UTICA — Utica City FC will play its home opener of its second season at 2 p.m. Sunday against the Baltimore Blast. The team kicks off its season tonight with a road game against the Blast.
Utica won the Eastern Division in the regular season with a 17-7 record, the fourth-best record among the league’s 17 teams. They lost a two-game series to Baltimore in the Eastern Division Finals of the Major Arena Soccer League playoffs. Eventually, the Milwaukee Wave defeated the Monterrey Flash to win the Ron Newman Cup Championship.
UCFC has a number of new faces on the roster, including Moises Gonzalez and Diego Zuñiga, who were teammates on Rio Grande Valley last season.
“We have a solid team in every line,” said Gonzalez while sitting in the stands at the Utica Aud earlier this week. He and Zuniga sat down to talk about their new team and the upcoming season in the seats of the arena they’ll play in this year. He said he sees a lot of potential, including “secure goalkeepers and secure defense.” But, he noted, “Everything comes natural. We don’t have to invent the game.” The players already have their styles and game plans.
Gonzalez said the preseason is important when joining a new team because it gets “everyone on the same page,” learning to play together. “For me it’s a little easier because most of these guys were in Syracuse,” where he played on the Silver Knights, the franchise’s name before it relocated from Syracuse to Utica. Gonzalez played for Syracuse in 2016-2017.
So who are these two new members of The City?
Gonzalez, 27, appeared in 24 games with the Barracudas last year, racking up 44 points (30 goals). He has tallied three 30-goal seasons. “I like shooting from long distance,” said Gonzalez. He said he likes one-on-one situations.
Zuñiga, 29, recorded 24 points (22 goals) in 24 games last year, his first season in the MASL. He said he thinks of himself as a goal scorer, one who likes one-on-ones best.
In the offseason, the team and head coach Ryan Hall agreed to a three-year extension through the 2021-22 season.
Both players noted that Hall has stressed an approach of “max effort,” going as hard as possible whenever they’re on the field, running opponents into the ground and tiring them out until they break down. The coaching staff has added more conditioning to this year’s preseason.
Back also are captain Bo Jelovac, starting goalkeeper Andrew Coughlin, who played every minute of every game last year, and MASL Defender of the Year Darren Toby. Also returning are forward Mauricio Salles and midfielders Nate Bourdeau (a former Baldwinsville High School player) and Liam Callahan and defenders Vittorio Petrara and Domenico Vitale.
The team did lose leading scorer Slavisa Ubiparipovic, who asked to be traded in the offseason. He scored 19 goals and had 21 assists last year.
The team re-signed defenders Ben Ramin and Logan Roberts in the offseason. Ramin played high school soccer for Baldwinsville along with Coughlin. Roberts played for Cicero-North Syracuse. Rochester native Jake Schindler, a defender, also resigned. This week the team signed rookie Tim Goldman, from Manlius, who is also an assistant coach of the Liverpool High School boys soccer team.
Also new to the roster are midfielders Christian Segura and Uros Momic, forwards Ricardo Diegues, defender James Togbah and goalie Matt Perrella.
Gonzalez said his goals this year are “first, work to get to the playoffs. After that it will be harder but we have the team to be champions.” And, he promised, “I’m going to put up a 100% effort in the field.”
Zuñiga said he’s aiming for a playoff berth. To excel in the playoffs, he said, it takes “players who make less mistakes in those games. One mistake can lose the game.” He’d know, having played in two championship games with Baltimore. Gonzalez added: “Every touch counts.”
Both players noted that the Aud, known for its raucous crowds and thunderous noise, will be a big help this year.
“It gives you more energy,” said Zuñiga. For Gonzalez, a loud home crowd can help a tired player late in the game. They “make you give the extra. Hearing the people screaming, cheering for the team, it’s amazing.”