Thursday, March 31, 2011

USL Pro Preview: American Division

The first year of the USL Pro will definitely be an interesting one. With the 15 team league being divided into 3 divisions, I will cover each one separately in the lead up to the first game on Saturday, April 2nd. The final division we will look at is the American Division:

The American Division looks to be the best out of the three divisions in this year's USL Pro. The division is based in the Southeast, and contains 3 teams in the Carolinas, 1 in Florida, and 1 in Virginia. Here is how I think they will finish:

5. Wilmington Hammerheads: After a season off where it looked like the team would dissolve, the Hammerheads are back and ready to get back out on the pitch. They've already won the biggest battle, but can they come back with a full head of steam into the USL Pro? I think not. The Hammerheads lost most of the players from their 2009 USL-2 Regular Season Champion Team, and are basically starting over. Two players that are returning from that 2009 team are Chris Murray and Jyler Noviello. Murray was one of the brightest young stars for the Hammerheads in both 2008 and 2009. Noviello had 8 goals and 5 assists in 33 appearances for Wilmington in 2008 and 2009. Their main hope on attack seems to be Andriy Budnyi, who played well for the Carolina Railhawks in the 2010 season. The defense is fairly young, and goalkeeper Kyle Polak will have a huge task in keeping the goals out.

4. Charlotte Eagles: Last season, Charlotte finished 4 in the 6 team USL Second Division, 7 points out of the playoffs. Charlotte returns a lot of their team from last year's squad, in fact all 11 starters are returning. The depth was hurt a little, but that may not be a problem for the Eagles. Their two main losses were midfielders Chris Klotz and Chris Lemons. Former PDL Goalkeeper of the Year, Eric Reed will be in goal for Charlotte, and should put on good performances, assuming that the backline can stand strong in the toughest division of the USL Pro. Charlotte will have to see Orlando City fall out if they plan on making the playoffs, but this is unlikely.

3. Orlando City SC: Orlando comes into the league after making a move from Austin, Texas, where they were the Austin Aztex. They finished 2nd in the USL division of the USSF D2 Pro League. They brought many of the players from that team down to Florida, but Eddie Johnson, who scored 14 goals last season, moved on up to the Portland Timbers of the MLS. Jamie Watson and Maxwell Griffin will lead Orlando's attack, and scored a combined 20 goals last season. Or 10 each. The team is experienced, former Battery player Ian Fuller will be one of the leaders of the young team. One player that I'm excited to see is Devorn Jorsling, who has scored 13 goals in 24 games for the Trinidad and Tobago Senior National Team, including a hat trick against Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

2. Richmond Kickers: Last year, the Kickers fell to Charleston in the USL Second Division Championship game. Richmond comes into this season looking for revenge, and didn't lose a starter from last year's runner up squad. The Kickers bring Nozomi Hiroyama to the squad this year. Hiroyama is the most experienced player on the squad, and even played 2 games for the Japanese National Team in 2001. Last year he played for the Japanese club, Thespa Kusatsu, scoring 3 goals in 73 appearances. They added Ryan Heins, who scored 5 goals for the Rochester Rhinos last year. Goalkeeper and Captain Ronnie Pascale returns to the Kickers for a 12th season. He has made 242 appearances in his career for Richmond, and will be the biggest leader on the team.

1. Charleston Battery: Now I may be a little bias, but I think that Charleston is the strongest team in the Division and one of the strongest in the league. Charleston won the USL Second Division Championship last year, over the Richmond Kickers. The Battery lost a lot of keys to that team, including forwards Tom Heinemann and Lamar Neagle, who both moved on to the MLS. Stephen Armstrong returns for the Battery for a 6th season, will be the captain of the team, and will take on assistant coaching duties as well as his playing duties. They add young promising players such as Dane Kelly and JC Mack, and I can easily see the Battery not only winning the American Division, but the whole league. The Battery have a good head coach in Mike Anhaeuser, giving them all the attributes to make a playoff run.

Tomorrow, I'll be doing a wrap up of the USL Pro, including my playoff predictions and how I think the league table will end up.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

USL Pro Preview: National Division

The first year of the USL Pro will definitely be an interesting one. With the 15 team league being divided into 3 divisions, I will cover each one separately in the lead up to the first game on Saturday, April 2nd. Today we'll cover the National Division:

The National Division consists of teams in the Northeastern part of the United States. The division consists of 2 teams in New York, 2 in Pennsylvania, and 1 club in Ohio. The teams are much closer, and this set up is perfect for creating local rivalries in both New York and Pennsylvania. Here's how I think the teams will place:

5. FC New York: The expansion squad will have the toughest time of any team in the league. 37 year old Englishman, Paul Shaw, will be the captain of the otherwise young squad. He has played many years in England, including a successful stint at Millwall where he scored 25 goals in 109 games. The rest of the team consists of mostly former PDL players. Bright spots include defenders Troy Cole, Josiah Snelgrove, and Karsten Smith, who all will have to lead a very young back line. This team could be feisty, but not a major contender at any point during the season.

