The Long Island Rough Riders qualified for the PDL Eastern Conference Championship this weekend following a 4-1 victory against New York Red Bulls Under-23 in a play-in match Tuesday evening at the Red Bulls Training Facility in Whippany, N.J.
Long Island (9-2-4), which finished runner-up in the Eastern Conference Northeast Division, joins Northeast Division winners Seacoast United (12-1-2), South Atlantic Division winners Myrtle Beach Mutiny (10-1-3) and South Atlantic runner-up Charlotte Eagles (9-3-2) in the four-team Eastern Conference playoffs from July 22-23 in Statesboro, Ga.
Seeds will be announced Wednesday for the conference semifinal games to be played 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Saturday. The Eastern Conference Championship is 8 p.m. Sunday.
“I really wasn’t happy with the quality of our play last season even though we had a winning record and finished third in the division,” Rough Riders head coach Flavio Ferri said. “With the affiliation with NYCFC coming into this season and our expectations, everyone had to step up and raise our level of play and the players responded. This is a reward for the players and all their hard work, and to earn a win against arguably one of the best teams in the PDL, who have an affiliation with a pro franchise, says it all.”
The Rough Riders knew the first half of the play-in game would set the tone for the entire match. The Red Bulls U-23 (12-2-1), winners of the Mid Atlantic Division, outscored opponents 28-1 in the first half of games during the regular season.
Long Island took a 1-0 lead off a counterattack in the 16th minute Tuesday. Arthur Bosua back heeled a ball to Daniel Bedoya on the overlap, who then found the back of the net. The Rough Riders doubled their advantage just before halftime. A long switch from Junior Rosero found Thomas Suchecki who got in behind the defense and finished to the far post.
“I thought it was imperative we showed we were there to play and not sit back the whole time,” Ferri said. “The first goal set the tone. Psychologically we made our presence felt from the get-go and the boys did a wonderful job with that.”
Long Island continued the pressure in the second half, extending its advantage to 3-0 in the 58th minute. A through ball by Bedoya found Bosua, who fired a shot on net, but the Red Bulls U-23 goalie got a piece of it and Rosero was there to knock in the rebound.
The Red Bulls U-23 got one back in the 80th minute, but a goal by Daniel Friend in his Rough Riders’ first-team debut just before the final whistle cemented Long Island’s place in the Eastern Conference Championship.
“We had a good game plan of what they did well and laid out plans to counter that,” Ferri said. “Defensively we carried it out perfectly. Offensively, we’ve had a history of taking a ton of shots but them not going in and tonight they went in. I thought we were well overdue for that.”