Thursday, April 16, 2009
TAMPA, FL – With the promotion of the reigning USL Second Division champion Cleveland City Stars, a void has been left for someone to join the perennial contenders of Harrisburg, Richmond and Charlotte, who captured the three previous titles. Six teams will be vying to join the giants as the upper echelon of USL second flight when the season kicks off Friday evening in Baltimore.
For a brand new club, Cleveland was an immediate powerhouse, suffering just one defeat in their inaugural season and winning the title the next. The City Stars literally shoved their way into a group of elite clubs that had risen to the top as regular contenders for the title – a group that still very much holds that distinction heading into 2009.
Charlotte Eagles [Team Page]
Leading that list would have to be Charlotte, a club that lost MVP and Scoring Champion Jacob Coggins to the USL First Division last year, yet still managed to post two more victories on the campaign to move from their fourth-place 2007 finish to the regular season title in 2008. Turn the page on the calendar forward a year and the Eagles see the return of Coggins to a lineup that still includes All-League selections Brady Bryant, Jorge Herrera, Steve Shak and 2008 league MVP Dustin Swinehart.
Departing the club is veteran Joseph Kabwe (Carolina RailHawks) and Terry Boss (New York Red Bulls). With the offense certainly not in question, the change in front of goal will be the issue at hand for the Eagles moving forward. Back-up Kevin Trapp played only four games last season, but saw action in all 20 the year before for Western Mass.
Harrisburg City Islanders [Team Page]
The City Islanders were a bit of a victim of their success in 2007, losing a number of standout players to other USL-2 clubs as well as the USL First Division. One of those players is Chad Severs, who returns from the Rochester Rhinos only to see Ryan Heins essentially switch out for him. A core of the squad, which still managed a fifth-place finish and playoff berth last year, returns with the addition of a number of young standouts. Returning players include All-Leaguers from the past two years Dustin Bixler and Mo Oduor.
Leading the list of the newcomers is Michigan Bucks star Ty Shipalane, who helped lead the Detroit-based club to the championship three years ago. He is joined by his rivals from the Des Moines Menace Nicholas Paterson and Stephen Reinberg as well as Mississippi Brilla’s Phillip Buffington.
Richmond Kickers [Team Page]
Having finished in the top two all three years since their move down from the USL First Division, the Kickers have been the dominant force of late. Renowned for developing players that move onto higher level professional leagues, the Kickers are seeing a bit of a reverse affect this year with the additions joining an already impressive heart of the lineup that includes All-Leaguers Mike Burke, Sascha Gorres, and Ronnie Pascale.
Previous Kickers star Matthew Delicate returns to the team after staying in the USL First Division with Rochester. Another former Kicker returning to the nest is Joey Worthen from Carolina. He is joined by fellow RailHawk Ross MacKenzie as well as Charleston’s Luke Vercollone and Puerto Rico’s Yomby William. Moving to the club from Major League Soccer is Kenny Cutler (Real Salt Lake).
Crystal Palace Baltimore [Team Page]
Heading into their third campaign, Palace has literally lived in the shadow of Cleveland, who launched the same year. Baltimore posted a winning record their first season, missing the playoffs by just three points, and were in the postseason in 2008 after finishing fourth.
Palace is in a bit of transition with the departures of Mathew Mbuta and Gary Brooks from the offense, but Pat Healey is returning to the squad as well as All-League selection Shintaro Hirada. The club also lured Bermuda international John Barry Nusum from the league rival Hogges as well as Stephen Basso from Real Maryland.
Among the newcomers joining the club are Zach Flores, an American who has been playing professionally in South America, and Jordan Seabrook, a rookie originally drafted by the Colorado Rapids. The club also picked up former USL-2 champion from the 2007 City Islanders squad Ryan Pierce and Olawale Adelusimi, who helped guide the Thunder Bay Chill to the 2008 PDL championship.
LOOKING TO IMPROVE
Bermuda Hogges [Team Page]
Focused on developing their domestic players, the Hogges enter their third season with optimism courtesy of their new partnership with the federation that will help the squad. With the Hogges as the point of the pyramid in the island’s new structure, the team should be able to cull the top talent in Bermuda for the squad. The cooperation will also help the team avoid national team conflicts that interrupted the team’s season last year.
The Hogges, however, will still have to contend with the loss of John Barry Nusum to Baltimore and were unlucky as Vancouver landed rookie prospect Tyrell Burgess of the Reading Rage.
Although Nusum was the veteran professional on the club last year, it was Damon Ming who led the team in scoring with four goals and four assists. Ten other players also contributed to the scoring during the season.
Pittsburgh Riverhounds [Team Page]
For all intents and purposes, the Riverhounds resembled an expansion club in their results rather than one that was returning after a year’s absence. The movement of its former players to other clubs did not leave enough of a core from the third-place squad in 2006 to lead the 2008 version to immediate success.
The Riverhounds did have rising talent that, unfortunately for this season, caught the eye of others as Greg Janicki and Thabiso Khumalo found themselves on loan late in the year to DC United, where they still remain.
Veterans Justin Evans and Nathan Salsi will again lead the club, but have some other experienced players joining the fray. William Brindley will make the move over from Real Maryland, joining marquee signing Sean Cameron, who spent the past two years with Atlanta and Miami in the USL First Division.
Real Maryland Monarchs [Team Page]
Expansion seasons are not easy. If the Monarchs could throw start all over again with the knowledge of last year’s experiences, the club may have seen a drastically different picture. As a result, a majority of the squad will have a new look, beginning at the top where Anthony Hudson of the Wilmington Hammerheads comes in as the new head coach.
Hudson has quickly gone after local talent that has become available through the reduced MLS roster sizes, signing the trio of Jeff Carroll, Patrick Carroll and Ryan Cordeiro from DC United. The club also nabbed Justin Hughes of the Colorado Rapids.
Wilmington’s Ashleigh Townsend made the move with Hudson, who also brought in a number of rookies as well as a pair of Cuban internationals, who are signing with their first professional teams since defecting last year.
Western Mass Pioneers [Team Page]
With only one playoff appearance (2005) in the past six seasons, the Pioneers will be looking to inject a youth movement into a club that has seen a steady core of the lineup return year after year. Among the veterans in camp with the club are All-League selections Jeff Deren, Federico Molinari and Jay Willis. They are also joined by Neil Krause, who led the league in assists in 2005 and tied with Deren for the team lead in points last year.
Among the newcomers in camp are a slew of rookies from colleges in the region. The Central Connecticut State duo of Yan Klukowski and David Tyrie were both on last year’s Hermann Trophy watch list. English goalkeeper Matthew Jones of Sacred Heart may challenge for the starting goalkeeper spot with college teammate Anthony Anzevui also in the picture for a roster space. Also in the mix is former Jamaican youth international Adam Wallace.
Wilmington Hammerheads [Team Page]
Since winning the USL-2 Championship in 2003, the Hammerheads have gone from two playoff appearances in 2004-05 to three consecutive 4-9-7 records. With the new ownership heading into its second season with the club, veteran coach David Irving may be on the hot seat to return the club to the postseason.
To that end, the Hammerheads have seen the return of several former standouts from its playoff days in addition to the signing of several other experienced professionals. The marquee returning player is striker Christopher Bagley, who comes home after a stint with the USL-1 Portland Timbers.
The club also signed from USL-1 Steven Curfman (Carolina) and goalkeeper Daryl Sattler (Atlanta). Coming by way of MLS are Rusty Pierce of the champion Columbus Crew and FC Dallas striker Jamie Watson, who also spent 2008 with the U-23 Austin Aztex in the PDL.