4. Dayton Dutch Lions: Dayton has been "promoted" to the USL Pro for the 2011 season, after playing last season in the PDL. A few players, including Julius Wille, Brett Jones, and 2010 PDL Defender of the Year Joe Tait, move up to the USL Pro with the Lions. The attack is lead by Kolby LaCrone, who has played with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and Cleveland City Stars, and is a talented indoor soccer player, scoring 21 goals in 14 games for the Louisville Lightning last indoor season. This is another young team, but I think having some players coming up with the team will help the Dutch Lions make a playoff run late in the season.

3. Harrisburg City Islanders: Harrisburg is coming off a disappointing season in 2010. They failed to make the playoffs in the USL Second Division. The loss of Sheanon Williams to the Philidelphia Union will hurt the back line of the Islanders, as he was a great defender as well as a bit of a goal-scoring threat out of the back field. Their captain Dustin Bixler returns for his seventh season with the Islanders, and he brings the leadership and quality to an otherwise mediocre back-line. Last year, they were the worst in the USL-2 last season, and goalkeeper Chase Harrison and defender Andrew Marshall have been brought in to address this problem. I wouldn't have Harrisburg finishing this high, if it weren't for the two expansion teams that are in their division.

2. Pittsburgh Riverhounds: Coming off a successful 2010 season, where they were knocked out in the semi final of the USL-2 playoffs. Pittsburgh set a good foundation for a successful season this year. The club has lost, get this, not one player from last years team. This blows my mind. But anyway, the USL-2 Keeper of the Year Hunter Gilstrap returns to the Riverhounds, along with USL-2 Defender of the Year, Shintaro Harada who will lead what looks to be the league's best defense. Last year they Riverhounds gave up exactly one goal per game. South African Thabiso Khumalo comes to Pittsburgh from DC United, and looks to add some punch to this young Riverhound attack.

1. Rochester Rhinos: Rochester was one of the most successful lower division teams in the early years of lower level soccer in the US, and are looking to add another piece of hardware to the trophy case. Their last major championship was in 2001, when they won the USL A-League championship. Tony Donatelli is a good addition to the squad. He brings experience, and talent to the club, having played successfully with the Montreal Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps. He scored 19 goals in the 132 games he played with these two clubs. Troy Roberts and Tyler Bellamy lead a defense that took hits this offseason, losing Aaron Pitchkolan and Frankie Sanfillipo, as well as goalkeeper Scott Vallow.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Charleston Adds Two and Central SC Cobras Online Store Launched

Today the Battery came to terms with two midfielders, JC Mack and Alex Caskey. The two come to the Battery after successful preseasons.

JC Mack will be playing his first professional season this year with the Battery. Mack comes to the Battery from the Chicago Fire's Academy, having played with Chicago Fire PDL squad, and the Chicago Fire Super 20's.

Mack has played well in this preseason. He played in the Carolina Challenge Cup, as well as the 3 preseason matches; against Clemson, the Carolina Railhawks, and Cof C. In all of his appearances he scored 1 goal, in the match against College of Charleston.

Alex Caskey, a native of Georgia, comes to the Battery after a four year career at Davidson University in North Carolina. He never missed a match at Davidson, and was a four year starter. Last year he played with the Atlanta Blackhawks in the PDL, scoring 1 goal in 22 appearances.

These are two good young players and add depth to the midfield. I think that Mack could possibly play up front, or be in the front of the diamond in a diamond 4-4-2, or just as a forward.

Central SC Cobras FC has launched their online store. They look to have a lot of nice products for both men and women so make sure to check it out here.

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USL Pro Preview: International Division

The first year of the USL Pro will definitely be an interesting one. With the 15 team league being divided into 3 divisions, I will cover each one separately in the lead up to the first game on Saturday, April 2nd. First up, the International Division:

The International Division is the most intriguing of the 3. The teams include 3 in Puerto Rico, 1 in Antigua, and 1 in Los Angeles. This puts a lot of space between the teams, and long distance travel will be a factor for all five.

All of the teams have played out their preseason schedules, filled out their rosters, and prepared for the season. And here's how I think they will finish.

5: Puerto Rico United: It could be a long season for Puerto Rico United. The main weapon for United is 22 year old, Andrés Cabrero. He has scored 0 goals in 20 games at a professional level both in Puerto Rico and Serbia, but has scored 2 goals in 8 appearances for the Puerto Rico U20 National Team, as well as 1 goal in 10 appearances for the Senior Team. Colombian midfield Carlos Gutiérrez will be the leader of the team and will have to lead a team that doesn't look like it will be very successful.

4: Los Angeles Blues: The only team west of the Mississippi in the USL Pro, will have to overcome a lot of long distance travel this season. The Blues are brand new, and this will be their competitive debut. The team has a lot of young talent, especially on the attack. This includes 23 Jaime Chavez, who scored 21 goals in 31 appearances for Hollywood United in the PDL last year, as well as Israel Sesay who had 3 assists in 14 appearances for the United States U17 team from 2006-2008. The defense will be led by former Galaxy player Mike Randolph, and Welsh defender Gareth Evans.

