. Uros Ilic struck toward goal on the volley from 12 yards and the ball bobbled past NCFC goalkeeper Austin Guerrero after taking a deflection off his defender Michael Harrington, who tried to hack the effort away from danger.

With a new lease on life, and balanced at 1-1, Ocean City began to grow into the game. Fredinho was a constant threat moving up through the middle of the field and he put NCFC’s defenders on the back foot on more than one occasion. But after 26 minutes, Da Luz – who had stints in Major League Soccer (MLS) with DC United and 2017 Open Cup runners-up New York Red Bulls – was at the heart of the home side’s second goal when he rose in the area to head home a cross from the right side from Berhard Luxbacher. After regaining the lead at 2-1, North Carolina FC were able to hold on to the break

(Da Luz was the outstanding performer in NCFC's win over OC Nor'easters - photo Daniel Neal)

North Carolina FC came out in control of possession in the second half, with the visitors still unwilling to push many bodies up into attack. Fredinho had the Nor’easters best chance to equalize on the hour mark when he curled a sizzling free-kick from 25 yards just wide of Guerrero’s top corner. After that, with time running out and caution aimed at the wind, the young visitors pushed forward into attack in search of a goal. It left them exposed at the back, though, and Luxbacher only missed out on making it 3-1 for NCFC by taking too much time to control a lofted ball in from Da Luz. But one minute later, the home side did get the insurance goal they needed. And what a goal it was. A low ball in from the left from Da Luz picked out Lomis, who made a first-time flicked pass to the streaking Dre Fortune. He raced into the box and slammed the ball home to make 3-1.

The Nor’easters spent the remaining minutes trying to claw their way back into the game. But they were caught out again by their professional counterparts who knew exactly how and when to exploit the spaces left open by their opponents’ forays forward. The goal from Donovan Ewolo that made it 4-1 had a whiff of good fortune about it. The substitute’s speculative shot from distance took a wicked deflection and bobbled past the despairing Smir. And that’s where the scoring ended, as North Carolina FC - deserved victors on the night - move through to the Fourth Round and Ocean City’s Nor’easters head for home with their heads held high after giving good account of themselves in yet another Open Cup.

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U.S. Open Cup May 22, 2018
US Soccer

After Stellar Season, Novakovich Returns to MNT

As the fourth official raised the substitution board, the tears began to fall for Zorka Novakovich. Her son Andrija stepped onto the field in the 77th minute of March’s friendly against Paraguay to pick up his first cap as a member of the U.S. Men’s National Team. A full-fledged family reunion stood on hand for the moment as 14 members of the Novakovich clan made the 16-hour drive from Wisconsin to Cary, N.C.

Two months later, the Muskego, Wisc., product has wrapped up a standout season with SC Telstar in the Netherlands and returned for his second senior team call-up. As the MNT prepares to take on Bolivia next week, his MNT invite to Philadelphia warrants another Novakovich family road trip. This time around, the journey should only last 14 hours each way.

“I think they’re looking forward to it just as much as I am,” Novakovich said as camp opened on Monday. “They’ll be in full force. It’s a massive honor. It’s a proud moment for myself and for them.”

Novakovich caught fire this season in the Dutch Erstedivisie to catch the attention of the MNT. On loan from English Championship side Reading, his 19 goals made him the second-leading scorer in the Dutch second division. The loan presented Novakovich with the first opportunity at extended first-team football in his young career. He seized every chance to impress.

“When you get opportunities, show what you can do,” Novakovich said. “To get consistent minutes, that’s exactly why I went there on loan from Reading. It was a great experience, I enjoyed every minute. It’s just about developing and getting better. It’s a massive confidence boost.”

After several years near the bottom of the Eerstedvisie table, Telstar earned its best finish since 1994, two years before Novakovich was born. He also led the White Lions to the promotion playoffs for the first time in almost ten years. While the club narrowly fell 6-5 to De Graafschap on aggregate, he scored in both of the team’s second round matches and even tallied a crucial equalizer in the second leg before the eventual series-winner came five minutes later from the opposition.

Raised in a tight-knit Serbian community outside Milwaukee, Novakovich passed up a scholarship to local Marquette University to sign with Reading in 2014. After a spell in the club’s youth set-up, he led the U-23 reserve team in scoring last season to prove himself ready for first team football. While the environment changed this season, Novakovich’s knack for finding the back of the net has endured.

