2010 USSF Division-2 Pro League Season Preview
Division-II Soccer in North America saw tumultuous times this past year as sanctioning for the league came under dispute. Eventually US Soccer moved to run the league themselves for 2010, stating it would be a one-off for this year and would make a decision later this year for the 2011 season.
The unrest between the United Soccer League (USL) and the North American Soccer League (NASL) seemed to bring more media attention to the league than ever before. While both organizations prepare for sanctioning of the 2011 season, they have each stepped up their media coverage with more attention devoted to bringing content to supporters of the league.
Those familiar with the former USL-1 league will notice a number of team changes from last year.
Gone are the Cleveland City Stars and the Minnesota Thunder, both to financial issues. The Charleston Battery, a constant in the league since 1997, dropped to USL-II (division-III).
This year 2 teams will play the D-II season while preparing for a move up to Major League Soccer. The Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps will join their Northwest rival Seattle Sounders for the 2011 MLS season.
This new USSF Division-2 Pro League will see the addition of 4 new teams this season. Crystal Palace Baltimore moves up from Division III to Division II.
Also joining the league:
NSC Minnesota Stars (In lieu of the former and long standing Minnesota Thunder)
AC St. Louis (First outdoor pro team in over 30 years for the St. Louis area)
Tampa Bay Rowdies (The Rowdies return to outdoor soccer after 17 years)
This year’s table will find 12 teams broken into 2 conferences: The NASL and USL.
The NASL conference includes: AC St. Louis, Carolina Railhawks, Crystal Palace Baltimore, Miami FC, Montreal Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The USL conference includes: Austin Aztex, NSC Minnesota, Portland Timbers, Puerto Rico Islanders, Rochester Rhinos, and the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Each of the 12 teams will play 30 regular season games for a total of 180 games. The season will run from the second week of April until early October, with playoffs following.
While some details of the league are still being worked out, the season will see its opening day on April 10. AC St. Louis will travel to WakeMed Park to play the Carolina Railhawks and the Rochester Rhinos will test Miami FC at Lockhart Stadium. The Austin Aztex host the Montreal Impact on the 11th and NSC Minnesota Stars play their first game ever at Swangard Stadium against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
For the complete USSF Division-2 Pro League season schedule go here.
AC ST. LOUIS
Stadium: Anheuser-Busch Soccer Park: SSS – Grass (capacity: 6,200)
Last season’s record: NASL Expansion Team
Head coach: Claude Anelka (1st Year)
Key players: Steve Ralston, Luke Kreamalmeyer, Jack Traynor
by Dave Lange - St. Louis Globe Democrat
If one person could be the face of AC St. Louis, it would be midfielder Steve Ralston.
He’s a St. Louisan, the first player signed by the team, and he’s a question mark.
Question marks abound in any discussion of AC St. Louis. They’re a new team, led by a coach with questionable credentials that is trying to assimilate players with widely varying experience.
Ralston, a 14-year MLS veteran, is coming back from a knee injury and he’s 36 years old. Whether or not he can take the field when the season opens April 10 is anybody’s guess.
Ralston has a dual role as player-assistant coach, a considerable asset for head coach Claude Anelka. Anelka, the brother of Chelsea’s Nicolas Anelka, coached Scotland’s Raith Rovers to only one of a potential 24 points before stepping aside as coach in 2004. His only other coaching experience was with France’s FC Trappes and with youth soccer in Florida.
Anelka and Ralston have a few players that USL soccer followers may recognize: defenders Tim Velten (Charleston, Rochester, Harrisburg) and Jack Traynor (Miami), and midfielder Luke Kreamalmeyer (Carolina, Portland, Rochester). All three are natives of the St. Louis area. AC St. Louis made a conscious effort to sign local players from St. Louis, a city rich in soccer heritage. The team started training camp with seven St. Louis natives, including 23-year-old goalkeeper Chad Becker.
Goalkeeper Alex Duffy (one game with New York Red Bulls of MLS last season) signed just before camp opened.
St. Louis’ most experienced international player is Brazilian right winger Gauchinho, who played four seasons in Denmark’s second division.