3. Sevilla FC Puerto Rico: Sevilla FC will be playing a sixth season as club, and will be joining the USL Pro after playing in the Puerto Rico Soccer League. Forward Christopher Megaloudis, son of head coach Michael Megaloudis, will head the attack of Sevilla and has scored 5 goals in 9 appearances for the Puerto Rican National Team. Megaloudis had a short stint with MLS side, New York Red Bulls. Goalkeeper David Sierra is good, and was with the Real Madrid reserves for 6 years, and played in the lower divisions of Spain for many years.

2. Antigua Barracuda FC: I think that Antigua could be this year's surprise. Antigua's team is made up mostly of players on the Antigua and Barbuda National Team. Forward Peter Byers is a great addition to the team. He has scored 12 goals in 24 appearances for the National Team. He has experience at the top USL level, as he played with the Montreal Impact for 3 seasons, scoring 9 goals in 39 appearances. Tamorley Thomas who has scored 5 goals in 18 appearances for the Antigua and Barbuda National Team will also have to step up for the Barracudas. Captain George Dublin will have to play well on the back line to help brand new keeper, Miguel Baez.

1. River Plate Puerto Rico: River Plate seems to be the consensus for the champion of the International Division, and I have to agree. Cuban Julio César Maya Cruz will be a key to their offense, he scored 22 goals in 30 appearances for Sevilla FC Puerto Rico in the 2009 season. Veteran midfielder Petter Villegas will have to be a leader for the otherwise young team. They looked very good in a preseason win against the Puerto Rico Islanders, and could make a good run in the playoffs. They also played well in the Caribbean Football Union Club Championship and have a chance to be playing in the next edition of the CONCACAF Champions League.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Weekend Wrap-up: Armstrong Announced as Player-Coach, US 1-1 Argentina, and More

Sorry that I haven't made a post in a while, as I have been on vacation. But here's a wrap of the weekend's events:

On Thursday, veteran Battery midfielder, Stephen Armstrong, was announced as a player-coach for the 2011 USL Pro season. He will be in the role of an assistant coach to Mike Anhaeuser.

Armstrong has been with Charleston since the 2006 season, and has 24 goals and 11 assists in 113 games with the Battery. He is fifth all time in both goals and assists, and sixth in games played.

The native South African has been with the Battery for their most recent accomplishments. These being the team's run to the 2008 US Open Cup Final, where they lost to DC United, and the 2010 USL Second Division Championship.

Head Coach Mike Anhaeuser had this to say, “Stephen brings us a wealth of experience on and off the field; he has been an important part of the club for the past six years. This experience will be more beneficially this season as Stephen has assumed the role of player/assistant along with keeping his high level of play on the field.”

On Saturday night, the United States Men's National Team took on the Argentina National Team in match at the New Meadowlands Stadium, in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Playing for Argentina, was who many consider the world's best player, Lionel Messi.

The first goal would come from Esteban Cambiasso in the 41st minute of the game. The goal came off a scramble right in front of the goal, which Messi started.

In the 59th minute, the US would pull level with a goal from, who else but, Juan Agudelo. Landon Donovan would launch a free kick into the box where Bocanegra headed the ball on goal, and the rebound came to Agudelo who put it in the back of the net.

The game was highlighted by Argentina dominating possesion in the first half, followed by the US making it a little more even in the second half, as well as another great performance by Tim Howard.

The USMNT will play Paraguay in a friendly on Tuesday, March 29th at LP Field in Nashville.

Mikey Buytas, president of The Regiment, will be on a podcast by Feuerstein's Fire tonight at 8:00. They will be doing a preview of the 2011 USL Pro Season. Make sure to check it out.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Charleston Adds Three to Roster

The Charleston Battery have added three new players for the upcoming USL Pro season; goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra, defender Graham Dugoni, and forward Seedy Bah.

Our first new addition, 25 year old Andrew Dykstra, is coming off two seasons as back-up goalkeeper for the Chicago Fire. He made 17 appearances for the Fire, making this save during his two seasons with the club. Dykstra played in college for Virginia Commonwealth University.

Dykstra comes in as one of only two keepers that are signed with the Battery, the other being Keith Wiggans. We will see who gets the starting position for this upcoming season.

Defender Graham Dugoni was one of the trialists for the Battery, and played in the Carolina Challenge Cup. He played for Duke University and with the 2010 PDL Champion Portland Timbers U23. He also played with MjÃndalen IF in Norway.

Here's a quick highlight of Dugoni.

The third and final signing of the day is Gambian forward Seedy Bah. Bah has played in many of the Battery's preseason scrimmages, scoring a goal in the match with Clemson.

He also played for the Gambian U17 team, as he grew up in Bakau, Gambia.

Bah is only 18 years old, adding to the Battery's young set of forwards. The front needs some development, but our midfield is strong and experienced enough to score while our young front line gets adjusted.

These three players bring the Battery's roster up to a total of 19 players, and more signings are sure to be coming in the next couple of weeks.

