With the NISA season opener looming and a US Open Cup match not far behind, the Flower City Union players and staff have had a busy month. As part of their preparation, Head Coach Jordan Sullivan had the opportunity to put his team to the test against live competition in a series of four preseason scrimmages. Here is a quick recap of the action:
Smugtown (USPL Division 1, RDSL)
Flower City beat partner club Smugtown FC 8-0 after they marched through Rochester for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. This scrimmage featured an incomplete FCU team as some players had not yet arrived in Rochester with others yet to be signed.
Canisius (MAAC, NCAA D1)
NCAA RPI Ranking: 193
FCU’s first significant test came against former Rochester Rhino player Michael Tanke’s Canisius Golden Griffins. For many players, this was their first competitive match playing together, outside of intrasquad scrimmages. FCU ultimately fell 3-2 to Canisius. Scoring in the game were Michael Cunningham and Stephen Elias (assisted by Logan Lee).
St. Bonaventure (A10, NCAA D1)
NCAA RPI Ranking: 194
FCU headed down to Olean to face off against St. Bonaventure where FCU’s Trevor Wilson (SBU Class of ‘21) faced off against many former teammates. He helped Flower City win 2-1 against the Bonnies. Goals were scored by Stephen Elias (assisted by Fredrick Opoku) and Fredrick Opoku (assisted by Michael Cunningham).
Cornell (Ivy, NCAA D1)
NCAA RPI Ranking: 12
The toughest team on the schedule, Cornell was ranked 14th in the nation in the final top-25 poll. They reached the NCAA Quarterfinals this season before falling to eventual champions Syracuse 1-0. While Cornell owned much of the possession for the first half, the second half was much better for Flower City who nearly went ahead toward the end of the scrimmage. Ultimately, the last pre-season scrimmage ended in a 0-0 draw.
After the match against Cornell, fellow Valiant 33 contributor Rick Lewis and I were able to interview a handful of players before the regular season starts in Maryland on Saturday, April 1st.
As one of the few returners, what is the difference in the locker room between this year’s team and last year’s team?
“Honestly, it’s just a lot more professional. We have a lot of guys who have been around and know what it takes to make it at this level. We have that vet(tran) presence that we really didn’t have last year, which makes a big difference. The atmosphere in the locker room is more relaxed than last year, everyone kind of knows what they should be doing to help us win”
What are the team’s expectations for this season?
“We expect to come out and be competitive and win some games. Obviously we have a lot of turnover from last year, but so does the rest of the league. That’s kinda how NISA goes, and I think we are coming out on the plus side of things in regard to the people we brought in. We brought in veterans and people who know how to win, so I think that’s a great advantage for us.”
What does it mean to play for your hometown team?
“It means everything to me. I am the only player from Rochester which is a big change from last year. You know I grew up watching the Rhinos in this stadium, so it is a dream come true to play here professionally. Rochester is a historic soccer city, and being from here makes it even sweeter to play. I always wanted to play professionally, and to be able to do that in my hometown, in front of all my family and friends means a lot.”
As a seasoned NISA player, what attracted you to Flower City and Rochester?
“I am just happy to be here and be able to help contribute to the team. I am happy to be closer to my family, they live five hours away [in Connecticut], so they can watch me play more.”
What do you bring to the table for this team?
“I can play my game here and score lots of goals. Also, my energy and experience.”
This being your first professional season, what differences have you seen between college, USL-2 and NISA?
“You can definitely see that the players at this level are older and more experienced and physical. I think my experience in USL-2 has really helped making that adjustment easier for me and kind of got me ready for this level.”
How has starting off in a new city and starting your career been?
“It’s been a big adjustment so far; I had never been in Rochester before I signed here so there has been a lot to learn. Some of the more experienced guys have helped me out and showed me the ropes. [Mitchell] Brickman in particular, you know him being from here, has been great to us, just showing us around the city.”
You won a championship last year with Michigan, can you speak on what it takes to win in NISA?
“While I was only there for the second half of the season, I can say it takes plenty of hard work. People have to buy in and trust the process. It also helped that the team [Michigan] was very united, and jelled very well, so I think building chemistry is an important thing too.”
What do you know about Rochester soccer?
“Well I grew up in New York, in Westchester, so I had always heard about the Rochester Rhinos. They had some really great teams and were always a force to be reckoned with. You know they built this stadium and I think it’s one of the better ones in the league.”
And lastly, Stephen was excited to add:
“We want to make Rochester and this stadium a fortress. We want to win at home every match and hope we earn your support and see people at the games!”