By Jay Mwamba
After flirting with relegation last fall, New York Greek Americans completed a remarkable spring comeback on Thursday night to upset titlists Lansdowne Bhoys 1-0 and reach next Friday’s CSL championship game.
Kiwi Colin Murphy scored before half time at Tibbetts Brook Park to script an all-Hellenic final against archrivals Pancyprian Freedoms at St. John’s University [8 p.m.].
Pancyprian had outlasted another Irish side, Shamrocks, 12-11 in a marathon penalty shoot-out at St. Michael’s Playground the previous night to earn a shot at an eighth CSL title.
Eight-time league champions and four-time U.S. Open Cup winners, Greek Americans were in the drop zone with a meager eight points from nine matches at the winter break. They regrouped during the hiatus and won seven of their remaining eight regular season fixtures – dropping points only away to Pancyprian in a 1-1 draw on May 21.
That tie with Pancyprian proved vital in clinching a playoff spot as fourth place finishers after Cedar Stars Academy crashed 4-0 to the Shamrocks.
“We worked hard, so I’m excited to be in the final. It will be a great final,” said Richard Nuttall, NYGA’s English technical advisor.
For Lansdowne, the defeat ended their quest of becoming the first club since New York Hungaria 55 years ago to win four consecutive CSL titles. They were division champions this season – for the sixth straight year.
“Tough loss for the Bhoys against a well-organized Greek American side,” conceded Lansdowne president William McGrory.
Pancyprian’s playoff victory over Shamrocks was nothing short of heroic either. Down 2-0 after six minutes, they came back to lead 3-2 despite losing their only goalie. The Rocks then equalized forcing the marathon shoot-out.
Andy O’Connell [4th] and Sean Reilly [6th] scored early for the home side.
The ever dangerous Chris Megaloudis [35th] got one back and after losing their shot stopper to a horrific injury on the hour, midfielder John Koutsounadis went between the sticks for the Greek-Cypriots.
“Adam Himeno tied the game in the 65th minute and then Diogo Pereira put us ahead with a cracker from 35 yards in the 73rd,” said Pancyprian GM George Halkidis.
But Kwesi Mills-Odoi threw the Irishmen — who finished second, ahead of Pancyprian — a lifeline nine minutes from time. It ended 3-3.
Before the ensuing shoot-out, Pancyprian changed goalies, handing the gloves to defender James Riley. It was a masterstroke as Riley saved two shots in addition to converting his attempt.
On target for the victors were Stefan Dimitrov, Megaloudis, Pereira, Panagiotis Halkidis, James Riley, Luis Esteves, John Koutsounadis, Franki Spanos, Panayiotis Onisiforou, Jeff Matteo, Dimitrov again and Megaloudis again.
In what’s turning into a successful campaign for the Greeks, their reserves saw off CD Iberia 5-2 at the Metropolitan Oval to advance to the John Kilby Cup final against NYAC next Sunday.
Dimitri Antonopoulos, Mario Gagliano and AJ Codispoti were among the scorers.
NYAC beat Stal Mielec 5-4 on penalties in their Kilby semi-final tie on Randalls Island after a 1-1 tie.
Kevin Strunk headed in NYAC’s leveler from a first half corner. NYAC’s stand-in goalie Ale Sucre made an outstanding save to seal it.