Three new teams, two returning teams, and one rebranded team... The NPSL Southeast Region has a very new look in 2011. Matches begin this Saturday, May 7th as Jacksonville United travels to Chattanooga FC and the Knoxville Force hosts Rocket City United. The teams will play ten matches home and away to the others with the top team at the end of league play advancing to the NPSL Championships held locally again at the Madison City Schools Stadium.
In this post, I'll preview the teams.
Atlanta Silverbacks Reserves
Atlanta Silverbacks Reserves. The team will retain one of the most talented coaches in the region with Ricardo Montoya. One of the reasons that AFC found themselves in such troubles last year was the absence of Montoya who was away for much of the season coaching overseas. I fully expect the team to bounce back, find some new great talent, and battle for the regional title this season.
Chattanooga FC will once again be impressive on and off the field. The league's attendance leader has the majority of it's lineup back for the year, but coach Brian Crossman has two big holes to fill. Forward Luis Salazar and goalkeeper Richard Masters have left the club for personal reasons. Expect CFC to once again be in the hunt for a place in the NPSL Championships.
Georgia Revolution hails from Conyers, GA which is an eastern suburb of Atlanta. The team is owned by Rockdale Youth Soccer Association and will look to build a team using players from the many surrounding universities. Eventually the RYSA would like to use the team as a top level in a player development structure from youth teams to pro. Expect the Revs to have some growing pains as they adjust to the competition. Will coach and general manager Rafe Mauran be able to mold the new group into a unit capable of making a dent in the region?
Jacksonville United FC. The team from the Florida coast will draw many players form the successful Lynch's FC club and have added some former professional talent to their roster. Expect JUFC to use the experience gathered from the Lynch's FC club to smooth some of the hurdles most expansion teams face.
Knoxville Force. Experienced coach Derek Broadly would like his team to play "passing football" and will build a team with an eye to that end. The top talent form Eastern Tennessee will fill the roster, and will be tested on Saturday when they host the region's opener against RCU. I expect the Force to face some difficulties in their opening season.
Rocket City United
Rocket City United will likely have a rebuilding year. New coach Gerry Cleary will serve as the third coach in as many seasons. The lack of consistency in coaching and player personnel will make it hard to compete with the top teams in the region. Only midfielder/defender Brian Hadley has played in every season for the club. Two season ending injuries to Paul Willoughby and Derek Pirtle has hurt the depth in attack. However, there are some exciting returnees form the 2009 championship squad including star defender Joseph Omondi. Expect RCU to have trouble against some of the top teams and finish somewhere in the middle of the table.
UPDATE: You may be asking, "What about FC Tulsa?" As far as I can tell, FCT is still affiliated with the NPSL, but due to travel costs, the league decided to remove them from the Southeast Region. The idea is that they will take part in a new region along with future teams from Texas, Oklahoma Arkansas, etc.