Multiple Cedar Star Academy Players & Alumni Prepare for the U.S. Open Cup First Round

By Michael Battista

Multiple Cedar Star Academy Players & Alumni Prepare for the U.S. Open Cup First Round

While Cosmopolitan Soccer League play continues this week with Round 15, Cedar Star Academy is heading into the weekend with plenty more on its plate. The team will be playing in the Quarterfinals of the 2019 Region I Amateur Cup Championship against Mosteiros FM (Mass) at Ramapo College this Sunday where the team hopes to advances further for a chance to play in the national section of the tournament

Even more still, some members of the team are preparing for the First Round of the 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup between May 7-8. While no CSL team made the final tournament, with Lansdowne Yonkers FC falling in the first qualifying round and NY Pancyprian Freedoms losing in the third round, some members of Cedar’s roster have spots on teams higher in the U.S. soccer pyramid that are taking part. Others started with CSA but left the team after being signed by other clubs.

Probably one of the best known teams that’s part of this group is the New York Cosmos, who are currently playing in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) as New York Cosmos B as the team prepares for the eventual NPSL professional league to start next year. In all, six players for the Cosmos either were loaned onto the Stars in the fall season or were signed by the former North American Soccer League (NASL) powerhouse later.

Cosmos’ striker Bljedi Bardic, who lead Cosmos B in goals during its 2018 NPSL campaign, spent fall 2018 with CSA on loan and helped lead the team with 16 goals through nine games. The native of Montenegro previously played for the Stars in the 2014-15 season. The Cosmos team captain and Clifton, NJ native Danny Szetella also spent his fall with the Stars and helped solidify the offensive attack into one of the best in D1 during the early season months.

Armando Guarnera recently resigned with the Cosmos after spending some time with Cedar in 2018 as well. He has been with New York’s green team since 2017 and helps add depth and versatility to any team that he is on. 

Rounding out the Cosmos - Stars crossover is Gieseppe Barone and Emanuel Sembrano - both of which will be on the Cosmos roster at the time of its Open Cup game against Black Rock FC (USL League Two) on May 8.

Cedar doesn’t play favorites though and is also sharing players with the team that eliminated the Cosmos from the NPSL playoffs last season.

FC Motown of Morristown, NJ, which is part owned by Cedar Stars' president and owner Oliver Papraniku, reached the NPSL national championship last season behind a strong offense aided by three Cedar Star teammates: Matt Nigro, Jean Voltare, and Chris Katona. Nigro, who won the Golden Ball as the NPSL’s MVP for his performance last year, has been playing a major role as a setup man for the Stars - assisting on five goals which ties him for sixth most in the league this year. Voltare on the other hand has been a key member on the opposite side of the field, working with the backline to help keep Cedar Star with the second lowest goals scored total in Division 1 (20).

For Katona, who led the CSL in goal-scoring last season (26 goals) and currently leads this year in both goals (18) and assists (11),  he explained players always need to adapt to different roles on each team they play on.

“Cedar Stars and FC Motown players interchange between the Garden State Soccer League (NJ) and CSL (NY) and mostly all play together in NPSL,” Katona said in an email interview. “With Cedar Stars I’m not only just the captain playing, but I’m also an assistant coach. This year I steadily have been playing forward, but last year I bounced around all over the field playing in the midfield, defense, and even goalie in the CSL Final. With FC Motown I usually play Forward or Midfield depending on the game.”

Even with the different roles testing him each game, Katona heads into every contest with the same way.

“My mindset for both teams remains the same, with preparation for my body and mind for each game and doing whatever it takes to being on the winning side,” he said.

Two more names that may be familiar to New York City soccer fans are R.J. Allen and Jimmy Mulligan, two players with professional experience in the big apple. Mulligan, a former New York Cosmos player and current Cedar Star midfielder, also splits time on Motown’s roster and helped back-up that already mentioned offensive line. 

Allen is a new face for the Morristown side but previously played for Major League Soccer teams Orlando City S.C. and New York City F.C.

Katona knows that players such as this, and former teammate Dilly Duka who joined Motown last season, will also be a valuable but highly watched addition.

“I think with any professional experience prior to NPSL (players) names are (going) to be watched for,” Katona said. “Teams will have to do their scouting report.”

Maxi Garcia and Hani Nasr round out the Cedar connections over in Morristown. FC Motown will be taking on The New York Red Bulls Under-23 team (USL-Championship) on Tuesday, May 7 at the RBNY Training Facility in East Hanover, NJ.

Last but not least is Brenton Griffiths who was recently signed by Miami FC of the NPSL as the team looks to have a second Open Cup run similar to 2017 - where it reached the quarterfinals by beating MLS sides Orlando City and Atlanta United. The team won the NPSL National Championshop over Motown last season with one of the best offenses in the league that bolstered by a slew of professional players that stuck with the team after it went on hiatus from the NASL. Griffiths is coming off of two successful seasons with Reno 1868 in USL Championship where the team made the playoffs both times. Miami will be taking on Florida Soccer Soldiers, a small state league team, on Wednesday, May 8.

For players like Katona, Nigro, Nasr, and the rest that continue to split time with CSL teams, the challenges mount up late in the season especially as the Open Cup draws near. Schedules get tight, players may be drawn away right before the playoffs or late stage state cup games and new plans might need to be drawn up.

“Balance is definitely the word,” Katona explained. “Being the assistant coach receiving the schedule prior to the season, I always skip to the end to see how it’s scheduled. The reason being, I’m always hopeful that it doesn’t coincide with each other. Unfortunately, it always overlaps with 2-3 weeks down the end of CSL and beginning of NPSL, with the addition of cup games. Being injury free and keeping the legs fresh is always the goal. Especially playing 1-2 meaningful games a week. 

“We set the bar high last year,” he continued. “We got to the second round in the Open Cup having a 1-0 lead until late in the game. In both the CSL and NPSL we came up short in both (league) finals. (We’re looking) forward to the challenge again this year!”

All U.S. Open Cup games will be available to watch on ESPN+ (ESPN's premium streaming / distribution service) starting this year with the First Round.

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