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It’s Mellor Time

Playing in front of tens of thousands of fans, signing autographs, and traveling around the globe with one of the best teams in the world while being in the national team pool is the fantasy of almost every youth soccer player in the world. But for Notre Dame College’s 2010 First Team All-American, Tom Mellor, he experienced all of those things before leaving high school.

“I want to prove people right, and prove people what I’ve got,” declares Mellor as he spoke from his apartment in Harrisburg, Pa., with the confident air of a man at ease with himself having come through many trials and tribulations on his path to a professional soccer.

Indeed, the boy who started out learning his skills in England, and once sat in Manchester United’s Old Trafford dressing room dreaming of being a Red Devil, has come a long way …

Mellor who played two seasons for Michael “Mac” McBride at Notre Dame College is preparing to make his professional debut with the Harrisburg City Islanders of the United Soccer Leagues Pro division, joins Frank Jonke (SR Delemont in Switzerland) as current soccer professionals from Notre Dame College and the fifth player in the illustrious 11 years of the small South Euclid, Ohio, program.

“I always wanted just wanted to be a professional soccer player,” Mellor stated.

Ex-professional player and Tourbeau College Soccer Showcase president Chase Neidig believes the tall winger’s speed and tenacity could offer something different to the Harrisburg midfield.

“Tom was made to be a professional player and that shows in his work rate,” Neidig said. “He is one of the best one vs. one attacking players to come out of the college ranks in a very long time.”

Neidig concluded, “Tom has an exceptional high game IQ for his age, he will give fits to opposing teams when he comes flying down the left wing serving balls into the box.”

The Falcons have won an incredible 73 percent (160-of-227) since their inception in 2001. During that time under McBride NDC has gone 160-52-15 including back-to-back undefeated regular season campaigns and hasn’t lost a regular season contest since Oct. 27, 2009.

During Mellor’s two seasons with NDC, the tall lanky left footed winger made 45 appearances with 43 starts scoring 16 goals while providing a program best 30 assists as NDC went an impressive 39-5-2 including a dominating 23-1-0 campaign in his final season as the Falcons only loss came in the NAIA National Championship Final.

Tom Mellor was born in Shaw, England, on August 13, 1990 to Dave and Kath Mellor.

“My dad spent hours and hours on the field with me and my brother,” Mellor said. “In fact I’d say that I have no bigger critic than my dad to be honest, but I think its good because he knows what I can do and he has high expectations. It’s not like he’s criticizing me from the point of someone who knows nothing about soccer.”

Surrounded by a family with a passion for soccer also meant that the game became an integral part of his home life as well as his school and social life. Indeed, he gladly credits his father’s own persistence for his successes.

The 21-year olds abiding memory of his early coaches is one of fun and enjoyment.

“When you’re playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world under renowned coaches that developed the likes of (David) Beckham, (Paul) Scholes, and Giggsy (Ryan Giggs) it’s like living a dream,” said Mellor.

But it wasn’t just the coaches that provided great inspiration. While still very young Mellor enjoyed working with David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand on a skills video.

Then around the time Mellor was 11 he played in front of nearly 50,000 fans as Manchester United and Manchester City youth teams played directly before the first team’s game. That game featured the fierce rivalry between both Manchester senior teams, but it was also the last game for Manchester United legend, Dennis Irwin’s career for United.

Mellor remembered fondly during the game when he did a step over and the fans began cheering and applauding him. “It’s the best feeling,” Mellor sighed as he reminisced.

Mellor then reflected on the final result where fellow Notre Dame College and 2010 First Team All-American, Luke Holmes scored the winning goal for City, defeating Mellor and United.

“Luke likes to remind me about that goal from time to time,” Mellor laughed.

Despite the early success as a youth, it wasn’t always easy for Mellor.

After eight years with Manchester United, Mellor was called into the manager’s office when he was 16 and released.

“I broke down in tears,” Mellor recalls. “All I wanted was to play for Manchester United, but everyone has their own opinions and I was a late bloomer, so I can’t blame them.”

Soccer was rooted deeply in his family and with the persistence of a father who believed in both of his sons. Tom’s dad continued to remind his son of his abilities and the hard work and dedication he had already put into his dream.

