If you ask fans of the Harrisburg City Islanders to identify the team’s most valuable player, a likely response would be Lucky Mkosana or Sainey Touray. After all, the dynamic duo is tied for third in the league-scoring column and lead the USL-PRO’s top scoring club. Mkosana has tallied two hat-tricks while notching an amazing ten goals in his past seven games. He is now tied for second in goals and has tied Chad Severs for the franchise single-season goals record. Touray has been equally impressive, ranking third in goals and fifth in assists. A glimpse at the league-scoring table indicates how incredibly productive each player has been: One-time City Islander Vincenzo Bernardo recently signed with Antigua GFC of the Guatemalan second division.
Photo courtesy of Harrisburg City Islanders
Dom Dwyer, Orlando
15 goals, 1 assist
31 points Jose Angulo, Pittsburgh
13 goals, 4 assists
30 points Sainey Touray, Harrisburg
11 goals, 6 assists
28 points Lucky Mkosana, Harrisburg
13 goals, 2 assists
28 points Jamie Watson, Orlando
10 goals, 7 assists
Not since 2005 have the City Islanders boasted two goal scorers of this magnitude. With one regular-season game remaining, both Mkosana and Touray have a chance to break Chad Severs’ records for goals and points in a season. The top ten individual scoring seasons in Harrisburg history:
Chad Severs, 2005
13 goals, 5 assists
31 points Sainey Touray, 2013
11 goals, 6 assists
28 points Lucky Mkosana, 2013
13 goals, 2 assists
28 points Sumed Ibrahim, 2005
10 goals, 3 assists
23 points Jose Angulo, 2011
9 goals, 3 assists
21 points Sainey Touray, 2011
7 goals, 6 assists
20 points Chad Severs, 2009
9 goals, 1 assist
19 points Tiyi Shipalane, 2009
6 goals, 6 assists
18 points Lucky Mkosana, 2012
7 goals, 2 assists
16 points Andrew Welker, 2011
8 goals, 0 assist
With these record-breaking exploits, it’s a safe bet that Mkosana or Touray should be named team M.V.P. right? Well, an unsung hero may have proven his worth after this weekend’s 3-1 victory over Tampa Bay: Greg Jordan. Jordan isn’t flashy, he doesn’t record many goals, and as a central defender, he doesn’t draw much attention unless he allows his man to score. In twenty career games for Harrisburg, Jordan has tallied just one goal and one assist, yet since first appearing on loan from the Philadelphia Union last season, he has proven indispensable to the City Islanders.
When franchise icon Dustin Bixler went down with a serious knee injury last year, many wondered who would anchor the center of the defense. Greg Jordan stepped up and became a stalwart in Bixler’s absence. He partnered with Andrew Marshall to form a solid backline in 2012, but when Marshall left for greener field turf in Pittsburgh, Jordan had to break in a new running mate, Coady Andrews. Andrews was big but raw, having played professional indoor soccer yet just a rookie in the USL-PRO. The two quickly formed a good relationship and the City Islanders opened 2013 with a bang. Unfortunately for Jordan and his teammates, a knee injury sidelined the center back for thirteen matches, and during that spell, Harrisburg struggled. Coach Bill Becher was forced to lean on inexperienced players to replace Jordan, and the defense was frequently exposed without him. But on Saturday night, Jordan returned to the lineup, albeit with his injured knee heavily wrapped. Jordan played well, tackling cleanly, distributing the ball efficiently, and organizing the defense. While the defense surrendered a goal, it was apparent that the City Islanders played with more confidence and stability than in the previous thirteen matches. Jordan’s impact becomes evident when looking at how the team fared with and without him, both in terms of wins and goals allowed:
With Jordan: 8 wins, 3 losses, 1 tie – 14 goals allowed, 1.17 goals against average
Without Jordan: 6 wins, 6 losses, 1 tie – 22 goals allowed, 1.69 goals against average
Greg Jordan meant a difference of conceding nearly half a goal less per match, and the team won two more games, while losing three less, in the same amount of time. As much as Mkosana and Touray have dazzled with their record-breaking seasons, the reality is the team features two of them. They largely play the same position, so when Mkosana failed to score, Touray picked up the slack. When Touray struggled with injuries, Mkosana stepped in for him. The team has attacking depth, four other players have registered at least ten points this season, but the defense is spread far thinner. Don’t get me wrong, Mkosana and Touray are having fantastic seasons and deserve many accolades, but Jordan might be more valuable to his team by virtue of the position he plays and how well he plays it.
Philadelphia Union fans might wonder if they can expect to see Jordan at PPL Park in the near future if he’s so crucial to Harrisburg’s success? Unfortunately, the answer is probably not. Jordan doesn’t have the physical traits of Coady Andrews (Andrews is 6’3" and 200 lbs. while Jordan is 6’0" and 165 lbs.), nor does he have the attacking flair of Cristhian Hernandez. Jordan lacks the pace of Touray and the finishing of Mkosana. He probably won’t play much in Major League Soccer, but regardless, he is a terrific center back in the USL-PRO. There’s a reason he started virtually every match since arriving in Harrisburg, just as there’s a reason why he was an All-American at Creighton. Greg Jordan knows the game of soccer and plays it very well. He probably doesn’t have the tangibles MLS desires, but that doesn’t lessen his influence on the City Islanders. Believe it or not, but Greg Jordan might very well be Harrisburg’s M.V.P.
