Friday, April 6

Opening Weekend for Lower Divisions

Friday night marks the beginning of the 2012 campaigns for the lower divisions of American-based professional leagues as the North American Soccer League and USL Pro celebrate their respective Opening Weekends.

USL Pro will be the first to get things going as the Pittsburgh Riverhounds visit the Antigua Barracuda in the first of two matches on the island between the pair this weekend.

On Saturday, all eight clubs will take part in Opening Kick for the NASL with season-opening fixtures in Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Puerto Rico and Minnesota.

In contrast, only six of USL Pro’s 11 clubs will take the field for the first weekend of play as longtime rivals Charleston and Richmond meet in Virginia and defending champion Orlando City visits Charlotte Saturday.

Here is a quick glance at all of the teams in the lower division professional leagues in reverse alphabetical order (just for the fun of it) followed by more information about watching the leagues online and participation in the US Open Cup...


Tampa Bay Rowdies: With the rights drama over the Rowdies name finally over, the club can now focus solely on what happens on the field. Ricky Hill heads into the second season as coach with the addition of former Bristol Rovers captain Stuart Campbell. - More

San Antonio Scorpions: The expansion club, led by veteran coach Tim Hankinson, comes into the league with a handful of name players, including three former MLS Vancouver Whitecaps (Greg Janicki, Kevin Harmse, Wes Knight) and former Revolution back Ryan Cochrane. They also nabbed leading NASL scorer Pablo Campos, goalkeeper Daryl Sattler. - More

Puerto Rico Islanders: The importance of Colin Clarke, who was also often criticized, will be unveiled this year as Adrian Whitbread picks up as the new head coach. The club lost Logan Emory to Toronto, but added Edson Edwards from FC Dallas. The big question, aside from having to play in an alternate home venue for half the year, is whether or not the club find renewed success in the Champions League or has their window come and gone. - More

Minnesota Stars: The club may not have had a winning record last year, but it won the league championship. They lost team leader Joe Warren, who has finally officially retired after a lengthy career in goal. - More

Fort Lauderdale Strikers: The Finalists have a lot of players returning, but lost Brian Arguez to Montreal of MLS. Coming down the ladder, though, is Scott Lorenz (KC); and the club added ex-Chicago player Andy Herron from Limon in Costa Rica. - More

FC Edmonton: The geographic misfit of the league, the club will be not only challenged by travel, but is playing in a different venue at home this year as well. Unknown foreign players will likely decide the club’s fate this season. - More

Carolina RailHawks: What do you do after winning the regular season title and then lose your coach (Martin Rennie) to an MLS club? You go out and get Colin Clarke, who built Puerto Rico into a dominant club and was successful in improving the island’s national team program at the same time. The club, however, also lost Etienne Barbara, Matt Watson, Brad Knighton and Floyd Franks to MLS as they followed Rennie to Vancouver. They picked up Jason Garey from Houston and youth US international Gale Agbossoumonde from Germany, but it looks like another re-building project for Clarke. - More

Atlanta Silverbacks: The club is back for its second season hiatus, looking to improve on dismal return a year ago. They lost Tyler Ruthven to MLS (NY) and in return have a number of incoming foreign players. Among them is Honduras international (85 caps) Danilo Turcios, who joins the Silverbacks from Olimpia, where he has played in the CONCACAF Champions League. - More

USL PRO – Third Division

Wilmington Hammerheads: The club was one of the better sides a year ago, but lost a couple key players. The team will be looking to a pair of former New York Red Bulls - defender Tyler Lassiter and goalkeeper Alex Horwath - to solidify the defense as they search for a new star striker.  - More

Rochester Rhinos: Former Richmond Kickers assistant Jesse Myers heads into first season as a head coach. G Neal Kitson moved onto League One side Northampton Town, but the club gets Danny Earls back after two seasons with Colorado Rapids. - More

