Spring is here, and that means the return of outdoor professional soccer to this great city. So what does the 2023 season hold in store? I think that before we look forward, we have to look back, at last season in NISA and other tournaments as well.
The first season of Flower City Union certainly held some rough results on the field. The final league results of 2 wins, 3 draws, and 18 losses was definitely not ideal. But there was cause for optimism. Most of the players on the team were local, or very new to the professional game, whereas other teams fielded players that had some pro experience. FCU were certainly underdogs going into the season, but they came out with some good results along the way. Whereas FCU finished in last place, their first win came against Chattanooga FC, who ended up second overall. Their other win came against the Maryland Bobcats, who had earlier in the season beaten them 6-1. So these were meaningful wins. In the US Open Cup, FCU had their first win in franchise history against the USL League Two side Western Mass Pioneers, before being seen out of the tournament by Major League Soccer’s DC United. Perhaps the most meaningful win of the season though was also the first silverware the team won in franchise history, in the NISA Independent Cup. This tournament was a strange amalgamation of invited amateur and NISA teams, with the amateur teams playing two games in a bracket before facing the NISA side. FCU then defeated New Jersey Alliance FC by 2-0, to win the Northeast Regional final.
So what do we have to look forward to this season? First of all, by my counting, only four players are returning from the last squad; Mitch Brickman (who spent the off-season playing for the Rochester Lancers), Noah Cavanaugh, Michael Cunningham, and Ryan Curtis. I didn’t get to watch many matches from last season, but I think the players that will most be missed are Lukas Fernandes (the top scorer of last season with 4 goals, who took a college coaching job), Giancarlo Cañas-Jarquin (who had 3 goals and has now started his own soccer recruiting agency), and Suneil Veerakone (who had both goals in the NISA Independent Cup).
However, Flower City Union didn’t just sit back and make nothing of the off-season. What’s most exciting to me is that they brought in forward Alioune Diakhate. According to Wikipedia, the most reliable source of information, he’s been playing professionally since 2009, going on to spend 2021 with a USL League Two side before moving up to NISA last season. If there’s something we needed to do, it’s bringing in seasoned NISA players, and one that scored 12 goals last year, almost the entire tally of FCU, will certainly help. Without having seen a ton of play though, it’s hard to really tell who to be excited by. The other player I’m looking forward to watching play is Mumbi Kwesele. From two seasons in USL League One, he moved to NISA last season to play for Bay Cities FC, and we can definitely use a defender that’s played in this league before. On the goalkeeping front, we’ve brought in two new prospects that last played in USL League Two, Trevor Wilson and Mike Mejia. I’m not sure which was intended to be the starter, or even if the coaching staff has made that decision yet. And speaking of the coaching staff, here two we have two new faces. I think the thing that most interests me about new head coach Jordan Sullivan, is that he was previously the academy coach for EFL Championship side Queen’s Park Rangers. For an assistant coach, Nelson Cupello has the local credentials, having coached at MCC since 1990, winning the regional title 9 times (alongside numerous other honors).
What happened in preseason? Preseason saw three friendlies, but I only watched one and a half. The first was against Canisius, and was only the first time these players were mostly together as a team. Prior to that, they had only practiced against each other. While they ended up losing 3-2, it’s not a result that matters or worries. The day was incredibly cold and windy, and players were not wearing jerseys with names, so I’m not sure who was who. What did impress me was a couple of saves that the keeper made right before the half in quick succession. There was then a Canisius goal, but it was really on a nice shot (according to the stats, Wilson gave up 2 goals with Mejia giving up 1). I didn’t see any of FCU’s goals, but they did a good job in the wind of keeping passes low and accurate. There was a friendly against St. Bonaventure scheduled for the next day, but it was pushed back a few days due to winter weather. I did not attend, but FCU won 2-1. Wilson gave up the only goal, however the stats gave me a new player to watch out for, as Fredrick Opoku (who hasn’t had a club since 2020) tallied 3 points with a goal and an assist. For the final friendly, back at home against Cornell, FCU had some good chances in the second half, however neither team could put in a goal. There was some good passing and overlaps though, and it showed nice sparks of what I hope is to come. There were rumors that there would be a friendly against FC Buffalo, but apparently that never came to be.
The opening games are next week, in the first week of April. FCU starts the season with an away game to Maryland, where we will certainly have better performances than most of our matches against them last season. They return home 3 days later to face amateur side Manhattan SC in the US Open Cup. It will be a test, as Manhattan knocked out FC Motown, but the game should be ours to win. The other interesting thing to watch this season is that after merging with Syracuse over the winter, some games will be played as Salt City Union. While that doesn’t appear to mean much besides a change of name and colors, it does mean that the home games of May 27, July 8, and September 23 will be played in Syracuse, or more specifically Auburn.
So how do I think FCU will do this year? There’s every reason to believe they’ll be better than last year. Their changes to bring in players with league experience seem as if they’re the right decisions. Of course, other teams made off-season moves as well. I don’t anticipate they’ll be fighting for first place, but finishing mid-table and qualifying for the playoffs is certainly a reasonable aspiration and should be this season’s goal.
As a minor note, where I’ve stated players’ stats and prior clubs, I did my best to figure this out. The NISA website is already missing players and stats from last year, and lower leagues aren’t the best at having accurate stats online. I tried to verify everything I could, but some minor inaccuracies may exist.