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USSF Division 2 Season Preview: NASL Conference

 Railhawks PalaceBaltimore_logo Miami_fc logo

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For the majority of this winter, it looked like second division soccer in the United States was extinct. Squabbling between the newly-formed NASL and established USL left the second tier hanging in the balance.

Fortunately, the U.S. Soccer Federation stepped in and put an end to the mess, bringing the two sides together and brokering a one-year truce that set up a league ready to open play this weekend.

The league will be split into two six-team conferences — each named after one of the existing leagues — with play running from April through October, and each club playing 30 matches. Eight teams make the postseason, with the winner of each conference earning a playoff spot, and the top six qualifying after in a single-table format.

The revolving door of clubs will play a prominent role in 2010. Two teams, Portland and Vancouver, are in a state of transition with MLS beckoning next year. Meanwhile, A.C. St. Louis and the Tampa Bay Rowdies signed on for 2010, and a new team emerged in Minnesota as the Thunder folded. Crystal Palace Baltimore joined from USL-2, while the Charleston Battery relegated themselves down a level.

With the season set to get underway April 10, here's a look at the NASL Conference:

Carolina Railhawks

2009: 16-7-7, Lost in Quarterfinals

Coach: Martin Rennie

Players to Watch: Daniel Paladini, Gregory Richardson, Mark Schulte

Bottom Line: A playoff team a season ago, Carolina kept most of their team intact after a second place finish in 2009. That didn't translate to success in the USL playoffs, as the Railhawks were upset by the Vancouver Whitcaps in the quarterfinals, going losing 1-0 over a two-leg aggregate series.

The core is led up by veteran defender and team captain Mark Schulte, who anchors the defense along with Matt Bobo. Up front, Gregory Richardson leads the attack, with the former Joe Public striker entering his first full season after joining the Railhawks halfway through 2009.

An interesting tactic Rennie employs is a starting goalie rotation. Caleb Patterson-Sewell and Eric Reed each played 15 games last year, and new signing Nic Platter will likely jump in the rotation for Patterson-Sewell. The expectations are high in Carolina, and they'll want to improve on last season's disappointing quarterfinal loss.

Crystal Palace Baltimore

2009: 6-9-5, Did not make playoffs (USL-2)

Coach: Jim Cherneski and Pete Medd

Players to Watch: Mathew Mbuta, Gary Brooks, Tsuyoshi Yoshitake

Bottom Line: Crystal Palace face the difficult task of making a smooth transition from the third division (USL-2) to the second tier of the USSF Division 2 league. Soccer in Baltimore is starting to flourish with talk of a stadium, and it'll be worth watching to not only see how Crystal Palace does on the pitch, but also how many people show up in the stands.

The club has never enjoyed much success in the third tier, so making the playoffs in an even deeper, stronger, league is going to be too much for this club. A name familiar to New York fans is Matthew Mbuta, who returned to the Baltimore after getting cut loose by the Red Bulls. Joining Mbuta in a return to Crystal Palace is Gary Brooks, a leading attacker back in 2007-2008, who returns to his old club after a year with inter-state rival Real Maryland.

Several new additions, including Japenese players Tsuyoshi Yoshitake and Takuro Nishimura who were previously with Charleston and Portland respectively, bring the experience Palace needs if it has any legitimate hopes of contending. The unusual co-head coaches Jim Cherneski and Pete Medd will have their hands full trying to get this team into the playoffs.

Miami FC

2009: 8-17-5, Did not make playoffs

Coach: Victor Pastora

Players to Watch: Christian Gomez, Abe Thompson, Edward Santeliz

Bottom Line: After a lackluster performance in 2009, Miami's front office rang the changes, with the biggest move bringing in former D.C. United star Christian Gomez. The attacking midfielder had an up-and-down season for D.C. last year, and whether or not the 35-year-old has anything left in the tank is debatable. If he can recapture his 2007 form, it'll be the signing of the season in the second division, and have Miami poised for a playoff run.

