DeAndre Yedlin (photo by Chris Coulter, SoundersPhotos.com)
Tacoma, WA. – The home of the defending champions, and three MLS-affiliated clubs, the PDL’s Northwest Division appears set to be as tough as it has ever been in the 2012 season. The Kitsap Pumas had a remarkable run to the championship on their home field last season, and were joined in the playoffs by the surprising Victoria Highlanders. The question now is whether they can remain ahead of a pack inhabited by the Portland Timbers U-23s, Vancouver Whitecaps FC U-23 and Sounders FC U23.
The Sounders FC U-23 open up their season this weekend on Friday night against the Vancouver Whitecaps U-23. The following night, the U-23s will match up against the Victoria Highlanders. The first three matches of the Sounders’ campaign are on the road.
Below is a look at each of the teams in the Northwest Division of the Premier Development League for 2012.
FRASER VALLEY MARINERS – The Mariners had a solid 2011 campaign, at a certain point threatening to get into the division’s playoffs race only to have their slow start be too much to overcome. There was promise, however, with home victories against the Timbers U-23s and Whitecaps U-23. Defender Colton O’Neill returns after making 12 appearances a season ago as they club aims to build on its success.
KITSAP PUMAS – The defending PDL champions have seen some departures since last season, with championship game MVP Bryan Burke now playing for the Los Angeles Blues and goalkeeper Bryan Meredith with the Seattle Sounders FC. However, the club does return a strong group of players. Zac Lubin is expected to take over from Meredith in goal, while midfielder Matt Freisen led the side with 19 points a year ago.
NORTH SOUND SEAWOLVES – The SeaWolves had a positive first season, but will be looking for more this year as they try to move up the standings. Returning to the side is standout goalkeeper Claudio Lazar, who made 13 appearances last season, as is leading scorer Marshall Kosaka after recording 14 points in 12 games a season ago. They are joined by Brady Ballew and Abdulwali Aman, both of whom had solid seasons in 2011.
PORTLAND TIMBERS U-23s – After a perfect season in 2010, the Timbers U-23s had to settle for fourth place last season, but the club has restocked for a run at the playoffs and its first appearance in the U.S. Open Cup. Erik Hurtado returns after scoring 16 points a season ago, and he is joined by newcomers Andrew Ribeiro from Creighton and Mark Sherrod of Memphis, who was named an NSCAA Third Team All-American this past fall.
SOUNDERS FC U-23 – The Sounders FC U-23 are prepped and ready for their inaugural season. The Sounders U23 have been able to add a number of former Sounders Academy players to their roster, including Akron’s DeAndre Yedlin, who was a College Soccer News Freshman All-American this past fall. The club will be full of top class collegiate talent from around the country including Fernando Monge from UCLA and Anthony Arena from Wake Forrest. The team will also be paced by local college talent from the University of Washington, including Taylor Peay and Chris Brundage, who are expected to bolster the side’s defense.
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS FC U-23 – The Whitecaps U-23 just missed out on the playoffs a season ago, and return a number of key players, including two who have become part of the club’s MLS squad in Bryce Alderson and Caleb Clarke. Last season’s leading scorer Ben Fisk also returns, and the Whitecaps have also added a number of former Academy players now in college, with Gangadeep Dosanjh, Bobby Jhutty, Tyring Hutchings and Navid Maschinchi all having previous PDL experience.
VICTORIA HIGHLANDERS – After reaching the playoffs in just their third season, the Highlanders and Coach Ian Bridge will be aiming for more this summer. Jordan Hughes, who led the side with six goals a season ago, returns, as does goalkeeper Elliott Mitrou, who posted a 0.825 goals-against average in eight appearances a season ago. Sasa Plavsic, who last season played for Fraser Valley, has also joined the team after recording 13 points in 13 games last summer.
WASHINGTON CROSSFIRE – The Crossfire have a new coach in Englishman Adam Nowland, and have some familiar names on their roster. Former Kitsap Pumas midfielder Nik Besagno is now with the club, while Joshua Phillips moves up from the club’s academy after his freshman season at Gonzaga University. Other locals on the team include former University of Washington player Matt Fischer and Brayton Knapp, who spent the winter playing for the Rochester Lancers in the MISL.
The Sounders FC U-23’s first home game is May 25th against the Victoria Highlanders. Kickoff for the historic home opener is 7:30pm at Franklin Pierce High School in Tacoma, WA. This match is followed by a May 30 game at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma. The Sounders FC U-23 will host the Vancouver Whitecaps at 6:00pm.