Playoff Match Preview

Written by Michael Lewis

After winning their final four games of the regular season, the Long Island Rough Riders enter the USL League Two playoffs on a roll and a high night.

That and the team’s overall performance during the regular season has buoyed head coach Tom Bowen’s postseason hopes.

“I definitely think it’s the strongest group we’ve had going into playoffs,” said Bowen, whose team kicks off the postseason against the Ocean City Nor’easters in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals at TowneBank Stadium in Newport News, Va. on Friday, July 22 at 5 p.m. “Last year actually we were very good. So, I’m excited. I think we can I think we definitely have a good chance of progressing if things go well for us.

“The team really a good bit of form towards the end of the season.”

Interestingly, the Rough Riders (11-2-1, 34 points) finished second in the Metropolitan Division to Manhattan SC (12-2-0, 36), even though the team accrued three more points than it had in 2021. Those 34 points was the most since 2011 and the third most in club history since the team moved down to the Premier Development League/USL League Two in 2007. The 2011 squad (39) and 2010 side (38) had accrued more, but played in two more matches.

Entering the postseason, it is difficult to figure out a favorite.

“It just comes down to fine margins,” Bowen said. “There’s so much parity when you get to this point, like there’s no like real favorite. Obviously, we feel good about ourselves, but that when you get to the playoffs, every team is good. Every team has won their division or stacked up a load of points to get there. So, there’s no gimmes. You’ve got to be at the top of the game.”

Last year the Rough Riders took a 1-0 lead over the Seacoast United Phantoms in the conference quarterfinals, but lost in extratime, 2-1.

“We’re playing very, very well and then just one individual defensive mistake and the game is tied and then all of a sudden we lose it extratime,” Bowen said. “It just comes down to these fine margins. Just trying to stay focused and limit those mistakes as much as possible because that could be the difference.”

Bowen said that he was “just trying to get that message across to the players [that they’ really can’t switch off. It’s got to be full focus. Because there’s just so much parity and nothing between the two teams.”

The Rough Riders and the undefeated Nor’easters (11-0-3, 36) know each other quite well. They once were divisional rivals for years before the league was realigned a few years ago.

“I’m going to spend a lot of [time]and just watching kind of footage of their games online,” Bowen said. All of the games are accessible to online fairly easily, so we’ll probably be watching them for next few days. We’ll do our homework as much as we can.”

The winner of Friday’s encounter will meet victor of the Vermont Green Fc and Lionsbridge FC in the second game of the doubleheader at 7:30 p.m., in the conference semifinals on Sunday, July 24.

“We’d like to have more recovery in-between [games] but it’s we’ve at least got one day to rest and recover in the hotel and go for a walk and get food together and do a quick scout on our next opponent because everything we’re going to do from now until Friday is going to be all about playing Ocean City,” Bowen said. “Then you’ve got to switch gears quickly if you’ve got to play another game. You’ve got to do your homework on your next opponent quite quickly.

“I guess the lucky thing is we were the first game and then the other semifinal is after us. So, if we were to win, our guys can go out for a dinner, and I’ll probably stick around and watch that other game.”

Bowen was optimistic most of the team will travel to Virginia.

“The core of the team has really stuck it out the whole season,” he said. “It’s tough. The USL Two is just tough because players come and go all the time because they leave for different reasons. They go back to Europe to see family before they come back for college or some of them have to go back for summer school or guys when they’re not playing much, they don’t really have a loyalty to the team, so they end up leaving early.”

An X-factor is the college preseason. Many teams can lose players as the playoffs progress. The championship game is set for Aug. 6, around the time when many college sides start preseason.

And that includes the Rough Riders as well.

“Hopefully if we’re winning, guys will stick around,” Bowen said. “It’s just tough because some of them got to go back to school. We’ve got players from Duke and ACC [Atlantic Coast Conference] schools and West Virginia and Pittsburgh. Some of these coaches, once you get closer and closer towards the college season are that not too keen on their guys staying and potentially get an injury before the college season. So, it gets a little bit difficult.”

If the Rough Riders get that far, that’s a problem that Bowen and the team would love to face come early August.


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