Joining Gomez in the former-MLS ranks is Abe Thompson. Formerly of Kansas City and FC Dallas, Thompson will look to provide a consistent goal-scoring threat up front. Another new acquisition, Edward Santeliz, a former El Salvador U-20 International, has shown a real nose for goal in preseason games. Of course that can't count for much if he can't turn it on once the regular season is underway.

Former MLS players Kyle Veris, Chris Gbandi, Mike Randolph and Zach Kirby will battle for playing time at the back. A lot of Miami FC's chances in 2010 will depend on Gomez, and if the midfielder can jump start the attack on a consistent basis.

Montreal Impact

2009: 12-11-7, Defending Champions

Coach: Marc Dos Santos

Players to Watch: Leonardo Di Lorenzo, Roberto Brown, Nevio Pizzolitto

Bottom Line: The defending champs return the core of last season's victorious squad, with the only notable subtraction the loss of Joey Gjertsen to the San Jose Earthquakes.

Bringing back midfielder Leonardo Di Lorenzo and last year's leading goal-scorer Roberto Brown ensured that the right players returned to Montreal. Coming in are the likes of Reda Agourram, a 19-year-old member of the Canadian U-20 team, Portuguese midfielder Helder Filipe Da Costa Soares, and French midfielder Philippe Billy to add depth. Brown was the only consistent striker last year, so Montreal will need another younger player to step up and give the club's offense another option.

While the onus is on Montreal to repeat as champions, the constant speculation about a move to Major League Soccer in 2012 draws a number of headlines. Once the season gets underway, that will likely take a backseat as the Impact begin their title defense.

A.C. St. Louis

2009: DNP

Coach: Claude Anelka

Players to Watch: Steve Ralston, Luke Kreamalmeyer, Alec Dufty

Bottom Line: A brand-new club, A.C. St. Louis made some noise earlier this year with the signing of former New England Revolution midfielder Steve Ralston. However, Ralston's health remains a concern, while many questions surround his new team.

Coach Claude Anelka has a rather mysterious background, and even less coaching experience. The brother of Chelsea striker Nicolas once paid a lower-tier Scottish club £300,000 to manage them back in 2004. After earning one point in 8 matches, he left his post, resurfacing six years later as the head man of this brand-new expansion team.

Luke Kreamalmeyer brings some of the most second-tier experience, but with a team littered with younger players, don't be surprised if A.C. St. Louis hovers near the bottom of the table for most of 2010.

Vancouver Whitecaps

2009: 11-10-9, Lost in Final to Montreal

Coach: Teitur Thordarson

Players to Watch: Jay Nolly, Martin Nash, Marlon James

Bottom Line: Vancouver will spend much of 2010 with one eye on the future, as next season will mark their MLS debut. After finishing 7th during the regular season, the Whitecaps went on a run that culminated with a 6-3 defeat over two legs in the USL Final against Montreal.

Vancouver has made it a habit of making the playoffs, and even with MLS just one year away, finishing out their second division stay in style. Starting goalie Jay Nolly will have his say in that, as he'll look to build on an impressive 2009.

The departures of Lyle Martin and Charles Gbeke leave holes to fill, as the latter set the pace up front. Veteran forward Marlon James will be relied upon to make up for their departures. Captain Martin Nash, one of the league's all-time best,is another key midfield cog. Vancouver's Residence Academy will also get a chance to show what it's made of, as academy products Randy Edwini-Bonsu, Dever Orgill and Cornelius Stewart will vie for playing time.

Projected Order of Finish

1. Vancouver*

2. Carolina*

3. Montreal*

4. Miami FC*

5. Crystal Palace Baltimore

6. A.C. St. Louis

*Denotes playoff team


  1. Crystal Palace sounds quite exotic and has a storied 19th-century history. Maybe you need to get out more?

    Also, feeder clubs aren’t run to win things, they are run to find and produce talent for the main club. That’s like saying Chelsea should be upset about not fielding a strong Reserve team. Finally, some clubs are run to make money not win things. Look at the Pittsburgh Pirates for example.

