Cedar Stars FC National Professional Soccer League Faller Field

MIDDLETOWN — There was a minute left in stoppage time and local club Cedar Stars FC advanced for a potential tiebreaker.

A high-pitched chant of “CSA!” THAT’S IT ! THAT’S IT! ” passed dozens of kids in the stands at Faller Field, all dressed in their green game jerseys and supporting the Cedar Stars Academy veterans who played before them.

As the official time ticked down on the referee’s watch, Christian Henry served a free kick from the left sideline that flew midway into the penalty area. Gunnar Studenhofft – with Cedar Stars’ only goal in the 25th minute – had his back to goal when he managed to collect a piece of the ball before crashing to the grass.

Ikiel Collins-Brown – something of a crowd favorite, a Monroe-Woodbury High School graduate playing on the familiar turf – found himself a small, unguarded space on the left wing. The ball bounced his way and with a powerful swing he unleashed a right-footed shot that hovered harmlessly above the goal. A collective groan arose from several hundred fans who weathered two hours of light rain and hoped for a perfect end to a historic night.

“The ball went up and I said, ‘I have to get there,'” Collins-Brown said. I had a bit more time to do something with the ball… but I love it.

Men’s soccer ::Kingston Stockade ready to fight for the title

The 1-1 draw between the Cedar Stars and defending conference champions Hartford City FC will surely end as a footnote on the significance of the occasion: men’s semi-professional soccer has his Middletown debut.

Cedar Stars player and Burke Catholic graduate Christopher Shust (right) battles for the ball with a Hartford City FC player during Saturday's game at Faller Field.

“This is my home,” said midfielder Sam LaTorre, who played high school at Warwick and collegiate at Marist. “I love this.”

Having a home, for players like LaTorre, Collins-Brown and many Cedar Stars roster athletes, is why this expansion program was created. Jim Lagarde coached hundreds of players from the wealthy Hudson Valley at his football academy in Orange County. He realized that so many people went home after playing ball in college and had no way to keep the beautiful game alive.

“They had no place to come back to,” Lagarde said.

Lagarde therefore followed the example of Kingston Stockade FC, which debuted in 2016, and created a franchise in the National Professional Soccer League, which is part of the American professional leagues on several levels. Cedar Stars FC opened play with a win at Syracuse a week ago and Saturday was the first of five home meetings at Faller Field, more widely known as the home of the Men’s High School State Championships. And on July 1, Cedar Stars will host Kingston Stockade.

Cedar Stars FC head coach and club founder James Legarde talks on the sidelines during Saturday's home debut with Hartford City FC.

Most of the 26 players on the Cedar Stars roster had played for schools in the Hudson Valley. There was plenty of familiarity for fans, who shouted their support for players they had seen play for Monroe-Woodbury, Warwick, Middletown and Burke Catholic, as well as college teams Marist, SUNY Ulster and Mount Saint Mary.

The youngsters of the CSA proudly took to the midfield to accompany the players during the pre-match ceremonies and the national anthem. A dozen of them patrolled the sidelines, ball in hand (or on foot), eager to replace an errant boot. Others watched the action intently or bounced carelessly through the metal racks.

“It’s pretty crazy,” LaTorre said, admiring the kids’ enthusiasm, “because I was one of them. Some of them look up to us as role models and we want to show them what we can do and they might be like us.”

For an opening night, the experience should receive a passing grade, but there’s room for improvement. Some fan-friendly sound effects would be a nice addition, and the mix of booming halftime music and muted video scoreboard announcements needs to strike an audio balance. Perhaps a showcase of youngsters’ half-time skills would entertain the fans.

Hours before kick-off, Lagarde – wearing his promoter cap – said he expected more than 2,000 fans, but rain and a general lack of awareness of the team’s very existence conspired to keep the audience at several hundred. Stockade regularly draws crowds of up to 1,000 to Dietz Stadium, but this club is six years ahead of its new rival. It shouldn’t be long before a fan club emerges and the familiar chants of the European professional game reappear. Ole, ole, ole, ole, ole!

“I feel like something is brewing here,” Collins-Brown said.

“I think we’re going to surprise people,” Lagarde said.

At the end of the match, the families greeted the players and a number of sleeping young fans were taken away by the parents at nine o’clock. On the sidelines, Collins-Brown looked surprised when a friend came over to greet him with a big hug.

“That’s where I grew up,” Collins-Brown said. “This is where I live. This is everything to me.”

This is home, the best place to be.

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Twitter: @KenMcMillanTHR

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