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News from USL

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    Saturday, August 24, 2013

    HARRISBURG, Pa. – The Charlotte Eagles defeated the Harrisburg City Islanders 3-1 with second-half goals by Christian Ramirez, Jorge Herrera and Samuel Asante in the quarterfinals of the USL PRO Playoffs on a beautiful sunny afternoon at Skyline Sports Complex on Saturday afternoon. The Eagles took a two-goal lead behind goals from Ramirez and Herrera before Lucky Mkosana pulled a goal back for Harrisburg with five minutes to go, but Asante sealed the victory in stoppage time as the Eagles advanced to face either the Richmond Kickers or Dayton Dutch Lions in the semifinals next weekend.

    Harrisburg's Yann Ekra had the first scoring chance of the game when a ball laid off by Sainey Touray at the top of the penalty area was volleyed just inches over the ball. Charlotte’s first opportunity just came four minutes later when a ball was swung into the far post for Nathan Thornton, whose effort was saved by Islanders’ goalkeeper Nick Noble. Harrisburg had another opportunity in the 22nd minute as Touray had a one-on-one with Charlotte goalkeeper Eric Reed, but chose to flick the ball to Mkosana for an open goal, only for the Eagles' defense to recover and clear the danger before the Zimbabwaen forward could pull the trigger. Another chance came for Thornton came in the 32nd minute when he ripped a volley from just outside the corner of the penalty area that whistled over the crossbar, leaving the teams scoreless at the break.

    The tone for the second half was set early when Jason Pelletier was shown a yellow card for a reckless tackle from behind. The opening goal would come seven minutes after the break when a City islanders’ defender trapped the ball inside the penalty area, and Nick Noble picked up the ball, which caused the referee to award an indirect free kick for a back pass. The indirect kick was set up at the edge of the six-yard box, and Herrera tapped the ball for Ramirez to blast through the legs of the Islander defenders on the goal line and into the back of the net.

    The City Islanders tried to hit back, and came close from a series of three corner kicks in the 75th minute. The last of the three was headed by on goal by Coady Andrews, only for Thornton to clear off the line at he stood by the left post. The Eagles would double their advantage six minutes later, however, as a counter attack resulted in a breakaway that was broken up by City Islanders defender Stephen Basso. The foul resulted in Basso's second yellow card, reducing Harrisburg to 10 men, and on the ensuing free kick, Herrera ripped a shot from just outside the left side of the penalty area to the far post to give his side a 2-0 lead.

    The City Islanders wouldn't go down without a fight, and they pulled a goal back in the 85th minute when Mkoasana intercepted a pass in the Eagles' end and made a move past Reed before cutting back onto his right foot to finish past the covering defender. Harrisburg then came close to an equalizer in the 90th minute when a counter-attack started by a long ball from Tom Mellor came to Touray, who cut the ball back to Mkosana 12 yards out, but the shot was deflected away by a challenging Eagles’ defender.

    With the entire City Islanders squad pushed forward to try and send the game to extra time, the Eagles were able to put thhe game away in the final minute of stoppage time as Herrera passed off to Asante, who tapped the ball into an open net to punch a ticket for a trip to the semifinals of the USL PRO Playoffs. The final whistle blew moments later in front of 1,124 fans to close the book on the 2013 City Islanders season.


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  • 08/24/13--22:23: Battery Hold Off Blues
  • Saturday, August 24, 2013

    CHARLESTON, S.C. -- The Charleston Battery defeated the Los Angeles Blues 2-1 to advance to the semifinals of the USL PRO Playoffs on Saturday night at Blackbaud Stadium. Dane Kelly and Mike Azira both scored as the defending champion Battery held off Los Angles and move into the next round.

    The Battery will face Orlando City next Friday night at the Florida Citrus Bowl in the semifinals with kick off set for 7:30 p.m. ET (Sports Radio 1450 AM).

    Los Angeles put the Battery under pressure in the opening stages and were unlucky not to take the lead in the 21st minute after Matt Fondy worked himself into a shooting position at the edge of the penalty area. Fondy hit a right-footed shot that beat Charleston goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper, but cannoned back off the right post and away to safety.

    Charleston fought back, and took the lead less than three minutes later after Nicki Paterson picked out Kelly just inside the penalty area. The Jamaican forward pulled the ball past his defender and drilled a left-footed finish into the right corner off the goal to give the Battery the lead.

    Cooper was called into action again in the 37th minute as Fondy tried another shot, this time from outside the penalty area. The ball came in at pace, but Cooper managed to get across and tipped it wide of his left post.

    Both teams traded chances after the halftime break, but it was the Battery who were able to double their advantage as midfielder Mike Azira played in Quinton Griffith behind the Los Angeles right back. Griffith squared the ball back to Azira, who hammered his first-time shot into the goal to make it 2-0 in the 71st minute.

    The Blues pulled a goal back in the 84th minute through substitute forward Mohammad Roknipour, but the defending USL PRO champions were strong enough to hold off the Blues despite some late pressure and advance to the semifinal round.


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    Saturday, August 24, 2013

    ORLANDO, Fla. -- Orlando City SC (No. 2 seed) defeated the Pittsburgh Riverhounds (No.7 seed) 5-0 on Saturday night in the quarterfinals of the USL PRO Playoffs in front of 8,486 fans Fifth Third Bank Field at the Florida Citrus Bowl. Orlando is now set to host the Charleston Battery on Friday, August 30, for a place in the 2013 USL PRO Championship Game.

    “I think the work rate that (Long) Tan and (Dennis) Chin produced set the tone for the entire night,” said Orlando City Head Coach Adrian Heath. “My favorite quote to the players is ‘The supporters want to see you play like they would play if they had a chance.’ I think they did that tonight.”

    The Lions got off to a hot start, with a goal occurring in just the third minute. A well-placed corner by Luke Boden found the head of Tan, who whipped his attempt past Pittsburgh goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap for the 1-0 lead.

    Immediately following, Pittsburgh went on the attack- with Riverhounds’ Midfielder Rob Vincent finding himself with open space behind the Orlando backline in the fourth minute. Vincent slid his attempt past Orlando goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo, only for defender Rob Valentino to make a sliding clearance inside the box, sending the chance out of danger.

    Just a minute later, the Lions doubled their advantage with Renan Boufleur cleaning up a loose ball inside the six-yard box for a 2-0 lead. Tan flicked on an Anthony Pulis corner for Boufleur in open space inside the penalty area, and the Phoenix FC loanee blasted his finish home.

    Orlando didn’t let up for the remainder of the first 45 minutes, with Pittsburgh having few chances against a solid backline that included Valentino, Erik Ustruck, Boden and Boufleur.

    The second half started off much like the first, with a quick goal by Orlando giving the Lions a comfortable 3-0 lead. After getting behind the Pittsburgh defense, Chin played a brilliant back heel pass to Tan, which allowed the Chinese striker to put his shot past Gilstrap for his second goal of the night. The two goals in one game by Tan was the first time the striker notched a brace since joining the team in the 2012-13 offseason.

    Orlando tacked on two more goals to seal the victory, with Chin converting in the 68th minute while Anthony Pulis drove home a penalty kick in the 79th minute for a 5-0 advantage and convincing victory.

    The Lions will face defending USL PRO champions the Charleston Battery in the semifinals of the USL PRO Playoffs on Friday, August 30, at Fifth Third Bank Field at the Florida Citrus Bowl. Orlando holds a 7-1-2 advantage (W-L-T) against the Battery, with the most recent meeting on July 11 resulting in a Lions win.

    Tickets are available for Friday night’s semifinal by calling (855) ORL-CITY or by visiting OrlandoCitySoccer.com. The ticket office will have extended office hours leading up to the match: Sun 10am-2pm; Mon-Thu 9am-7pm; Fri 9am-2pm. Tickets will also be available on Friday at the Florida Citrus Bowl box office after 2p. For more information on the upcoming playoff game and more, please visit OrlandoCitySoccer.com.

     


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    USL PRO News Release

    Saturday, August 24, 2013

    TAMPA, Fla. – The semifinals of the 2013 USL PRO Playoffs were set on Saturday night, with the top three seeds each taking the first step toward a championship with victories against their lower-seeded opposition. The regular-season champion Richmond Kickers will host the No. 5-seed Charlotte Eagles at City Stadium in the semifinals as they look to add a second piece of silverware to their trophy cabinet, while No. 2-seed Orlando City will host the No. 3-seed and defending USL PRO champion Charleston Battery in the other semifinal.

    The Kickers had to overcome a stern challenge from first-time playoff participant the Dayton Dutch Lions in their quarterfinal as a finish by Joseph Ngwenya provided the only goal in a 1-0 victory at City Stadium. Andrew Dysktra and the Kickers defense were able to withstand a strong Dutch Lions’ attack, with the game remaining in the balance until the final whistle.

    Orlando City had no such difficulties with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds at the Florida Citrus Bowl, with goals in the opening five minutes from Long Tan and Renan Boufleur giving the Lions a quick lead on their way to a 5-0 victory. Tan finished with two goals and an assist, his second goal coming three minutes into the second half before he set up Dennis Chin for a fourth in the 68th minute. Anthony Pulis capped the victory from the penalty spot with 10 minutes to play.