A good indication of the team’s potential figured to be a friendly in Kansas City March 19 against the MLS Wizards. The Wiz won 2-0, but a stiff wind and sub-freezing temperatures made conditions far from ideal. AC gets a second chance when the Wizards come to St. Louis for a preseason rematch April 3.
Stadium: House Park: Mulit-use – Turf (capacity: 6,500)
Last season’s record: 5W-17L-8D (11th Place)
Head coach: Adrian Heath (2nd Year)
Key players: Miguel Gallardo, Eddie Johnson, Jamie Watson
by Chris Grayson – the Aztexan
The Austin Aztex come into their second pro season hoping to show some marked improvement over last year.
Though the franchise had a solid start in 2009, the results on the field left much to be desired. Starting with a roster that was both short and low on experience, the Aztex spent much of the season scrambling to cover for a punishing injury list. All too often, they ceded points in the final minutes of the match, and the season ended with the team staying home from the playoffs.
This year, fans hope things will be different. Returning coach Adrian Heath’s roster started with the best and brightest from last year, including Eddie Johnson, Sullivan Silva, Yordany Alvarez and Kevin Sakuda, plus Miguel Gallardo-Aparicio in goal.
That core has been bolstered by some real talent, including former Thunder midfielder Lawrence Olum; defender Jay Needham, who played for the Islanders as well as Norway’s Alta IF; striker Jamie Watson, who returns full-time to Austin after a season in Wilmington; and brothers Leonard and Maxwell Griffin. Leonard is a former Timbers and L.A. Galaxy defender, while his younger brother Maxwell was a key goalscorer for UCLA.
Note the international composition of the team, with English, Brazilian, Cuban, Jamaican, Kenyan and Mexican players joining the Americans. Though the roster is still shorter than some fans might like, the amount of experience is certainly an improvement over last year’s squad.
Another big change this year: the team will play at House Park rather than Nelson Field. House, though sadly also a high school gridiron field with artificial turf, should have much better atmosphere. That’s thanks primarily to the absence of a track around the pitch and its downtown location, close to several nice watering holes.
Stadium: WakeMed Soccer Park: SSS – Grass (capacity: 7,000)
Last season’s record: 16W-7L-7D (2nd Place)
Head coach: Martin Rennie (2nd Year)
Key players: Daniel Paladini, Mark Schulte, Gregory Richardson
by Adam Morris – Tri Soccer Fan
After essentially assembling a brand new team last off-season, second year coach Martin Rennie focused most of his efforts in the 2010 preseason in bringing back the majority of the team who finished second in USL-1 in 2009.
Key returnees include Team MVP and a member of the 2009 USL 1st Team, Daniel Paladini, and USL 2nd team defender and captain Mark Schulte. The RailHawks will also benefit from a full season of their 2009 Offensive Player of the Year, Gregory Richardson, who scored 5 goals and recorded 3 assists in only 10 games last year.
Rennie also managed to find a more than adequate replacement for Carolina’s departing 2009 Defensive Player of the Year Jeremy Tolleson in USL veteran and 2009 1st Team defender, Matt Bobo, who was with the Charleston Battery last season. Veteran Nic Platter (Minnesota) replaces Caleb Patterson-Sewell as the partner for Eric Reed in Rennie’s favored dual goalkeeper system. The rest of the new players include players from foreign leagues – Etienne Barbara (Malta Premier League), Floyd Franks (Denmark’s 2nd Division) and Jun Marques Davidson (J-League).
Don’t expect to see a change in philosophy for the RailHawks as they enjoyed their best regular season ever in 2009. Winning more games and scoring more goals than prior years was enough to keep fans happy last year but anything less than challenging for the regular season title and making a deep run in the playoffs this year will be a major disappointment.
Founded 2006 (1st year in D-II – previously D-III)
Stadium: University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC): Multi-use – Turf (capacity: 4,500)
Last season’s record: NASL Expansion Team
Head coach: Jim Cherneski and Pete Medd (4th Season)
Key players: Matthew Mbuta, Gary Brooks, Randi Patterson
by Jay Yankiboy Long
When Crystal Palace Baltimore kicks off their first ball of the season, they will have realized yet another of the club’s lofty ambitions: a move up to the second division of American soccer.
