USL League 2 Season Recap

Written by Michael Lewis

The Long Island Rough Riders men completed one of their most memorable seasons of their 29-year history earlier this month and head coach Tom Bowen could not have been prouder of his team.

The squad reached the USL League Two championship game, dropping a 2-1 decision to the host Ventura County Fusion in Ventura, Calif. on Aug. 6.

Just winning one playoff match on the road is difficult enough, but the Rough Riders managed to register four away postseason victories in a memorable season.

“After winning the division last year, we were hoping to win the Metropolitan Division again and qualify for playoffs,” Bowen said. “Losing in the first round of playoffs we wanted to win a playoff game, at least one playoff game and then kind of see where it went from there.

“Obviously, it went some way further than that. We’re super, super proud of what we achieved. We reached national finals. There are 114 teams in the league. There’s always going to be one at the end of day going home. It was a fantastic achievement.”

Especially when you figure that Long Island needed to win four games on the road to reach the final. That totaled 6,820 round-trip miles to Newport News, Va., Knoxville, Tenn. and Ventura, Calif.

The Rough Riders finished with a 16-2-2 record, the most wins since the team dropped down to amateur status in 2006.

There were so many memories from which to choose. The playoff run topped them all.

“Just the character with a group,” Bowen said. “They were just so gritty. We always found a way to win. They were resilient. They had so much character coming back from being down so many times.”

“They came through so much adversity. Just a great, great group. One of the best groups I’ve ever been around in soccer.”

And that’s saying a lot for someone who has coached at LUI Post, Seton Hall University, Adelphi University and his most recent job, at Iona College.

Bowen remembered the team’s first training session in the spring and there was an inkling that this team could do some good things, especially with additions to last year’s successful squad.

“The guys who are returning last year were like, ‘Wow! We look so much deeper than last year we’ve got incredible level players throughout,’ Bowen said.

That made it more of challenge for the Riders coach, trying to find playing time for everyone in this talented bunch.

“I knew we had good soccer players,” Bowen said. “The most surprising thing was way that they came together. We had players from all over the world, different college programs and different backgrounds. It was super, super great.”

Just getting from the east coast to the west coast was a challenge for the team for the title game as the Riders experienced similar severe travel challenges many other travelers have faced this summer. Their journey turned into an endurance contest and challenge to find enough open seats on other flights after the team’s 7 a.m. takeoff was cancelled on Friday, Aug. 5.

It took the team 26 hours to reach its destination.

“The plan was to leave early Friday at 7 a.m.,” Bowen said. “We would have gotten to LA with enough time to get the hotel and relax a little bit and then go and go practicing the game field and then go the national championship banquet arranged for the Friday evening, which would have been a nice experience. All that was kind of taken away from the boys.”

Many of the players were rerouted to San Diego. After arriving at 1 a.m. Saturday morning, they needed a three-hour car ride to the Los Angeles area to reach the team hotel.

Bowen admitted the Rough Riders did not have their batteries recharged after the marathon trip.

“The most disappointing thing is I don’t think we were given the opportunity to give them our best game,” he said. “Despite everything the game even could have gone either way. We had chances to win the game, despite everything going on.

“Had we had pulled it off it would have been the biggest miracle in America. I wish we could have that game again and obviously without the disruption.”

Ventura County snapped a 1-1 deadlock in the 84th minute.

“Obviously, we played against a very, very good team and I don’t want to make it sound like we’re making excuses,” Bowen said. “The boys were exhausted and also I think we started the game slowly we looked sluggish.”

With the League Two season finished, many players have returned to their respective college teams for preseason training.

That included Bowen, who is an assistant coach at Iona College. He didn’t have much time to breath. After the team’s return flight landed at JFK, Bowen left the airport at 10:30 p.m. on Sunday night. He had to report to Iona at 6:30 a.m. Monday morning.

“I didn’t really have any time off,” he said. “I would have liked to have got almost in my family [in Wales] during the summer. I wouldn’t change anything. It was such a great season and great experience. I can’t complain. I coach soccer for a living and there’s many worse things that I could be doing.”

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