Long Island Rough Riders head coach Flavio Ferri warned his players from the get-go they would get knocked down throughout the 2017 PDL season. There would be growing pains learning a new system, injuries to overcome, and uncontrollable conditions like rain delays or stifling heat to battle through.
The team keep its head up and did just that en route to an appearance in the PDL Eastern Conference Final.
“The true test of a champion is how they respond to adversity,” Ferri said. “With this group, they responded as well as could be expected. They stepped up to every challenge.”
The first challenge — albeit a positive one — was adjusting to a new style of play. The Rough Riders entered the 2017 campaign as the exclusive PDL affiliate of New York City FC. Long Island incorporated the club’s possession-based game built from the back with the goalkeeper and defense into its philosophy. There were a few growing pains, but the results certainly overshadowed them.
“We improved each week and in the end, we can only look back at what might have been,” midfielder Shaun Foster said. “The transition to playing the NYCFC way was a smooth one as we have a lot of technically gifted players who are able to adapt to a multiple of formations and systems.”
Long Island (10-2-5) quickly overcame the mother nature obstacle in the first game of the season — a 5-1 win against Westchester on May 13. The game was delayed an hour at halftime, but it didn’t stop the Rough Riders from scoring four goals in the second half. The spirit and optimism, according to Ferri, was a sign of good things to come the rest of the season.
From there, the schedule got bulky, sometimes featuring consecutive games or games within a three-day time span. It didn’t help the Rough Riders were bitten by the injury bug, but roster depth and a positive attitude helped keep the team in striking position for a playoff spot as the dog days of summer rapidly approached.
“Squad depth and character were the two main factors that lead to our success,” goalie Dylan Castanheira said. “There were points in the season that we suffered tough losses and it would’ve been easy for us to put our heads down. Instead, we rallied as a team and got results in the games that followed. We were also plagued with injuries at times and guys were able to fill in and do a great job when needed.”
The Rough Riders were able to defeat the teams nipping at their heels in the standings down the stretch and earned the necessary point in the regular-season finale against Western Mass in order to qualify for the Eastern Conference play-in game against New York Red Bulls Under-23, winners of the Mid Atlantic Division.
The Red Bulls U-23, which boasts the PDL MVP/Golden Boot winner (Brian White), Coach of the Year (Robert Elliott) and Goalkeeper of the Year (Benjamin Lundgaard), were pressured from the opening whistle and Long Island kept its foot on the gas in a 4-1 victory and berth into the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Long Island defeated the Myrtle Beach Mutiny, winners of the South Atlantic Division, before losing in penalty kicks to eventual PDL champions Charlotte in the Eastern Conference Final.
“Together we showed great resilience when faced with adversity and always managed to stay organized while still being a threat offensively,” Rough Riders captain Tom Wharf said. “Unfortunately, we were not able to reach our goal of winning the region, but we have already switched focus onto next season and building a team to do exactly that and hopefully go all the way.”
Added Ferri: “Overall, I am very happy with the season. The goal this year was to establish a high standard on and off the field as a foundation moving forward. This included having a defined style of play and playing philosophy. I think we were able to do that I think we represented our organization as well as our affiliation with NYCFC in a dignified manner.”
BY: Michael LoRé