The first professional soccer team from New York City to kick off their 2021 season came away with a disappointing loss.

While it might be easy to think it was either Major League Soccer team, with New York City FC and the Red Bulls both losing in their season openers last weekend, that is not the case.

Instead, last Friday, on a humid Tennessee night in front of 2,000+ fans, New Amsterdam FC began its spring season in the National Independent Soccer Association, the third division of pro soccer.

Just over a week, later the team returns home after losses against Chattanooga FC, the Los Angeles Force, and Stumptown AC of Matthews, North Carolina, over that span. Former New York Cosmos regular and new NAFC captain Bljedi Bardic scored the only goals for his team, with both coming against Los Angeles.

NAFC, along with the other active eight NISA members, competed in the league’s Legend’s Cup tournament down in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to start the 2021 Spring Season. Unlike other tournaments that teams usually take part in before the regular season, the Legend’s Cup had stakes for the participants as the winner automatically qualified for the Spring playoffs later this year. For New Amsterdam winning the whole thing was going to be a tall task, especially for a team that went winless the entire Fall Season.

Head coach Maximilian Mansfield and his staff had to prepare a team that allowed three goals in nearly every game it played last season for this competition. New players like Owen Azrak, who’d previously spent time in Europe and with NYC’s Lansdowne Yonkers FC, and veteran Michael Kafari were brought in to help strengthen the backline. One of NAFC’s biggest issues was constant misplacement during defensive plays, leading to a lot of open space and making it feel like the defenders were playing more like attacking midfielders. Bringing in someone like Kafari, who helped Detroit City FC win the 2020 Fall title, is one way to tighten up those plays and apply pressure to opposing attackers, something the young team demonstrated during the tournament.

The opening loss to hosts Chattanooga, 3-0, might scream that NAFC didn’t do enough in the offseason. But looking past that scoreline reveals a team whose pieces came together but lacked coordination in the final third. New Amsterdam had just as many shots as CFC and pushed the home team into an aggressive style, allowing them to pick up five foul set-pieces and three corner kicks. 

The first goal did come off a defensive miscue just before halftime, a ball that should have been cleared instead landed at a waiting CFC player’s feet, and over time the deeper Chattanooga roster took over, but New Amsterdam stuck around for far longer than it had any right to. The only reason the game finished with the score it did was that Chattanooga scored a 90th-minute goal off a breakaway with NAFC fully pushing to attack, a soccer equivalent of an empty-net goal in hockey.

Bljedi Bardic celebrates goal for New Amsterdam FC
Photo: Jon DeBoer

That loss was a learning experience for the team, as were the other two tournament games, according to Mansfield.

The roster depth may have increased, but the chemistry still needs ironing out for the group, many of which have connections to the NYC area.

. Others

The next two games were much closer and demonstrated the New York side’s offensive changes. Amsterdam struggled to finish any attacks during 2020, only scoring once during the regular season before finding some form of a groove in the fall championship playoffs. Instead, during the offseason, NAFC essentially reworked the entire offense from top to bottom. English forward Michael Bello, who scored three goals in the fall postseason, didn’t return for the spring, while Daniel Vicente, who captained the team in the fall, played zero minutes in Chattanooga. Instead, the new front line three of Bardic, Shavon John-Brown, and Mayele Malango put a lot of pressure on both LA and Stumptown.

The team’s second goal happened because of this newfound consistent pressure. Pressing on the Los Angeles’ backline and a sloppy kick from goalkeeper Hugo Gomez allowed Bardic to catch up to a wild back pass, fighting back a defender and punching in the go-ahead goal less than 10 minutes into the second half.

Despite outshooting the Force in the second game, Amsterdam still needed to focus in the final third with too many wild shots peppering the back walls of Finley Stadium and too many wasted set-piece chances.

Two unanswered goals in the final 30 minutes sunk the ship for a loss, 3-2.

“We did well,” said Malango, who played with New England Revolution II last season in USL League One. “We just need to keep on going and just work together. Force our own in the next game.

“Be more organized, be more tough, and get the result.”

As Mansfield told me last month, he and his group believe the results will come with time. If the group can finish games with a consistent defense, there’s hope the team can win its first-ever game this Spring.

New Amsterdam opens its regular season next Saturday on the road against Michigan Stars FC. The team will return home the next week, Friday, May 7, and host Legends’ Cup finalists Detroit City FC at Hudson Sports Complex in Warwick, New York.

Fans will be able to watch games on beIN SPORTS and beIN SPORTS XTRA (a free, 24/7 live sports channel).
Some games will also be streamed for free on MyCujoo.

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