KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – For the first time in two decades, the Long Island Rough Riders will play for a national championship.
The Rough Riders booked their spot in the USL League Two final with a 2-0 victory over North Carolina Fusion Under-23 to capture the Eastern Conference crown on Monday morning.
Matthew Vowinkel and Bjarne Thiesen scored on either side of halftime as Niklas Roessler recorded two assists. Goalkeeper Wessel Speel recorded the clean sheet.
Long Island (15-1-2), which has won a team-record 15 games this season, the most in a campaign since entering the Premier Development League/League Two level in 2007, will meet the Ventura County Fusion, 1-0 winners over the Flint City Bucks in the Western Conference final on Sunday night, for the league championship on Saturday, Aug. 6 at 9 p.m. ET.
That match originally was scheduled for Sunday night, but a prolonged lightning delay, which forced league officials to put off the kickoff five times, decided to have the team play on Monday morning at 10 a.m.
The Riders will aim for their third national title in their 29-year history. They won the U.S. Interregional Soccer League crown in 1995 and the USL Pro championship in 2002.
Vowinkel gave the Rough Riders all the scoring they needed in the 44th minute when his diving header converted a Roessler feed.
Thiesen, the team captain doubled LI’s lead in the 52nd minute. After the Riders were awarded a free kick near the right corner flag, Roessler drove the ball into the box as Thiesen headed the ball home for a 2-0 advantage.
After six minutes of stoppage time, the referee whistled twice, and the Rough Riders were conference champions.
The Rough Riders hope to bring home their third championship trophy in their history.
In 1995, they captured the USISL championship in 1995, behind the likes of U.S. men’s national team goalkeeper Tony Meola, future MLS all-star and USMNT midfielder Chris Armas and scoring star Giovanni Savarese, who currently guides the Portland Timbers, among other stars.
In 2002, the Riders won their second national title on a team that starred future New York Red Bulls and New York Cosmos defender Carlos Mendes, who also coached the Cosmos, forward Derrick Etienne, defenders Edgar Bartholomew and Steve Cadet and midfielder Daniel Leon, among other standouts.