• Speaking of Major League Soccer, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if the third time proves the charm for Lucky Mkosana. He had two trials with MLS teams in the past two seasons, the Chicago Fire in 2012 and Columbus Crew in 2013, and considering his recent form, any team could use him as a late-game substitute. Mkosana has good pace, finishes extremely well, and puts himself in fantastic positions to score goals. If they have a clue, MLS teams should come calling once the USL-PRO season ends.
• After appearing in just one match last season, former City Islander goalkeeper Tomer Chencinski made three appearances in preseason friendlies this summer for Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC. The most successful club in Israeli history, Tel-Aviv opened the 2013-14 season by defeating Hungarian champion Győri ETO FC in a UEFA Champions League qualifier with a 4-1 aggregate score. Despite getting eliminated from the Champions League by Swiss champion F.C. Basel, 4-3 on aggregate, Tel-Aviv will play PAOK Thessaloniki in a home-and-home Europa League playoff to qualify for the group stage.
Tomer Chencinski warms up, waiting for his chance in Israel
(photo courtesy www.maccabi-tlv.co.il)
If you ask fans of the Harrisburg City Islanders to identify the team’s most valuable player, a likely response would be Lucky Mkosana or Sainey Touray. After all, the dynamic duo is tied for third in the league-scoring column and lead the USL-PRO’s top scoring club. Mkosana has tallied two hat-tricks while notching an amazing ten goals in his past seven games. He is now tied for second in goals and has tied Chad Severs for the franchise single-season goals record. Touray has been equally impressive, ranking third in goals and fifth in assists. A glimpse at the league-scoring table indicates how incredibly productive each player has been:
One-time City Islander Vincenzo Bernardo recently signed with Antigua GFC of the Guatemalan second division.
Lucky Mkosana in action against the Philadelphia Union
(photo courtesy Harrisburg City Islanders)
Lucky Mkosana (8 goals, 2 assists) now joins Touray among the league’s leading scorers and presents coach Bill Becher with a huge dilemma: start the now-healthy Touray or red-hot Mkosana? While it might seem reasonable to expect Becher to start both, the City Islanders historically play with only one striker flanked by wingers and supported by a withdrawn forward. Unfortunately, Touray and Mkosana play the same position and although both players have been on the field at the same time—with Touray often pushing out wide—each of them is best when lined up centrally. Becher often plays Touray or Lucky as the striker, some combination of Tom Mellor, Don Anding, Morgan Langley, and Jimmy McLaughlin as the two wings, and Yann Ekra or Jamiel Hardware as the withdrawn forward. Changing the team’s formation at this point in the season would not be beneficial, even to accommodate two dynamic attackers, so Becher will probably need to decide whom to start. With the team beginning a two-match roadtrip to Phoenix and Los Angeles, he might opt to alternate the two. Or he could play Touray on the wing, but again, Touray is most effective when he plays centrally and links up with Ekra. Finding one serviceable striker can be challenging in the USL ranks, so having two excellent ones is a nice dilemma to have.
What, you might ask, does this have to do with the opening teaser about historical notes? First, Touray is having a banner season. He trails Chad Severs by only two goals for the franchise record in goals and points in a season, and his career numbers (21 goals, 15 assists, 57 points) now rank second in team history. Lucky Mkosana ranks fifth in all-time goals (15) and with two more would trail only Severs and Touray in that category. With five regular season games remaining, the pair seem determined to rewrite the City Islanders record books.
Riverhounds Host F.A. Cup Winners, Jose Angulo Chases Record
Further west, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds have had an inconsistent season that also saw them rise and fall in the league table. As they chase the playoff contenders, three historic storylines from the 2013 season surfaced. First is the opening of Highmark Stadium, a new downtown facility that Harrisburg helped christen in the season-opener. This stadium is the model for the City Islanders’ own ambitions and provides the Riverhounds with a stable foundation to build upon. Thanks to the drawing power of Highmark, Pittsburgh hosted English F.A. Cup winners Wigan Athletic in a friendly on July 19. While Wigan won 4-1 (highlights here), over 4,000 fans packed the stadium for the event. The final storyline to note is former City Islanders forward Jose Angulo’s pursuit of the league scoring title. Angulo (12 goals, 3 assists) trails Dom Dwyer (15 goals, 1 assists) for the USL-PRO single-season goal-scoring record, and with six games remaining for Pittsburgh, the record is well within reach. From historic venues and opponents to recording breaking statistics, the Riverhounds are posting a memorable season.
Reading United Falls in PDL Playoffs
For the second consecutive season, Reading United lost in the Eastern Conference semifinals. This year, Reading faced the Ottawa Fury and succumbed 3-2 after blowing a 2-1 lead. That United returned to the playoffs was somewhat remarkable considering they once again lost several key players to professional trials and university commitments. Captain Steve Neumann missed several games while taking classes at Georgetown University, and Patrick Slogic and Ben Sweat missed a couple of weeks each while training with European teams. With a reputation for developing top talent, United regularly sees its players depart for tryouts with MLS or clubs abroad. This is a double-edged sword because this reputation allows Reading to attract some of the best college players in the country, but it also produces roster upheaval that Brendan Burke and Ged Quinn have to manage. Despite the semifinal loss, it was a successful season for United who qualified for the PDL playoffs for the sixth consecutive season and advanced to the third round of the U.S. Open Cup, defeating the Harrisburg City Islanders along the way.
