NPSL Weekly: Exciting Times in Growing League

Commissioner Michael Hitchcock has the chance to improve league
by Daniel Casey   |   Friday, May 31, 2013

NPSL Weekly – column on the NPSL and the league's clubs, players and owners

With 2 weeks under his belt, new NPSL commissioner Michael Hitchcock should have a feel for what the league needs of him. Becoming the face of one of the largest developmental soccer leagues in the county is a daunting task.

Fortunately, Hitchcock is level-headed evincing the well know soccer meme “Keep Calm.” But to complete the thought, what does Hitchcock hope to do for the league?

In the first place, Hitchcock wants to get the lay of the land by investigating how the many NPSL clubs have cultivated their fan bases and created sustainable clubs in an effort to put together a ‘best practices’ rubric for future expansion. And future expansion is a certainty as Hitchcock has said repeated that every market in the US deserves a soccer team.

The beauty of the NPSL is that it is well positioned to serve this need. Hitchcock knows that the league is in a unique position to connect with fans in a way that the upper leagues (MLS, NASL) cannot. As the president of PMI, a player marketing system, Hitchcock could help bring more opportunities to NPSL players and teams.

I know one of the things I would like to see is a player database where the teams can feature their talent. With the vast majority of NPSL players being college aged, it would make sense to profile them so that they can move up the US soccer pyramid and enhance the repute of the league.

This is another one of Hitchcock’s goals: to create the most professional league possible so that players, supporters and investors see not just a resource but a credible and stable foundation for the nation’s pyramid.

With most teams entering their second month of play this weekend, there are already emerging several league standouts. Also this June will see several of the Conference’s Flights sort themselves out standings-wise, teams will start congeal and begin to fight for position. All things point towards a busy and exciting summer.

Entertaining West

It shouldn’t be a surprise that over in the West Conference play will be entering it third month there’s a lot to talk about.

FC Hasental is currently sitting atop the Southern Flight due in no small part to the performance of forward Ericson Penate. Having played 5 of the team’s 8 matches, he’s scored a NPSL-leading 10 goals. If Hasental is going to be knocked out of the top spot in the Flight, teams will have to find a way to shutdown Penate, or hope he doesn’t play.

But if Penate does sit out a match, Hasental can still have dynamic defenders Liviu Leu (5 goals over 4 matches) and forward Gustavo Villalobos (4 goals in 3 matches). The scoring power of Hasental is the threat in the West Conference’s Southern Flight.

However, the San Diego Flash has reached their stride. Not only are the Flash unbeaten over the last 5 matches, they’ve outscored their opponents 17-5. Only Hasental have been able to stifle the Flash of late, which they did last week in a 0-0 draw.

Forwards Zachary DeVille and Brandon Zuniga alongside midfielder Eric Lafon have each netted 3 goals in just 3 matches. The Flash can boast 13 players of its active roster of 17 have scored a goal. Although FC Santa Clarita has seen out its games with its striker duo of Andres Bueno (5 goals) and Tyler Coombes (4 goals), it doesn’t look as though Santa Clarita will be able to keep pace with the Flash and Hasental. These next few weeks will be vital.

Meanwhile, the West Conference’s Northern Flight has become a 2-horse race between Sonoma County Sol and Sacramento Gold. Sonoma County are still undefeated (5-2-0) and that is what gives them their single point lead over Sacramento. The status quo will most likely be maintained this weekend as Sonoma County face the starkly unremarkable CD Aguiluchos and Sacramento look to beat up on bottom dwellers San Francisco.

The real decider will come on June 8 when Sacramento travel to Sonoma County, most likely that match will determine which team breaks away.

Major scorers in the Midwest

Vinny Bell has become AFC Cleveland’s danger man. The young forward is a major goal scoring threat, but has been doing some good hold-up play to create chances for his teammates as well.

However, it’s not been enough to put Cleveland into the top have of the Great Lakes Flight, and whereas Cleveland has been mostly one-dimensional in their offense, Flight leaders Detroit City FC has been the opposite. Although Knox Cameron’s 4 goals lead the squad, assists have come from all over the pitch. Zeke Harris, Cyrus Saydee and Zach Schewee each have 2 assists apiece meaning that the opposition can’t just close down a single man.

It’s doubtful that this weekend Detroit will waver from their undefeated opening. FC Sparta Michigan was thrashed by Detroit 5-1 in the season opener and it will be interesting to see what happens now that the rematch is at Detroit. After Friday’s match, Detroit will have a day’s rest and then will host the Erie Admirals; a home sweep is in the offing.

But Detroit isn’t the most dominate team in the Midwest Conference, thus far. That honor goes to the Quad City Eagles, who have their full 12 points and have outscored their opponents 12-5. This Saturday and Sunday Quad City will go to face the Minnesota Twin Stars and then host the Milwaukee Bavarians. Both Minnesota and Milwaukee will want to even the season series but Quad City is humming along right now and it is unlikely that will break. Look for Eagles’ forward Kendrick Tyson and midfielder Javier Bautista to cause the most trouble.