“He’s coming off the back end of a very successful campaign,” said MNT head coach Dave Sarachan. “We had a good opportunity to get to know Andrija in our last preparation for Paraguay. He showed that he belonged in the group during that camp and in that match. This is just another opportunity to continue to see him and have a guy that has shown to be a capable goal scorer and effective as a striker. He comes in with a lot of confidence.”

Novakovich made sporadic appearances for several Youth National Team squads, but March provided his first-ever senior team call-up. A towering presence at the forward position, his six-four frame has turned heads at every level.  In Philadelphia, Novakovich has been reunited with several former YNT teammates like Lynden Gooch, Erik Palmer-Brown and Rubio Rubin. At 21 years old, he checks in a dash below the average roster age and stands tall as part of the MNT’s next generation.

In Novakovich’s brief appearance against Paraguay, he nearly picked up his first international goal alongside his first cap. His play in North Carolina made enough of an impression to earn a return camp invite as one of 11 holdovers from March. Only two out-and-out forwards have made the trip to Philadelphia, a vote of confidence for Novakovich.  

“It’s a good feeling,” Novakovich said. “You just want more, you want to keep going. It’s an honor to come here and try to showcase as much as possible. You’re just trying to be ready as soon as you’re called upon.”

Fourteen family members watched Novakovich earn his first cap in Cary. His nose for the net defined his season in the Netherlands. A first international goal, in front of another packed personal supporters’ section, would put an exclamation point on an incredible season.

“It’s a different step playing at an international stage,” Novakovich said. ”It’s a big difference from club level. I’m just going to try to do my best at whatever I do, work hard and show the coaches what I can do.”

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MNT May 22, 2018

OC Nor’easters: Family Affair on the Jersey Shore

Among the tens of thousands of tourists and day-trippers that swell Ocean City’s population each summer, you’d hardly notice a couple dozen soccer players here or there. They mix right in with the throngs on the boardwalk. But every year they come, among the best collegiate players from every corner of the country (and the globe), for fun and sand and dramatic sunrises, sure, but mostly to join up with one of the best amateur soccer clubs in America: The Ocean City Nor’easters.

“For me this is not a business,” said Giancarlo Granese who bought the bankrupted South Jersey Barons in 2004, and moved them to Ocean City from “the middle of nowhere.” He immigrated to New Jersey in the mid-1970s from a small town near Naples, Italy that claims to have the best chestnuts in the world. His passion for soccer, for his adoptive city and his Nor’easters is palpable. “This isn’t a business for me. It’s about the game, about togetherness and family…and most of all it’s about Ocean City.”

(The Nor'easters, in orange, knocked off AFC Ann Arbor of NPSL & Charlotte Independence of USL)

The Nor’easters have existed, in one form or another, for the last 22 years. They now compete in the Premier Development League (PDL) – an all-amateur summer league whose sole aim is to groom top-class college players to take the next step up and into the professional ranks. That’s clearly the case in Ocean City, a club with pedigree and no trouble attracting the cream of the collegiate crop. Veteran of the 2012 squad Tyler Miller, is now lining up with LAFC in Major League Soccer (MLS), and a whole host of Nor’easters alumni dot the Division II USL ranks. But there’s something more than just boot-camp going on here at the Jersey Shore.

The players all live together in a house steps from the ocean. They play their home games in the heart of tourist season at Carey Stadium (aka ‘The Beach House’) – there’s no soccer field closer to the ocean in the whole country. The Nor’easters become, in a very real way, a part of the community that grows from a population of just over 10,000 in the off-season to ten times that in June, July and August when the sun shines brightest. The players get recognized on the two-and-a-half miles of boardwalk and they mingle in the community in a way that most PDL players don’t. “I think we win because of the togetherness we bring as a family and as a city and a club,” said Granese, who runs the Nor’easters as a labor of love with his wife and his son (and General Manager) Giancarlo Jr. “All the kids who come in have host families looking out for them and every summer there’s a huge connection between the people of the town and the players.”

Proven Results on the Pitch
All that has translated into huge success on the field. They’ve won two PDL Eastern Conference titles in the last six years and are annually among the best teams in the league alongside Reading United of Pennsylvania and the Michigan Bucks out of Pontiac. But most of all, the Nor’easters have become known as giant-killers in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup by knocking off a raft of professional teams in recent years.

