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2017 USL Preview: Harrisburg City Islanders

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 03/21/17, 2:54PM EDT


Two-time USL Cup finalists seek to reclaim former glories

Photo courtesy Harrisburg City Islanders

After four consecutive trips to the USL Cup Playoffs, and two appearances in the USL Cup Final, the past two years have been frustrating for the Harrisburg City Islanders and their fans after missing the postseason on both occasions. Injuries played a role in Harrisburg falling short a season ago, with the absence of forward Aaron Wheeler in particular a serious blow. The powerful forward is back for the new season, however, and is joined by a squad that has added some good pieces to try and restore the club to its former position in the standings.

Head Coach: Bill Becher
Stadium: FNB Field
2016 results: 8-15-7, 31pts
2016 postseason: N/A

Goalkeeper: The City Islanders made a big addition in goal with the signing of Brandon Miller, the 2015 USL Goalkeeper of the Year when he played for the Rochester Rhinos. Miller will be looking for a bounce-back year after going through ups and downs for Orange County SC, and he’ll have solid competition as Nick Noble returns to the City Islanders for his sixth season with the club.

Defense: The addition of Lee Nishanian from the LA Galaxy II saw the City Islanders also make a strong addition to the center of their defense, a necessity after conceding 54 goals a season ago. Nishanian joins Shawn McLaws, who was one of the most consistent players in Harrisburg’s back line a year ago, and fellow former Red Bulls II player Jamie Thomas, both of whom return for the new season. Former Villanova player Chris Hill is set for his first full season with the club.

Midfield: The departure of Jose Barril to OKC Energy FC will be a tough one, but there is some good quality back for the side in the shape of Jamaican Paul Wilson, who had four goals and six assists last season. The addition of former USL Cup winner Jonny Mendoza should also provide a boost, as could returning midfielder Dabo Mouhamed. Danny DiPrima’s experience should also be valuable, while the additions of former San Antonio FC midfielder Manolo Sanchez and Houston Dynamo player Rasheed Olabiyi could also provide the attack a welcome boost.

Forward: Aaron Wheeler’s five goals in 13 appearances last year were providing a solid impetus for the City Islanders until injury problems saw him finish the season with only 798 minutes of action. A former PDL Most Valuable Player, the veteran forward returns healthy for the new season, and has good support with Cardel Benbow back to try and improve on his two goals and two assists a season ago. A newcomer to the side is Mike Olla, who recorded 40 goals in 71 appearances at Montclair State University, and could prove a nice addition to the squad.

Photo courtesy Mark Thor / Orlando City SC

Strengths: The City Islanders have a number of good attacking options available to them, should the squad manage to remain healthy. At 6-foot-5, Aaron Wheeler has proven a handful for opponents in the past, and the creativity of Paul Wilson should provide him with the service he needs to thrive. If Cardel Benbow and Jonny Mendoza can provide the support, Harrisburg should be dangerous going forward again.

Weaknesses: The City Islanders’ 54 goals against was the third-highest total in the Eastern Conference last season, and must be addressed if the side is to return to the USL Cup Playoffs. The addition of Lee Nishanian, who made 50 appearances for the LA Galaxy II, is a positive sign, but if the City Islanders’ back four lacks chemistry, it will take a huge season from Brandon Miller to stem the tide.

Key number: 114 – Harrisburg City Islanders Head Coach Bill Becher has presided over all 114 regular-season victories in the club’s history as the City Islanders enter their 14th season this year. 

Noteworthy matchups: Harrisburg will welcome Pennsylvania rival Bethlehem Steel FC to FNB Field for the club’s home opener on April 15, and then visit the Pittsburgh Riverhounds two weeks later for the first contest in the Keystone Derby Cup series this year. The Rochester Rhinos visit Harrisburg on August 8 as the two longstanding sides meet again, while Harrisburg’s visit to face the Charleston Battery on the final weekend of the regular season on October 17 could see a playoff berth come down to the wire.

Coach’s view: "Aaron [Wheeler] was a big part of our success early [last season]. Unfortunately, he was injured midway through the season. Losing him kept us from making the playoffs. If he stays healthy this year, I think we will certainly be a playoff team.” – Harrisburg City Islanders Head Coach Bill Becher

Current roster (updated: March 21, 2017):
Goalkeepers: Brandon Miller, Nick Noble
Defenders: Griffin Libhart, James Thomas, Lee Nishanian, Chris Hill, Shawn McLaws
Midfielders: Dabo Mouhamed, Jonny Mendoza, Paul Wilson, Danny DiPrima, Jake Bond, Josh Grosh, Manolo Sanchez, Rasheed Olabiyi
Forwards: Aaron Wheeler, Mike Olla, Cardel Benbow

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