Match Preview: Game 1 vs. Westchester

Written by Michael Lewis

UNIONDALE, N.Y. – The Long Island Rough Riders kick off their 30th season of soccer on Saturday night, with a doubleheader against the Westchester Flames at Mitchel Athletic Complex.

At 5:30 p.m., the Rough Riders’ women welcome the Flames in their USL W League season opener.

At 8 p.m., the men also will host their long-time rivals in their League Two season opener.

Needless to say, expectations are high for both Rough Riders teams after successful campaigns in 2022.

The men are coming off a scintillating season in which they reached the USL League Two final before dropping a 2-1 decision to the Ventura County Fusion.

The women, who qualified for the W League playoffs after finishing second in the Metropolitan Division in 2022, would love to make an impact in the postseason as well.

The women (8-2-2) were as runners-up to Morris Elite SC in the Metropolitan Division. They were eliminated in the playoff quarterfinals, dropping a 2-0 decision to Greenville Liberty SC.

“We want to be as competitive as possible,” head coach Matt Lannon said. “We’re aiming to win the Metro for starters and then see where that takes us.”

That is a lofty goal, but then again, the Rough Riders women have some talented returnees and newcomers on their roster.

Some of the key returnees include defender Nina Carlomusto, captain Kim Marra (Sayville, N.Y.), defender-midfielder Alexa Vegoda (Plainview, N.Y.) and Grace Cagnina (Lindenhurst, N.Y.), a defender on the LIU Post team who started three games for the Peruvian national team at 2022 Copa America Femenina.

Carlomusto (Hicksville, N.Y.), who earned W League team of the year first-team honors, was a major reason why Long Island conceded just seven goals in 12 regular season contests last year.

“Kim Marra was a big part of what we did,” Lannon said. “She leads the warm-ups. She’s an integral part of our organization. Having Grace Cagnina for the whole season – she was away with Peru last year – she’s going to be with us the whole time. So, that’s a big, big push for us.”

Like many W League teams, rosters can turn over greatly from year to year. That also goes for the Rough Riders, who had added some promising performers for this campaign.

The newcomers include University of Illinois midfielder-forward Lia Howard (Massapequa, N.Y.), the 2021-22 Gatorade New York Girls Soccer Player of the Year, St. John’s University midfielder Jessica Graziano (Melville, N.Y.) and forward Nicole Gordon, Iona University midfielder Sofia Banegas (Wantagh, N.Y.), University of Massachusetts defender-midfielder Carolina Benitez (Westbury, N.Y.), who has experienced with the El Salvadorian national team, Xavier University midfielder Fiona Kilian (Levittown, N.Y.) and Hofstra University forward-midfielder Olivia Pearse (Seaford, N.Y.), among others.

It sounds like Lannon will have a deep and talented roster.

“Having too many good players, that’s something that I feel like every coach wants,” he said. “It’s a great headache for me to have.”

Which certainly will make for some intriguing training sessions this season.

“If you’ve got a chance, you’ve got to take it,” Lannon said. “If you get a chance to impress, you’ve got to impress. It’s a great headache to have, a great problem.”

Rough Riders men’s head coach Tom Bowen also likes what he has.

Three Hofstra standouts will be back, goalkeeper Wessel Speel (1.39 goals-against average), defender Pierce Infuso, midfielder Roc Carles and forward Ryan Carmichael (13 goals in 17 games, including three in the playoffs). Added center back Bjarne Thiesen and left back Nico Cavallo, and the Riders have one solid defense. After all, they conceded only 15 goals in 14 regular-season games last year.

Albert Kang is expected to team with Carles at center mid.

“A big spine of the team is back, which is important,” Bowen said. “They know what the expectations are, and they know how we operate. Hopefully, the culture is already set for the new guys when they come in.

“We’ve added quality. We’ve added winners, which is important. We did a lot of winning last year and we have a good group of those guys back.”

Those winners include Syracuse University midfielder Jeorgio Kocevski (Liverpool, N.Y.), a key member of the 2022 NCAA Division I men’s championship team.

“He was obviously a big part of that team so he’s a winner,” Bowen said. “Excited to have him.”

Forward Matt Whelan scored 12 goals for Kalamazoo FC in League Two, and Finn McBride, who tallied 13 goals in 16 appearances for the University of California-Santa Barbara.

That duo is expected to complement Carmichael.

And there’s more, including Lipscomb University defender Nick Dang and Missouri State University center back Connor Langan, who also has played in League Two with the Des Moines Menace.

“He knows what it’s all about,” Bowen said. “He’s used to winning.”

“There’s a lot of other guys that I probably haven’t mentioned. They’re going to pop up pretty soon and surprise people and make a name for themselves pretty quickly. It’s a big squad. It’s a really, really competitive squad, but it’s going to keep me on my toes.” 

The Rough Riders enjoyed a marvelous season last year, reaching the final for the fourth time in their three-decade history. Saying that, Bowen isn’t making duplicating that feat the top goal. In fact, at a team meeting on Monday, Bowen and his coaching staff did not mention any goals for the side.

“We didn’t bring it up,” he said. “We didn’t have any kind of goal setting. I don’t want that focus to be anywhere else except for the first game on Saturday.

“Our goal is to just win the next game, and then win the next game and then see where that takes us. We just want to compete. If we start looking too far ahead and get hung up on what we did last year, then we’re going to fall short. We have to understand that what we did last year was fantastic, but this is a new season, a new group of players.

“We’ve also got to be wary that everyone is going to be coming for us. Everyone knows what we’re about. We’re the team that everyone wants to beat.”

Which is a situation many teams would wish they could face game in and game out.

Both matches will be live streamed on


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