    Defending champion Charleston was made to battle for its 2-1 victory against the Los Angeles Blues, with the visitors going close to opening the scoring as Matt Fondy hit the post in the 21st minute. Goals on either side of the break by Dane Kelly and Mike Azira, both on counter-attacks, proved to be enough for the Battery, however, as a late deflected goal by Mohammed Roknipour was just a consolation for the Blues.

    Charlotte recorded the only upset of the opening round as the Eagles took a 3-1 victory against the Harrisburg City Islanders at Skyline Sports Complex, with their leading scorers from the regular-season leading the way. Both Christian Ramirez and Jorge Herrera found the back of the net for the Eagles to give their side a 2-0 lead with just less than 10 minutes to go, and while Lucky Mkosana was able to pull a goal back for the City Islanders in the 85th minute, Samuel Asante’s finish late in stoppage time wrapped up the win for Charlotte.

    The 2013 USL PRO Playoffs continue Friday night as Orlando City hosts the Charleston Battery at the Florida Citrus Bowl at 7:30 p.m. ET. On Saturday night, the Richmond Kickers host the Charlotte Eagles at City Stadium at 7 p.m. ET for a place in the 2013 USL PRO Championship game.

    Stay up to date with all of the action in the 2013 USL PRO Playoffs through the league’s free online streaming service, USLNation.com, and also follow the race for the playoffs via Twitter (@USLPRO), Facebook and Google+ for live updates from every game, plus news, previews and recaps of all the action.

     

    2013 USL PRO PLAYOFFS
    Quarterfinals
    Saturday, August 24
    No. 1 Richmond 1, No. 8 Dayton 0
    No. 2 Orlando 5, No. 7 Pittsburgh 0
    No. 3 Charleston 2, No. 6 Los Angeles 1
    No. 5 Charlotte 3, No. 4 Harrisburg 1

    Semifinals
    Friday, August 30
    No. 2 Orlando vs. No. 3 Charleston, 7:30 p.m. ET, Florida Citrus Bowl

    Saturday, August 31
    No. 1 Richmond vs. No. 5 Charlotte, 7 p.m. ET, City Stadium 


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    USL PRO Feature

    Monday, August 26, 2013

    When Joseph Ngwenya joined the Richmond Kickers at the start of the USL PRO season, he went in with the same aim as he had during his time in Major League Soccer.

    Win something with your new club.

    The 32-year-old Zimbabwean had found success at his previous stops, even winning a PDL Championship with the Cape Cod Crusaders in 2003 before joining the Los Angeles Galaxy a year later and being part of the side that won both MLS Cup and the U.S. Open Cup in 2005. Two years later, another MLS Cup title arrived as part of the Houston Dynamo, and now he and his current side stand two wins away from adding the USL PRO Championship to their regular-season title.

    “When I was in MLS, I wanted to win something wherever I would go, and I did with Houston in the MLS Cup, and with the Galaxy with the MLS Cup and Open Cup, so I want to win something here as well,” Ngwenya said by phone.

    If the Kickers do go on to claim the championship, Ngwenya will likely have played a key role. After leading the team with nine goals in the regular season, the attacking midfielder scored the decisive goal in a 1-0 win against the Dayton Dutch Lions on Saturday night in the quarterfinals of the USL PRO Playoffs. While the Kickers only suffered one defeat on their way to the regular-season championship, the challenge they received from No. 8-seed Dayton illustrated the difference between the regular season and the playoffs, particularly to Ngwenya.

    “In the playoffs it’s one game, win or go home, so every team is fighting for its life,” Ngwenya said. “You have to concentrate for all 90 minutes, you know, and that’s something that they taught us in that game. I’m glad we managed to get the win and were able to move on.”

    The Kickers’ path is unlikely to get any easier this Saturday as they host the Charlotte Eagles at City Stadium (7 p.m. ET, USLNation.com) for a place in the championship game. Ngwenya wasn’t on the field the last time the two teams met at City Stadium, a 3-3 draw on May 4 that saw Richmond score with almost the final kick of the game to grab a point from the Eagles. The veteran was impressed with the Eagles then, and remains so, calling them a “very underrated team.”

    “They never give up,” he added. “That’s the thing with Charlotte, they just keep coming and coming and if we do concede an early goal to them it’s going to be really hard to come back, so we have to be ready. Charlotte has a lot of good players; both of their leading scorers, they scored in the last game, so they’re going to be dangerous going forward, and that’s something we have to worry about as well. It’s going to be a tough game.”

    Richmond, though, is equipped to deal with the threat the Eagles possess. D.C. United loanee Andrew Dykstra has been spectacular in goal, leading the league with a 0.863 goals-against average while recording a crucial save to deny Dayton a late equalizer in Saturday’s quarterfinal. Add in the additions of forward Michael Seaton (five goals) and defender Conor Shanosky, both also on loan from the Kickers’ MLS affiliate, and the veteran core that has made Richmond a perennial playoff contender, and Ngwenya is confident that the Kickers can move on to host the championship game.

    At the same time, though, he’s taking nothing for granted. While the regular season title was an affirmation of the side’s consistency throughout the season, winning the USL PRO Championship is the only thing Ngwenya and the rest of the Kickers squad are focused on now.

    “People aren’t going to remember who exactly won the regular season, they’re going to mainly remember who the champions are,” Ngwenya said. “Our aim is definitely to go on and win it all.”

    If Ngwenya and the Kickers achieve their goal, the opportunity may then come for the veteran to make his way back into MLS. Whether that happens or not, however, Ngwenya is going to be happy to play, and find success at, wherever the game takes him.

    “At every level, I think wherever you play, if you play to win something, and then start winning something, then opportunities open up,” Ngwenya said. “I would be willing to take that opportunity, but if nothing else opens up then I’m just going to be happy to continue to play soccer as long as I can. At the end of the day, it’s a profession that you can’t do for the rest of your life, so you have to enjoy it while it lasts.”

    Should the season end with the Kickers hoisting the USL PRO Championship trophy, Ngwenya will be among those who will have left an impression that lasts a long time. 


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  • 08/27/13--15:09: Okai Shines In Rookie Season
  • USL PRO Feature

    Tuesday, August 27, 2013

    Last offseason was an anxious one for Charlotte Eagles coach Mark Steffens. As the veterans that had made up the core of his squad began to find opportunities with other sides in USL PRO, it appeared a season of rebuilding was in the cards for a side that hadn’t made an appearance in the playoffs since 2009.

    “That was one of my big concerns, coming into the season with 18 new players,” Steffens said by phone this week. “Knowing that the league seems to get better every year, knowing the Richmonds, Orlandos and Charlestons and some of the other teams have a lot of veterans … to lose so many last year and to have 18 new guys, a few things really made me anxious.”

    As it turned out, Steffens need not have worried. Not only did his side jell well enough to earn a place in the playoffs, it is now one of four teams still alive in the pursuit of a championship.

    At the heart of this success have been a number of rookies, one of the more notable being midfielder Stephen Okai. A former standout with Reading United in the PDL, where he was twice named an All-Eastern Conference selection, and the 2012 NAIA Player of the Year for the University of Mobile, Okai was an MLS SuperDraft selection of Reading’s MLS partner, the Philadelphia Union, in January.

    When that opportunity, and another tryout with the Seattle Sounders, didn’t work out, though, Okai knew where he wanted to be to start his professional career.

    “One of the coaches [in Charlotte] had been watching me for three years,” Okai said of Eagles assistant David Dixon. “I told him what was going on, and they wanted me to come and play for them, and that’s how I ended up playing for the Charlotte Eagles.”

    Unlike many of the rookies who joined Charlotte following the club’s combine earlier this year, Okai was signed as soon as he became available to the Eagles. In his first few days of practice, Steffens was immediately impressed with the young talent Dixon had recommended he sign.

    “When we first got him, the first couple of days, I remember thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, this is like getting a 22-year-old veteran player’,” Steffens said. “He’s so mature, so calm on the ball, that’s the neat thing about a couple of our rookies, and I think the reason why our rookies have done well, most of our rookies have a lot of composure and don’t panic in difficult situations or tight spaces.”

    Okai has quickly fit into a side that has also seen fellow rookies Christian Ramirez, Fejiro Okiomah and Ben Newnam play significant minutes, and make significant contributions toward the club’s success. Okai attributes part of that to the bond the players share due to the club’s ministry and work off the field in the community, but also to the veterans that have helped him learn how to be a professional on and off the field.

    “Guys like Drew Yates and Matt [Gold], they’re cool guys and I’ve really loved the way they started the season,” Okai said. “Someone like Drew, he didn’t get much playing time, but as a professional player he showed that you don’t have to be sitting out and talking, all you have to do is fight and keep pushing. I saw all of these things from these two guys, and it has really helped me a lot because I think perseverance always leads to success.”

    Okai has also built new aspects to his game. While Steffens noted that Okai is a player who prefers to pick the ball up deep in midfield from the Eagles’ defense, the veteran coach has encouraged his young midfielder to try to become more proactive when the Eagles are on the attack. While not known for his finishing, Okai contributed four goals this season as he improved his ability to read where situations could open up offensively from his central position.