“My brother and I spent around 20 hours a week with our dad working on extra things,” Mellor said.

Dave Mellor a firefighter would come home after a long night without sleep and take his sons to a field where they would work on their weaknesses while giving encouragement and advice.

David, Tom’s younger brother went through similar struggles after being released by Manchester United, but earned himself a professional contract with Oldham Athletic FC in the npower Football League in England where he has made 20 starts for the first team this season.

In addition to developing his technical and tactical skills, the late blooming Tom was undersized and other obstacles to overcome.

“My dad told me that we would make be bigger and stronger,” Mellor said. “He sent me to an ex-body builder and that worked.”

While slender, Mellor now stands 6-foot and has the build of a sleek and speedy middle distance runner.

But following his release from United, Mellor went on trials with different clubs around England but he kept hearing, “you’re not quite ready, you’re not quite big enough.” And it took the young Englishman several tryouts before Barnsley FC signed him to a youth contract in 2006.

Mellor while often told he was one of the most technical players at Barnsley found his confidence waning and sitting on the bench getting around five minutes a game.

“I wanted to quit,” Mellor said. “I kept thinking about all of my setbacks and that I use to be playing at Manchester United, but maybe I wasn’t good enough.”

But as his parents continued to remind him of his abilities and the sacrifices Mellor continued to chase his dream of playing professionally.

Eventually signing a youth contract in 2008 at Wrexham AFC, Mellor started to find his form and impress the staff and scouts.

His impressive performances finally earned him a contract offer from the North Wales club. Despite being one of the oldest clubs in Britain and the oldest in Wales, Wrexham participates in the Conference National, the fifth tier of English football, Mellor felt England might not be right for him and started to weight his options of pursuing a career in America.

That option had become available after conversations with Notre Dame College Associate Head Coach Carl Nolan, a year after Luke Holmes had made the same step.

Five weeks later Mellor was stepping onto campus at Notre Dame College.

“It happened so fast,” Mellor said. “It was a bit of a surreal moment; stepping off the plane I was like, ‘shit I’m in America for the next four years.”

The quick decision wasn’t made haphazardly, as the family sat down and figured out how they would make things work, but it kept the young Mellor from having time to think about the life changing decision.

Instead he began thinking back to the advice his coaches at Manchester United had given him when he was young as he looked forward to the unknown.

“I started writing down the little things the coaches use to tell us,” Mellor said.

He remembered what Eric Harrison and current Manchester United’s first team coach Rene Meulensteen had said. “Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy,” Mellor said. “The main essence was to enjoy my soccer and be confident.”

His youth coaches also stressed the importance of making every shot and pass as if it was his last. “You never know when it will be your last,” Mellor said.

Mellor also began thinking more and more about his accomplishments and who he had played with, and then he wrote them down.

“When you see it on paper,” Mellor said a little in awe. “Where I’ve been and what I’ve done, it’s pretty impressive.”

The once waned confidence began to resurface in Mellor but his first season for Notre Dame started a bit slow.

“I was playing forward and I wasn’t comfortable,” Mellor said. “Lucky for me someone got injured and I went to Mac and told him I’d played there before.”

McBride determined it was Mellor’s time and gave the rookie his fifth straight start but his first at the Oldham, England’s preferred position.

Mellor did well and earned the nod at his preferred position the next day. That game  his coming out party, Mellor dominated scoring two timely goals while providing an assist as the Falcons stormed to a 5-2 win over second-ranked Concordia College (Calif.) at the University of Mobile Kick-Off Classic.

“I felt comfortable out wide,” Mellor said. “It gave me the confidence to play and have fun.”

The comfort was evident as Mellor went on a seven game scoring streak between Sept. 12 and Oct. 14 as NDC rattled off six wins and a draw.

Mellor would conclude the season earning NSCAA/adidas All-Region IX Team and First Team All-American Mideast Conference honors with a team best 11 assists to go along with eight goals as Notre Dame finished the season with a 3-1 loss to The Masters College in the NAIA National Tournament quarterfinals.