Richmond Kickers: Longtime assistant Jesse Myers is gone, but the story of the year will continue to be the final campaign of stalwart keeper Ronnie Pascale. - More

Pittsburgh Riverhounds: Off the field, the buzz will be surrounding the club’s new stadium set to open later this season. On the field, the team is hoping newcomer Tino Nunez of Real Salt Lake provides a spark. - More

Orlando City: Nowhere to go but down? The club’s debut finished in a championship and success off the field. Season two will, perhaps, be overshadowed by the quest for MLS expansion. On the field, Yordany Alvarez (RSL), Lawrence Olum (KC) and Lewis Neal (DC) moved onto MLS while the other big-name signing was John Rooney. - More

LA Blues: Heading into its second season, the club lost Josh Suggs to San Jose, but brought in Brian Farber (Portland) and Irving Garcia (NY) from MLS. The big hurdle is still the travel as the lone team west of the Mississippi. - More

Harrisburg City Islanders: The club lost a pair to MLS with Chase Harrison (Philadelphia) and Jose Angulo (NY) moving on. Coming the other way, Vancouver Whitecaps defender Bilal Ducket joins the team, plus the club has its affiliation with the Union that could help bolster the squad. - More

Dayton Dutch Lions: The experiment that is this club continues. It heads into its second season still in mystery with no big-name or established domestic players on the roster. - More

Charlotte Eagles: The club remains a group of dedicated players, on and off the field. A few pieces have moved around, but one key loss is longtime Eagle Brady Bryant, who may miss the season after an ACL tear suffered in the MISL this winter. - More

Charleston Battery:
Another year and another pair of players move onto MLS. Keeper Andrew Dykstra moved to DC and Alex Caskey followed Oswaldo Alonso’s footsteps to Seattle. No big names have come down the ladder, but coach Mike Anhaeuser  is known for preparing players for the move up, anyway. - More

Antigua Barracuda:
Heading into its second season, the club is the only team this year from the Caribbean. The team is looking for improvement on its modest debut, though the experiment is already showing positive results on the international level with good World Cup qualifying results this year. - More


Partially due to the NASL actually returning for a second season, and with the expansion in the number of berths in the tournament, the NASL’s American clubs will participate in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup this season. The league’s sanctioning issues late last year left the club out of the planning stages of the tournament a year ago, upsetting many that were used to seeing their clubs play in the tournament when members of USL.

FC Edmonton, however, due to the small nature of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship, did participate in Canada’s equivalent to the Open Cup.

Once again, all USL Pro clubs will be automatic entrants into the tournament.


United Soccer Leagues announced that it has a new streaming partner, UNation. There is a lot of hype and promises, mostly from UNation, about its social interaction capabilities. Unfortunately, it looks like the full system won’t even be online until May.

It is the fourth streaming platform in five years for USL and may not be good a sign that the company, located in Tampa with USL, does not even know the proper nomenclature for the league as seen on its website and twitter. It also appears that while they have done a number of events, USL is the first sports league that it is working with. The good news is that all of the USL clubs are experienced on the production end as USL nears its

Most important to longtime USL viewers… the name is now USLnation (USLlive will still get you there though). It is a shame the league is moving away from USLlive just as Major League Soccer adopted the same exact branding this year with MLSlive, utilizing, ironically, the company USL used in 2009 - Neulion - after Turner Broadcastcasting shut down its online streaming department, PlayOn!, which launched USLlive in 2007. A leading streaming company that also worked with the NHL before adding MLS, Neulion proved too costly with the internal USL club strife, leaving the organization with a need to search for a more budget-friendly service two years ago.

In contrast, the North American Soccer League will return to U-Stream for a second season. The low-budget option, however, will have improved standards from a team production standpoint, according to the league commissioner. It may be the league's first observable off-field test as many teams, in the past, have either balked at the cost and refused to upgrade bandwidth, or were just unable to do so at their facilities.

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