    “He’s also extremely good with the ball, he’s a very good passer, and when he wants he can get into the attack and do some damage too,” Steffens said. “He doesn’t do it a lot, but he has that ability to pick the right time to get into the attack and be creative and dangerous in the attacking third. … He doesn’t get into the attack as often as I’d like, but when he does, he’s good, no question.”

    Okai will face a big test this Saturday night as the Eagles take on the Richmond Kickers at City Stadium (7 p.m. ET, USLNation.com) for a place in the USL PRO Championship Game. With the veteran group the Kickers possess, and their undefeated record at home this season, the Eagles will likely need to find their biggest performance of the season if they are to unseat the regular-season champion.

    For Okai, though, the opportunity to play for a championship in his rookie season is one he’s ready to grasp with both hands.

    “That would mean a lot,” he said. “That would be the biggest accomplishment for us, especially for the first-year players. You’re a rookie and you’re going to play in the championship - that would be a huge accomplishment, so we’re praying and waiting to see what God has in store for us.”


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    USL PRO Feature

    Wednesday, August 28, 2013

    One thing coaches will tell young players is to always give your best, you never know who might be watching.

    The Charleston Battery’s Dane Kelly knows it to be true.

    “There was a game that was an under-21 game for my club back home [Tivoli Gardens],” Kelly said by phone this week. “I was playing in that game and I think I scored two [goals], but the biggest thing was that [Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser] didn’t come to watch me, he came to watch another player, but I was the one that interested him the most. He talked to my team and the manager of my team, and then he asked if I could come up, and I did.”

    Three years later, Kelly has become a mainstay in the Battery’s lineup, this season having a breakthrough year that saw him lead the team with 11 goals and 24 points. Kelly attributes some of his success this season to a maturation process that has seen him become more comfortable away from his home in Jamaica.

    “I took my mind away from home, so I’m more focused and relaxed now,” Kelly said. “My mind isn’t always at home anymore, because now I know I’ve got a job to do, so I’ve got to do it.”

    Another reason for Kelly’s increased success has been the work he and Anhaeuser have put in on the forward’s movement off the ball, which in turn has given him more time and space in the penalty area, and a more composed attitude toward finishing. That was on display this past Saturday as Kelly scored the opening goal with a good turn and left-footed finish in the Battery’s 2-1 victory against the Los Angeles Blues in the quarterfinals of the USL PRO Playoffs.

    Kelly will likely be a key figure if the Battery are to return to the USL PRO Championship Game as they face Orlando City on Friday night at the Florida Citrus Bowl. The Lions have been as difficult an opponent as Kelly has faced in USL PRO, with the 22-year-old having scored only once in the nine games the teams have played in the past three seasons.

    “They are always trying to bump into my back, jam me and get me out of my game, so that’s the toughest thing for me as a player,” Kelly said. “They always try to get into my head, which is something I’ve tried to deal with as the year has gone by. That’s been one of my biggest problems, and I’ve been trying to deal with it as best as I can.”

    Kelly had opportunities to improve his scoring record against Orlando this season, but misfired in both meetings as Orlando earned a draw in Charleston before a 1-0 win in their last meeting at the Citrus Bowl.

    “I was so frustrated,” Kelly said, “because in the first game at Blackbaud Stadium I got a lot of chances, but I wasn’t able to capitalize, so I was very frustrated.”

    With a place in the championship game on the line, Kelly is hoping the greater consistency he has found in his finishing this season will be brought to bear. After missing out on the USL PRO Championship Game a season ago after returning to Jamaica before the end of the season, he is eager to help his side continue its aim of repeating as champion.

    “Winning the championship is not that easy, so we’re looking at it as though it’s going to be very difficult and very hard,” he said. “We’ve just got to work hard as a team and try to get the win on Friday night.” 


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    W-League Feature

    Wednesday, August 28, 2013
     
    TAMPA, Fla. – There were plenty of W-League standouts who stepped to the forefront during the first week of NCAA women’s soccer action, but none more than University of Florida freshman Savannah Jordan.
     
    Jordan, who led the Atlanta Silverbacks in scoring with eight goals and three assists and was named to the W-League All-League Team in 2013, opened her college career in amazing fashion with five goals in two games for the Gators.
     
    Jordan started her career with a pair of goals in the opener vs. Florida Gulf Coast, and followed up with a hat-trick in a 3-1 win against Oregon State. In addition to being named SEC Freshman of the Week, Jordan was also tabbed as NSCAA and TopDrawerSoccer.com Player of the Week.
     
    The W-League had a strong presence on the TopDrawerSoccer.com list, with former Toronto Lady Lynx goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo (South Carolina), a pair of Pali stars in Abby Dahlkemper (UCLA) and Katie Stengel (Wake Forest), and New Jersey Rangers midfielder Amanda Jones (UNC-Charlotte) also selected.
     
    Former Long Island Rough Rider Crystal Dunn, the reigning MAC Hermann Trophy winner at North Carolina, was named ACC Co-Player of the Week after she scored three goals and led the Tar Heels to shutout wins against Santa Clara (2-0) and VCU (4-0). The senior from Rockville, N.Y., keyed an overall defensive effort that led to two clean sheets and only 10 total shots against the Tar Heels in the two games combined.
     
    Colorado Rapids Women forward Kristen Hamilton gave W-League defenses fits all season en route to eight goals and a spot on the All-League Team in 2013, and she has continued her form with Denver University, earning Summit League Offensive Player of the Week honors.  Hamilton, a senior, surpassed 100 career points with a pair of goals in a 3-0 win against Northern Colorado. She scored the game-winner in the 42nd minute and provided the Pioneers an insurance goal in the 54th minute of the match. She also added an assist on Francesca Garzelloni’s game-winner in overtime to defeat Colorado College.
     
    Pali veteran Elizabeth Eddy, who helped the Blues capture the 2013 W-League title, was named Pac-12 Player of the Week after netting two goals in the Trojans’ 4-1 upset win against No. 11 San Diego State and making it a three-goal weekend with the final tally in a 4-2 victory against San Diego to ensure a 2-0 start for the Trojans.
     
    The new American Athletic Conference announced its first weekly honors, with a pair of former W-Leaguers earning recognition. University of Central Florida defender Carleigh Williams, a 2012 member of VSI Tampa Bay, was named Defensive Player of the Week, while 2013 Laval Comets goalkeeper Maryse Bard-Martel (Memphis) was named Rookie of the Week after playing every minute in wins against Missouri and Samford.
     
    A pair of St. John’s standouts captured Big East Conference accolades this week, led by LA Strikers forward Rachel Daly, who was named Offensive Player of the Week after she tallied three goals and two assists in a pair of victories. Daly, a sophomore forward from Harrogate, England, had a hat trick in the Red Storm’s 5-0 victory against Fordham and assisted on both goals in a 2-1 win vs. Delaware. Freshman St. John’s goalkeeper Diana Poulin, who backstopped the Long Island Rough Riders this summer, was named Goalkeeper of the Week after allowing only one goal in a two-victory debut weekend. Poulin played all 90 minutes in the win vs. Delaware and 75 minutes in the shutout against Fordham.
     
    New York Magic – F.A. Euro star Brittany Pfaff of Siena was named MAAC Offensive Player of the Week after she led Siena with seven points as the Saints opened with wins against UMass and Binghamton. Pfaff scored two goals and assisted on the game-winner as the Saints defeated UMass 4-3, and added two more assists as Siena defeated the Bearcats 2-1. Pfaff’s Siena teammate Tara Sobierajski, a former New Jersey Ranger, was tabbed as Rookie of the Week as she tallied her first collegiate goal and added an assist for a three-point game against UMass.
     
    Carolina Elite Cobras forward Krystyna Freda captured the Big South Conference’s first Attacking Player of the Week award for 2013 after she tallied the game-winner in a 1-0 win against Wofford.  In the 83rd minute, Freda collected a loose ball near the penalty area and blasted a high shot over the Wofford keeper. 
     
    W-League alumni swept the Colonial Athletic Association honors as Washington Spirit Reserves standout Meghan Cox scored in each of her first two games with James Madison to earn Rookie of the Week honors, while Towson junior forward Emily Banes, formerly of the Long Island Rough Riders, was selected as Player of the Week after she scored two goals and assisted on a third in Towson’s 3-0 victory against Iona.
     
    W-League veteran Emilie Fillion, who spent the past two seasons with the Dayton Dutch Lions after starting her career with the Laval Comets, was named the Horizon League Offensive Player of the Week as she had a hand in all of Wright State’s goals this past weekend. Fillion, an All-Southeastern Conference selection this past season with Dayton, scored a goal and assisted on the game-winner as the Raiders opened the season with a 2-1 double-overtime win at IPFW, and scored WSU’s lone goal in a 1-1 draw at Ohio.