Never finishing any higher than fourth in the USL-2 league table or making it to a third tier final–the organization has taken aggressive steps in order to undertake its daunting endeavor.
Management has added new talent in the front office and technical staff. It has also overhauled the player roster, bringing in many veteran players who have previously competed at Division – II or higher. Eleven players from last season’s squad were recently released. Only nine players were retained.
Failure to qualify for the USL-2 playoffs and an early round US Open Cup exit made the 2009 campaign an undeniable disappointment after the progress the club demonstrated during the 2008 season.
Goalkeeper Brian Rowland retired. Also gone is defender/midfielder Shintaro Harada, considered by most to be a brilliant talent, discovered by the Medd-Cherneski duo. The former Japanese J-league product and club parted ways, reportedly due to Harada’s desire to compete in MLS (ironic and confusing considering he subsequently has signed with USL-2 Pittsburgh).
With the return attacking players Matthew Mbuta and Gary Brooks, not all of the additions will be new faces. Both were highly productive during their previous time with the club. They will be relied upon offensively, along with new signees such as Randi Patterson and Santiago Fusilier.
Crystal Palace Baltimore ambitiously wanted to tackle the second division of US soccer. As a case study of the now defunct Cleveland City Stars demonstrates: desiring to make the move and surviving the move are two very different things.
Stadium: Lockhart Stadium: Multi-use – Grass (capacity: 18,500)
Last season’s record: 8W-12L-10D (9th Place)
Head coach: Victor Pastora (1st Year-former asst. coach)
Key players: Christian Gómez, Zach Kirby, Abe Thompson
by Uncle Ed - Football in Miami and Beyond
After a few years of fielding mediocre teams, 2010 seems to be the year of the Blues. Miami FC General Manager Luiz Muzzi and Fernando Clavijo have brought together an almost new team from last year. It started with the hiring of new coach Victor Pastora, who South Florida fans hope will put this team together with a little magic.
Returning to the team is fan favorite Zach “Beowulf” Kirby, Zach’s MLS career came to a halt as he was released to free up a roster spot for David Beckham on the L.A. Galaxy. Nonetheless, Kirby’s tenacity will be tested on the pitch. Zach is a solid central defender with great vision and a touch of genius that reminisces the great Franz Beckenbauer.
The midfield will be lead by the star signing of 2010, Christian Gómez. Christian will be a true general on the pitch for the Blues, something they lacked in past seasons. The former DC United play-maker was not offered a new contract with MLS this season and their loss is Miami FC’s gain! This veteran of many battles will no doubt infuse his experience to the many young players on the Blues roster this year including former U-20 Guatemalan forward Edward Santilez. But we can’t forget forward Abe Thompson, who spent the last four years in the MLS and recently with the Houston Dynamo. Both Edward and Abe have been in top form this pre-season and Blue’s fans hope to celebrate many of their goals. Vamos Miami!
In the last two months of the 2009 season, Miami FC could conjure up only 1-win with 9-losses and 2-draws. With an improved roster, look for the Blues to be a more competitive team in 2010 which will help this team down the stretch.
Stadium: Stade Saputo: SSS – Grass (capacity: 13,034)
Last season’s record: 12W-11L-7D (5th Place)
Head coach: Marc Dos Santos (Took over 1/2 way through season in 09)
Key players: Roberto Brown, Leo Di Lorenzo, Matt Jordan
by Steven Beauregard – Soccer Montréal
The Montreal Impact’s 2009 season was filled with ups and downs, controversy and ultimately success. After a dismal 1st half of the season which saw head coach John Limniatis replaced by assistant Marc Dos Santos, miserably failing to defend its Canadian Championship title and seeing midfielder Sandro Grande fired for choking player/coach Mauro Biello, the “Onze Montréalais” surprised us all and went undefeated in the 2009 playoffs to win their 3rd title in club history.
