Manhattan Kickers and INSA Lyon players and coaches posing for a picture together. Picture by David Dupuy
By Ralph "Onz" Chery |@onz_11
April 23rd, 2018
France’s leading engineering university INSA Lyon’s soccer team traveled to New York earlier this month and took on Division 1 promoted side Manhattan Kickers. INSA returned home on a winning note as they blanked the Kickers 3-0 on April 11th at Pier 40 Front Courtyard.
“Our stay in New York was really great,” an excited André Kovalczuk, the team’s goalkeeper, said about visiting the Big Apple with his teammates. “New York is somehow magical in so many levels that is difficult to describe.”
He later added: “We would never imagine that we would one day play in Manhattan over the Hudson River with the World Trade Center in the background.
INSA Lyon goalkeeper André Kovalczuk. Picture by David Dupuy
INSA Lyon’s soccer team stayed in the U.S alongside the university’s dance team, the badminton team and the squash team from April 6th to the 13th in a cultural and sport exchange project.
The school’s original plan was to play against fellow colleges but when the players contacted Columbia University and New York University before leaving France they were told college soccer wasn’t in season and were directed to the CSL.
“Columbia’s and NYU’s coaches have indicated the CSL as having great opponents,” Kovalczuk said. “Searching on the internet I found out how great and how organized were the teams and the championship. That is why we contacted [the CSL] first.”
After reaching out to the CSL, INSA Lyon got their wish of playing an American team as the university’s game against Manhattan was scheduled on March 29th, 13 days before the encounter.
The INSA Lyon players made sure to leave France with their A-game when they heard they were playing a team from the CSL’s top flight.
“When we found out that the Kickers are a first division team, we knew we would have to give our best,” Kovalczuk said. “We were also really excited to play our first friendly game against a team from another country.”
As mentioned the French school downed the Kickers 3-0. Volodia Bande scored the opener in the 25th minute, volleying Rémi Turpault’s header in the net.
INSA Lyon players celebrating Volodia Bande's goal. Picture by David Dupuy
INSA netted their second goal in the 35th minute after an exquisite passing display. Alejandro Salinas hit a swift pass to Yann Bonenfant on a counter attack. Bonenfant charged at the Kickers' defense but rolled a pass back to Loïc Henrotte, who beamed the ball in the net.
Henrotte also scored INSA Lyon’s third goal as he half volleyed Bande’s pass from a deflected cross beyond Manhattan’s keeper an hour into the game.
Loïc Henrotte netted a brace for INSA Lyon against Manhattan Kickers. Picture by David Dupuy
Kovalczuk shared that the bond his teammates were able to build during the trip is what led them to the victory.
“Being with my teammates overseas was really cool, it allowed us to get together and to know each other better than just on the field. I think that really helped us on field,” the keeper said. “We have never played so well than against the Kickers.”
Kovalczuk also noted how different it was playing an American team.
“The first notable difference was the language and the terms we use on the field. I think we had a little advantage because most of the players could not understand what we were planning and what we were saying to each other,” the 21-year-old said.
“Other aspect was the way we play as a team. I think we were more focused on passing the ball to get as close as possible to the goal. The Kickers on the other hand tried more long passes focusing on the individual abilities of the good forward players they have.”
Beside playing the Kickers, Kovalczuk said he and his teammates also “made great cultural visits and ‘business meetings’ with some companies” in New York.
The Lyon players gave gifts—bags, school, pens etc. from their school—to their opponents after the match. CSL President Michael Fitzgerald made the trip to the game and also received a gift from the INSA players.
To add to the gifts, Kovalczuk expressed how grateful the school is for the exhibition game against the Kickers.
“I, André, speaking on the name of INSA de Lyon, would like to publicly thank Manhattan Kickers for the game, CSL for receiving us and [CSL second vice-president] Ed [Romero] for organizing it.”