Lehigh Valley United Sonic won the NPSL last year
(photo courtesy www.fcsonic.org
Lehigh Valley and Erie Fall Short in NPSL Final Four
The National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) playoffs are also in full tilt, and two Pennsylvania teams made dramatic runs to the national semifinals. FC Lehigh Valley United Sonic were the defending NPSL champions but opened the 2013 season with a 1-3 league record and loss to Reading United in the U.S. Open Cup. Undeterred by their poor start, Sonic won eight straight games to finish second in the Keystone Conference and qualify for the playoffs. Once there, the Lehigh Valley outfit knocked off the Brooklyn Italians (2-1) and Greater Binghamton F.C. (1-0) to win the Northeast Region title. Sonic was unable to extend their winning streak, however, and lost to the Sonoma County Sol (3-2) in the Final Four in California this weekend.
The Erie Admirals were the other Pennsylvania team to reach the NPSL national semifinals. After finishing third place in the Great Lakes Conference, the underdog Admirals knocked off second-seeded F.C. Buffalo (5-2) before toppling regular season champion Detroit City F.C. (4-1) for the conference title. Erie continued their stunning playoff run by defeating the Quad City Eagles (1-0) for the Midwest Region crown. The upset-minded outfit finally ran out of steam, however, dropping their Final Four match at Richmond’s top-seeded RVA F.C. this weekend (0-4). RVA will host Sonoma County next weekend for the NPSL national championship.
Penn Stater Leads Lehigh Valley United to the McGuire Cup
While Lehigh Valley United Sonic failed to retain their NPSL title, their U-19 squad claimed the McGuire Cup as national youth champions. This prestigious trophy was first awarded in 1935 to America’s top youth team (click here for a brief video history of the McGuire Cup), and Penn State’s Shane Campbell scored the championship winning goal to lead Lehigh Valley United to a 1-0 victory over the Chicago Fire U-19 team in front a crowd of 8,000 in Overland Park, Kansas.
Reading Launches MISL Team
With the outdoor season winding down, the Major Indoor Soccer League announced that Reading would be granted an expansion franchise for the 2013-14 season. Named the Pennsylvania Roar, the team will play homes games at Reading’s Sovereign Center (which is soon to be renamed the Santander Center). A 10-match home schedule will include storied indoor clubs the Baltimore Blast, Wichita Wings, Milwaukee Wave, and Rochester Lancers. For those who aren’t familiar with the indoor game, the MISL is part of the United Soccer Leagues and the top level of indoor soccer in the nation. The Professional Arena Soccer League (PASL), in which the Harrisburg Heat competes, is a step below the MISL in terms of quality.
The Hershey Bears were one of four American Hockey League teams to not have a player score 20 goals during the 2012-13 season. Ryan Potulny led the Bears with 19 goals. Jeff Taffe added 18. Of the 16 teams that made the Calder Cup playoffs last season, only Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Milwaukee scored fewer goals. These numbers would indicate an obvious need for a goal scorer. Thus far, the Bears have not filled that need.
A goal scorer was not the only need the Bears had heading into this off-season, but it is the only one which has yet to be addressed. Hershey needed a new coaching staff and filled that with head coach Mike Haviland and assistant coach Ryan Mougenel. The Bears needed a veteran goalie after Dany Sabourin signed to play in Austria. That need was taken care with the signing of Rochester goalie David Leggio, who led the AHL in wins last season. The signings of David Kolomatis and Tyson Strachen gave the Bears the right-handed shot defensemen that they lacked. Hershey had a leadership hole with the departures of captain Boyd Kane (even if he didn’t always act like a captain), alternate captain Ryan Potulny and veteran Patrick McNeill. The leadership issue was dealt with by re-signing Taffe and Dane Byers, as well as the signing of veteran forward Derek Whitmore. With all those moves, one hole remains, a goal scorer.
What are the Bears options for a goal scorer? Winger Jamie Tardif scored 30 goals last season for Providence. He is a free agent and would help solve the goal scoring issues. He would be a nice fit aside Jeff Taffe on the Bears top line. After Tardif, there are four other players who scored 20 or more goals last season who are available as free agents. Brandon Segal scored 24 goals for Connecticut last season. Greg Rallo tallied 23 times for San Antonio. Francis Pare found the back of the net 22 times for Calder Cup Champion Grand Rapids and Bracken Kearns scored 20 times for Worcester.
The Bears need to add one, maybe two of these players to help the offense. Knowing the offense has the potential to put some goals on the board helps the defense and the goalie play better. It is hard on a team if the goalie and defense think one or two goals will mean a loss. It causes them to play not to make mistakes and as a result, usually make more mistakes. Last season, the Bears were 5-23-3-2 when they scored two goals or less. This was a major reason why Hershey had to wait until the last day of the regular season to clinch a playoff spot. A little more offense would have allowed the Bears to clinch sooner and maybe be seeded higher. To avoid similar drama this season, the Bears need to add a goal scorer or two.