All key players will be returning in 2010, with the exception of midfielder Joey Gjertsen who signed with San Jose of MLS. They have however made 2 very interesting additions in the form of Portuguese midfielder Filipe Soares and French midfielder/right back Philippe Billy. Both have played consistently in European 2nd divisions, with Soares having spent the last 10 years in the Portuguese D2 and Billy having played the last 2 seasons with Stade Brestois in France’s Ligue 2. They also added Canadian International and former Toronto FC midfielder Tyler Hemming, who at 24yrs old is exactly the type of depth player the Impact will need to fill their domestic player quota once they begin play in MLS in 2012, as is expected to be announced in the coming weeks.
This team is extremely deep at midfield with 8 players, who all could without question be starters in USSF D2, vying for the 4 starting spots. The only question mark may be at forward, with Roberto Brown being the only striker to have produced consistently last season. Eduardo Sebrango, soon to be 37, showed definite signs of slowing down last season and Peter Byers, despite flashes of brilliance in the 2nd half of the season, needs to show that he can score on a regular basis to keep his spot in the starting IX.
What does the Impact need to do for a successful season? Win. The front office and the supporters will once again expect nothing less then the title along with a strong showing in the Canadian Championship.
Stadium: National Sports Center Stadium: SSS – Grass (capacity: 12,000)
Last season’s record: NASL Expansion Club
Head coach: Manny Lagos (1st year)
Key players: Johnny Menyongar, Louis Crayton, Leielei Gao
by Brian Quarstad – Inside Minnesota Soccer
When the National Sports Center’s new pro soccer team takes the field April 11, the organization may break records for speed. The NSC will have put together a team in the course of 3 months and 4 days. The feat would not have been possible without the preexisting infrastructure of the organization. Executive Director Paul Erickson, and newly appointed team GM and long time NSC executive Kris Bjerkness, acted quickly when it was apparent the Minnesota Thunder would not exist in 2010. The non-profit scrambled to keep pro soccer in Minnesota and a tenant in their newly remodeled SSS Stadium.
The NSC couldn’t move forward until the USSF’s January decision to run the new league. Springing into action they hired former MLS and Thunder player Manny Lagos to coach and take charge of soccer operations.
The organization won’t have the big bankroll of some teams, but Lagos’ connections to former players and coaches throughout MLS and Division-2 seems to be paying off. He’s struck deals with attacking veteran Johnny Menyongar and international goalkeeper Louis Crayton. Leilie Gao, a midfielder from China has been impressive in preseason. New signing Warren Ukah looks to be a target player and will join the attack with Brian Cvilikas and Melvin Tarley. The Liberian forward Tarley has averaged 8 goals per season with the Thunder.
Defensively the Stars are extremely thin. Former Thunder players Andres Arango and Brian Kallman have signed. The team was hoping Arango would be paired with 32-year old Vorgan Less as centerback, but the 32 year old South African veteran went down with an achilles injury on Monday and is likely done for the season. The outside backs are also a big question mark.
The Stars seem to have plenty of midfielders but few defenders. With many young and inexperienced players there will surely be some stumbles along the way, especially on the back line.
Minnesota soccer fans have not seen much of the post-season in the last 5 years. As a new team, supporters won’t expect a top spot but will have expectations of Lagos guiding them to the playoffs. Anything else would be a disappointment.
Stadium: PGE Park: Multi-use – Turf (capacity: 19,556)
Last season’s record: 16W-4L-10D (1st Place – Commissioner’s Cup winners)
Head coach: Gavin Wilkinson (4th season)
Key players: Steve Cronin, Mandjou Keita, Ryan Pore
by Kip Kesgard - Oregon Live.com
The Portland Timbers finished the 2009 season with an incredible list of accomplishments, winning the 2009 USL Commissioner’s Cup for best regular season record and boasting a record 24 game unbeaten streak. However, a stinging playoff loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps kept the Timbers from securing their first league title. Gearing towards a jump to MLS in 2011, yet wanting to be competitive for 2010, the Timbers have brought in a mix of young talent and veteran experience to help bolster their roster.
