One Point. That’s all that separates Manhattan Kickers and Stal Mielec NY in the Division 2 South standings. Heading into Sunday afternoon the Kickers currently sit in the final playoff spot with no games left to play while Stal can reach the postseason for the first time since being relegated four years ago with a win over FC Japan.
Stal Mielec has been in the second place spot behind fellow Polish heritage side Polonia Gwardia for nearly all of the spring season. The team has finished in third place three straight years in D2 since being relegated from the top tier after the 2014-15 season. Besides last season, the two previous years saw the club miss out on the postseason by a combined total of three points. Now the team has a chance to finally compete in a playoff and return to Division 1.
On the other side is the Kickers.who have yoyo-ed between the two divisions in CSL for the past few years. Since the 2013-14 season, the team has been promoted and relegated from the top division three times (twice relegated and once promoted). The most recent stint didn’t even last for a second season as the club was sent back to Division 2 this year after being promoted in the 2017 playoffs. The team started the spring in the middle of a admittedly stacked south region, with Polonia, Stal, and Williamsburg International FC all ahead of them and FC Ulqini right behind in terms of points. Since then though, six wins through seven games - with the only lose coming against PGNY - has allowed the team to move up a full two spots heading into Week 18.
The record has been achieved thanks to one of the best offenses the South has (only tied with Williamsburg for the most goals at 47). Player coach Bryan Baracaldo has been a key leader both on the sideline and on the pitch scoring seven times since Week 11 and assisting on goals in both Week 15 and 16. In total the group has scored 13 goals since the season restarted in March (not including the forfeit win against Panatha USA).
Stal isn’t lacking on offensive power either scoring 42 through 15 games - which remember, is one less than Manhattan. Since March the group has had nine different players score for the team meaning between the reserve squad and first team the talent has made every player a threat, not just one single super star. A standout, four goal game by Carlos Moreira in Week 13 against Panatha is followed up by Carl Turner scoring three versus FC Ulqini.
What the team has in offensive diversity may be countered by its’ recent struggles on defense. While 28 goals through 15 games isn’t horrific (fourth best in the South and only six worse than the Kickers) the issue lies that a fair chunk of those goals have come in the last three games. FC Ulqini, Williamsburg, and Beyond FC all combined to score eight across Stal’s last few games while prior to this it’s easy to forget the squad lost the Spring opener to a lower table NY Ukrainians team, 5-0.
Let’s not forget the team they are playing as well since FC Japan opened the second half of the season with a surprise win over Williamsburg in Week 11, 2-1, and earned a respectable 4-2 record since then. Over the past two weeks, assistant general manager and forward Ken Mochizuki has scored six goals for his team which is the most by any player on the squad this spring.
Sunday’s game at Buskwick Inlet Park will hold three storylines heading in; Will the team whose had multiple chances at the top get one more, will the squad that’s been just on the outside looking in on the postseason finally get its’ chance for a D1 return, and will the surging spring squad with no chance of playoffs pull one final shocker?