  2. Has anyone seen the Flash in San Diego? I think this is a team that will definitely break into this league in a year or two. The talent is really high, plus they’ve got Warren Barton as a coach!

  3. I think Miami will finally have a good season. The Christian Gomez signing isn’t what interests me. Miami has always had at least one world class (typically really old) offensive star on their team. However, they have never had a bunch of people with MLS experience. Chances are over half their starting lineup will be guys with significant MLS playing time. If they can gell, and if Thompson plays well at foward they, will be the team to beat.

  4. It is embarrasing the number of FC’s, AC’s and ripped off Euro names D2 has. MLS is going that way also. Really it’s all self defeatism on our part.

    Always the Metro and new the Red Bull is my mantra.

  5. I actually follow Crystal Palace, and one of the only reasons that I know of the team in baltimore is because of their name.

  6. Carolina has a plethora of attacking options and they are bound to be very strong in the attack.

    Vancouver is now boosted by getting Marcus Haber from West Brom on loan. That is the sort of loan deal they will be unable to make once in MLS, because obviously they have no option to buy the player. Furthermore, they sold him for about a $1 million and actually kept the transfer fee! What a novel concept.

    I’m looking forward to the season. I support MLS, but prefer D2 because the rules aren’t so darn confusing!

  7. Precisely…It’s interesting that when most teams move, they take on the name of their new cities i.e. Cleveland Brown became the Baltimore Ravens, Minneapolis Lakers became the Los Angeles Lakers, etc..

  8. Wow. Nice to see someone rate Palace Baltimore finishing higher than the basement.

    Good thing games are played on the field and not on paper.

    Still, I think it’s gonna be a long season for my the Baltimore boys.

  9. I think Ft.Lauderdale FC will fair much better than 4th…but let’s not call them Miami FC. I’d think the good people of the FTL would be offended that team officials would need the gimmick of using the superior city to the south’s name to promote a team that is really FTL’s.

  10. I don’t think Vancouver has the striking force to finish first. Marlon James is aging and always injured. Goal scoring is on the sole shoulders of young, but talented, Edwini-Bonsu. I see Montreal and Carolina finishing before them. Also, at the end of last season, Montreal was able to count on the very efficient Peter Byers to score goals.

    I see the standings at the end of this season being like this:
    1- Montreal
    2- Carolina
    3- Vancouver
    4- Miami
    5- St Louis
    6- Baltimore

  11. My picks

    1- Montreal
    2- Carolina
    3- Vancouver
    4- Miami
    5- St Louis
    6- Baltimore

    St Louis will struggle with a young team but the presence of Ralston and a big home following will allow them to escape the basement.

    Miami should be pretty good. It is not just Gomez but a bunch of other mid level type players they have brought in. But they aren’t top tier yet.

    Montreal is still the class of the league though Carolina could give them a run.

  12. Good to see updates on this here, as aside from local bloggers, I don’t expect much play in the StL media. Ralston probably won’t be playing anytime soon and apparently there are some work permit issues for some foreign players we’ve signed (who’d have thought that in Div. II American soccer??)…

    But excited to have a team back in StL. Been quite awhile. Expecting a good turn out for the opening home game next weekend.

  13. I think you are overrating Miami. The signing of Christian Gomez is just a sign that the team is panicking going into the season. Signing an aging ex-MLS star on the decline will not help this side. If last season and preseason is any indication, expect the team, as well as the attendance at games, to be poor, just like last season.

  14. I don’t really get a British team that own an American team and names them after themselves do they not want them to succeed?

    And I apologize if everyone loves the name Chrystal Palace Baltimore, but that has to be a huge turn off for a potential fan. I really doubt that 99.9% of the people living in Baltimore know anything about Chrystal Palace and of that .1%, 1/2 of those probably don’t like the name anyway.

    Why not go for something that plays off of other very successful teams in the area?

    Raven, Orioles might cause one to think maybe another bird name would fit nicely.


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