The collegians on the Richmond Strikers’ National Premier Soccer League roster have been grappling for the past week or so with final exams. Today they’ll take a test of a different sort.
The Strikers will play host to Aromas Café of Charlottesville in the first U.S. Open Cup match in program history. The opportunity is tantalizing, said Strikers coach Eric Dutt. The timing is anything but.
Preparation “has been extremely difficult” Dutt said. “We depend a lot on college players. Now we’re trying to get a team together for training while a lot of our guys are still trying to manage their final exam schedules. It’s been a challenge, to say the least.”
Dutt’s team is permitted six preseason training sessions before the NPSL season is scheduled to begin on Saturday in Williamsburg. He said his goal heading into today’s 5 p.m. contest at Striker Park was to train on at least three occasions “with a majority of our team.” He said there’s no avoiding the unhappy reality created by final exams: “Some of our guys simply won’t be available.”
The first round of the 103-year-old U.S. Open Cup tournament is reserved for amateur teams. NPSL clubs rely primarily upon active collegians and former professionals. The Strikers’ roster is dotted with familiar names: Will and Jack Bates (Thomas Dale and U.Va.), Drew Romig (St. Christopher’s and North Carolina) and Myles Brown (St. Christopher’s and Notre Dame).
Aromas Café is an amateur adult team. Its roster, ethnically diverse, includes several retired professionals.
Thorny circumstances notwithstanding, Dutt described today’s circumstances as “a great opportunity.”
Said Dutt, a former University of Richmond and Richmond Kickers player: “We’ll do everything we can to make the most of it. It’s a wonderful platform for exposure and competition and the chance to play meaningful games.”
His objective, he said, is two-fold.
“Of course we want to win. That’s always our primary goal,” he said. “But we also want to develop our players and our style and our system” with an eye toward the fast-approaching NPSL season. Essentially, he said, “we want it to be a learning experience.”
A formidable learning experience awaits. The winner will face the Richmond Kickers, a professional USL team, in next Wednesday’s second-round match in City Stadium.
One of the most appealing aspects of Open Cup participation, Dutt said, is the opportunity for amateurs to play professionals in professional environments.
“I have no doubt that a lot of our guys dream about being there, at that level, at some point in their careers,” he said. “Is (a potential match with the Kickers) an incentive? Yes, definitely. But first things first. Our goal right now is to win our first game. If we do that, then we’ll focus on what lies ahead.”
The Strikers (formerly Chesterfield United) qualified for Open Cup competition by last year finishing second (5-2-3) in NPSL’s Mid-Atlantic Conference.