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  • 08/29/13--14:13: Aztex Set For College Season
  • Austin Aztex News Release -- www.austinaztex.com

    Thursday, August 29, 2013

    AUSTIN, Texas -- The Austin Aztex collegiate players have returned to their respective college teams and are eager to help their teams. Many players have earned individual honors such as preseason all-conference nods. We would like to offer congratulations to the Aztex members recognized in Top Drawer Soccer’s Top 100 Players: Mikey Ambrose (37), Khiry Shelton (57), Dan Metzger (90), Seth Casiple (97).

    Stay tuned every week as we will keep you up to date with how the Aztex are doing for their teams, and we will keep you informed with what college games you can catch in the Austin area.

    The No. 2 Maryland Terrapins enter the college season with lofty expectations, and were picked as the favorite to win the ACC title this year. Sophomore defender Mikey Ambrose and junior midfielder Dan Metzger will look to roll over their strong play from their summer with the Aztex to help Maryland reach their goals.

    The Terps are looking to get their wheels rolling after two ties in their preseason exhibitions. Maryland forced a 1-1 tie with Penn State before holding St. John’s scoreless on a 0-0 draw. This weekend, the Terps travel to Northern California for a double with Stanford and California. Sunday’s matchup with California offers a reunion as Ambrose and Metzger will look to contain California’s playmaking junior midfielder Seth Casiple. Aztex fans can monitor the game’s stats live here. The game starts at 4 p.m. on Sept. 1.

    Casiple and the Cal Golden Bears will face a still challenge to kick off their 2013 college campaign. As a primer for hosting No. 2 Maryland on Sunday, Cal will host No. 3 Georgetown on Friday. Casiple has been named co-captain for 2013 and is the top returning scorer for the Golden Bears with 11 points last year, seven coming from assists.

    In Florida, the sophomore duo of Tucker and Walker Hume return to Rollins College as the school is ranked No. 9 in Division II by NSCAA and sits atop the Sunshine State Conference preseason poll. Walker returns after a freshman campaign in which he was named the SSC Freshman of the Year and All-American.

    During the PDL season, Tucker Hume showed a knack to come up with a big goal to give the Aztex the lead. Tucker has continued his knack when he jumpstarted a Rollins College rally Saturday evening to draw with North Florida in a preseason exhibition. Down 2-0 in the first half, Tucker Hume was able to score to begin the Rollins College comeback. Rollins will not have any games this weekend as they will begin their regular season slate versus Embry-Riddle on Saturday, Sept. 7.

    Florida Gulf Coast enters their college campaign as the team to beat in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Sophomore defender Aaron Guillen was named on the 12-man Preseason All-Conference squad. The FGCU Eagles will begin their season when they travel to Tampa to face South Florida for the NSCAA College Men’s Soccer Game of the Week. Fans can track Guillen and tune in live as the game will air live here, kickoff Friday, Aug. 30 at 7 p.m.

    No. 8 Akron look to continue their dominance of the Mid-American Conference and were picked to repeat MAC titles by league coaches in the preseason. The Zips will look to utilize versatile senior Robbie Derschang, who appeared in two games as a striker and 10 at left back for the Zips in 2012 and is now listed as a midfielder. Akron closed out their preseason with a 2-0 loss at No. 15 Saint Louis. The Zips will look to rebound with a strong start to their regular season when they travel to the College of Charleston Tournament this weekend, where they will face the College of Charleston on Friday and Furman on Sunday.

    No. 13 Coastal Carolina has been voted first in the Big South Conference’s preseason poll, and may look to sophomore Devin Cook as their starting goalkeeper. Cook transferred to Coastal Carolina in the summer and has competed for the starting spot and split time with senior goalkeeper Federico Bertele in the final preseason match, a 4-0 loss to Clemson. While Cook was on the field, the opponents were held scoreless. The Chanticleers will participate in the Carolina Nike Classic this weekend, where they will face off versus No. 17 Wake Forest on Friday before playing No. 4 North Carolina on Sunday. The North Carolina game will be streamed live for free here.

    Campbell was voted second in the Big South Conference preseason poll and would like to take the title from Coastal Carolina. Senior duo Justin Franz and Travis Golden will look to help the Camels accomplish that goal. Golden was named to the preseason All-Conference team. Campbell opens their season versus North Carolina State on Friday, Aug. 30 at 6 p.m. and can be viewed live here.

    Junior midfielder Tony Rocha helped No. 14 Tulsa continue to a strong start to their preseason with an assist in a 3-1 win over Memphis on Aug. 22. The Golden Hurricane begin the regular season with two away games this weekend, as they travel to face Creighton on Friday before travelling to Drake on Sunday.

    Southern Methodist finished a strong preseason that saw Aztex trio Michael King, John Lujano, and Damian Rosales all put in strong performances for the Mustangs. Sophomores King and Lujano scored a goal in a 3-1 win over Oral Roberts. Meanwhile, Rosales was named to the first team American Athletic Conference. The Mustangs finished their preseason with an Aztex reunion when they settled for a 2-2 draw with Houston Baptist. SMU will face a stiff challenge to open their season when they travel to the IU Credit Union Classic in Bloomington, Ind., to face No. 1 Indiana on Friday and then No. 7 Notre Dame on Sunday.

    Houston Baptist will hope to prove their critics wrong after they were chosen to finish last in the Western Athletic Conference. Led by USL PDL Most Valuable Player and preseason All-Conference player Kris Tyrpak, the HBU Huskies forced 2-2 ties in both of their preseason exhibitions versus Incarnate Word and SMU. Next, the Huskies start their season with a road trip, where they will face Central Arkansas on Saturday, Aug. 31 before playing Oral Roberts on Monday, Sept. 2.

    San Jacinto College (2-0-0) has high expectations heading into the season as they are ranked No. 18 nationally by the NJCAA. The squad will look to sophomore standout forward Sito Seoane to lead the attack and continue his run of strong form from the USL PDL playoffs. Lo and behold, Seoane started the season validating those high marks when Seoane scored two goals in a 3-1 win versus East Florida State Community College on Aug. 24 followed by a another goal in a 6-0 thumping of Mississippi Gulf Community College on Aug. 25.

    San Jacinto continues with a home match versus Ranger College on Saturday, Aug. 31.

    St. Edward’s University will look to make a run to the playoffs this year and will rely on junior forward Daniel Riley and senior goalkeeper John Kaschak to help the Hilltoppers reach their goal. The Hilltoppers are not active this weekend and will begin their regular season with a pair of home games on Sept. 6 and Sept. 8 when they face the Colorado Mines and Fort Lewis, respectively.

    Junior forward Khiry Shelton helped Oregon State make a splash with a 6-0 win over Northwest Nazarene in their most recent exhibition game, adding an assist to the box score. The Beavers begin the regular season on Friday when they face Cleveland State. 


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    W-League Feature

    Thursday, August 29, 2013

    The Women’s NCAA Division I season enters its second week with a number of interesting non-conference matchups set to be aired on national television and online this weekend. Standouts from the Sounders Women, Colorado Rush, LA Strikers and Carolina Elite Cobras will appear in some of the weekend’s key contests.

    The University of Texas makes a trip to the northwest during the weekend, with the Longhorns’ contests against Oregon State and Washington being aired by the Pac-12 Network. Former Sounders Women defender Brooke Gilbert will play an important role for Texas, and is likely to go up against a number of W-League standouts as her side visits Oregon State on Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. ET, with Jenna Richardson, also of the Sounders, hoping to jumpstart the Beavers’ season with their first victory.

    Oregon State had a tough trip to Florida last weekend, and is hoping for more from Chelsea Buckland, who played alongside Richardson for the Vancouver Whitecaps Women in 2012. LA Strikers goalkeeper Samantha Prudhomme had a solid first start to the season for OSU after a good summer that saw her post a 5-1 record and 1.000 goals-against average, and is looking to maintain that form this weekend, while the Colorado Rush’s Stacey Drobney is also expected to feature prominently.

    The Atlanta Silverbacks’ Ryann Davie and Oregon will face the Longhorns on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. ET to complete the weekend, with Davie opening her account for the Ducks this past week in their contest with Portland. Former Real Colorado Cougar forward Brianna Pugh is also set to play a key role for Oregon.

    The Sounders Women’s Lindsey Elston will also feature in the Pac-12 Network’s other two contests this weekend as she leads the University of Washington against Baylor on Friday evening (6:30 p.m. ET) and Boise State on Sunday (5 p.m. ET). Elston is joined on the Huskies by fellow Sounder Isabel Farrell, and they will face a Baylor side led by former Colorado Rush forward Briana Campos, who already has two goals and an assist for the Bears this season, and former Charlotte Lady Eagles forward Victoria Hoffman.

    Another west coast standout will feature on Sunday night as St. John’s hosts North Dakota State in a game that can be seen on ESPN3.com as the LA Strikers’ Rachel Daly leads the Red Storm into action. Daly, an All-Western Conference selection this summer, was named to the TopDrawerSoccer.com Team of the Week for her strong performances during the opening weekend of the season.

    Elsewhere, South Florida hosts Clemson on Friday night at 6 p.m. in a game that can be seen on NSCAATV.com, with former Vancouver Whitecaps defender Demi Stokes set to lead the Bulls into action as they look to continue their undefeated start.