The Battery kick off their 2011 USL Pro season on April 9th at home to the Charlotte Eagles.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Battery Defeat College of Charleston, Battery-Silverbacks Match Canceled

Today the Charleston Battery had a preseason scrimmage with the College of Charleston Mens Soccer Team at Blackbaud Stadium. Charleston won the match 2-0.

The Starting XI for the Battery was; Wiggans, Wiltse, Marples, Wilson, Flatley, Prince, Jackson, Caskey, Armstrong, Coleman and Bah.

The first half went without any goals and the two sides went into the locker room tied at 0-0.

The second half started off well for the Battery, with Stephen Armstrong netting an unassisted goal in the 50th minute.

In extra time, newcomer JC Mack scored a goal to put the Battery up 2-0, which would end up being the final.

The one thing that I will take away from this game, as well as the other preseason games, is that Stephen Armstrong is playing great. This season we are going to need an experienced player to be a leader on the team, and Armstrong is not only stepping into that role, but being one of our main goal scorers.

The Battery were set to play a preseason friendly this Saturday, March 26th against the NASL's Atlanta Silverbacks at Blackbaud Stadium, but this game has been canceled.

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Battery-Railhawks Draw, Davies is Back, and the USMNT is Serious

Yesterday the Battery traveled up to Cary, North Carolina for a preseason friendly, at Wakemed Soccer Park against the NASL's Carolina Railhawks.

The game would end in a 0-0 draw. Neither team threatened very much, and the Railhawks would "dominate" (well as you could in this game anyway) the possession in the offensive third. The lack of attacking is typical in these preseason games, and I would take this result with a grain of salt.

Last night Charlie Davies made his debut for DC United against the Columbus Crew, in a game at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.

Davies would enter in the 56th minute, as a sub in the second half for Joseph Ngwenya. In the 63rd minute he would get his chance to make this debut one to remember.

Chris Pontius was pulled down in the box, and Davies would step up to take this PK for United. He buried it to the bottom right.  He wasn't done. Not by a long shot.

In the 77th minute Davies collected a long ball and ran past the Columbus keeper to put his total for the day up to two.

In an emotional post game interview, Davies said:

"This has been like a storybook tonight. I don’t think you could write this stuff. You can’t make this up, and once the whistle blew I was so relieved that we had won. I looked at the fans and that’s when the emotion hit me. I thought to myself, look at the support, look at how much people wanted me to succeed. To score two goals on my debut after a year and a half out, it’s honestly amazing. I knew I was ready, and I knew that I wanted the opportunity, but it feels great to seize the moment. To survive the [car] accident and still be able to play soccer, it seems like there is a reason why it happened and this goes to show that with faith and belief that you can achieve the impossible. Tonight it feels like I achieved the impossible."

This was Davies first game for a first team squad since the car accident that he was in, in 2009.

It is rumored that the United States Men's Team will be playing a scrimmage against world champions, Spain in Foxboro, Massachusetts on June 4th, 2011.

This match would be the last game before the CONCACAF Gold Cup that the United States is hosting in the summer of 2011.

If this match is played, it will be the last in a line up of tough teams that the US has faced since the World Cup. Some of the highlights are Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, and Paraguay.

The US is really getting serious in these friendlies. We haven't been seeing too many match ups against the top teams in the world for the United States, and this line up of teams coming to the US, could get more people interested in the team, and get them more media coverage. When you play teams that are this well recognized, there are no negatives.

The USMNT will be playing Argentina on March 26th at the New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey, and Paraguay on the 29th at LP Field in Nashville, Tennessee.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Charleston Battery: Two New Signings, Charleston 2-0 Clemson

Just prior to the Charleston Batttery's scrimmage with the Clemson Tigers, two new signings were officially announced. Two Jamaicans, Dane Kelly and Evan Taylor, signed with the Battery after good trials and performances in the Carolina Challenge Cup.

Dane Kelly is coming to the Battery from Tivoli Gardens FC in the Jamaican National Premier League. This is the top flight of Jamaican football. Kelly was the leading scorer of the JNPL last year with 15 goals. Kelly is a forward who has shown his ability to score the ball for the Battery. On Wednesday night Kelly played for Charleston against Toronto FC, scoring a goal and drawing a penalty that would win the game.

Midfielder Evan Taylor, another Jamaican, joins Charleston from another JNPL team, Reno FC. He played in 76 matches for Reno and scored 6 goals. He has also made 11 appearances for the Jamaican Senior National Team, as well as 8 for the U20. He scored no goals in all 19 of those appearances. Taylor also played for the Battery in the CCC, where he proved his worth to the team.

Kelly is one of the players I am most excited to see this season. He has a creative touch and flair, with excellent finishing. He has shown that he can play with MLS competition, so he is a great addition for the Battery. He also deepens the Battery's position with the least depth, forward.

Taylor is a nice addition to the Battery's roster as well. Adding to the midfield was something that Charleston needed to deepen as well.

Both of these players are young, fresh talents that will hopefully be effective for the Battery. And one of the players is already making an effect.