Familiarity in the South

If not the most busy in the South Conference, then the South Central Flight will most surely become the most familiar.

With only 4 teams, players will come to know each other quite well. Right now the Tulsa Athletics are the side that’s stealing the show, winning their first 3 matches and scoring 13 goals in the process while not even surrendering half that total.

Levi Coleman (4 goals), Adam Schmoker (3 goals) and Johnny Chavez (2 goals) have helped to give Tulsa not just its full points but a healthy goal differential of eight. If the Houston teams (Houston Hurricanes and Houston Regals) don’t turn things around soon, then they could be left behind.

Things are tighter and more varied in the Southeast Flight where Chattanooga FC has managed to stake itself an early season lead. However, these June matches will be decide what teams break away from the pack.

With Chattanooga in pole position, Knoxville, Gulf Coast and New Orleans are all vying to make up ground and could easily do so this weekend.

And whereas Chattanooga has come off the line strong, the Mississippi Storm is having a woeful opening. Mississippi have played the most games so far in the Flight but are on a 3-game losing skid where they have surrendered 11 goals while not even scoring half as many themselves. It’s a worrisome situation as the rest of the Flight look to be finding their groove.

Kicking off in the Northeast

Three teams in the Northeast Conference’s Atlantic Flight will finally get underway this weekend: New York Athletic Club, Seacoast United Phantoms and Seacoast United Mariners.

In just one more somewhat confusing turn, it appears as though the Seacoast United teams are of the same organization covering the territory of coastal (i.e., populated) Maine and New Hampshire.

The NPSL’s Seacoast United Phantoms might very well be the same squad that makes up the PDL’s Seacoast United Phantoms. It’s all a bit dodgy.

One thing is for certain, however. The Brooklyn Italians will travel up to the Seacoast this weekend for matches against each and most likely come away with 6 points.

In the less confusing and well underway Keystone Flight, it looks as though Hershey FC have given itself an early season cushion. By winning its first 4 matches and standing undefeated atop the Flight, Hershey can lose its match this weekend against the Morris County Colonials and still have a 2-point lead over Greater Binghamton FC.

Morris County is the only Keystone Flight team that has yet to play and this weekend it will play 2 matches – the first against a Clarkstown SC Eagles that has yet to give up a goal, and the second against Hershey. It is quite unlikely that Morris County will come away with full points, but it could pull an upset when it hosts Clarkstown.

And even though FC Lehigh Valley United Sonic is fresh off their runner-up finish in the first US National Amateur Championship, I have to consider them underdogs against FC Reading Revolution this weekend. The Keystone Flight will become one of the busiest this month in the league and should offer some great match-ups. It will be this weekend that teams start to get themselves humming.

Predictions: My predictions are slowly improving, this last week I managed a 14-12 record. Overall, my stats are 25-22. Let’s hope this week continues my upward trend.

Northwest Conference:

Pocono Snow SC vs. Buxmont Torch (draw); Morris County Colonials vs. Clarkstown SC Eagles; New York Red Bull U23 vs. Seacoast United Phantoms; FC Reading Revolution vs. FC LVU Sonic; Clarkstown SC Eagles vs. Buxmont Torch; Pocono Snow SC vs. Junior Lone Star FC (draw); Seacoast United Mariners vs. Brooklyn Italians; Rhode Island Reds vs. New York Athletic Club; Seacoast United Phantoms vs. Brooklyn Italians; Morris County Colonials vs. Hershey FC

South Conference:

Cape Coral Hurricanes vs. Tampa Marauders FC; DC United U23 vs. Myrtle Beach FC; CASL Elite vs. RVA FC; Miami United vs. Tampa Marauders FC (draw); Mississippi Storm vs. Gulf Coast Texans; Tulsa Athletics vs. Houston Regals SCA; Chesterfield United FC vs. CASL Elite; Liverpool Warriors vs. Houston Hurricanes; New Orleans Jesters vs. Rocket City United; Georgia Revolution vs. Jacksonville United FC; Knoxville Force vs. Chattanooga FC; Tulsa Athletics vs. Houston Regals SCA; Liverpool Warriors vs. Houston Hurricanes

Midwest Conference:

Milwaukee Bavarians vs. Madison 56ers; Detroit City FC vs. FC Sparta Michigan; AFC Cleveland vs. FC Buffalo; Minnesota Twin Stars vs. Quad City Eagles; Erie Admirals vs. FC Sparta Michigan; Zanesville Athletic FC vs. FC Buffalo (draw); Quad City Eagles vs. Milwaukee Bavarians (draw); Minnesota Twin Stars vs. Madison 56ers

West Conference:

San Francisco Stompers vs. Sacramento Gold; FC Santa Clarita vs. San Diego Flash; San Diego Boca vs. Las Vegas Stallions (draw); CD Aguiluchos USA vs. Sonoma County Sol; Orange County Pateadores vs. FC Hasental

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.