    The Bulls also feature VSI Tampa Bay FC’s Sarah Miller, who scored the equalizer as the Bulls earned a 1-1 draw with Texas last Sunday, and Victoria Abnathy, who had five goals this past summer before opening her account for the Bulls in their victory against Arkansas Pine-Bluff in their opening game of the season. Clemson, meanwhile, is led by Carolina Elite Cobras defender Tabitha Padgett, who helped her side reach the W-League Championship this past summer as she appeared in every game for the Cobras.

    Padgett’s teammate with the Cobras, Alex Ramsey, is also in action on Monday night as LSU hosts BYU on CSTV at 8 p.m. ET. Ramsey had three assists for the Cobras during the summer, and started both of the Tigers’ opening two games this fall as LSU opened with a pair of victories.

     


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    PDL Feature

    Thursday, August 29, 2013

    The NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer season kicks off this weekend, with PDL players getting set to star for their teams as they begin their pursuit of a national championship. A number of big games will be aired on national television and online, featuring standouts from the Chicago Fire PDL, Reading United, Orlando City U23 and SC United Bantams who are aiming to play big roles in their college’s success this fall.

    No. 1-ranked Indiana opens the season with a spotlight game against No. 9 UCLA on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. in a game to be aired by the Big Ten Network. The defending national champions are hoping for key contributions from Chicago Fire PDL alumni Jacob Bushue, Dylan Mares and Patrick Doody, with Mares arriving in Bloomington coming off a 2012 season with Louisville that saw him lead the Cardinals with 20 points.

    The Bruins, meanwhile, are looking for another big season from Reed Williams, with the former Orange County Blue Star standout coming off a junior season that saw him finish second on the team with 18 points. Named to the MAC Hermann Trophy watch list, Williams is backed by Ventura County Fusion defender Joe Sofia, and Sounders FC U-23 goalkeeper Earl Edwards.

    No. 3 Georgetown, meanwhile, heads to the west coast to start the season with a pair of games that can be seen on the Pac-12 Network, starting with Friday evening’s contest against California at 5 p.m. ET. Led by Reading United’s Steven Neumann, the Hoyas are aiming for a strong start to the season, with Neumann’s Reading teammate Keegan Rosenberry and Orlando City U23 midfielder Tom Skelly and goalkeeper Tomas Gomez also expected to play an important role.

    Also facing Cal this weekend are reigning MAC Hermann Trophy-winner Patrick Mullins and No. 2 Maryland, with the contest set to air on the Pac-12 Network on Sunday evening at 5 p.m. ET as the former New Orleans Jesters standout leads the Terrapins into the new season. Also set to play a key role for Maryland this season are Austin Aztex defender Mikey Lopez, and the Baltimore Bohemians’ Christiano Francois, who had five goals and four assists last fall.

    While Neumann and Rosenberry start the season on the road, another pair of Reading United standouts open their seasons at home on Friday night as South Florida’s Ben Sweat and Wesley Charpie get set to lead the Bulls against Florida Gulf Coast at 8 p.m. ET on NSCAATV.com. FC Tucson goalkeeper Dallas Jaye is expected to start for the Bulls after a solid summer in the Southwest Division, while VSI Tampa Bay FC’s Stiven Salinas will provide speed in attack.

    Elsewhere on Friday night, St. John’s and standout goalkeeper Rafael Diaz host the New Jersey Institute of Technology in a game that can be seen on ESPN3. Diaz recorded a 0.727 goals-against average for the Jersey Express in 2012 before going on to play every minute for St. John’s last fall, where he posted a 0.75 GAA. Now a senior, he is aiming for another standout season as one of the top goalkeeping prospects for the MLS SuperDraft next spring. Diaz is joined by former Long Island Rough Riders defender Tim Parker, who joined Diaz in playing every minute of the season last fall for the Red Storm.

    The holiday weekend wraps up on Monday night as Clemson and South Carolina meet on ESPN3.com at 7 p.m. ET. The Tigers are hoping for another strong season from SC United Bantams midfielder Alex Stockinger, who had three goals in eight appearances this summer in the PDL, and he will be joined by Orlando City U23 midfielder Paul Clowes, who had a goal and an assist for the Lions this summer.

    Stockinger could go up against a number of his Bantams teammates from the past summer on Monday night, with Devin L’Amoreaux, Ryan Freiberger, Braeden Troyer and goalkeeper Robert Beebe returning to compete for South Carolina. L’Amoreaux finished tied for the team lead with seven points for SC United this summer, and is looking to play a bigger role for the Gamecocks this summer as he enters his sophomore season. 


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    USL PRO Feature

    Thursday, August 29, 2013

    As Orlando City’s players sat in the locker room before Saturday night’s quarterfinal in the USL PRO Playoffs, the pregame talk swung back a year, and the Lions’ opening game of the playoffs against the Wilmington Hammerheads.

    Then, coming off a season in which the side had lost just once in the regular season, the Lions were stunned early, falling into a two-goal deficit in the opening 10 minutes on their way to a 4-3 loss.

    “We talked about it before the game and said, ‘remember what happened a year ago,’” said Rob Valentino by phone this week. “Last year we said all the right things, but then we went out there and our actions spoke differently and we said we didn’t want to have that feeling of disappointment coming in here again, because it was the worst thing in the world.”

    Against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, the Lions’ focus was evident. A pair of goals in the opening five minutes, both from set pieces, set the stage for victory and a place in the semifinals Friday night against the Charleston Battery at the Florida Citrus Bowl (7:30 p.m. ET, USLNation.com).

    “It was just a big boost,” Valentino said. “It was exactly what we needed. Chinny and Tan set the tone for the whole game, and they really set the tone for all of us to feed off, and it was a great performance from everybody, and we’re just looking to build off that again.”

    Some would make the case that Valentino has been responsible for setting the tone much of the time since arriving in Orlando. Signed ahead of the start of the club’s first season in Florida, Valentino was named the 2011 Defender of the Year, and has two All-League First Team selections to his name, making him one of the more respected center backs in the league.

    While appreciative of the accolades he has earned while with the Lions, Valentino passes the credit around.

    “Personal things are great,” he said. “Anybody would be lying if they said those things aren’t fun to get, and people like that stuff, but for me, at the end of the day, those things wouldn’t be possible without the great players that I play with, and without the coaching staff.

    “I think if I look at myself honestly, I’m not the most talented player, I work extremely hard and I pride myself on that, but having a coach like Adrian, and being able to learn from Adrian and Ian’s experience in the league, it’s molded me into a better player every single year.”

    His words, however, belie Valentino’s play, which has often been crucial to his side’s success. A prime example came last Saturday, moments after the Lions had taken a 2-0 lead, as the Riverhounds pushed forward to try and respond quickly to their early deficit. After a move down the right was switched across the field, Valentino read the play and was on hand to make a sliding clearance inside the six-yard box on Rob Vincent’s shot from the left, keeping Pittsburgh off the board.

    While Valentino is making things difficult for opponents on the field, however, off the field he is playing his part in keeping things fun within the Orlando locker room. Valentino believes keeping things fun in the locker room and on the practice field has been important to the club’s success on the field, and has enjoyed the team spirit within a locker room that has its fair share of engaging personalities.

    “The guys that we have here making things fun when we come into practice and into games, we just have a lot of fun with each other,” Valentino said. You look at it, and when people enjoy being around each other like that, you’re going to be successful.”

    That atmosphere, according to Valentino, has permeated the entire club, from the front office to even the upper management.

    “You know people want to be happy where they’re working, and I think people in the front office have fun around each other,” he said. “You’ll go in there and there will be six of the young guys that work together, they’re all in the back laughing and telling jokes while they’re getting their work done, then you’ve got all the people at the top, Phil [Rawlins] and those guys just like being around each other, it’s just really fun to see that, and then you come into the locker room and all the guys feel welcome with each other.”

    When it’s time to play, though, the focus remains strictly on the field. Should the Lions defeat the defending champion Battery on Friday night, there is the chance they would get one last crack this season at a Richmond Kickers side that defeated Orlando twice in the regular season. While it would be easy to look ahead, Valentino knows from last year’s experience that it would be a mistake to do so.

    “We’ve just got to take it one game at a time,” Valentino said. “We’re focused on Charleston and nothing else right now, and after Friday hopefully we’ll be able to go on and focus on that next game, but until then, we’re just focused on Charleston.” 


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    USL PRO News Release

    Friday, August 30, 2013

    TAMPA, Fla. – The semifinals of the 2013 USL PRO Playoffs are set as four of the top teams in the league compete for a chance to claim a championship. The action kicks off on Friday night as No. 2-seed Orlando City hosts the No. 3-seed Charleston Battery at the Florida Citrus Bowl, and continues on Saturday night as the regular-season champion Richmond Kickers host the No. 5-seed Charlotte Eagles at City Stadium. Both games will be streamed live on USLNation.com.

    No. 2 Orlando City vs. No. 3 Charleston Battery
    Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET, Florida Citrus Bowl

    Orlando City and the Charleston Battery meet for the second time in three seasons in the USL PRO Playoffs, with the Lions coming in off an impressive 5-0 victory against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the quarterfinals. The defending champion Battery, meanwhile, will try to claim their first victory in club history at the Florida Citrus Bowl after earning a 2-1 win against the Los Angeles Blues Saturday night.