On June 5, the Harrisburg City Islanders kicked off a month-long homestand expected to solidify their position near the top of the table. Following a hard-fought 2-0 win over the Wilmington Hammerheads that night, the City Islanders have lost three of their past four matches while conceding goals at an alarming rate. Worse yet, the team has developed a propensity for squandering leads and running out of gas in the second half. Is this a worrisome trend or a minor stumble in a long season with two months remaining?
The slump began on June 8 when the team welcomed the Colorado Rapids Reserves to the Skyline Sports Complex. Things looked promising after Morgan Langley gave the City Islanders a 1-0 lead just before halftime. That margin remained intact for another thirty minutes before Kevin Harbottle erupted for a hat-trick in the game’s final fifteen minutes. The defense was exposed and fatigued, but with winless Antigua coming to town, a losing streak would be avoided. Morgan Langley, Sainey Touray, and Yann Ekra each tallied goals in the 3-1 win, a score that somewhat flattered the hosts. A woeful Antigua attack that has notched just eight goals in fifteen matches was able to find net, and for twenty nervy minutes, Barracuda trailed by just one score. While Ekra’s late goal provided insurance and a measure of relief, the performance was not emphatic and foreshadowed the losses to follow.
Lucky Mkosana and Sebastian Le Toux square off
(photo courtesy Harrisburg City Islanders)
Two days later, the City Islanders hosted their Major League Soccer affiliate, the Philadelphia Union, for the fourth time in their history. The teams had split the previous three meetings, but unlike some of the earlier outings, Philadelphia brought their first team to Harrisburg. Fresh from a layoff in their MLS schedule, the Union jumped on the board first when Brian Carroll stripped Jason Pelletier and beat Brian Sylvestre with the goal. Stephen Basso equalized just minutes later when his penalty kick snuck past Chris Konopka to the lower left corner. Philadelphia reclaimed their lead after a Keon Daniel freekick caromed off the wall to Sebastian Le Toux who easily buried the opportunity. Bill Becher started several reserves and waited to insert Sainey Touray into the lineup until halftime. Touray immediately provided a spark, smacking the crossbar with a shot and finishing a gorgeous give-and-go with Lucky Mkosana to pull things level at 2-2. The Union also made heavy changes at halftime, with Jimmy McLaughlin and Cristhian Hernandez switching jerseys and lining up for Philadelphia after playing a half in City Islanders kits. Antoine Hoppenot and Roger Torres scored late to win the match, an entertaining 4-2 contest with open play, great goals, and competitive energy.
Yann Ekra evades the Riverhounds defense
(photo courtesy Harrisburg City Islanders)
Becher rested several players to prepare for Friday’s matchup with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, an interstate rival the City Islanders have dominated recently. That trend looked set to continue when Tom Mellor and Jimmy McLaughlin paced Harrisburg to an early 2-0 lead. Moments into the second half, a controversial penalty was called that former City Islanders striker Jose Angulo coolly finished. The City Islanders self-destructed from that moment on, conceding another goal to Angulo as well as ones to Darren Amoo and Michael Seth, a four-goal outburst that reflected the defensive shortcomings of the current roster. Sainey Touray tallied a late goal to make the score respectable, but there is no way to sugarcoat the massive letdown by Harrisburg. Conceding four consecutive goals to your rival while leading 2-0 at home is unacceptable, and the loss cost the City Islanders a chance to pull closer to league-leading Orlando in the standings.
The City Islanders have surrendered eight goals in their past three USL-PRO matches (2.67 goals per game), and that number swells to twelve goals allowed in four games if the Union friendly is counted. Several things account for these defensive lapses. First, Greg Jordan, who has been a mainstay in central defense since first joining the team on loan from the Union last year, is banged up and missed the past two matches. Injuries have also prevented Tom Brandt from returning to action, while Damani Richards still has not appeared for the team. In addition, the Union sent Wheeler to Harrisburg on loan for the Pittsburgh match, but Philadelphia is converting the tall forward to a center back. Wheeler committed the foul that led to Angulo’s penalty kick, and he still has much to learn at that position.
Despite the defensive letdowns, the offense continues to generate plenty of goals. The City Islanders have tallied three or more goals in a game five times this season, and their thirty-two goals rank second in the league. The club is on pace to shatter the franchise record for goals in a season (43 in 2005). Sainey Touray leads the way (8 goals, 4 assists, 20 points), and now ranks second in the franchise’s all-time points category (50 to Chad Severs’ 66), second in goals (18 to Severs’ 29), and third in assists (14 to David Schofield’s 27 and Steve Fisher’s 17).