Mellor’s second and final season at Notre Dame College came in the historic 2010 season. NDC rolled to seven consecutive shutouts to open the season outscoring its opponents 36-0. During the strong defensive run Mellor chipped in with a pair of goals and five assists.

It was truly Mellor Time in the Falcons 12th game of the year, both of his parents were in attendance when the second year attacking winger set up fellow Oldham, England, native Luke Holmes for the opening goal. Mellor would go onto record his first collegiate hat trick along to go along with a pair of assists in the Falcons dominating 7-1 win over Malone.

Mellor would go onto lead the nation with a program record 19 assists while scoring eight goals. A goal and six assists came during the Falcons historic run to the NAIA National Championship game. During that game Mellor hit a screaming free kick that brought NDC back within a goal (3-2) in the opening half. Notre Dame would fall 5-3 to Hastings (Neb.), ending its best season in school history just shy of the ultimate goal.

Following that season Mellor went home for the holidays to see his family. His mother, Kath needed a bone marrow transplant, but delayed the transplant because of his visit.

“The way my mom is she didn’t want to be in the hospital when I was there.”

In February after Mellor returned to Notre Dame, his mother went in for the transplant but things went terribly wrong as she had multiple organ failures, went into a coma and had to be kept on life-support. Mellor flew home two months later as things appeared to be turning around.

“I sat in the car with my dad and the doctors said she wasn’t going to make it through the weekend.”

But against all odds, Kath shocked the doctors and came through to be an inspiration to Mellor each day.

“When I think I don’t want to go to training,” Mellor said. “You have those days when you don’t want to do sprints and I just think that my mom went through that. I think about it for 30 seconds and realize I can do sprints.”

Mellor returned to Notre Dame and enrolled in classes, but understandably his focus was off.

“I tried to focus on classes,” Mellor explained. “School was never really my thing, and then my mother fell ill, the priorities went a little bit.”

That distraction and his desire to play professional soccer came to a head prior to the 2012 spring semester.

“I didn’t withdraw from school because of a pro contract,” Mellor said. “They suspended me so that gave me extra motivation to find a team,” he explained. “Luckily for me it paid off for me and I made something of myself.”

“To see her in the situation she was,” Mellor said. “She was on her last leg I want to make it to the MLS and be able to fly her over and show her the lifestyle I have.”

The speedy winger made his first appearance for the Harrisburg City Islanders on Friday, May 04, 2012 in a 2-1 loss to the Charlotte Eagles in the Islanders home opener.

If it hadn’t been for a spectacular save by the Eagles keeper, Andrew Dykstra, Mellor was sure to bag the tying score with a brilliant strike towards the top corner. But Mellor made his next step towards his goal.

“I’m ready to prove those people wrong that didn’t believe in me,” Mellor said. “But I want to want to be the best I can be. I want to do it for my parents. I want to do it for my mum for obvious reasons. I want to do it for my coaches who believed in me. I want to play in the MLS.”

Niño Prodigio: Self-taught soccer star a true wonder

Polite and unassuming, yet oozing national pride and self-confidence Juan Coca laughs as he recalls the video he sent Notre Dame College’s Head Men’s Soccer Coach Michael “Mac” McBride.

“My video was so bad really, my video was so bad. I didn’t even like me as a player in the video; I was like what is this?” Coca said in his distinguishable Spanish accent.

McBride noticed the skills in the video despite what Coca recalls it being a last minute idea and the video quality being poor.

“His personality is simply infectious,” McBride said. “He’s energetic, loves the game and has a lot of potential.”

But even the keen eyes of McBride couldn’t imagine the potential or talent he was getting in the San Juan, Puerto Rico, native.

“Mac and I laughed about it after I got here,” Coca recalled. “He couldn’t see much in the video, I scored a really bad goal.”

For over an hour the 5-foot-7 speedy attacker dressed in his Notre Dame College Men’s Soccer travel top with a neatly combed faux hawk reminisced inside Notre Dame College’s Keller Center about his early career playing in small gymnasiums and humble soccer fields.

