Syracuse men’s soccer in the semi-pros: How each player fared this summer
Sam Ogozalek | Asst. News Editor
This summer, Syracuse men’s soccer players traded their orange jerseys for unfamiliar colors, ones stretching across the United States and Canada.
Eleven Syracuse players joined semi-professional teams in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) and United Soccer League Premier Development League (PDL), both fourth tier leagues. The most popular landing spots were newly founded Syracuse FC and K-W United FC, a Canadian club.
“It was really cool honestly,” said Adnan Bakalovic, a Utica, New York native who played for Syracuse FC. “The supporters had these smoke things come up whenever we scored, every single game. They even had chants for certain players on the team.”
Fourth division semi-professional soccer is often unpaid, allowing college players to maintain their NCAA eligibility. Housing stipends are offered by many clubs. Despite being semi-professional, many teams garnered large support groups, much like those in the professional ranks.
Detroit City FC of the NPSL draws crowds upwards of 5,000 per game and Des Moines Menace of the PDL regularly gets more than 3,000. By comparison, Syracuse FC averaged about 1,250 fans in its 2,000-seat stadium, David W. Murphy Field, on the campus of Onondaga Community College, according to soccer blogger Kenn Tomasch. That ranks them well in the top quarter of the league.
Syracuse FC entered its inaugural season with high expectations, and although it resulted in just nine points through 12 games, the team gained the support of the local community and was followed closely by independent supporters group called Central Union 48.
In addition to signing Bakalovic, Syracuse FC added goalkeeper Pat Castle and midfielder Lukas Rubio. The hometown team finished 2-7-3 (W-L-D), last in the East Division of the NPSL’s Midwest Conference.
“In the beginning, you want to have someone you know on the team and it was cool having those guys,” Bakalovic added. “Then you should get comfortable with everyone else on the team but having those two guys was cool.”
Syracuse goalkeeper Hendrik Hilpert found his way to New York Athletic Club in Pelham, New York, less than 15 miles northeast of Manhattan, where he interned for Citibank.
“It was a challenge everyday to balance soccer with the internship,” Hilpert said. “This summer was a new challenge and it was a great experience because I think it was a little harder than a regular semester.”
The goalkeeper’s first of six starts came against Kingston Stockade FC, a club owned by Syracuse University alumnus and Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley.
“I think he realizes that soccer careers are fairly short for most players who make it to MLS or USL,” said NYAC head coach Erik Bagwell. “And that’s part of why he wants to keep playing soccer and get the most out of it, but also focus on his finance studies as well.”
Hugo Delhommelle, an incoming transfer from Division II Lander University, returned to Reading United for a second season after leading the club to its 2016 PDL Division Title. He was joined by Orange midfielder and new teammate Mo Adams.
Daily Orange File Photo
During their time on the team, Reading United took part in the U.S. Open Cup which provides a rare chance for lower level teams to face teams in Major League Soccer, North American Soccer League and the United Soccer League. Both players started in upset victory over the defending NASL Champions New York Cosmos in the second round, before falling the following game to the Harrisburg City Islanders.
Playing semi-pro is not only a way to stay sharp and in shape, but it serves as an opportunity to showcase skills for professional teams. John-Austin Ricks spent his time with Burlingame Dragons FC, a PDL affiliate of the San Jose Earthquakes. He ranked third on the team in minutes played.
Ricks played at the academy level for the Earthquakes and was brought back this summer for the PDL season. Head coach Joe Cannon, who made 171 appearances with the Quakes, said it used to be rare for the club to keep youth players on board for the PDL level. But having players like Ricks stick around is a “really big win.”
Cannon added he frequently asks himself when evaluating PDL players, “Are these players that can ultimately help us and join us at the professional level at some point in their careers?”
Over the course of the summer, about 10 Burlingame players trained with the first team. Cannon would not specify if Ricks was invited.
“He’s over there, thousands of miles away at Syracuse,” Cannon said, “but that’s what we like about the PDL is that we can bring in guys that we maybe don’t see as much during the college season and don’t have the ability to monitor on a daily basis.”
K-W United FC of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, signed four SU players. The club’s technical director used Kamal Miller’s ties and relationship with McIntyre to reel in Djimon Johnson, Johannes Pieles and Jan Breitenmoser. The team fell in the PDL’s Central Conference semifinal after all four Syracuse players were called back for preseason camp. Miller finished with five more starts than the next closest SU player, Johnson.
Daily Orange File Photo
Like the setup for the college season, PDL teams have a short preseason, said head coach Martin Painter. In certain instances, players will try different roles on the field, gain confidence and earn valuable minutes. For a player like incoming freshman Johnson, the hope is that his seven games played translates toward his collegiate career.
“I think for a lot of players it’s important to keep playing at a high tempo in a demanding, challenging environment so they maintain their physical sharpness and speed of play,” Painter said. “So that when they go back to school, they’re ready for that.”
Full list of participants:
Syracuse FC (NPSL)
Stats: 11 games played, 0 goals, 5 assists
Stats: 11 starts, 855 minutes, 22 goals allowed
Stats: no statistics available
Reading United (PDL)
Stats: 5 games played, 348 minutes, 3 shots
Notes: Transfer from Lander University
Stats: 9 games played, 646 minutes, 3 goals, 5 assists
Burlingame Dragons (PDL)
Stats: 10 games played, 737 minutes, 1 goal, 1 yellow card
K-W United FC (PDL)
Stats: 1 game played, 27 minutes played
Stats: 7 games played, 213 minutes
Notes: Played 90 minutes in one playoff game
Stats: 12 games played, 980 minutes, 1 assist
Stats: 5 games played, 361 minutes, 6 shots
New York Athletic Club (NPSL)
Stats: 6 starts, 451 minutes, 20 goals allowed
Published on August 23, 2017 at 12:15 pm