To be fair to the City Islanders, one of the three losses was to the Philadelphia Union in an exhibition that featured numerous trialists and reserves. Furthermore, the Union affiliation might also be responsible for this mini-slump. Philadelphia played Reading United in an exhibition on June 7, the night before the City Islanders hosted Colorado. The Union fielded several players—Cristhian Hernandez, Jimmy McLaughlin, Don Anding, Aaron Wheeler—that would normally appear for Harrisburg. As the result of the friendly, only McLaughlin and Hernandez were available for the City Islanders’ league match the next day, and both appeared only as late substitutes for Harrisburg. If the City Islanders fielded a complete squad with their usual allotment of loan players, the result against Colorado might have been different. Similarly, the Union utilized Harrisburg’s match against the Riverhounds to experiment with Wheeler at center back. As noted earlier, this is not his natural position and his mistakes contributed to the loss. Obviously some of Harrisburg’s success is due to their talented loan players, but loan agreements and affiliations can also backfire, and unfortunately the City Islanders dropped six points as the result of the Union’s agenda. Furthermore, Bill Becher has not always known who would be made available to him until the last minute. It's a fine line to walk with minor league affiliations, do you sacrifice success at the expense of player development? Hopefully the two go together, but it can still frustrate when they don't. The MLS-USL arrangement remains new, and growing pains like these suggest there are more kinks to be ironed out.
Sainey Touray now ranks 2nd in City Islanders’ history for goals, points
(photo courtesy Harrisburg City Islanders)
The realities of minor league affiliation aside, the City Islanders (9-4-1, 28 points) remain in great shape. They occupy second place in the league although Richmond trails by just two points with two fewer matches played. If Harrisburg can work out their defensive lapses and get their backline healthy again, they should continue to gain separation from the middle of the pack. The City Islanders’ next three matches are against the bottom of the table and should allow them to regain their tremendous early season form. First up, a home match against the expansion Phoenix F.C. on Friday night. If not for Antigua, Phoenix (2-9-5, 11 points) would sit dead last in the USL-PRO standings. The Arizona outfit has scored just 14 goals while conceding 24, and their leading scorer—Donald Toia—has registered just 7 points, something accomplished by five City Islanders. The pressure will be on Harrisburg in this match because three points are expected and the City Islanders would like to prove their recent slump is just an aberration. Getting organized defensively sure would be a good starting point.
A funny thing often happens in sports: despite roster turnovers, teams frequently develop a mystique. Some seem to be cursed when playing a particular opponent, while others find a way to win no matter the circumstance. The City Islanders’ opponent on Friday night, the Orlando City Lions, has one of those mystiques. Orlando City had never lost to Harrisburg, and with the franchise becoming a possibility for MLS expansion many assume the Lions will again hoist the USL-PRO championship trophy in 2013. After all, Orlando City boasted a 6-1-1 record and the league’s top scorer in Dom Dwyer (10 goals in 8 games) entering the contest.
This year’s City Islanders squad certainly boasts the talent to rival Orlando City, but there is an air of invincibility that surrounds the franchise. From the opening whistle, Harrisburg was on its heels, and the Lions controlled possession and demonstrated why their acquired this reputation in the first place. But then, in the 17th minute, the City Islanders somehow jumped out to the early lead. Near midfield, Cristhian Hernandez headed the ball to Yann Ekra who quickly sprayed a through-pass to Don Anding on the left wing. Anding delivered a low cross to the far post where Sainey Touray was waiting, unmarked, for the goal. Many, including Touray, expected an off-sides call to negate the goal as had happened minutes earlier to Orlando City, but no such whistle blew and Touray celebrated by running up the stairs at midfield to hug his injured teammates.
The lead would not last long, however. Just five minutes later, Dwyer proved why Sporting Kansas City owns his rights, striking a killer restart from 25-yards out, a left-footed blast that evaded the diving Nick Noble. The game was even at halftime, but shortly after the intermission Dwyer struck again. In the 55th minute, a loss cross from Bryan Burke on the right wing entered the box. It seemed to strike Greg Jordan in the back of the leg as he and Noble scrambled to clear the ball, but an unlucky deflection landed right to Dwyer who easily buried his 12th goal of the season. Despite trailing, the City Islanders continued to compete, and a tying goal came courtesy of Yann Ekra’s grit and determination. In the 72nd minute, Ekra took the ball, got fouled but maintained possession. He juked past a defender and struck a left-footed blast from the top of the box into the far corner for the tying goal. This amazing effort epitomizes what Ekra brings to the club, he must be the strongest player on the ball in the USL-PRO, and his effort is never questioned.
Neither team was able to break the deadlock after 90 minutes, and many fans were relieved that the City Islanders were able to take a point from the league-leaders. The contest demonstrated how talented both squads are and featured good sportsmanship from both clubs. It’s hard not to respect both franchises, Orlando City for its ambition and success, Harrisburg for remaining competitive for a decade despite being such a small market. A nice crowd of nearly 1,900 attended the match on a beautiful night at the Skyline Sports Complex. A few injuries remain for the City Islanders, as Tom Mellor again missed action due to assorted ankle injuries. Lucky Mkosana (3 goals, 1 assist) remains coach Bill Becher’s favorite substitute, but with Morgan Langley (2 goals) having a tough game on the right wing, one can’t help but wonder if Lucky should see more playing time. Becher prefers to start Touray (5 goals, 3 assists) centrally and then slides him to the right when Lucky enters the match, and this strategy has certainly worked thus far, but Langley could be more consistent. He has scored two goals this season with his excellent pace and good positional awareness, however his touch often betrays him in key attacking situations. Greg Jordan and Coady Andrews held up well against Orlando’s talented attackers, but there could be better communication between the backline and midfielders when tracking defensively. In fairness to the City Islanders, the central midfield position has been cursed with injuries this year. Jason Pelletier missed the season’s first few games due to injury, Andrew Welker was lost to a season-ending cruciate tear in the opener, and Tom Brandt has missed action too. It’s tough to develop chemistry and consistency when the holding midfielder seems to be a different player every week, so hopefully Pelletier remains fit and Brandt returns soon to solidify things centrally.