In the Battery's first preseason match of the season, (excluding the CCC) Charleston defeated a Clemson University at Blackbaud Stadium. The final score was 2-0 to the Battery. The first goal came in the first half by Seedy Bah to put the Battery up 1-0. The second came from none other than Dane Kelly. The goal was scored in the second half.

The Battery's next preseason match is against the Carolina Railhawks. This is an away match for the Battery and will be played this coming Saturday, March 19th.

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Lamar Neagle Plays in Sounders Loss

Tonight the Seattle Sounders lost to the Los Angeles Galaxy 1-0 on a Juninho goal in the 57th minute. The goal was assisted by Landon Donovan. The Sounders had many subs throughout the course of the second half trying to get some fresh legs in and equalize. They were not successful. Former Charleston Battery player Lamar Neagle was subbed in for White O'brian in the 78th minute.

Neagle played well in the short time he had to prove himself. He got involved, getting a few touches, and was caught offside in the 86th minute. Neagle drew a free kick for the Sounders in added time. He was fouled by none other than David Beckham. This freekick was one of the last chances in the match for Seattle to equalize.

Neagle played alongside another former Battery player, Osvaldo Alonso. Alonso was with the Battery during the 2008 USL-1 season. He scored 7 goals in 31 appearances for Charleston. He has been with Seattle since the 2009 season.

Alonso took most of the corner kicks for the Sounders throughout the game. Osvaldo took one shot during the game, but it went off target.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