    Orlando holds the edge in the all-time series between the teams, including a 3-1 extra time victory in the 2011 USL PRO Playoffs. This season the teams played to a 1-1 draw in Charleston before the Lions took a 2-1 victory in Orlando in their last meeting on July 11. Both games were full of action, with the Battery outshooting the Lions in both contests, only for standout goalkeeping by Jon Kempin (12 saves in two games) to help lead the Lions to four points from a possible six.

    No. 1 Richmond Kickers vs. No. 5 Charlotte Eagles
    Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, City Stadium

    One of the longest-running rivalries in USL history will continue as the Richmond Kickers host the Charlotte Eagles after edging past the Dayton Dutch Lions 1-0 on a goal by Joseph Ngwenya in the quarterfinals Saturday night. The Eagles advanced to the semifinals with the only road victory of the opening round of the playoffs, with Jorge Herrera and Christian Ramirez each finding the net to continue their strong seasons for Charlotte.

    The Kickers hold a 22-11-10 edge in the rivalry’s history, with both clubs in their 21st seasons. Their first meeting in the regular season at City Stadium proved to be a classic that ended in a 3-3 draw, with Richmond taking a 2-0 halftime lead before the Eagles stormed back to take the lead in the 90th minute on a goal by Shaun Francis. The Kickers responded deep in stoppage time, however, as Conor Shanosky scored to earn his side a point. Richmond edged past the Eagles in Charlotte in their last meeting on August 2 as Ngwenya scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory, but Charlotte, which lost just twice on the road all season, is hopeful of bringing the Kickers’ dream season to an end.

    Stay up to date with all of the action in the 2013 USL PRO Playoffs through the league’s free online streaming service, USLNation.com, and also follow the race for the playoffs via Twitter (@USLPRO), Facebook and Google+ for live updates from every game, plus news, previews and recaps of all the action. 


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  • 08/31/13--08:02: Okai Shines In Rookie Season
  • USL PRO Feature

    Tuesday, August 27, 2013

    Last offseason was an anxious one for Charlotte Eagles coach Mark Steffens. As the veterans that had made up the core of his squad began to find opportunities with other sides in USL PRO, it appeared a season of rebuilding was in the cards for a side that hadn’t made an appearance in the playoffs since 2009.

    “That was one of my big concerns, coming into the season with 18 new players,” Steffens said by phone this week. “Knowing that the league seems to get better every year, knowing the Richmonds, Orlandos and Charlestons and some of the other teams have a lot of veterans … to lose so many last year and to have 18 new guys, a few things really made me anxious.”

    As it turned out, Steffens need not have worried. Not only did his side jell well enough to earn a place in the playoffs, it is now one of four teams still alive in the pursuit of a championship.

    At the heart of this success have been a number of rookies, one of the more notable being midfielder Stephen Okai. A former standout with Reading United in the PDL, where he was twice named an All-Eastern Conference selection, and the 2012 NAIA Player of the Year for the University of Mobile, Okai was an MLS SuperDraft selection of Reading’s MLS partner, the Philadelphia Union, in January.

    When that opportunity, and another tryout with the Seattle Sounders, didn’t work out, though, Okai knew where he wanted to be to start his professional career.

    “One of the coaches [in Charlotte] had been watching me for three years,” Okai said of Eagles assistant David Dixon. “I told him what was going on, and they wanted me to come and play for them, and that’s how I ended up playing for the Charlotte Eagles.”

    Unlike many of the rookies who joined Charlotte following the club’s combine earlier this year, Okai was signed as soon as he became available to the Eagles. In his first few days of practice, Steffens was immediately impressed with the young talent Dixon had recommended he sign.

    “When we first got him, the first couple of days, I remember thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, this is like getting a 22-year-old veteran player’,” Steffens said. “He’s so mature, so calm on the ball, that’s the neat thing about a couple of our rookies, and I think the reason why our rookies have done well, most of our rookies have a lot of composure and don’t panic in difficult situations or tight spaces.”

    Okai has quickly fit into a side that has also seen fellow rookies Christian Ramirez, Fejiro Okiomah and Ben Newnam play significant minutes, and make significant contributions toward the club’s success. Okai attributes part of that to the bond the players share due to the club’s ministry and work off the field in the community, but also to the veterans that have helped him learn how to be a professional on and off the field.

    “Guys like Drew Yates and Matt [Gold], they’re cool guys and I’ve really loved the way they started the season,” Okai said. “Someone like Drew, he didn’t get much playing time, but as a professional player he showed that you don’t have to be sitting out and talking, all you have to do is fight and keep pushing. I saw all of these things from these two guys, and it has really helped me a lot because I think perseverance always leads to success.”

    Okai has also built new aspects to his game. While Steffens noted that Okai is a player who prefers to pick the ball up deep in midfield from the Eagles’ defense, the veteran coach has encouraged his young midfielder to try to become more proactive when the Eagles are on the attack. While not known for his finishing, Okai contributed four goals this season as he improved his ability to read where situations could open up offensively from his central position.

    “He’s also extremely good with the ball, he’s a very good passer, and when he wants he can get into the attack and do some damage too,” Steffens said. “He doesn’t do it a lot, but he has that ability to pick the right time to get into the attack and be creative and dangerous in the attacking third. … He doesn’t get into the attack as often as I’d like, but when he does, he’s good, no question.”

    Okai will face a big test this Saturday night as the Eagles take on the Richmond Kickers at City Stadium (7 p.m. ET, USLNation.com) for a place in the USL PRO Championship Game. With the veteran group the Kickers possess, and their undefeated record at home this season, the Eagles will likely need to find their biggest performance of the season if they are to unseat the regular-season champion.

    For Okai, though, the opportunity to play for a championship in his rookie season is one he’s ready to grasp with both hands.

    “That would mean a lot,” he said. “That would be the biggest accomplishment for us, especially for the first-year players. You’re a rookie and you’re going to play in the championship - that would be a huge accomplishment, so we’re praying and waiting to see what God has in store for us.”


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    USL PRO Feature

    Monday, August 26, 2013

    When Joseph Ngwenya joined the Richmond Kickers at the start of the USL PRO season, he went in with the same aim as he had during his time in Major League Soccer.

    Win something with your new club.

    The 32-year-old Zimbabwean had found success at his previous stops, even winning a PDL Championship with the Cape Cod Crusaders in 2003 before joining the Los Angeles Galaxy a year later and being part of the side that won both MLS Cup and the U.S. Open Cup in 2005. Two years later, another MLS Cup title arrived as part of the Houston Dynamo, and now he and his current side stand two wins away from adding the USL PRO Championship to their regular-season title.

    “When I was in MLS, I wanted to win something wherever I would go, and I did with Houston in the MLS Cup, and with the Galaxy with the MLS Cup and Open Cup, so I want to win something here as well,” Ngwenya said by phone.

    If the Kickers do go on to claim the championship, Ngwenya will likely have played a key role. After leading the team with nine goals in the regular season, the attacking midfielder scored the decisive goal in a 1-0 win against the Dayton Dutch Lions on Saturday night in the quarterfinals of the USL PRO Playoffs. While the Kickers only suffered one defeat on their way to the regular-season championship, the challenge they received from No. 8-seed Dayton illustrated the difference between the regular season and the playoffs, particularly to Ngwenya.

    “In the playoffs it’s one game, win or go home, so every team is fighting for its life,” Ngwenya said. “You have to concentrate for all 90 minutes, you know, and that’s something that they taught us in that game. I’m glad we managed to get the win and were able to move on.”

    The Kickers’ path is unlikely to get any easier this Saturday as they host the Charlotte Eagles at City Stadium (7 p.m. ET, USLNation.com) for a place in the championship game. Ngwenya wasn’t on the field the last time the two teams met at City Stadium, a 3-3 draw on May 4 that saw Richmond score with almost the final kick of the game to grab a point from the Eagles. The veteran was impressed with the Eagles then, and remains so, calling them a “very underrated team.”

    “They never give up,” he added. “That’s the thing with Charlotte, they just keep coming and coming and if we do concede an early goal to them it’s going to be really hard to come back, so we have to be ready. Charlotte has a lot of good players; both of their leading scorers, they scored in the last game, so they’re going to be dangerous going forward, and that’s something we have to worry about as well. It’s going to be a tough game.”

    Richmond, though, is equipped to deal with the threat the Eagles possess. D.C. United loanee Andrew Dykstra has been spectacular in goal, leading the league with a 0.863 goals-against average while recording a crucial save to deny Dayton a late equalizer in Saturday’s quarterfinal. Add in the additions of forward Michael Seaton (five goals) and defender Conor Shanosky, both also on loan from the Kickers’ MLS affiliate, and the veteran core that has made Richmond a perennial playoff contender, and Ngwenya is confident that the Kickers can move on to host the championship game.

    At the same time, though, he’s taking nothing for granted. While the regular season title was an affirmation of the side’s consistency throughout the season, winning the USL PRO Championship is the only thing Ngwenya and the rest of the Kickers squad are focused on now.