His is a fascinating story, a bilingual, dual citizen, with deep family roots and an even deeper rooted love for his native Puerto Rico, it’s clear that he is still somewhat in awe of his own achievement and of the fact that he is now playing for the Puerto Rico national team.

Juan Antonio Coca was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on May 31, 1993 to Ana Maria Nogueres and Jose Coca and his bond with the city and the island was a motivating factor in his early establishment to his soccer loyalty.

“I learned futbol mostly by myself and with my friends,” recalls Coca as his Spanish intertwines his English. “I remember when I was really young I use to wake up at 8 a.m. and go to the basketball court in front of my apartment. I would look up Ronaldinho, Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Alexis Sanchez videos and learn from them,” Coca said smiling as he thought back. “I use to imitate what they would do in the fields and gyms, everything from shots, to tricks, and crossing. This is where I really grew as a player.”

Coca began growing through his own personal training, but it wasn’t till the summer after his sophomore year that he started playing competitively more often. What Coca failed to mention was it was at that point that he twice led Colegio Adianez High School to back-to-back Sub Championships.

What he did recall was how he spent nearly every waking moment playing where ever he could.

“I use to call friends up and set up some ‘futsal’ as we called it in Puerto Rico,” Coca said with a hint of laughter. “We use to go to basketball courts, set up small goals and kill each other. This is where it went down and I developed much of my skills.”

“There is nothing better than meggin a stranger,” he said with a gleam in his eyes. “But better than that was meggin or scoring against your best friend.”

He thought back to his many memories of his times on the basketball courts playing against his peers, remembering his biggest influences.

“My friends and coaches and my family always was there influencing me,” he said as almost reverted to Spanish.

His father once a manager of operations for the United Parcel Service in the Caribbean lost his job when UPS downsized. The new found time allowed him to focus on Juan’s soccer career and aspirations of attending college in the U.S.

“When my dad lost his job he dedicated himself to make sure I improved in what I loved since he never had that opportunity,” Coca said.

“My mom was a great source of support for me emotionally and economically,” he said. “She was always there for me and made me feel comfortable and secure. That’s why I love her. She took me to a lot of my early national team practices.”

“The joke in Puerto Rico is because everything is 10 or 15 minutes drive that a two hour drive is like flying, those were the trips my mom took with me,” he said.

“Other than helping in transporting and support his family wasn’t much of an influence on his game. “They really didn’t know much about the sport,” Coca said. “My dad always knew about sports, but he was more of a basketball kind of guy.”

Coca’s family roots run deep and he carries a sign of his connection to his two brothers, Joey and Danny Coca on his right forearm. The tattoo of three stars signifies his love and always having his brothers with him.

“I miss home and my family,” he explained. “It reminds me to never forget where I came from or who I am.”

Coca came from a life where he ate and slept soccer in Puerto Rico. “There was a moment I realized that I wanted to keep playing my passion for a long time, and even though everything doesn’t go as planned I will still live soccer because futbol isn’t a sport, it’s a lifestyle,” Coca explained.

While he lived the life, he also credited Sergio Castro, Erick Cespedes, Santiago Morel, Gatinho, and Roberto Gotay as coaches who were a big part in his development.

“I really appreciate everything they did for me and all those hard and long practice they made me go through,” Coca said. “It really paid off and I learned so much from them and others.”

The payoff he said started to show when he was invited to a tryout for a Puerto Rico youth national team. With the dream of playing for Puerto Rico he went and was subsequently hooked.

“When I arrived there was over a 100 players all over the field, attackers in one area, defenders in another, and midfielders another all running around,” Coca said. “The sport completely changed and the coaches were more serious and didn’t give as much feedback. That made me grow and realize I had to impress them every time I got in the field.”

That moment, one of his most memorable ones started the long path to his first career appearance in the Red, White, and Blue for The Blue Hurricanes.

“It’s all about hard work, sacrifice, and dedication,” Coca said.

While he always wanted to attend college in the U.S., Coca wasn’t sure it would happen. Then one day after a national team training session someone approached him and said there would be schools interested.

“After that I got invited to a showcase in the U.S. and got offered a scholarship,” Coca said.

