We’re now over a month into the inaugural SPSL campaign. Although the season is older for some teams more than others, it’s time we take a look at the emerging trends and characteristics of our SPSL clubs. What better way to relate than to compare them to the great teams and players of MLS? With the MLS season drawing to a close, discover what your SPSL team’s match foreshadows about its destiny.
Club America Academy: Philadelphia Union—Young, new, and taking the league by storm, these two clubs couldn’t be more alike. The Union carried the youngest MLS squad this year with an average age of 24.4. Off the bat, the expansion franchise jumped to fourth in the league attendance table. Club America Academy will hardly have to search for a fanbase as it prepares for its home opener. With their strong ties to one of Mexico’s foremost franchises, Houston soccer fans will grow to love these youngsters. Club America Academy will hope to render experience useless. Expect a quick, technical game from this group of teenage phenoms. The Union mustered a respectable 7-9-7 record from July onward after a 1-6-0 start left spirits in the gutters. Can Justin Santibanez do for Club America what Sebastien Le Toux did for Philly? It took a change in atmosphere for Le Toux to have a breakout season. Santibanez comes to Club America from Galveston Pirate SC and could provide just the spark to carry his team up the SPSL ladder.
Outlook: There’s no doubt Club America Academy is good, but will youth hamper progress? Is this the team’s year, or is the club a superpower in the making?
Corpus Christi: DC United—There was common theme surrounding talk from DC United supporters: “We’ll get ‘em next year.” At 6-20-4, United finished in the MLS basement in 2010. The DC men were the second youngest of the league’s teams with an average age of 25.2. Corpus Christi Fuel brings young blood into the league as well, and unfortunately for Fuel supporters, the team appears to be contending for the bottom slot too, with a 0-6-0 record to date. However, unlike the Fuel, DC United jumped to a 4-0 start before dropping 8 of its next 10 matches. Can Corpus Christi do the reverse and end the season on a high note? DC United lacked a superstar, and the Fuel appear to be searching for a consistent leader as player availability has haunted the team thus far.
Outlook: If it’s any consolation, United has four MLS Cups to its name. Hold on Fuel supporters. Ride out the storm. It may be worth your wait!
Galveston Pirate SC: LA Galaxy—Donovan, Beckham, fame, success—the team has it all out near the 90210. The celebrity team of the league, the Galaxy secured the 2010 MLS Supporters’ Shield for the best regular-season record. Beverly Hills, meet Galveston, TX. Out in the 77550 resides Galveston Pirate SC, arguably America’s team of the SPSL. It’s hard to mention LA without talk of Donovan or Beckham; it’s impossible to mention Pirate SC without naming Roy Hernandez. With six goals in three games, Hernandez is to the SPSL what Donovan is to US Soccer and what Beckham is to the MLS. He’s all that and then some. Galveston has snatched a spotless 3-0-0 start and appears poised to follow in the Galaxy’s greatness.
Outlook: Just how far can Galveston go? LA’s title run ended prematurely. Can Hernandez take his team even deeper?
Regals FC: Real Salt Lake—After a surprise run to the MLS Cup Final, Real Salt Lake edged the LA Galaxy to clinch last year’s championship before falling just behind the Galaxy in contention for this year’s Supporters’ Shield. Although stadium issued rocked the team for a while, the club is now settled in Sandy, UT, and is cementing a winning tradition. Regals FC has recently switched homes to Maya Park in Houston, but the team’s winning ways are scarcely a surprise and by no means new. Alvaro Saborio and Javier Morales led Real Salt Lake to recognition as the league’s highest-scoring team. Erick Cruz and Luis Licerio seem prepared to do the same for Regals FC. With 24 goals and a 3-0-0 record, Regals FC are on track to secure some hardware of its own.
Outlook: A strong regular season proved rather meaningless for Real Salt Lake’s post-season efforts. How far will Regals FC go when crunch time hits? How will the team respond to stiff competition?
Texas Lonestrikers: New York Red Bulls—The Red Bulls were the laughingstock of the MLS in 2009 before silencing critics with a first-place Eastern Conference finish in 2010. The MLS’s oldest team (average age 27.6) took a while to get the ball rolling, but the addition of Thierry Henry was all the team needed to restore its motivation. Although the team’s playoff run was fleeting, it was a turnaround worthy of praise. Meanwhile, Nicky Wiggins has tallied the Texas Lonestrikers’ only two goals in the team’s 1-3-0 season to emerge as the sole bright spot. Although Wiggins and Henry could both put their shiny heads together to remember the 70’s, Wiggins will have to pick up Juan Pablo Angel’s scoring habits if the Lonestrikers are going to make a post-season push.
Outlook: The Lonestrikers need someone to take the “Bull” by the horns if the team hopes to reverse its winter season fate. Who will step up to be the wonder kid on a team of veteran men?
Tulsa Lobos FC: San Jose Earthquakes—The Earthquakes were a distant flicker on the MLS play-off radar but nearly earned themselves a berth into the final. Chris Wondolowski who? The striker took the league by storm and snatched this year’s Golden Boot award. A history full of name changes and relocation couldn’t phase San Jose from a stellar season along the league’s western boundaries. Meanwhile, the SPSL’s northern outsider may very well sneak up on its southern foes. The Lobos have had their share of league and naming shifts but are by no means still searching for their identity. Doubt them if you want, but the Lobos have two shutout victories on their spotless 2010 slate. Abed Elkour is stealing Wondolowski’s trademark with four of his team’s eight goals thus far in his own push for the SPSL scoring title.
Outlook: Tulsa surely wouldn’t be surprised by its own success, but will the rest of the league be ready to face the Lobos? With a unique back-to-back game schedule due to travel concerns, Tulsa could tackle its fitness to lift the team from social rejects to SPSL prefects.
You may notice that none of these teams are matched with this weekend’s MLS Cup contenders, Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas. Of course! The league has only just begun. You’ll have to stay tuned to find out which teams will emerge as the real deal come March. “And the inaugural SPSL Champion is…”