    “People aren’t going to remember who exactly won the regular season, they’re going to mainly remember who the champions are,” Ngwenya said. “Our aim is definitely to go on and win it all.”

    If Ngwenya and the Kickers achieve their goal, the opportunity may then come for the veteran to make his way back into MLS. Whether that happens or not, however, Ngwenya is going to be happy to play, and find success at, wherever the game takes him.

    “At every level, I think wherever you play, if you play to win something, and then start winning something, then opportunities open up,” Ngwenya said. “I would be willing to take that opportunity, but if nothing else opens up then I’m just going to be happy to continue to play soccer as long as I can. At the end of the day, it’s a profession that you can’t do for the rest of your life, so you have to enjoy it while it lasts.”

    Should the season end with the Kickers hoisting the USL PRO Championship trophy, Ngwenya will be among those who will have left an impression that lasts a long time. 


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    Richmond Kickers News Release -- www.richmondkickers.com

    Thursday, August 29, 2013

    RICHMOND, Va. – The No. 1-seed Richmond Kickers return to City Stadium to host the No. 5-seed Charlotte Eagles in the semifinals of the 2013 USL PRO Playoffs this Saturday night at 7 p.m. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. with live music from WoodWork, adult beverages in the stadium’s outdoor bar, food trucks, ice cream and games for kids. Tickets are on sale now for $12/adults and $7/youth ages 3-17 at RichmondKickers.com.

    The Kickers advanced to the semifinals after edging the Dayton Dutch Lions 1-0 in the quarterfinals last Saturday. Kickers midfielder Joseph Ngwenya gave the home side the advantage with a second-half goal and USL PRO Goals-Against Average Champion Andrew Dykstra posted three saves to preserve the shutout to keep the Kickers undefeated at City Stadium this season. Richmond concluded the 2013 regular season atop the USL PRO table with a 15-1-10 record and 55 points, en route to their sixth Regular Season Championship.

    Meanwhile, Charlotte’s road to the Semifinals resulted in a 10-5-11 record and 41 points, good for a fifth-place finish in the field of eight playoff teams. Recording the only upset of the opening round, the Eagles stormed Skyline Sports Complex with a 3-1 win against the No. 4-seed Harrisburg City Islanders. Regular-season leading scorers Christian Ramirez and Jorge Hererra gave the visitors a 2-0 lead with less than 10 minutes remaining before the Eagles conceded a goal in the 85th minute, but Samuel Asante’s stoppage-time finish boosted the Eagles through to the next round.

    With an extensive rivalry spanning two decades, dating back to the clubs’ inceptions in 1993, the Kickers hold an all-time series record of 22-11-10 over the Eagles. The two clubs last met in Charlotte on August 2 when a hard-fought battle saw the Kickers escape with a 1-0 win. Scoreless through the first half, the Kickers relied on Ngwenya’s heroic second-half tally to edge their long-time rivals on the road.

    Earlier in the season, the Kickers hosted the Eagles at City Stadium in May when the home side rallied for a thrilling 3-3 draw. The Kickers claimed an early advantage courtesy of goals by Brian Ownby and Stanley Nyazamba, only to concede a pair of tallies as Drew Yates and Stefan Smith leveled the score in the second half. Eagles forward Shaun Francis broke the deadlock in the 90th minute, only for Kickers defender Conor Shanosky to bury the equalizer with seconds remaining in stoppage time to salvage a point.

    In addition to heated regular season matches, the perennial Championship contenders have a long history of battling in high stakes games. The two clubs met in the 2007 USL Second Division Semifinals when the Kickers came away with a 2-1 overtime win, boosting Richmond to their third consecutive appearance in the final. In 2006, the Kickers hosted Charlotte in the Championship when the same scoreline fell to the home side in regulation, granting the Kickers their third league title in franchise history. Three years later, the rivals met again in the title match, when the Kickers came back from a one-goal deficit to reclaim the USL Second Division crown, 3-1, in 2009.

    The winner of Saturday’s game will advance to the USL PRO Championship Game to face the winner of the game between No. 2-seed Orlando City and No. 3-seed Charleston Battery.

    Players to Watch
    Kickers: Goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra claimed the USL PRO Goals-Against Average award as he finished the season with a GAA of 0.863. Joining the Kickers on loan from D.C. United, Dykstra was a key factor for the stingiest defense in USL PRO, posting his 12th shutout overall in the Kickers 1-0 win over Dayton last week.

    Splitting time between the defense and the midfield, Luke Vercollone has made 154 appearances and amassed over 13,000 minutes in a Kickers uniform over six seasons. He has added five goals and one assist during the 2013 regular season and was recently voted 2013 Supporter’s Choice MVP.

    Former Richmond Strikers and University of Virginia standout Brian Ownby returned to his hometown this season on loan from Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo. Recording 20 points in 20 games, the midfielder finished second on the team in scoring with seven goals and six assists.

    Eagles: Veteran midfielder Jorge Herrera leads the Eagles in scoring, recording 10 goals and four assists in 22 regular-season appearances, good for seventh in the league with 24 points. In his seventh season with Charlotte, the four-time USL All-League honoree added the game-winning goal and two assists in the Eagles' 3-1 quarterfinal win against Harrisburg last week.

    The Eagles second-highest scorer, Christian Ramirez has made an immediate impact in his rookie season, finding the back of the net eight times and adding five assists for 21 points. The Concordia University product added a goal against Harrisburg to open the 3-1 scoreline in the club’s quarterfinal victory last week.

    Defender Ben Newnam played all but 60 minutes during his rookie campaign with the Eagles, logging more minutes than any other player in 26 appearances. The Wake Forest University product was integral on both sides of the ball, notching a goal and an assist while contributing to eight shutouts during the regular season.


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    Friday, August 30, 2013

    ORLANDO, Fla. – Orlando City advanced to the 2013 USL PRO Championship Game with a 3-2 victory against defending champion the Charleston Battery on Friday night at the Florida Citrus Bowl. The Lions scored three goals in the opening 20 minutes before holding off the Battery, and now await the winner between the Richmond Kickers and Charlotte Eagles in Saturday’s second semifinal.

    After a cautious start, the Lions grabbed control of the game with two goals in two minutes, with Adama Mbengue at the center of the action. The Senegalese midfielder first broke into the right side of the penalty area, and rather than shoot cut a low pass to a late-arriving Long Tan, who finished easily for his third goal of the playoffs.

    A minute later, Mbengue found the net himself as he got on the end of a cross by Erik Ustruck after the right back cut into the right side of the penalty area and centered for a first-time finish. Mbengue came close to adding a second goal a few minutes later as his dipping shot almost caught out Charleston’s Odisnel Cooper, only for the Cuban goalkeeper to recover in time after parrying the initial effort.

    The Battery’s first real opportunity arrived in the 15th minute as Dane Kelly’s header went over the crossbar from a corner kick, but Charleston was unable to make much headway as the Lions controlled more of the possession for much of the first half. The hole the Battery had to try and climb out of got deeper in the 19th minute as Dennis Chin tapped home from close range after an effort from Luke Boden’s corner kick came off the post and crossbar, only to land at the striker’s feet three yards from goal.

    While Orlando continued to threaten, particularly from set pieces, the Battery grabbed a lifeline in the 33rd minute as a lobbed through-ball on the counter-attack gave Kelly a chance to break in on goal. Orlando goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo headed away at the edge of his penalty area to try and clear, but the ball went straight to Mike Azira 40 yards from goal, and the midfielder’s header floated over the stranded Gallardo and into the open net.

    The game remained open at the start of the second half, and Charleston came close to closing the deficit in the 53rd minute as a good piece of interplay gave Nicki Paterson a chance in close, but his shot squirted wide of the right post. Azira also had a good turning volley a few minutes later, only for the effort to go straight into Gallardo’s arms.

    The Battery would pull within a goal on the hour-mark, however, as Jose Cuevas was able to find space on the left side and float a deft, chipped cross that found an unmarked Amadou Sanyang inside the six-yard area for a headed finish.

    Both sides we reduced to 10 men with 15 minutes to go as Orlando’s Tan and Charleston’s Colin Falvey were both sent off after an off-the-ball altercation that followed moments after Tan was booked for simulation in the Battery’s penalty area. The extra space allowed the game to go end-to-end as the Battery sought an equalizer, and Ben Fisk tested Gallardo with a shot from 20 yards that the Lions’ goalkeeper smothered. The Lions would hold firm defensively in the final five minutes and stoppage time, however, as they earned the opportunity to claim their second USL PRO Championship in three seasons next weekend.


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    Saturday, August 31, 2013

    RICHMOND, Va. – The Charlotte Eagles advanced to the 2013 USL PRO Championship Game as they took a 2-1 victory against the Richmond Kickers on Saturday night at City Stadium. After the Kickers had taken an early lead on a Mike Callahan tally, the Eagles grabbed two first-half goals courtesy of Christian Ramirez and Nate Thornton that went unanswered through regulation to send Charlotte on to face Orlando City for the USL PRO Championship next Saturday night at the Florida Citrus Bowl.