Regardless, Harrisburg must like where they are as a team at this point in the season. With a record of 5-1-1 and 16 points, the City Islanders stand alone in third place, seven points away from Orlando (7-1-2, 23 points), who’s played three more games than Harrisburg, and just two points behind Charleston (6-2-0, 18 points), who also has one more game than the City Islanders. Separation is starting to occur in the league standings, with Orlando, Charleston, Harrisburg, and Richmond (4-0-3, 15 points) playing the most consistent soccer and vying for the top of the table. Ranking fourth in goals scored (17) and tied for second in goals allowed (7), the City Islanders appear to have the depth and talent to make a serious run at the championship. The team drew a tough path in the U.S. Open Cup, however, and now must travel to an outstanding Reading United team that will contend for the PDL championship. If they survive that tricky fixture, a road trip to the top team in the MLS Eastern Conference awaits, the New York Red Bulls.
With the end of Mark French’s four year reign as head coach of the Hershey Bears confirmed, the search for his replacement is underway. PennLive listed Bears assistant coach Troy Mann, former Bears defenseman and assistant coach Paul Jerrard, former Bears assistant Mike Stothers, former Bears forward Eric Veilleux, former Bears forward Larry Courville and Norfolk assistant Mike Haviland as potential candidates. In truth, there should be only two candidates, Courville and Veilleux.
Courville played 49 games for the Bears during the 2001-02 season and has been the head coach of the ECHL’s Reading Royals the past four and a half seasons. This season, he led the Royals to the best record in the ECHL, going 46-19-3-4, and has the Royals in the Kelly Cup finals. Courville has dealt with a lot of roster upheaval in Reading this season. He has used seven different goalies, including bringing former Bears goalie Frederic Cassivi out of retirement for an appearance. He lost several defensemen to the American Hockey League and had players go up and down to Hershey consistently.
Through it all, the Royals kept winning. Courville has not let the Royals use the roster change as an excuse. Instead, he used it to motivate players to take advantage of their chance to play and they responded. They had their coach’s back and he had theirs. If Courville felt his players were being wronged by the referees, he let the refs know about it. That is something Mark French has not done enough of the past two seasons. He stood and nodded agreement to refs when his players were getting wronged. Courville will not let that happen. If the Bears hire Courville, it would be a promotion as the Royals were affiliated with Bears and Washington Capitals this season and will be again next season.
Like Courville, Veilleux is a former Bears player. He played for the Bears for two seasons and as a key member of Hershey’s 1997 Calder Cup Championship team. Veilleux took over the Shawinigan Cataractes of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) during the 2005-06 season. In the 2008-09 season, he led the Cataractes to the QMJHL finals. Last season, Veilleux was behind the bench when Shawinigan beat London to win the MasterCard Memorial Cup.
After winning the Memorial Cup, Veilleux left Shawinigan and became the head coach of the QMJHL’s Baie-Comeau Drakkar. He led the Drakkar to the QMJHL finals, where they lost to the top-seeded Halifax Mooseheads. Veilleux is a passionate coach and that would serve him well as Bears head coach. An incident in this season’s QMJHL’s semifinals shows how passionate Veilleux is. The Drakkar were playing at the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in game four. After dropping a 4-3 decision to the Armada, a bench-clearing brawl broke out. As time expired, a player from the Armada taunted a player from the Drakkar and chaos followed. Veilleux did not stand by during the brawl. He was seen in a heated argument with the head coach of the Armada, sticking up for his players. Veilleux was suspended for the next two games, along with seven of his players. He showed his team that he had their backs and they responded by winning the next two games of the series to the advance to the finals.
The Bears seemed to lack fire at times the past two seasons under French. It is often said that a team mirrors their coach’s personality. Courville and Veilleux display fiery personalities and their teams play the same way. French’s personality is more laid back and the Bears have played the same way too often the past two seasons.
After losing in the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs for the past three seasons, Hershey Bears fans would welcome fire and passion to match their own passion. Courville or Veilleux would provide that. This is why the Bears need to hire either Larry Courville or Eric Veilleux as their next head coach.