Along the defensive line, the Timbers added Ian Joy (St. Pauli), Quavas Kirk (Minnesota) and Ross Smith (Rochester) to an already formidable group playing in front of incumbent goalkeeper Steve Cronin. Last season, the defensive line with Stephen Keel, Mamadou Danso, Scot Thompson and Cameron Knowles gave up only 19 goals in 30 league games.
In the midfield, the Timbers reacquired Alex Nimo (Real Salt Lake) on loan and signed James Marcelin (Puerto Rico) and Derek Gaudet (Canada) to push incumbent midfielders Brian Farber, Keith Savage, Ryan Pore and Rodrigo Lopez. Tony McManus and Johan Claesson are also healthy after undergoing offseason treatment and should provide veteran leadership to a young but talented group. Up top, 2009 leading scorer Mandjou Keita returns from a successful stint in India during the offseason, while George Josten and Taka Suzuki return to help score goals.
Expect the Timbers to be an entertaining team, mixing speed and creativity in the midfield with physical play from the backline. While the team traditionally plays well early, the key for the Timbers for 2010 is to play well consistently throughout the entire season. This is especially crucial as the table puts the Timbers at home for six of their first seven matches, while on the road for 10 of their last 14.
Stadium: Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium: SSS – Grass (capacity: 12,500)
Last season’s record: 15W-7L-8D (3rd place)
Head coach: Colin Clarke (4th season)
Key players: Noah Delgado,Bill Gaudette, Marco Velez
Roster (No listing yet for 2010)
by Kristian Vázquez – Pasion Naranja!
If 2009 was the season of great expectations for the Puerto Rico Islanders then 2010 is the season of nervous apprehension. Instead of bringing home the franchise’s first championship, 2009 brought disappointment as the team failed to win any trophies. Puerto Rico fielded one of the league’s strongest sides yet found themselves with an early ticket home after losing to the eventual champions, Montreal Impact, in the USL-1 semi-finals.
On the international side, the Puerto Rican club also disappointed as they failed to win a single game in the group stage of the CCL after making it to the competition’s semi-finals in its 2008-2009 iteration.
With the league opener less than two weeks away, the Islanders squad looks far from being one of the favorites this time around. After many players opted to take their chances elsewhere at the end of last season, Puerto Rico is left with few of the 2009 core. Gone are the likes of Jonny Steele (Vancouver), James Marcelin (Portland), and Fabrice Noel (China). In their place, Colin Clarke has elected to sign several young players with respectable college careers but little or no professional experience.
A very short pre-season will make it more difficult for the squad to gel and could put the Islanders at a disadvantage to sides that have been training longer. Club veterans like Noah Delgado, Bill Gaudette, and Marco Velez will be key role players; they will have to work overtime in performing their roles on the field as well as in making sure their young counterparts can handle the challenging season schedule.
After a disappointing 2009, coach Colin Clarke has much to prove. With many new faces will he also be able to put fans in the stadium? The supporters grow restless of not having any championships but increased interest in the sport due to the World Cup and the Mayaguez 2010 games should provide a boost in ticket sales. Look for the team to start slow but improve throughout the season.
New signings to watch: David Foley (England), Richard Martinez (Puerto Rico), and Chris Nurse (Guyana/England).
Stadium: Marina Auto Stadium: SSS – Turf (capacity: 12,500)
Last season’s record: 11W-9L-10D (6th Place)
Head coach: Bob Lilley (1st year)
Key players: Frankie San Filippo, Troy Roberts, Isaac Kissi
by James Weise – Soccer Sam.com
The 2009 season was an interesting one for the Rhinos. The year started with high hopes as head coach Darren Tilley was entering his second season with the club. But despite a deep US Open Cup run, Tilley, and GM Matthew Ford, were let go after the Rhinos lost to Puerto Rico in the USL 1st Division playoffs.