    With the chance to host the final on the line, the Kickers opened scoring in the 11th minute when Brian Ownby battled for the ball on the left wing, forcing Eagles defenders to clear it over the goal line. Lining up the resulting corner kick, the midfielder served an inswinger into the penalty area and found Callahan, who made no mistake from the top of the six-yard area.

    Defender Conor Shanosky nearly doubled the score nine minutes later when a corner pinged through the penalty area before falling to Joseph Ngwenya. The Zimbabwean international lofted the ball back into the mix as the big defender leapt to get a nod but his close-range header skimmed just over the crossbar.

    Ngwenya was dangerous again in the 24th minute when he controlled the ball at the top of the box and laid it off for Ownby who skied his shot from the right side of the box.

    The Eagles leveled the score just past the half-hour mark when midfielder Ben Newnam carried the ball deep on the left wing and sliced a perfectly placed cross into the box. An unmarked Ramirez dove from six yards to redirect a header into the back of the net.

    Looking to regain the advantage in the 37th minute, Kickers defender Alex Lee trapped the ball in the midfield and sprung Ownby free behind the defense. The Kickers playmaker took one touch but blasted a shot high from the top of the penalty area.

    Weathering the offensive pressure, the Eagles turned the tables and struck again two minutes later. Midfielder Stephen Okai eluded defenders at the top of the penalty area and slotted a pass through to an onrushing Thornton. Facing Kickers goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra one-on-one, Thornton struck his shot to the near post and the effort rolled just under the keeper’s legs to give the visitors the lead heading into the break.

    The Kickers nearly pulled the goal back just after the restart when Ngwenya warded off defenders on the right wing, drawing Eagles goalkeeper Eric Reed off his line and leaving forward Matthew Delicate with a wide-open shot from the penalty area but an Eagles defender cleared the chance off the line.

    In an effort to clear the ball in the 51st minute, Dykstra’s missed clearance fell to Ramirez who fired from 16 yards, but the Kickers goalkeeper was able to get a finger tip on his shot to parry it past the upright. A few minutes later, defender Henry Kalungi slotted a through ball to Nate Robinson who took one touch and then out-paced his mark to keep it from going over the endline. He played the ball back to Ownby who settled it and lobbed a cross to Delicate but the forward’s header from point blank range dipped just over the crossbar.

    Dykstra soared into action five minutes later when the Eagles retaliated with a dangerous play that saw midfielder Juan Guzman slot the ball back to Sergio Villasenor who laid it off to Jorge Herrera 20 yards out. The swift forward played the ball wide to Ramirez but his whistling shot was denied by the Kickers lunging goalkeeper.

    The Kickers quickly counter-attacked as Dykstra immediately distributed it out to Ngwenya who carried the ball the length of the field and squared the ball at the last second for an onrushing Michael Seaton who one timed a shot from six yards out, but Reed’s reaction save prevented the equalizer in the waning minutes to end the Kickers’ season just shy of the Championship and keep the Eagles remakable postseason run alive.


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    USL PRO News Release

    Saturday, August 31, 2013

    TAMPA, Fla. – The participants for the 2013 USL PRO Championship Game were set on Saturday night, with No. 2-seed Orlando City set to host the No. 5-seed Charlotte Eagles for the title on Saturday, September 7 at 7:30 p.m. ET at the Florida Citrus Bowl after a pair of thrilling semifinals this weekend.

    Orlando City will host the USL PRO Championship Game for the second time after the Lions took a 3-2 victory against the defending champion Charleston Battery on Friday night. The Eagles, meanwhile, upset the regular-season champion Richmond Kickers 2-1 on Saturday night to continue their outstanding postseason run.

    The Eagles claimed their first postseason victory against their long-time rival the Kickers as Chris Ramirez scored his second goal of the postseason and Nate Thornton notched the winner. Charlotte had to rally from an early deficit at City Stadium to hand Richmond its first home defeat of the season, however, as the Kickers opened the scoring in the 12th minute when Brian Ownby’s corner kick was headed home by Mike Callahan.

    Charlotte got back on even terms just past the half-hour mark as a good cross from the left by Ben Newnam found Ramirez, who skied over his defender to head home from eight yards. The Eagles then took the lead seven minutes before the halftime break as a pass from Stephen Okai found Thornton in the left side of the penalty area, and his low shot eluded Kickers goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra at his near post.

    Richmond pushed forward strongly in the second half to try and keep its season alive, and Eric Reed had to make an outstanding save to deny Michael Seaton a late equalizer, but the Eagles took victory to advance to their first USL Championship Game since 2009.

    In the first semifinal on Friday night at the Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando once again got out to a quick start as it took victory against the No. 3-seed Battery, with Adama Mbengue scoring a goal and adding an assist on a finish by Long Tan as the Lions took a 2-0 lead in the sixth minute. Dennis Chin added a third for the Lions, but the Battery pulled a goal back before halftime through Mike Azira.

    Charleston pulled another goal back in the second half as Amadou Sanyang headed home, but the Battery’s comeback came up short as both teams finished the game with 10 men with Orlando’s Tan and Charleston’s Colin Falvey both sent off with 15 minutes to go.

    Stay up to date with all of the action in the 2013 USL PRO Playoffs through the league’s free online streaming service, USLNation.com, and also follow the race for the playoffs via Twitter (@USLPRO), Facebook and Google+ for in-game updates, news, previews and recaps of all the action.


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    FC Tucson News Release -- www.fctucson.com

    Monday, September 2, 2013

    TUCSON, Ariz. — NCAA Men’s Soccer officially kicked off this weekend and the 11 schools who dress 20 of FC Tucson’s players did well to open the year. The schools’ total record was 9-5 over the weekend. Four different players scored goals (Ryan Felix, Aaron Long, Carlos Montes and Ricardo Velazco) while one player, Ivan Garcia, notched an assist.

    For a full run down on all the weekend’s action, check out the capsules below.

    Louisville
    Ricardo Velazco wasted no time notching his first points for the 10th-ranked Cardinals. In the 22nd minute of Louisville’s 2-1 win over No. 20 Virginia, Velazco scored the match’s first goal. Velazco started the match and tallied three shots on the night.

    Virginia Tech
    David Clemens started both of his team’s matches over the weekend and notched six total shots but he couldn’t get on the score sheet. (He almost connected on a bicycle kick against Binghamton, but missed wide.) The Hokies split their opening two matches in the James Madison University Tournament, beating Binghamton 1-0 on Friday and then falling to Fordham 2-1 on Sunday. Despite not scoring, Clemens played well enough to be named to the All-Tournament team.

    California-Riverside
    On Friday the Highlanders opened the season with a 1-0 win over Iona and Ivan Garcia had a helping hand in the match’s lone goal. Garcia’s give-and-go with teammate Romario Lomeli broke the freshman free to score. Garcia came off the bench and played 59 minutes. Aaron Long started the match and logged 81 minutes.

    Riverside played again on Sunday and the team notched its second consecutive shutout in a 2-0 win over Marist. Long, who started and played 68 minutes, scored the Highlanders’ first goal. Garcia also started the match and played 62 minutes.

    Gonzaga
    The Bulldogs lost their lone match of the weekend, dropping a tough 1-0 decision to No. 21 Washington. Conner Bevans and Greg Carter started the match and both nearly scored. Early in the match, Bevans hit the far left post on a lob shot. Then late in the match, Bevans perfectly served his former FC Tucson teammate in the box, but Carter’s header just sailed over the bar.

    Liberty
    Tim Harbison started the season opener at midfield and took two shots during the match but couldn’t get on the score sheet. Liberty opened their season with a 1-0 win over Georgia State.

    Loyola Marymount
    The Lions opened the year with a 2-1 win over visiting Florida International. Ryan Felix opened his team’s scoring by converting a penalty kick just four minutes before halftime. Felix started the match and played a full 90 minutes.

    Sacramento State
    The Hornets opened their season with a 1-0 overtime win over San Jose State. Isaac Ikyurav and Gabe Silveira did not play.

    San Diego
    Beginning a season against a rival is never easy. The Toreros found that out the hard way in a 5-0 loss to open the year against San Diego State. No FC Tucson player got on the score sheet, but Connor Brandt and El Galbraith-Knapp started the match for San Diego. Brandt notched two shots.

    San Francisco
    The Dons notched back-to-back shutouts in their opening two matches, both 2-0 wins. On Friday night, San Francisco shut out Long Island University-Brooklyn. Then on Sunday, the Dons shut down Air Force. Kevin Gould started both matches along the back line and notched two shots in both matches.

    Santa Clara
    The Broncos dropped their home opener in double overtime to SIUE, 2-1. Carlos Montes, James Huffer, Max Ornstil and Matt Escobar all started the match. Montes led all offensive players with four total shots, three shots on goal and the team’s lone goal of the match. Huffer played his fist minutes ever for Santa Clara. He redshirt his freshman season in 2012.

    South Florida
    The Bulls took a 2-1 lead over Florida Gulf Coast three minute into the second half, but they couldn’t hold on to the lead and settled for a 2-2 draw. Dallas Jaye got the start for South Florida and allowed both goals. He also had two saves.

     


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