MLS Season Preview

Well its that time of year again.We are about to begin the 17th season of the top flight of soccer in the US, Major League Soccer. This year with the brand new playoff format, we can expect to see a more even split of Eastern and Western Conference teams. Two new teams are thrown into the mix in the West (Vancouver and Portland), while the Houston Dynamo are bumped from the Western to the Eastern Conference. Here is where I think they'll finish:
Eastern Conference:
9: Columbus Crew: Well, someone has to finish last, and for me it's Columbus. They're coming off a great year, finishing 2nd in the East and a CONCACAF Champions League appearance, but too many questions arise on the roster. Losing Frankie Hejduk will weaken the defense, and losing midfielder Guillermo Barros Schelotto will leave the midfield hurting. They also didn't make too much of an effort to fill those two holes.
8: Chicago Fire SC: Originally, I had Chicago finishing last, but after a pretty nice performance in the Carolina Challenge Cup, I have more confidence in this young team. Losing Brian McBride, John Thorrington, and Freddie Ljungberg will hurt them dearly, but the young talent looks to be peaking. Their best offseason pick up was Jon Conway from TFC, but a lack of depth is why I have them finishing this low.
 7: New England Revolution: The Revolution are far from their former glory. They have been on a steady decline since the loss of Clint Dempsey, and this year should be no different. The two keys to their success this season will be if Ousmane Dabo can come in from Italian club, Lazio, and have an immediate impact in the defense, and if veteran Shalrie Joseph can continue his success from past seasons.
6: Toronto FC: Toronto is going to suprise some people this year. New coach Aron Winter has a lot to prove with this team, but I actually think that this year they could actually make a playoff run. They don't have the pure talent or depth to make the playoffs, but I think that Toronto is going to make some serious noise. Their best pick-ups this offseason were Nathan Sturgis and Javier Martina.
5: Houston Dynamo: Houston is this year's sexy pick, with the return of Brian Ching and Geoff Cameron, but I don't think that this will be their year. Last year they had a very poor year, and this year will be a major improvement and they will be in the race for a playoff spot, but in the end they won't pull it off. They are very experienced, which is a plus, but I think next year will be the year they return to prominence.
4: Philidelphia Union: The Union are entering their second season of play with a lot to be excited about. Sébastien Le Toux had a great season last year, and when you add Guatemalan Carlos Ruiz, you're looking at one of the best finishing duos in the league. We could see some exciting soccer coming from Philly this year, as they had a very successful transfer season.
3: Sporting Kansas City: New name, new look, new success? Not to say that last year wasn't sucessful, (They finished 3rd in the East) but they will make the playoffs this year. If you remember, they finished with 39 points which wasn't enough to earn a wildcard spot. Teal Bunbury and Omar Bravo create, what I think, is the most exciting attack in the entire MLS, and you can expect some spectacular goals coming from Kansas City. A new stadium is always a help as well.
2: DC United: This is the story of worst, to almost first. DC had arguably the best transfer list of the MLS, almost solely for the pick up of Charlie Davies. Davies will dominate the league this year, and we will see DC easily cruise into the playoffs. Joseph Ngwenya and Santino Quaranta will join Davies up front. On a fundamental note, I thought their ball movement was great at the Carolina Challenge Cup. If they can keep injuries low, DC will compete for first with...
1: New York Red Bulls: Oh New York. So many people have them as first, and as much as I hate it, I have to put them their too. They have everything, experience; Thierry Henry, a young talent; Juan Agudelo, and a great coaching staff. No doubts about this one. They will most likely dominate the East, and their aren't many, if any, questions that are raised when talking about New York's roster.
Western Conference:
9: Chivas USA New coach Robin Fraser has a huge mess too clean up, and this year will not be a success for Chivas. The brightest spot on their team is the young forward Justin Braun, who is becoming one of the best young talents in the MLS and picking up defender Heath Pearce from Dallas. We will see what happens, but last is almost inevitable for Chivas.
8: Vancouver Whitecaps: The first expansion team on the list, will not finish last. Their back-line will be tested this year, a lot, but lead by captain Jay Demerit, and Joe Cannon in goal, they have a good chance of doing it. With the signing of Eric Hassli as a goalscorer, we'll see the Whitecaps finish second to last. Not great, but it's a start.
7: Portland Timbers: I see your first expansion team, and raise you a better one. The Timbers will bring in the MLS' top rookie, with forward Darlington Nagbe. They will also have Kenny Cooper who is coming in from a stint in Germany with 1860 Munich. Portland and Vancouver are put in a tough position, but Portland has quality, and the fan base will come in as one of the best in the league. They have had plenty of experience against MLS teams, as they have had decent success in recent US Open Cups, and their rivalry with the team just up the road, Seattle Sounders FC.
6: FC Dallas: Last year's runner-up in the MLS Cup will have major problems this season. The big losses are Dax McCarty to DC United, and defender Heath Pearce to Chivas USA. David Ferreira is the reigning MLS MVP, but I don't see it being enough to push Dallas through to the playoffs. It will be rebuilding year for Dallas, but hopefully having success last year will fill their soccer-specific stadium this season.
5: San Jose Earthquakes: The Earthquakes are coming off a very successful playoff campaign in 2010. The Earthquakes advanced from a wildcard spot, to the semifinals of the MLS Cup. The 2010 Golden Boot winner, Chris Wondolowski, is returning to San Jose to try and prove himself to the MLS and show that the 'Quakes playoff run wasn't a fluke.
4: Colorado Rapids: Last year's champions will have about the same success in the 2011 season as they did in the 2010 season. Connor Casey and Jamaican Omar Cummings will comeback to lead the Rapids attack, but they didn't deepen their roster enough to win the cup again. The depth of the roster will give them a successful regular season, but come playoff time, a lack of consistency and the greatest fear of all for any team; fatigue, will set in to prevent Colorado from a repeat.
3: Los Angeles Galaxy: The Galaxy have one thing that makes me doubt them. David Beckham. Beckham is returning from England, where he trained with Tottenham Hotspur. Some more drama between Landycakes and Beckham could arise, and unsettle the balance. Plus having big stars like Beckham and Donovan leaves the rest of their squad leaving something to be desired. Edson Buddle is their biggest loss of the offseason. The addition of Juan Pablo Angel will push LA through to the automatic playoff spot.
2: Seattle Sounders FC: Now I'll be the first to admit I'm a little bias towards the Sounders (They're my team), but the Sounders will be one of the best teams in the MLS. Forward Fredy Montero will have a break out year this year, and with Steve Zakuani and Blaise Nkufo to round out the attack, Seattle's attack is very dangerous. Kasey Keller will be returning to Seattle for one more season, and will be a brick wall in the goal for sure. For Charleston Battery fans, Lamar Neagle is on the roster for Seattle.
1: Real Salt Lake: Real is the team this year. And I mean a team. No big names, no huge stars, but a team of solid players, that have a South American flair that will lift them too success this year. Fabián Espíndola and Álvaro Saborío team up for one of the most underrated attacks in the league, and I see RSL pulling out to a comfortable lead over the Sounders at the end of the season.
Wildcard's: 1.Colorado 2. San Jose 3. Philidelphia 4. Dallas
Eastern: 1. New York 2. DC 3. Kansas City
Western: 1. Salt Lake 2. Seattle 3. LA
Game Predictions (Winners in Bold):
San Jose-Philidelphia
New York-Colorado
DC-Kansas City
Salt Lake-San Jose
New York-Kansas City
Salt Lake-Seattle
Salt Lake-Kansas City
Well there you have it. My predictions for the 2011 Major League Soccer season. It will be an interesting year, and I wish luck to all of the teams.

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Carolina Challenge Cup Review

Well it is all over. The largely anticipated Carolina Challenge Cup is over. DC United is the Champion, the attendance and coverage of the tournament was great, and many a memory were made. Here are some notes from the tournament:
  • DC is Back: Now we shouldn't get to excited, as last year they won the CCC and then preceded to finish dead last in the MLS. Davies goal against Toronto was solid, and DC is looking like as deep and complete of a team as ever.
  • What's up with all the Red Cards?: Chicago had 3, Charleston had 2, Toronto had 1. Are the refs getting card happy? Maybe not, but Stephen Armstrong getting sent off in the final game against the Fire, was one of the biggest surprises of the tournament for me.
  • No Extraordinary Performances: Some players did well, but when you get right down to goalscoring, every goal in the tournament was scored by a different player. When you look at the tournament in years past we've usually seen usually one, sometimes two players have an out-of-this-world performance. Last year we saw DC's Jaime Moreno score 5 goals in the tournament. The thing about these tournaments, is that nobody really gets enough consistent playing time to score a huge amount of goals.
In the end this was a successful year for the Carolina Challenge Cup. I hope to see the tournament return next year, and I don't see any reason why it won't. The Battery's organization has shown that it can bring MLS to this tournament and get good attendance numbers, while they're at it.