That scholarship wasn’t with Notre Dame College, but due to a few missed emails the offer expired.

Eventually signing with Notre Dame a dream come true for the young Coca, but he explains it was tinged with sadness as the rules of the NCAA meant that he could not play in his first season. “The NCAA has a lot of rules, and because I failed a few classes when I was younger I wasn’t able to play this year,” he says. “I was able to train with the team so it helped prepare me for next fall when I will be able to play.”

That signing made Coca the fifth player in the 11 years of the Notre Dame College Men’s Soccer program with national team experience. He joined an exclusive list of some of the best players to dawn the Blue & White for Notre Dame College under Head Coach Michael “Mac” McBride.

“We’re all really thrilled that ‘Juany’ (Juan) has been called up to represent Puerto Rico this summer,” stated McBride. “He has yet to kick a ball, in anger for us, but we are already very proud of him.”

The young wonder boy from Puerto Rico will however have four years of eligibility to play for the Falcons while he continues to build his resume both with the national team and for the highly successful program at Notre Dame College.

The Falcons have won an incredible 73 percent (160-of-227) since their inception in 2001. During that time under McBride NDC has gone 160-52-15 including back-to-back undefeated regular season campaigns.

“I am really happy to be here and represent Notre Dame College,” Coca said. “There is a lot of hard work yet to do.”

That hard work will include pressure that comes with being a member of a very exclusive group of players in the illustrious history of Notre Dame College Men’s Soccer.

McBride first brought William Poveda to College Road in 2002 in just the second year of the program after the Guayaquil, Ecuador, native earned caps with Ecuador’s U17 National Team. Poveda still ranks ninth in program history (9).

Five years later in 2007 McBride secured the services of Surry, England, native Jacob Child. The 6-foot-1 left back represented England’s U16 National Team prior to going onto become the Falcons all-time leader in starts and appearances (85). A year after Child’s arrival Abergele, Wales, native Dan Knight joined Child after making 25 starts and 26 appearances for the Welsh U16, U17, and U19 National Teams. Knight served as a three-year captain and led the Falcons to 32 clean sheets in 84 appearances ranking him only behind Child for appearances in the Blue & White.  Jacob Sheppard continued the tradition in 2009 after three years in the Canadian National Team pool.

But on April 1, 2012 Coca set himself apart from the group when he made his first appearance and start in a World Cup preparation tournament for the Puerto Rico U20 National Team at the Dallas Cup in Dallas, Texas. In that game, a 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo STX Academy Coca scored the second his first goal for his country. That moment marked the first time any Notre Dame College player had ever earned a cap while a member of the NDC program.

“There really is nothing like it,” he said beaming with pride. “Wearing your nation’s color, sweating that jersey, scoring that goal after all the hard work was probably one of the best feelings ever.”

Coca would go onto score three goals in four starts for the U20 National Team, as he led Puerto Rico to the quarterfinal of the oldest international youth soccer tournament in the U.S.

“All I ever wanted was to represent my country and everything that it stands for. It was indescribable really,” exclaimed Coca.

“I know it’s a huge honor for him to play for his country,” said McBride. “Simply put, it’s the pinnacle of any player’s career.”

But for Coca he sees that now is the time to prove himself with the NDC squad. “I’m ready to show what I can do,” he said. “Even though it’s been a tough year with all my ineligibility, next year I’m coming more ready than ever. I’m going to have a very productive summer and I’m coming ready to prove myself as an athlete and a student.”

“We look forward to him making his debut for NDC when he returns from international duty,” McBride responded.

Clearly happy in his present surroundings and having already secured his first four caps and three goals for the U20 National Team he has affectionately grown up aspiring to represent, Coca – whose personal favorite player is Alexis Sanchez – is content to go about creating his own legacy with an element of quiet dignity. His drive is a simple one, “As for NDC, our goal is to be national champions,” Coca said. “My hope as a freshman is to get some good minutes in and be a good contribution to the team and our college.”

Coca who is studying sports management at Notre Dame College hopes to one day be a sports agent but, only after his playing career ends, will continue training and preparing for  finals. Once his finals conclude he will return to Puerto Rico and rejoin the national team for a summer of training.