This season, the Rhinos almost have the look of an expansion team with a new GM in former head coach Pat Ercoli, a new head coach in Bob Lilley, and a roster that will only include three players from the 2009 roster in GK Scott Vallow, D/MF Nano Short, and MF/F Ryan Heins. There will be one other player on the roster that Rhinos fans will recognize in D Frankie Sanfilippo who returns to the Rhinos after two seasons in Carolina and one in Charleston. Ercoli and Lilley appear to be building a roster of young, speedy players such as F Isaac Kissi and F Thierry Zahui. But, they also have some key vets sprinkled throughout the roster such as D Troy Roberts and D/MF Jonathan Greenfield.
The Rhinos always hope to compete at a high level. It will be very interesting to see how quickly Coach Lilley can get this team to gel and play his style that has been very effective over the years at the second division level.
Founded 2010 (Modern Era)
Stadium: George M. Steinbrenner Field: Multi-use – Grass (capacity: 11,000)
Last season’s record: NASL Expansion Club
Head coach: Paul Dalglish (1st Year)
Key players: Adam Nowland, Takuya Yamada, Josh Lambo
By Max Sebastian – (Alias for his Ghost writing)
The return of the Tampa Bay Rowdies has created a buzz in West Central Florida. The highly successful NASL team has left a legacy of soccer in the Bay Area that has spanned two generations. When the new franchise was announced in May 2008, excitement began to build locally and has now reached a fever pitch.
The new Rowdies (known officially as FC Tampa Bay Rowdies) will compete in the 2010 USSF D-2, with a host of big name players, managed by Paul Dalglish, the son of Liverpool legend, Kenny Dalglish. Most significant is Adam Nowland, the long time Football League player from England. The former Wimbledon, West Ham, Blackpool and Preston midfielder will be the focal point of the Rowdies possession play.
Takuya Yamada, who was a member of Japan’s 2004 Asian Cup winning team, will play behind Nowland as a holding midfielder. Yamada has had a remarkable professional career in Japan, and will bring a veteran savvy to the team that will help guide the younger players.
Josh Lambo, the US Youth National Team keeper on loan from FC Dallas will feature between the pipes.
Another player to watch is Jeremy Christie, also a central/holding midfielder who has a good opportunity to make the New Zealand World Cup team. But the most exciting player on the Rowdies could be Chad Burt, a local product whose amazing free kick goal against FC Dallas in pre-season won him a spot on the team.
This team will be formidable not only in league, but in Open Cup. Tampa Bay drew FC Dallas and beat the Philadelphia Union in March.
Stadium: Swangard Stadium: SSS – Grass (capacity: 5,288)
Last season’s record: 11W-10L-9D (7th Place)
Head coach: Teitur Thordarson (4th season)
Key players: Martin Nash, Jay Nolly, Jonathan Steele
By Massimo Cusano – Vancouver Southsiders
For the second straight offseason, there has been significant player turnover on the Vancouver Whitecaps roster. Not what one might expect from a team that made the USL Final two years running, however with the club’s transition to Major League Soccer in 2011, head coach Teitur Thordarson has one eye looking to the future. Nonetheless, the 2010 USSF D2 season will not just be a year long trial. The team and fans alike are yearning for the league title, but especially their first Nutrilite Canadian Championship crown which eluded them so cruelly last year.
Goalkeeper Jay Nolly returns to Vancouver for his third season. The 2009 team MVP played every minute of every game last year. Don’t be surprised if he repeats that feat with little proven depth behind him. The defensive line in front of him was a revolving door for much of last season but that looks to be solved with the addition of 3 players with varying degrees of MLS experience: Nelson Akwari, Greg Janicki, and Blake Wagner. The strength of this year’s roster seems to be in midfield. New to the team are perennial USL all-stars Ricardo Sanchez (from Minnesota) and Jonathan Steele (from Puerto Rico). They will fight for time in the center of the park with team captain Martin Nash. The question marks seem to be upfront. With the departures of leading scorer Charles Gbeke (released) and USL-1 rookie of the year Marcus Haber (transferred to West Bromwich Albion), gone are 20 of last season’s 42 league goals. The burden falls on Saint Vincent and the Grenadines international Marlon James who tallied 9 times in an injury plagued 2009.
If the new pieces can gel quickly, expect the Whitecaps to be challenging at the top of the table in 2010.