PDL Season Recap: North America’s Future Stars

Wrap up of the 2012 USL PDL Season
by Daniel Casey   |   Thursday, August 16, 2012

USL Premier Development League (PDL)

While the MLS season has turned the corner and we look forward to the second half of the season with its playoff run drama, the lower leagues of US soccer have wrapped up their seasons. One such league, the Premier Development League (PDL) has had their playoffs, crowned their champions, and named their all-stars. What we get with the Premier Development League’s season is a sneak peak at those players who will be making their mark on the NASL and MLS come next Spring as well as a few organizations that will be growing over the next few years.

On Saturday, August 4th the PDL crowned its champion, Canadian side Forest City London, in Greensboro, North Carolina. The Championship match against the Carolina Dynamo was the culmination of a very successful season for both teams and the league. It was FC London’s first PDL Championship overcoming Carolina 2-1 with a brace from Englishman Jordan Ayris. FC London did well to earn it, beating among others the Michigan Bucks, a side that eliminated MLS’s Chicago Fire from the US Open Cup earlier this year. FC London finished second to the Bucks in their conference but was able to put together an impressive playoff run, which saw them go down early in nearly all of their matches but display the fortitude to never lay off the gas and comeback to win. Consider also that FC London only won seven games in the regular season, becoming only the second team in PDL history to do so and win the title (the other being Ventura County Fusion). With 72 teams in the PDL, to come out on top is no small achievement.

As a large league the PDL boasts some of the best developmental teams in the country. Their season is short, typically 16 games over the summer, but in that brief time they play some intense soccer. The PDL features several teams with MLS connections such as Vancouver Whitecaps FC U23, Portland Timbers U23, Sounders FC U23, and Chicago Fire PDL. PDL teams routinely place their players into MLS, most frequently though the MLS SuperDraft. This year’s PDL runner-up the Carolina Dynamo can boast having placed ex-members Zack Lloyd (FC Dallas) and Jalil Anibaba (Chicago Fire) in MLS. Over the past couple of years, the Chicago Fire PDL has produced some highly successful players like current MLS Rookie of the Year candidate Austin Berry (Chicago Fire), Ethan Finlay (Columbus Crew), Justin Morrow (Sporting Kansas City) and Seth Sinovic (Sporting Kansas City).

But the PDL is more than just a development league for players, it also serves as a platform for ownership to mature. The Ottawa Fury (whose women’s team became the W-League Champions this year) will soon join the second tier NASL and see their players go up against the reborn New York Cosmos franchise. Several teams boast savvy ownership and/or ambitious supporters. The Victoria Highlanders have put together a Cascadia team that is partly fuelled by supporter ownership, a model that more teams at all levels should seriously consider incorporating into their structure. Baltimore Bohemians have quietly resurrected soccer in Baltimore through not just quality play but a pleasing aesthetic — their mascot Mr. Boh and kit sponsor local brew Natty Boh are brilliant. Baltimore have won over the hearts of the Free Beer Movement, which is something all clubs should aspire to do. The St.Louligans supporters for the St. Louis Lions and the Austin Aztex’s Eberly’s Army have made it a point to remind everyone that the Pacific Northwest doesn’t have a monopoly on supporter passion and that lower level soccer can be just as exciting for fans as MLS. Austin (a redux club as the ‘original’ Austin Aztex left in 2010 to become the USL’s Orlando City) is also guided by arguably the most interactive, social media friendly manager in North American soccer, Paul Daglish.

We should soon expect to see the stars from this year’s season make their mark in the upper level leagues. League MVP and Scoring Champion forward Sullivan Silva of the Thunder Bay Chill netted 13 goals and dished out 6 assists over nearly 1300 minutes. The 23 year old Brazilian is quite familiar with the North American game having played for Capital City (Ottawa, Canada), Austin Aztex, and the Vermont Voltage. Silva is in a fine position to move up the professional ladder and is in fact currently training with the Vancouver Whitecaps. Goalkeeper Adam Grinwis of the Michigan Bucks won both PDL Rookie of the Year and Goalkeeper of the Year because he managed a ridiculously low 0.444 goals-against average. How good was Grinwis this season for Michigan? Over nine games, he never conceded more than one goal. Perhaps a help was teammate Kevin Cope, Defender of the Year. Cope played nearly 1300 minutes for the Bucks and was able to score four goals. Both of these young men should get a serious look from higher North American clubs, especially given the dire need for goalkeepers and defenders (specifically fullbacks) at those levels. Success in the PDL has also translated into success overseas, the Texas Dutch Lions saw one of their own, Furghill Zeldenrust, sign with Dutch Eredivisie club RKC Waalwijk. Hopefully this new season in Europe will bode well for Zeldenrust and raise the profile of the US’s fourth division. 

Because the PDL is a summer league many of its players will be heading back to college soon. In all likelihood, those players that were able to play in the PDL will go into the NCAA season with improved strength and skill. Several may also be ready for pro contracts and could well bolster squad depth for MLS and NASL clubs looking to make playoff runs.

Daniel CASEY

Carthage College Univ. of Notre Dame
Club Domestic:
Chicago Fire & Minnesota Stars
Club Foreign:
Manchester United
Founder/editor of the literary magazine Gently Read Literature, active but barely read poet and literary critic, and an occasional English professor. Never got to play soccer until his mid-30s, so he is routinely schooled by U10 crowd at pick-up games.