“There is a long way to go and things have to work just right,” he explains, “but I hope to play professionally one day.”

If Coca does move onto play professionally he would join two current Falcons playing professional soccer. Frank Jonke scored 25 goals for NDC in 2004 went onto make his professional debut for AC Oulu in Finland on April 25, 2009 where he scored the goal that tied the match 1-1 against FC Hämeenlinna. Jonke dominated the season by recording nine goals, and helped lead Oulu win promotion to the Veikkausliiga by finishing first in the standings. Jonke currently plays for SR Delemont in Switzerland and the Falcons 2010 First Team All-American Tom Mellor signed this year with the Harrisburg City Islanders in the USL-Pro division. Mellor led NDC with 19 assists in 2010 as the Falcons went 23-1-0, losing their only game in the National Championship. Jonke and Mellor are rumored to have the 2010 National Player of the Year, Luke Holmes join them in the professional ranks later this year, were preceded by three other Falcons, including two captains.

But until that day Coca will stay focused on his current goals.

“This is just the beginning and I am ready for what awaits,” Coca said. “It’s an honor to represent my nation and everything it represents.”

Opting to play for the United States as opposed to his nation of birth would be a tough choice. “I want to see Puerto Rico make a World Cup, it’s my dream, and our dream as a country,” he says. “It’s a long way off, but it would be a tough choice,” he explains. “I’m Puerto Rican and I want to keep seeing them grow, but the U.S. is a well respected nation and as far as exposure it would be a tough choice.”

Whether he gets that tough choice or not will be an exciting but humble journey for Coca.

“This is just the beginning and I am ready for what awaits,” Coca said. “It’s an honor to represent my nation and everything it represents. I want to thank all my friends and family, you are the ones that got me where I am now and will keep pushing me on.”

He concluded breaking midway into Spanish as he stressed his appreciation for where he is.

“I appreciate everyone that have influence on my development. Mami, Papi, Joey, Danny los quiero mucho, un saludo y abrazo a todos mis amigos,” (Mom, dad, Joey and Danny love you very much, and a hug for all my friends).

WPSL Elite Season Preview

With the kickoff of the inaugural Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) Elite League season only days away, teams are making final preparations to take the field in what promises to be an exciting season of high-level women’s soccer.

With three former Women’s Professional League (WPS) teams, four top WPSL sides and an independent team competing, fans of the women’s game can look forward to the kind of action that many feared would be lost with the suspension of the 2012 WPS season.

“We are pleased that the WPSL Elite League teams have been able to prepare so quickly for the inaugural 2012 season,” said WPSL Commissioner Jerry Zanelli. “Our goal all along has been to provide high-level women’s soccer for fans of the game. The teams in our Elite League will do just that.”

The WPSL Elite League was formed shortly after the WPS announced the suspension of the 2012 season. Zanelli and the WPSL administrative team worked quickly to bring together eight quality teams that would provide both exciting soccer and high-level competition for WPS players displaced by the cancellation. WPS Boston Breakers and Western New York Flash quickly signed on, along with the WPSL’s Chicago Red Stars, who had played in the professional league in 2009 and 2010, and FC Indiana.

Since that initial group, the league has added ASA Chesapeake Charge, New England Mutiny and New York Fury from the WPSL and the independent Philadelphia Fever. The season will open on Thursday, May 10, when Charge host the Breakers, followed by Fury at Mutiny and FC Indiana at WNY Flash on Saturday, May 12.

Because of the structure of the WPSL Elite League, some teams will compete with a mix of professional and post-college amateurs, while other will be all-amateur teams with top college athletes. Each team will field a quality side and games will be challenging and competitive. Playing on the same pitch as seasoned professionals will provide college players with an opportunity not seen in collegiate action. Not every top-level athlete in the WPSL Elite League has played professionally, and several with U.S. National Teams experience will grace the rosters of competitors.

ASA Chesapeake Charge will open the season with a roster that includes several players from the highly-ranked University of Maryland women’s soccer team, including U.S. Women’s U-18 National Team members Ashley Spivey and Riley Barger. The team will also feature U.S. Women’s National Team and U.S. Women’s U-23 National Team member Christine Nairn and former U-23 player Laura Kane.

