The N.Y. Irish Rovers defeated SUSA FC in the Ryder-Vass championship game. ( Photo)

By Michael Lewis Editor

MASSAPEQUA PARK, N.Y. – Sometimes you have to be good to be lucky.

Sometimes you have to be lucky to be good.

On Sunday night, the N.Y. Irish Rovers were very good and lucky.

The Irish Rovers used a little of each to record a 3-1 victory over SUSA FC Black in the Ryder-Vass title to win the annual summer Long Island Soccer Football League Under-23 tournament at John J. Burns Park.

Some of the luck came from an own goal and a SUSA penalty kick that caromed off the post.

Some of the skill came from some nifty moves, smart play and hard work.

Midfielder Leo Pinto was a prime example of that. He caused the own goal and scored a goal himself.

“Soccer is mostly hard work but no luck comes in in some spurts at the game so very happy with that,” he said.

No one had to remind Irish Rovers head coach Chris Arnold of that.

“We put ourselves in the positions to do so and that’s why we came out on top,” he said. “We were fortunate on all the posts, maybe the penalty miss, but that’s soccer, right? Sometimes it doesn’t roll your way. That was unfortunate for them tonight. It was like that. It’s been like that for us in the past. So, it was nice to be on the other side of it.”

For their triumph, the Irish Rovers received a trophy and a box of champagne from Anthony Roros and Keller Williams Realtors, the LISFL’s marketing sponsor.

Because no drinking was allowed in Burns Park, the team celebrated with bubbly stuff in a nearby parking lot.

Champagne or no champagne, the Irish Rovers were ecstatic.

“Oh my gosh, you don’t know what it means to me so much,” Pinto said. “We have a great group of guys. I was here last year as well. On the same field, we lost in penalties, and it’s just an amazing feeling to come back and win it.”

Added goalkeeper Ryan Foley: “It’s a pretty big deal.”

Arnold agreed.

“It was a big redemption tour for our boys,” he said. “We brought back a lot of the same guys. We added some new players to help us push us over the edge. It’s just big for the club because this year during the men’s league during the year, we went to a lot of finals and unfortunately fell short. So for us to finally get the trophy and push it over the line, it was a big deal for us.”

Neither team was dominant over the other in the opening half hour.

SUSA found itself with a fabulous scoring opportunity when Evan Lodie was fouled in the penalty area in the 33rd minute.

Thomas Wagner stepped up to the penalty spot. Trying some gamesmanship, Foley walked up to the spot until the referee gave him some instructions.

“I’m a nice guy,” Foley said. “But when it comes to goalkeeping, you always got to take an inch. I walked up to him. The referee said go back to your line or get a yellow card.”

Foley complied but didn’t set any walking records. He sipped some water from his water bottle, then positioned himself for the spot kick.

“You’re always trying to make him think,” he said. I was trying to make him think. I don’t know if it was because of me.”

It certainly didn’t hurt because Wagner then banged his attempt off the right post, keeping the match scoreless.

In the 44th minute, Pinto, on the right flank crossed the ball into the box. SUSA defender mistakenly redirected the ball into his net past goalkeeper Curtis Copenhaver.

“I tried to shoot but luckily it bounced off the defender went in,” Pinto said. “So very, very happy about that.”

“I said to Leo on that goal: ‘Sometimes you just got to put the ball into a dangerous area. Sometimes things happen, right?’ ” Arnold said. “It creates your own, luck for sure.”

Pinto had the last touch on the Rovers’ second goal in the 53rd minute as he converted a low feed from the right side from Steve Siso from 12 yards.

“He peeked over his shoulder,” Pinto said. “So, I ran in. Just a nice easy slot in.”

The Irish Rovers needed that goal because Wagner headed in Alex Rivara’s corner kick to slice the lead to 2-1 three minutes later.

Jimmy Rose almost knotted it up for SUSA in the 81st minute. His shot hit the crossbar and then the ground. SUSA players claimed it was over the goal line. The ball was headed back to Foley, who caught it.

“We got lucky.” Foley said. “I don’t know if it was in. Maybe it was, but I couldn’t really tell it just happened so fast.”

With SUSA trying to tie it, the Irish Rovers caught its foes on a counter. Copenhaver came well out of his net, trying to knock the ball away, but it took a huge bounce over him. Chris Morandi headed it into the unattended goal for the final tally.

The Irish Rovers’ path to the final started in the Queens Division as they recorded a 5-0-1 record.

In the knockout round, the team survived a shootout against Real Caribe HSSA in the Round of 16, winning the tie-breaker, 8-7, after playing to a 1-1 tie on July 23. In the quarterfinals, Irish Rovers rolled to a 4-1 win over the Garden City Centennials on July 26 before blanking Elwood SC, 3-0, in the semifinals on Aug. 3.

SUSA FC captured the Suffolk Division with a 5-1-1 mark. The team defeated HBC XPDA, 2-1, in the quarterfinals, 2-1 and then edged HBC XPDA in the semifinals by the same score.

Pinto and Foley praised two individuals who have been vital to the team’s success – Arnold and Willie Dempsey, the team president, respectively.

“I think it definitely starts with the coach Chris Arnold,” Pinto said. “He’s been everywhere. He always wants to help the players always, doing the most for this team. He’s a great coach, great leader, great person. We all want to fight for him, which makes this this group very special.”

Foley had similar sentiments for team president Willie Dempsey.

“He’s always organizing everything,” Foley said. “He’s a great guy. He puts everything together, always willing to go the extra mile for everyone. I take that into consideration. It’s massive to me what he does for us what he does for the club, and I love it.”

Arnold felt the secret to the Irish Rovers’ success was camaraderie.

“We have a lot of local guys that know each other,” he added. “The camaraderie amongst the group is very tight. The way we build our team is [from] Long Island colleges. Amongst the circuit of players, everyone has a familiar face. That pushes us over the top. You can see how excited the boys were. We’ve had the same group together for two or three years.”


Front Row Soccer editor Michael Lewis has covered 13 World Cups (eight men, five women), seven Olympics and 25 MLS Cups. He has written about New York City FC, New York Cosmos, the New York Red Bulls and both U.S. national teams for Newsday and has penned a soccer history column for the Lewis, who has been honored by the Press Club of Long Island and National Soccer Coaches Association of America, is the former editor of He has written seven books about the beautiful game and has published ALIVE AND KICKING The incredible but true story of the Rochester Lancers. It is available at