“I have too many great memories to count from my time with the club, and most of them are around the Open Cup,” said current head coach John Thompson, an Englishman and former Nor’easters captain. A two-time PDL Defender of the Year, he’s been involved – as a player or a coach – in five of the team’s six victories over professional opponents in America’s oldest soccer tournament. He was on the field in 2004 (the team went undefeated in league play that year) in an 8-4 loss to the Richmond Kickers that he calls “the wildest game” he ever played in, and again in 2009 when they met DC United of MLS and held them until the 70th minute. In 2013, they were on their way to a 1-0 win in the 90th minute against Philadelphia Union only to be undone by a 90th-minute equalizer that forced extra-time.

(Carey Stadium aka the Beach House - not a bad spot to spend your soccer summer)

With a pair of wins under their belt in the current competition (a 3-0 win over NPSL’s AFC Ann Arbor in the First Round and a 3-1 win over full USL pros Charlotte Independence last week) the Nor’easters are one win away from meeting MLS opposition for a third time in this year’s Fourth Round.

Along with the ideal locale, the sunny weather and all the fun there is to be had on the Jersey Shore in summertime – the team’s reputation as giant-killers is among the biggest draws of top talent to the Nor’easters. “We all want to be pros ourselves and so these are the games we’ve got to show we’ve got what it takes,” said Sam Jones, an English center-back who had to fly to Michigan for the First Round game against Ann Arbor and fly right out again after the final whistle to get back in time for final exams. Liam Bennett, a busy midfielder from Leeds, also cherishes the opportunities inherent in playing (and beating) pros. “It doesn’t matter who we play, we want to start every game sharp and bright. We want to get right in their face right away, and if we get to play an MLS team, we’ll do it just that same way – we’ll be right up for it.”

Between now and that dream tie with an unnamed MLS side, is a tough test – and their third straight game on the road – against North Carolina FC of the USL. If the Nor’easters are giant-killers, NCFC might be giant-killer-killers as they showed in their 3-0 rout of Lansdowne Bhoys, reigning double national amateur cup champs. The game will be a homecoming of sorts for UNC goalkeeper Alec Smir, Carolina born and raised. His parents and friends will be among the crowd at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. on Tuesday night, but he’s got only one thing on his mind. “We all have aspirations to go pro,” said the net-minder who was a busy young man in the dying moments of the win over Charlotte Independence when the home side poured on the pressure in a desperate attempt to get level. “So we just want to show what we can do to achieve that dream of playing an MLS team – and who knows what can happen then?” 

Pros in Training
Coach Thompson has every faith in his players’ own professionalism. They may not be pros yet, but they’re ready for it. They know what it takes. He bristles when asked if it’s a tough job to keep all the boys calm on the big day. After all, they’re scouted hard and hand picked not just for their talent - character and experience both come into play in the year-long hunt by the Ocean City coaching staff. “Every time you go on the field, whether it’s against Charlotte or Manchester United, you’ve got to back yourself as a player,” he said. “You have to believe that you can man up and get it done.”

(Ocean City's Nor'easters have beaten 6 pro teams in their Open Cup history - and played MLS sides twice)

Man up, they may. But these are boys, some of them still in their teens. “That’s why we have our training sessions at 10 a.m. every day,” Thompson said with a chuckle, knowing the lure of the shore and the call of summer fun to youngsters. “We’re professional about what we’re doing and we expect a very high standard from the players. As long as they meet that and do what they’re meant to do, we don’t mind what they get up to. It’s the Jersey Shore after all and it’s a lot of fun here. They need to have their fun too.”

According to the players, spending so much time in close quarters helps their cause every year. “Our house is right on the beach and that’s great,” said Smir, the team’s outstanding goalkeeper. “After those first few days, everyone clicks. And you can see that spilling over out on to the field too.” Jones, when asked if they’ll all be sick of each other by the end of the summer, is quick with a joke and a smile: “Some of us are sick already!”

In all, it does feel like a family – special, imperfect and worth protecting. “It’s nice to see a lot of our boys go on to the pros,” said Granese, who watches a new group come to town every May and speaks of them like a proud papa might. “Just when you lose faith in the young people of the world, these guys show up and they’re smart, sharp, good and quick – and I can’t help think: this country’s in good shape after all.”

(Some video footage courtesy of SNJToday)
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U.S. Open Cup May 22, 2018