Boston Breakers will field a team that includes U-23 team members Bianca D’Agostino, Melissa Henderson, Ellie Reed and Amanda DaCosta. The Breakers will also showcase former National Team players Catherine Whitehill and Leslie Osborne and Australian internationals Kyah Simon and Tameka Butt. The Breakers have also signed U.S. National Team legend Kristine Lilly as assistant coach.

Chicago Red Stars will open the season with a roster that includes former National Team standout Lori Chalupny and WPS veterans Jen Buczkowski and Julianne Sitch. The team will also return Amanda Cinalli, Jackie Santacaterina and Michele Weissenhofer who have all previously played with the Red Stars and who bring WPS experience to the field.

FC Indiana, under the direction of head coach Shek Borkowski, will feature several members of the Haiti Women’s National Team that Borkowski also manages. The team also features long-time defender Corie Moore, who brings the experience of championships in both WPSL and U.S. Open Cup competition, and goalkeeper Jeanette Williams.

New England Mutiny’s roster will include Republic of Ireland Women’s National Team member and former Danish Elitedivisionen player Ciara McCormack and current U.S. U-23 and Florida State University player Toni Pressley. Also on board for the Mutiny are former Vancouver Whitecaps Women and University of Minnesota standout Kelsey Hood, Boston College star and U.S. National Team trialist Kristen Mewis and U.S. Soccer Young Female Athlete of the Year finalist Morgan Andrews.

New York Fury head coach Paul Riley has assembled a team that includes several players from the Philadelphia Independence team he coached in the WPS. Joining Riley will be former WPS players Gina and Tina DiMartino, Kia McNeill, Brittany Taylor and Nikki Krzysik. Also signing on with New York is U.S. National Team midfielder Tobin Heath, who was the 2009 U.S. Soccer Young Female Athlete of the Year and a member of the 2008 Olympic Gold Medal team.

Philadelphia Fury will open the season with a team of talented, though relatively unknown, players drawn from clubs around the region. Head coach Stuart Gore and assistant coach Jamie Scott have spent countless hours building a roster from scratch to compete with the talent on the other WPSL Elite League teams. “I believe they’ve done a great job and I believe they have embraced the role of the ‘underdog team,’” said General Manager Ulises Terrones.

Western New York Flash will field a team heavy on returning players from their 2011 WPS Championship team. Among the returnees are popular midfielder/forward McCall Zerboni, defender Alex Sahlen and goalkeeper Brittany Cameron. Also coming back to don the Flash colors is Kimberly Brandao who captains the Portuguese Women’s National Team and has played professionally in the Swedish Damallsvenskan and the Spanish Supeliga Femenina.

“This will be an exciting season,” said Zanelli, “and I encourage all fans of soccer, not just the women’s game, to buy tickets and come out to support these talented teams.”

The 2012 WPSL Elite League season will run from May 10 through July 22, with the playoff format to be announced later.

Q& A with Josh Hakala of

Who are the favorites to win the Open Cup this year?

I think it really comes down to depth and a team’s commitment to winning the tournament. It’s been nice to see fewer and fewer teams just throwing out 3rd string lineups as the years pass, but I think that has a lot to do with the rosters expanding and having the Champions League as a reward for winning the tournament.

What is the likelihood of a non-MLS team winning the Cup?

That’s the beauty of the tournament, is that any team could win. MLS teams obviously have an advantage, but just as MLS teams have gotten more talented and deeper, that has created a trickle-down effect where lower division teams are getting stronger as well. I’m not sure how anyone could think it’s impossible, really. Just look at the last five years where we’ve seen lower division teams reach the Semifinals four times, including the Charleston Battery playing in the 2008 Final.

Is there any chance that someone could start an Open Cup on the women’s side? There are over 70 WPSL teams, over 25 W-League, and a few WPS teams that are not playing anywhere this season. That is a lot of teams, certainly enough for a cup-style competition. What might it look like?