Three games, three wins, thirteen goals scored, three clean sheets. Not a bad weekend for the Philadelphia Union and its affiliate clubs. The successful weekend kicks off a packed week of soccer in Pennsylvania that features interstate rivals in the U.S. Open Cup, the top two teams in the USL-PRO, and MLS powers in Chester. Before looking ahead to those matches, a look back at the dominant performances from this past weekend. The Week Ahead
Harrisburg City Islanders 4 – Antigua Barracuda 0
After smiling upon Harrisburg for the first two home matches of 2013, the weather gods again punished City Islanders fans. Thunderstorms delayed the match nearly an hour, but when the game finally kicked off, it was Antigua that was struck by lightning. Sainey Touray scored two goals and notched one assist as the hometown City Islanders rolled 4-0. Morgan Langley and Touray each scored within the first three minutes of a match that was never in doubt. The City Islanders outshot Barracuda 16-7 and had fourteen corner kicks compared to one for Antigua. New Philadelphia Union loan player Leo Fernandes scored the final goal, while Nick Noble earned his second straight shutout. With the win, Harrisburg improved to 5-1 on the season, good enough for second place in the standings, while Antigua dropped to 0-7, dead last in the USL-PRO.
Philadelphia Union 1 – Chicago Fire 0
Whereas the City Islanders dominated their opponent, the parent Philadelphia Union found themselves winners despite losing the battle of possession and chances. One-time City Islander Jack McInerney scored his MLS-leading seventh goal of the season, and a makeshift Union defense held firm despite being outshot by the hometown Fire 15-9. Chicago carried fifty-two percent of the possession but could not beat Zac MacMath. In the 75th minute, Sebastian LeToux played a quick restart to the streaking McInerney who beat keeper Sean Johnson on the breakaway. It wasn’t pretty, but the Union improved 4-3-3 and maintained its position among the playoff contenders.
Reading United 8 – Westchester Flames 0
Yes, that scoreline is correct. Reading United has built a reputation for being perennial contenders in the PDL while producing MLS talent. In their season opener, United proved 2013 will be no different with an utterly dominant performance. Mario Pinto Neto scored a hat-trick, Manolo Sanchez tallied two goals and an assist, and Ben Sweat recorded one goal and two assists in the rout. Reading outshot Westchester 19-4, and the only doubt in the game was whether the fog would stop United before the Flames’ defense. Keep an eye on Mario Pinto, a 5’11" Division II All-American from Lincoln Memorial University. The Brazilian-born attacker has scored 34 goals and 10 assists in two seasons for the Railsplitters, and if his Reading debut is any indication, goals will follow him wherever he plays.
Fog envelops Don Thomas Stadium in Reading
Photo courtesy Reading United
• Tuesday, May 14: U.S. Open Cup First Round: Lehigh Valley United Sonic at Reading United – This match pits two of the top teams in their respective leagues and is the first time they’ve played despite their geographic proximity. Lehigh Valley United Sonic won the NPSL last season, and their roster for 2013 is loaded with Division I players in a league often populated by DII and DIII stars. Reading United is deep and talented as well, so the clash should be electric. As added incentive, the winner will host the Harrisburg City Islanders in the U.S. Open Cup Second Round on May 21.
• Wednesday, May 15: L.A. Galaxy at Philadelphia Union – Does the Galaxy really need an introduction? Two-time defending MLS champion, Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan, Omar Gonzalez, enough said. While the Galaxy has struggled early in 2013, and Keane might not make the trip, this team remains a challenger with some of the top resources, talent, and coaching MLS has ever seen. The Union has been a pleasant surprise, with McInerney blossoming into a first-rate striker and the team grinding out some good results. Can Philadelphia string together a winning streak? Will the Galaxy break out and win consistently?
• Friday, May 17: Orlando City at Harrisburg City Islanders – This is the match the Harrisburg organization circled as soon as the regular season schedule was released. Orlando City has established itself as the dominant power of the USL-PRO ranks. With a large, passionate fanbase, a renowned English coach, and several of the top scorers in the league, Orlando has flirted with MLS expansion. They lead the table (6-1-1, 19 points), and boast the league’s top goal-scorer, Dominic Dwyer (10 goals in 7 games), and assist-man, Jamie Watson (4 goals, 5 assists). Did I mention they defeated the City Islanders in the 2011 USL-PRO championship final? Motivation won’t be an issue for an excellent Harrisburg (5-1, 15 points) squad that features Sainey Touray (4 goals, 3 assists), Lucky Mkosana (3 goals, 1 assist), and Cristhian Hernandez (2 goals, 2 assists), all of whom rank among the top scorers in the league.
• Saturday, May 18: Chicago Fire at Philadelphia Union – Philadelphia closes a busy three-match week by hosting the return leg of their showdown with Chicago. The Fire will want to avenge last weekend’s loss, a match they controlled but failed to win. Familiarity breeds contempt, and these two foes are certainly familiar adversaries. Can the Union handle such a busy fixture list to extinguish the Fire once again and remain in the playoff hunt?
• Sunday, May 19: New Jersey Rangers at Reading United – While Reading cruised in their season-opener, New Jersey struggled to a 0-0 draw in their PDL debut against the New York Magic. Can Reading maintain its high standard with three games in one week after training together for only one week? United failed to win the Mid-Atlantic Division in 2012, and winning at home will go a long way toward capturing another division title.
• Sunday, May 19: Buxmont Torch at Hershey FC – The home debut for Hershey’s new NPSL team, Hershey FC. In their first-ever match last weekend, Hershey knocked off the Reading Revolution, 3-1. Kenny Fultz, Tyler Whitmer, and Dave Miller scored goals while Mike Butala earned the win in goal. Will the Hershey-Harrisburg market embrace a second minor league team, especially one several tiers below the City Islanders? Will the new team challenge in the competitive Keystone Division of the NPSL?
