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First State FC makes long-awaited debut in NPSL home opener

After waiting through a canceled 2020 season, First State FC came out with a strong showing in their debut at home Saturday evening

The crowd at Abessinio Stadium in Wilmington in the first half of First State FC’s inaugural match on May 8, 2021
Matt Ralph

Bismark Bonsu-Baidel stood by the fence with his two young daughters waiting as the players for First State FC exited the field after the team’s first official game Saturday night.

Like the couple hundred people who came out to the game at Abessinio Stadium, he was hoping for a different result than a 3-0 defeat to Atlantic City FC but happy to see the team in green finally playing a game.

“It’s good to have a game like this here,” said Bismark, who lives in Newark and plays pick-up as often as he’s able. “I love soccer, I love the game and I have a few friends on the team.”

Third-year team Atlantic City FC quieted the opening night crowd with a swerving free kick from former Las Vegas Lights defender Johnny Fenwick in the 24th minute. They added two goals before halftime from former Atlanta United homegrown Patrick Okonkwo in the 36th minute and Stefen Melekos in the 43rd minute.

As rain was scattering the crowd, First State FC found themselves with some brighter attacking moments and forced Aces goalkeeper Lucas Daunhauer to come up with some key stops but the 3-0 score line held for the full 90 minutes.

“It’s a relief to finally have our first game,” said First State FC President and General Manager Dave Holloway, who could be seen on the field and in the stands throughout the game. “We spent so much time planning this thing and trying to put this thing together and we have such a great volunteer staff. I can’t say enough about how well it went.”

Sarah Grantham, who was wearing a First State FC scarf in the stands, said she was impressed with the level of play and the support at the start for the team.

“It’s fun to be with the team at the start from the ground up,” Grantham said.

Sarah’s husband, Kyle Grantham, said he studied for a summer in a town in Scotland and was so impressed with how dedicated fans in the town were to their local team he jumped at the opportunity to forge a bond with a local team when he first heard about First State FC, which goes by the full name First State FC Midnight Riders.

“When the team became a thing, I was like ‘yes, let’s do it,’” said Grantham, who had a First State FC scarf around his neck and a Baltimore Orioles mask.

The match kicked off play in the Keystone Conference for the first time since 2019. The NPSL season was canceled last summer because of Covid-19. The eight-team conference lost Philadelphia Lone Star to the Mid-Atlantic Conference.

FC Motown beat FC Monmouth 2-0 in the only other conference match of the weekend.

First State FC is on the road for their next two matches before returning home to host FC Monmouth on May 26. Atlantic City visits FC Motown before their home opener against Hershey FC on May 22.