Sorry that I didn't write a recap of the Charleston-Chicago match, I've been out of town since Thursday and didn't have enough time to write it.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Oh What a Night: Charleston 2-1 TFC

Earlier tonight, the Charleston Battery defeated Toronto FC 2-1 in the 2011 Carolina Challenge Cup. The Battery gained a victory in the Challenge Cup for the first time since 2006. The Battery came back from an early 1-0 deficit for a comeback victory.

The first goal of the game came in the14th minute, after the Battery's Nigel Marples got a hand ball in the box giving TFC a penalty. Toronto's Nathan Sturgis calmly stepped up and converted the penalty to give Toronto a 1-0 lead.

Charleston's Dane Kelly was arguably the man of the match. He caused consistent problems for TFC's back line, and in the 43rd minute, Kelly scored a cracker of a goal from the edge of the penalty area. As Kelly continued to cause problems, Toronto couldn't really find an answer at all. Mikael Yourassowsky was moved from left back to centre back for the second half, and fouled Kelly in the box giving Charleston a PK. Mike Zaher stepped up to take the penalty, and missed on his first attempt, but calmly put in the rebound over Toronto's Stefan Frei. Though they pushed forward for the remainder of the game, Toronto couldn't find an equalizer, and the Battery would go on to win by a final of 2-1.

This was a great game for the Battery. Obviously getting any points against an MLS team is a big accomplishment, but winning a match against one is just a great confidence boost. Kelly was the best player on the field, and could really be a great asset for the Battery this season. All in all, it was a great performance and our boys can go home with their heads held high, while Toronto is left trying to find themselves.

Toronto got their first goal in the Carolina Challenge Cup since the 2009 edition of the tournament, but they have to be asking themselves, "What's going on?" Their squad is not showing much promise, and honestly, I could see them finishing last in the MLS. They have some big questions to answer.

In the first game of the two-game session, DC defeated the Chicago Fire 1-0. DC's Blake Brettschneider scored the only goal of the match in the 10th minute, with a header off a Santino Quaranta free-kick. Chicago again had to play most of the match short-handed, when Diego Chaves got sent off in the 37th minute. Chicago apparently has a problem with getting players sent off.

Let's Not Forget About Toronto

On Wednesday night, the Battery will face Canada's Toronto FC in the second set of games in the 8th annual Carolina Challenge Cup. In the first set of games on Saturday night, Toronto went down to a 10-man Chicago Fire SC 1-0, and the Battery also lost, to DC United, 2-1. Here's what to expect on Wednesday night:

Toronto is the MLS' constant underachievers. They are the only team (excluding last year's new expansion Philidelphia Union, and the two new teams, Portland and Vancouver) that haven't made the playoffs. Despite great fans, good attendance, and a great stadium, Toronto just can't seem to get over the hump. Last year they finished 5th in the Eastern Division and 11th overall in the MLS. In last year's edition of the CCC they failed to win a game or even score a goal.

Toronto will most likely come out in a 4-4-2, as they did against the Fire on Saturday. Swiss International Stefan Frei will most likely start in goal for TFC. He played the full 90 against Chicago. The backline will probably consist of some combination of Dan Gargan, Nana Attakora, Mikael Yourassowsky, Matt Stinson, Andrew Ornoch, and Ashione Morgan. In the midfield look for Nathan Sturgis, Javier Martina, and Nick Labrocca. Up front will probably be Maicon Santos and Joao Plata. This is all speculation of course.

Toronto got 4 yellow cards in Saturday match against Chicago. Plata, Labrocca, Soolsma, and Yourassowksy, all were cautioned in that match. This could be considered Tornto being less talented, but I think that they just got straight out played, and frustration obviously could have been a factor.

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Saturday, March 5, 2011

DC Defeats Charleston 2-1, Fire Down TFC

In the opening set of games of the 8th edition of the annual Carolina Challenge Cup, was played Saturday night DC United defeated the Charleston Battery. Charleston went down early after Chris Pontius scored a goal in the 4th minute on after breaking on goal and with a clinical finish put it in the back of the net. In the 15th minute, the Battery got their equalizer when Brandon Massie was brought down in the penalty box. Stephen Armstrong was elected to take the penalty and putting in the bottom right to tie it up. United controlled most of the game and got a majority of the chances, and they finally got the eventual winner in the 71st minute after Josh Wolf assisted Joseph Ngwenya for a goal to put United up 2-1.

In the end, the boys put up a good fight. Honestly I didn't expect to win, but to score the opening goal of the season against an MLS side is a great accomplishment. We definitely got outplayed, and that was to be expected, but we should go away from this with their heads held up.