The USASA runs a women’s Open Cup, but the USSF does not have a women’s version of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. There are certainly enough teams to compete, and I would love to see it happen, and we would gladly find room on to cover it. However, the reality is, this is a big country, so travel is an issue, and from an organizational standpoint, the USSF seems to barely have the staff and resources to fully support the men’s tournament, so unless someone else stepped up to organize it, I don’t know if it’s very likely to happen.

What will it take for the Open Cup to gain more prominence in America?

I say this all the time, but I truly think that the tournament would sell itself, if more people were aware of it. I tell people all the time, even non-soccer fans, “Imagine if your local single-A baseball team got a chance to play the New York Yankees in a meaningful March Madness-style tournament?” I’ve never spoken to anyone who didn’t think that was a fantastic idea. In a country that worships drama, underdogs, single-elimination tournaments, this should be a no-brainer. But unfortunately, very little is done to promote the tournament and, as of now, the only Open Cup games you’ll ever see on TV is the championship game. Honestly, I don’t think it’s the semifinals and the final that will raise awareness, it’s amateur teams knocking off professional teams in the early part of the tournament that make this tournament unique.

What was the greatest team to ever participate in the U.S. Open Cup?

Comparing teams from different eras is really difficult because the soccer landscape has changed so drastically over the last 98 years that the tournament has been. The difference between the teams that competed in the early part of the 20th century and the professional era we live in now are night and day. One of the more impressive teams of the past was Bethlehem Steel, based out of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. They lost to the eventual champion Brooklyn Field Club in the first tournament in 1914, and then went on a run where they won the Open Cup, then called the National Challenge Cup, in 1915, 1916, lost in the title game in 1917, then won in 1918 and 1919. Their last championship came in 1926, but they also made the semifinals in 1924, 1927 and 1930. Not a bad 17-year run.

What makes the Cup special and how does it rate/compare to other competitions elsewhere in the world?

The US Open Cup is one of the oldest cup competitions in the world, and off the top of my head, I believe it’s the third or fourth oldest continuously running cup competition worldwide. As I said before, the beauty of the tournament is the fact that anyone can put a team together and if they keep winning, they can match up against one of the top professional clubs in the country. I think with the right amount of effort to promote it, American soccer fans, as well as your average sports fan, could really latch on to this historic competition.

Harrisburg Heat Joins PASL

The Professional Arena Soccer League is coming to Harrisburg.   With the unanimous approval of the PASL Board, the Harrisburg Heat Sports Group, LLC (HHSG, LLC) will operate the newly revived Harrisburg Heat beginning this November. Professional arena soccer was last played in Harrisburg in 2003.  The Harrisburg Heat played 12 seasons at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center and regularly were at the top of the league in attendance while under the ownership of Dr. Rex Herbert.

“Bringing the Heat back to Harrisburg has been a goal of mine for many years,” said David Grimaldi Manager of the LLC. “I am also excited that Sports City will once again serve as the Official Business Office and Training Center of the Harrisburg Heat.” HHSG LLC will operate the team in addition to Sports City.  David Grimaldi started his professional arena soccer career with the Cleveland Force in 1979. He was serving as Deputy Commissioner of the MISL the last time the Heat played.

The addition of Harrisburg marks a key expansion into the East for the PASL, even though it has maintained teams in all four continental time zones since its launch in 2008.  The Harrisburg announcement is the second major announcement this week for the PASL, coming on the heels of yesterday’s press conference which heralded the return of the Dallas Sidekicks.

“This is a huge milestone for the league,” said PASL Commissioner Kevin Milliken.  “Harrisburg has a strong arena soccer history and we’re excited to be able to bring the sport back to that market. We are fortunate to have someone like David Grimaldi managing the Heat. His career in our sport has spanned five decades, at all levels, and his experience invaluable.”

Led by such notable coaches as Jim Pollihan and Richard Chinapoo the fantastic Harrisburg Heat fans were witness to such great players as Mark Pulisic, Bill Becher, Lee Tchantret, David Bascome, Bob Lilley, Doug Petras, and Todd Smith to name a few, as the Heat won two division titles and made one championship appearance.

Further details and ticket information will be available on the team’s new official website,