Rough Riders Women Sign Four Players

The Long Island Rough Riders women have welcomed back three key players from last year’s USL W League season and added a newcomer to the mix.

Lexi Vegoda, Lia Howard and Gianna Paul will return for another campaign with the team, while Gianna Paul will join the soccer team.

All four players hail from Long Island.

“We’ve got the three big returning players,” Rough Riders women’s head coach Matt Lannon said. “They were massive last year. We’ve got a lot back from last year and we’re adding to it, with the likes of Gianna Paul. She will add to the attacking part of it.

“We’re raising our standards every year. Last year was a great season, disappointed the way it ended.”

The Rough Riders reached the playoffs with a 10-1-1 regular season record but were eliminated in the opening round. 

Here is a quick look at all four players:

Lexi Vegoda

Growing up in Plainview, N.Y., Vegoda could be one of the most versatile players on the squad because she can play several positions on backline or in the midfield. 

“She has technical quality and tactical quality,” Lannon said. “She’s a great all-around player to have. She’s going to be a big asset again this season, whether it be it be left back center back or center mid. She’s versatile, committed and a great player to have around the squad.”

In another outstanding season for Binghamton University, Vegoda was named to the America East first team for the second successive year in 2023. Starting 13 of 16 matches, she averaged 82 minutes a game.

Vegoda excelled on both sides of the ball, helping the Bearcats to six shutouts, while scoring four goals (all on penalty kicks) and adding four assists. 

She was a five-year starter at Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK High School, while being named to the Class A all-state first team and All-Long Island as a senior.

Lia Howard

After an outstanding season filling the net with 12 goals for the Rough Riders, Howard returned to the University of Illinois. The Massapequa, N.Y. native led the team with five goals, four assists and 14 points in 17 matches.

“She links up well,” Lannon said of the forward. “Lia understands the game and really respects everything we do. She had a great season. She took her Rough Rider form to Illinois. I’m sure she’ll hit the ground running with us again.”

Howard, who will be a junior this fall, helped Massapequa H.S. to a pair of Nassau County championships and LI championships. Howard also was honored as the 2021-22 Gatorade New York girls’ soccer player of the year.

Bella Sember

Sember, a native of Centerport, N.Y., contributed three goals and one assist as a sophomore forward-midfielder for the University of North Carolina last year. Two of her three goals were scored in the NCAA Division I tournament, including the game-winner at Texas Tech to send the Tar Heels to the quarterfinals.

“Bella has been ever-present for probably one of the best teams in the country,” Lannon said. “Technically, tactically, she is so good. She was top level at UNC.

“Even if she’s playing in a scrimmage in practice, she’s ruthless. She has just absolute mentality quality. She’s exactly what we want and what we need and what we’re expecting going forward.”

A graduate of Harborfields High School, Sember also played for the New York City FC youth program and several U.S. youth national teams, including the Under-14, U-15 and U-17 squads.

Gianna Paul

Paul, who lives in Huntington Station, N.Y., is coming off two impressive seasons as a forward at the University of Alabama. She collected eight goals and five assists in 27 appearances in her freshman season in 2022, and added a team-high eight goals, and one assist in 21 contests last fall.

“She plays striker, plays off the striker,” Lannon said. “She’s fast. She’s a top draw player. She’s quality.”

After winning Southeast Conference freshman of the year honors and being named to the conference’s second team in 2022, Paul was selected to the All-SEC first team last year.

A graduate of Walt Whitman High School, Paul was named Suffolk County Large School offensive player of the year while earning All-Long Island honors. She also was named to the All-Suffolk County team twice.

The Rough Riders kick off their USL W League season against the Westchester Flames at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y. on Sunday, May 19 at 3 p.m. The men’s team will host New Jersey Copa FC at 6 p.m. in a USL League Two encounter.


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