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First State FC: The new team in town

Photo courtesy First State FC

This piece has been edited after publication.

It’s late Saturday afternoon as I head south down I-95 from Center City. I wistfully spot the Commodore Barry Bridge in my rearview mirror and know I’m not going to a Union game, but ten minutes later I’ve crossed into Delaware, pulling off of I-95 and headed towards Abessinnio Stadium. I’m here to see Delaware’s First State FC Midnight Riders play Motown FC – based, not in Detroit, but in Morristown, NJ.

First State FC is a member of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), the highest level amateur league in the country with over 90 teams competing nationwide. It provides, among other things, a spot for college players to hone their skills and perhaps get some added exposure. The inaugural season for the Midnight Riders — a nod to Delawarean Caesar Rodney’s frantic ride to vote for the Declaration of Independence in 1776 — was set to be last year, but, like so many other things, the pandemic shut the league down — so 2021 it is.  

It’s a short walk from the (free) parking lot to the stadium and I find a spot in the bleachers right at midfield. Kickoff is promptly at 6:00 p.m. and the 250 or so fans immediately offer their encouragement. The first eight minutes are fast-paced and up and down the field but no dangerous attacks until the ninth minute when First State’s Yushi Nagao, a Florida International University player from Japan, uses his stand-out pace on a break up the right channel. His shot is cleanly stopped by the Motown goalkeeper.

Just seven minutes later, off a Motown corner, First State is caught ball watching as the strike goes beyond the far post and Johannes Pieles one-times a low shot into the near post giving Motown a 1-0 lead.

First State’s owner and general manager David Holloway felt a soccer void in Delaware. So, working with the NPSL, he founded First State, which became the highest level of men’s soccer competition in the state.  He also wants the team to be a staple of the community, provide visibility to the sport, and supply families with a cheap but fun night out — which it does, as ticket prices max out at just 10 dollars.

In the 25th minute, forward Hakeem Williams, a Wilmington University player from Jamaica, steals the ball from the Motown defender, dribbles to goal and muscles the ball past the goalie for the equalizer. Williams would put in an aggressive shift and earn MOTM.

As the half winds down things get a bit testy, as a hard challenge by Motown is immediately followed by a (weak) second yellow shown to First State forward Ben Assane. First State goes into the locker room with a 1-1 tie, but with the knowledge that they will have to play the remainder of the game down a player.

Most of the players are from Division I colleges and many are international, including several who have played on their respective national teams. But in a nod towards the community, First State also holds open tryouts and approximately 25% of the roster come via walk-ons. Head coach Chibsah Faisal, who is also an assistant coach at the University of Delaware, shares the GM’s vision of a free-flowing, creative style of play – think classic Arsenal. 

Down a man, most of the play is in the First State defensive third, though the first good chance of the half comes from First State midfielder Shawn Genus. The Motown goalkeeper uses outstretched fingertips to deflect the headed ball over the goal. Hakeem Williams has the next good opportunity but puts the ball over the net. 

Motown turns the tides and has the next several chances, but the First State goalkeeper Gianluca Cersosimo, an Argentinian from Georgian Court University, makes high quality saves to keep the game tied.

It looks like First State will work the draw but in the 89th minute a blocked shot rebounds out 15 yards in front of the net and Johannes Pieles emphatically powers a drive into the near corner of the net, earning himself a brace and ultimately the game winner in the 1-2 final.

First State’s final game of their inaugural season is on their home turf Saturday, July 3 at 6:00 p.m.  It is definitely worth the ride down to see some quality, high energy soccer.

2 Comments

  1. Do you consider a 4th tier mens program higher than a 2nd tier women’s program because Coastal Atlantic FC plays in the WPSL, the women’s equivalent of the NPSL so your assertion it’s the highest club in Delaware is wrong. It might be the highest men’s club in Delaware but CAFC was there first.

    • Phil — that’s a totally fair point, and a definite oversight on our part. We’ve updated the piece to clarify that it’s the highest club in men’s soccer. Thanks.

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