Before the DC and the Battery played, Chicago Fire SC played the Canadian side, Toronto FC. The only goal of the game was scored in the 6th minute by the Fire's Marco Papa, assisted by Davis Paul. The Fire's Logan Pause was sent off in the first half, forcing Chicago to play the rest of the game with 10 men. Pause is the Fire's captain.

This was a successful first night of the week long round-robin tournament. A great crowd was on hand to watch the two games, and hopefully the crowds will be just as good for the next couple of sets of games.

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Friday, March 4, 2011

Johnny Wilson Returns, the Gold Cup Draw, and Let's Get Ready to Rumble!

Well its official, one of the most ever capped Charleston Battery players will be returning to Blackbaud Stadium. John "Johnny" Wilson will be returning to Charleston for another season. Oh how great it is. Though he probably won't be an everyday player, Wilson brings so much experience to a team that really needs it. Not to say we don't have some with Stephen Armstrong and Keith Wiggans, among others, but Wilson will bring experience to the defense. Plus he's good. Hard to forget that.

In other news, the CONCACAF Gold Cup draw will be on Tuesday, March 8th. Why is this important? Well, if you by chance read my first article, you know that one of the venues for the Gold Cup will be Charlotte, NC's Bank of America Stadium. I recommend reading that article, to fully understand the importance of the best international squads in the region coming to the area. But, the venue will likely see one of the 3 countries (USA, Mexico, Canada), one of the smaller, but still powerful soccer powers (Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama), and two smaller countries (Jamaica, Haiti, Cuba, etc.). Hopefully the USMNT will play in Charlotte, as it would be a good chance for the US supporters in the Southeast to show how much they care about soccer.

Maybe we should get this guy to
do the pregame festivities.

And of course on the tail end of the return of Wilson, comes what we've been waiting for since last season ended; the Carolina Challenge Cup! I'm so ready to get this season started, and what better way to kick off the season than having MLS teams and their great supporters come to Charleston. Charleston starts the season by playing DC United tomorrow night at 7:15. Chicago Fire SC and Toronto FC will play at 5:00. It'll be an interesting tournament, and we'll get to see where we're at as a team. Come out to see some great soccer. The Regiment will be there before the game tailgating, and having just a general good time. So be sure to check that out. There will also be games on Wednesday, and a week from tomorrow on March 12th.

Added to the roster for the Carolina Challenge Cup are some of the preseason trialists from the Battery's preseason training. Three of them are from the College of Charleston; two defenders; Sean Flately and Sean Bateau, along with Kareem Yearwood, a forward. Two goalkeepers also will join Charleston. A former Chicago Fire keeper, Andrew Dykstra, and Pat Hannigan, who formerly played for Miami FC of the NASL.

I recommend checking out's Preview of the CCC, which has previews of all the teams. I will post a preview for the Battery's match with the Fire and Toronto FC, so make sure to check back for that.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Neagle Signs with Seattle, Charleston Battery Day, and More

Today Lamar Neagle signed with Seattle Sounders FC of the MLS. Neagle was on the Charleston Battery for last year's USL-2 Championship. He scored 12 goals in 19 appearances for the Battery last season, which is the most in a season for his career. He was the top scorer for Charleston last year. Neagle was impressive in the Sounder's preseason camps. Neagle scored 1 goal in a match against Real Salt Lake.

"This is where I want to be," said Neagle. "From the start, I knew I needed more games to get better, and now I'm ready to make a difference. The biggest difference is my confidence and feeling comfortable on the field, and confidence comes from playing games and playing well."

This is a huge step for Lamar. Moving from football in Finland, and the USL-2 to the MLS is great forward progress, and a move up after a couple of years is not out of the question, if he does well (He's only 23). He has payed his dues, and he deserves this chance to show what he's got. It will be tough for him to get consistent playing time, with Fredy Montero and Blaise Nkufo playing forward for Seattle, but we'll see what happens. There was no doubt in my mind that he wouldn't make the roster, but I was also hoping to see him in black and yellow this summer.

Berkeley County, South Carolina, has officially named March 5th Charleston Battery Day. This day will be held because of the Battery's commitment to success on the field, as well as in the community. I think this is just a great idea, and good publicity for the Battery.

Also, alongside the Carolina Challenge Cup this coming weekend, there will be the Carolina Challenge Academy Cup. Academy teams of Chicago Fire and DC United will be participating in this tournament, along with the Battery's academy, South Carolina United, and North Meck SC USSF Academy. The tournament will be two round robin tournaments in the U16 and U18 age divisions. They will be played on Saturday at Blackbaud Stadium. The South Carolina United teams will don the Battery's uniforms, strengthening the link between South Carolina youth soccer and the Battery. SC United Executive Director Clark Brisson had this to say about the tournament:

“We are excited about the opportunity to host MLS Academy teams and North Meck in conjunction with the Carolina Challenge Cup. Special thanks to the Charleston Battery for their support and efforts in bringing USSF Academy teams to Charleston. We wish all coaches and teams the best of luck and hope they enjoy visiting Charleston.”

All of the games in this tournament, including the championship match, are free of admission. So come on down to Blackbaud Stadium to check out these young players.