QUEENS, N.Y. — The N.Y. Pancyprian Freedoms start what they hope is a long run in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Sunday when they visit Cosmopolitan Soccer League rival Cedar Stars in a third-round qualifying match in Mahwah, N.J. Sunday at noon.
The winner of the match at Stadium Field at the Ramapo College of New Jersey in Mahwah, N.J. will reach the third round, the loser will focus on playing in the league and local cup competitions.
It is a big game for both sides, particularly for the Pancyprian Freedoms, who helped define Open Cup success by securing three national titles over a four-year span in the 1980s.
The Pancyprian Freedoms won the cup in 1980, 1982 and 1983.
“When you look at MLS and who’s competing in there and what the teams have done, the likes of Beckham being here and Zlatan, we’re nowhere near to them, but we hold the record for the most wins in the U.S. Open Cup,” technical director Panicos Onisforou said. “That just speaks for itself. It’s an amateur team from New York from Astoria that has the record. So, it’s a huge, huge. It’s something that we couldn’t wish for at any point. we’re very proud as a club.”
While it is much more difficult to win the trophy in the 21st century due to the advent of professional soccer and Major League Soccer in this country, the Pancyprians still have some lofty goals. They want to go as far as they can in the competition.
“It’s something a lot of amateur teams can think, ‘Why do you enter?’ You’ll never go to the final.’ Which is fine,” Onisforou said. “But it’s like a tradition for us. We enter it. We just never know what’s going to happen. It’s something that Mr. [Philip] Christopher [team president] does like. He likes this competition.
“He does want to win, yes. He wants us to make the badge proud because there is a lot of history coming from our coach, our community. We came over from a war, which gave him an idea to start to help the refugees from that war. It just stemmed into something being a national thing, winning national cups in the eighties. Again, in the 2000s, the amateur nationals. There’s been a standard set there and it’s high.”
Success is relative. Teams don’t have to win a championship to know that they achieved something special.
“It’s almost like a fairy tale,” Onisforou said. “For us winning the cup would be playing a USL or MLS team, playing in a professional stadium. Even if it’s at Belson or playing against NYCFC, that is more than winning. That’s a dream. That would mean more than winning the actual trophy. Just for people to hear the name Pancyprians is our main goal here more than anything.”
Onisforou’s thoughts were echoed by team captain and left back Andreas Chronis.
“I would love to get past the amateur clubs and just we just want to play well against the better teams,” he said. “We want to show the best self that we have. Win or lose, when we get to those stages, I think if we play soccer, if we show these teams, these bigger clubs, these professional clubs, there are, maybe not me, there are clubs out there with some young talent that can play ball, for sure.”
As two of the leading CSL clubs, the Pancyprian Freedoms know Cedar Stars very well. They bested their foes to capture the CSL crown earlier this year. So, it is logical to expect another close affair.
“We always go off pound for pound with them,” Onisforou said. “They’re one of the top teams. They’re always there. they have someone who backs them very well and very ambitious. His ambition resonates through the team just like ours. We have our president, Mr. [Philip] Christopher, has his standards he likes, has his ambitions for what he wants for the club. It’s a battle of two heavyweights to say the least.”
The first-place Cedar Stars (4-0-0) have gotten off to a fast start this season, outscoring their opponents, 25-5. They are coming off a 10-1 victory over KidSuper Samba AC last Sunday.
The Pancyprian Freedoms and Cedar Stars will meet in the league at Belson Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 3 at 7 p.m.
Chronis knows Cedar Stars well. In fact, he played for them three years ago, so he also expected a tussle and half, knowing his former teammates’ skill and desire.
“Every time we play against them it’s an extremely competitive match,” he said. “They have an owner who constantly brings in new talent. The last couple of times we played them, we actually beat them, not easily, but we’ve beaten them by two or three goals. I think that now we’re the champions of the conference last year that we have to prove it. We have to prove it every time we step onto the field.”
The defending CSL champions shook off a slow start to the season (1-1-2, five points) by recording a 3-1 home win over the 10-man New York Athletic Club at Belson Stadium on Sunday night. They climbed from 10th to seventh place.
“It’s a game we knew we had to win,” said Chronis, whose 86th-minute goal snapped a 1-1 tie. “We showed a lot of character even though we didn’t play our best game. We said at halftime we needed to dig deep and win the game no matter what, and that’s what we did.”
After the Pancyprians surrendered a 10th-minute score, James Thristino tallied the hosts’ opening goal to knot things up at 1-1 in the 20th minute before Adam Himeno added an insurance score in the 90th minute.
The victory was important for several reasons.
“We’re coming off of three really bad appearances in the league,” Chronis said. “We needed to prove to the club, to the other teams we’re playing against we are the championship that was here last year. Coming off a bad two or three games, we really needed to get this win, to get our confidence to show everybody that we were the team that won the championship last year. We can’t show up and not win games.”
If the Pancyprian Freedoms win on Sunday, they will advance to the third round the weekend of Nov. 23-24.