The Week Ahead
Players decide the game on the ice. While that is true, coaches can make it easier or harder for a team to succeed. Unfortunately for the Hershey Bears, the coaching staff made it harder and in the end, the Bears did not come out on top in their first round Calder Cup series against the Providence Bruins. Decisions made by the Bears coaching staff came back to hurt the Bears.
Playoff series are often about adjustments. Providence head coach Bruce Cassidy made the adjustment of inserting former Bear Graham Mink into the lineup after a game one loss. The move paid immediate dividends as Mink scored twice in game two and only Philipp Grubauer’s brilliant goaltending allowed the Bears to escape with a 5-4 overtime win. This is where Bears head coach Mark French made his biggest mistake.
After coming back from Providence up two games to none, French chose to stay with the same defense he played in the first two games. This seems like a natural move considering the team won the previous two games. However, French ignored the facts from the second game. The Bears surrendered 58 shots on goal in game two and had trouble transitioning from defense to offense. Grubauer’s goaltending won that game, not the defense. The simple solution to this issue was to insert veteran defenseman Patrick McNeill into the lineup. Moving the puck out of the defensive zone and transitioning to offense is one of the strengths of McNeill’s game.
French went with the same defense and again, the Bears struggled transitioning from defense to offense. There were far too many turnovers in their own zone. Overall, Hershey played their worst game of the series in game three. This is a logical time to shake up the lineup. This was the time to tell the team the effort in game three was unacceptable and that they had to be better. Instead, French chose to go with the same lineup in game four. Thus, the horrible effort went unpunished. While the effort was better in game four, the same problems existed among the defense. The Bears lost game four as well, surrendering two late goals to grasp defeat from the clutches of victory.
Now, there was a winner-take-all, game five in Providence. After two straight losses and more struggles on defense, it was time to put McNeill in the lineup, right? Wrong. French had planned to go with the same defense until Dmitry Orlov, who struggled during the series, came down with an illness. McNeill time? Again, no. Instead, Chay Genoway was inserted into the lineup. While the insertion of Genoway was not a bad move (he is a good puck-mover), the decision to not play your most-experienced defenseman in McNeill is a baffling one. In truth, McNeill and Genoway should’ve both been in the lineup during the series. Orlov and rookie Nate Schmidt had a lot of difficulties in their own zone. Orlov wasn’t the same player since coming back from his concussion and Schmidt, while talented offensively with a bright future, is still adjusting to the pro game and had some issues in his own end.
Although he didn't make the right changes on defense, Coach French made two changes at forward for game five and they were both curious moves. First, he elected to play Matt Pope over Ryan Stoa. Pope had two goals during the season and one during the playoffs. Stoa had a goal in the series and has a better chance of scoring than Pope does. The other move, quite simply, was baffling. French chose to scratch Jon DiSalvatore and play Dane Byers. The decision to play Byers was not a bad decision. The decision to scratch DiSavatore was. DiSalvatore had two goals in the series, including the overtime game winner in game two. If Byers was going to be inserted in the lineup, Boyd Kane should have been the veteran scratch instead of DiSalvatore. Kane had no points and was a -8 for the series, including a -2 in the game five 3-2 loss. Kane was ineffective all series long and better option to scratch than DiSalvatore.
Players decide the game on the ice, but a coach has to put the right lineup on the ice for the team to win. Mark French did not do that and as a result the Hershey Bears season is over.
After two big wins on the road, the Hershey Bears returned home Saturday night with a chance to sweep the top-seeded Providence Bruins. As expected, the Bruins came out and played with desperation. After all, their season was on the line. The Bears failed to match that desperation and a result allowed a dangerous team to stay alive.
Hershey gets another chance to eliminate the Bruins Sunday evening, but things need to change for the Bears to be successful. First, the Bears have to win the special teams battle. They won the battle in the first two games, going five for ten on the power play and holding the Bruins to just one power play goal in seven tries. In game three, Providence was two for four on the power play and a perfect six for six on the penalty kill, which included a full two-minute, two-man advantage for Hershey in the second period. The Bruins won the special teams battle and won the game.
Second and most importantly, the Bears need to change their effort. They need to match Providence’s desperation. The Bruins know their season is over if they lose. On Saturday night, the Providence won every battle and played a physical game. The Bruins had all four lines going. They got to every loose puck. They always had someone in front of Bears’ goalie Phillipp Grubauer. The Bruins had the jump they needed to keep their season alive.
In contrast, the Bears were caught standing around far too often and had little jump. The only line Hershey had going was the Michael Latta-Garrett Mitchell-Nicolas Deschamps line. Besides the Latta line, the only players that played with a physical presence were defenseman Patrick Wellar and rookie Tom Wilson, who was playing in his first professional game. The Bears seldom had anyone in front of Providence goalie Niklas Svedberg.
The Bruins will most likely come out and play desperate again on Saturday. The Bears need to play the same way. They have to match Providence’s desperation. They need to play like it is a game seven. Hershey needs to play like their season is over if they lose. If they do that, the Bears will advance to play Springfield in the second round. If they don’t, the Bears will find themselves returning to Providence for an unwanted game five.