The regular season, has concluded. It’s time for the playoffs in the National Premier Soccer League. Here in the Southwest Conference, it’s been the two San Diego sides in their inaugural campaigns that have shown their true class, with Albion Pros finishing at the top of the table, and North County Battalion finishing just four points back in second place. The city of San Diego will host two first round playoff matches on the weekend of July 9th, with Albion hosting fourth place So Cal SC of San Bernardino, and the Battalion hosting Deportivo Coras of Riverside. The three teams that will not be playing post-season soccer are FC Hasental, Temecula FC, and Corinthians USA.
For a review of each team’s regular season performance, here’s our own Nate Abaurrea, who has also provided an unofficial “Best XI” for the NPSL Southwest Conference.
1. Albion Pros (8-0-4, 28 pts., 30 GF, 8 GA)
They say that defense wins championships, and as far as the regular season is concerned, that is most definitely the case with Albion Pros. They were by far the best defensive team in the conference, conceding just eight goals across twelve matches. A combination of outstanding goalkeeping (the 23 year-old Haitian-American with gaudy athleticism, Jean Antoine) and an organized backline (led by captain Luke Staats) has seen Albion keep control of first place since the third week of the season. Their attack wasn’t too shabby either, registering 30 goals in twelve matches, led throughout the season by Matt Clare and David Luquen. One player who deserves a lot of respect this season, playing the truly beautiful game and doing things that don’t show up on stat sheets is Felipe Liborio. The Albion midfielder is unmistakable on the pitch, his long head of curly hair constantly bouncing and hanging down to the number 10 on his back. Liborio is a true maestro that often has the flow of the game running through his feet. He will be vital if Albion are to make a real post-season push. Their first match however will be with a hungry So Cal SC side, a team that Albion were quite fortunate (some would say lucky) to beat 3-2 in mid June, a game in San Bernardino that saw Albion awarded not one but three penalty kicks, all of which were converted. The other match-up between the two sides was in early May, and saw So Cal nearly escape San Diego with a victory, the match filled with late drama and ending with a 1-1 scoreline.
2. NC Battalion (7-2-3, 24 pts., 36 GF, 19 GA)
If you weren’t entertained by the soccer played by the North County Battalion this season, you might need to check your pulse. The highest scoring team in the league went on an absolute tear in the second half of the regular season, going on a seven match unbeaten run that featured five victories. The team scored 23 times in their final five games. Eric Lopez led the team with nine goals, while Esteban Reyes caught the eyes of his own supporters and opposing coaches alike. Mid-season acquisition Asher Booth has been a breath of the freshest air for the Battalion, the 19 year-old scoring four times in five NPSL games. Head Coach Ryan Guy loves goals (he scored perhaps the best one all season, in the home opener against Hasental back in April, before being injured the next week by a horrific tackle against Albion), but he’s been anxious to see his team improve defensively. They registered just their second clean sheet in a 2-0 win against So Cal SC on June 25th, and finished the season with a 1-1 draw against Coras. Guy and his staff are feeling quite confident going into the playoffs, as it looks like the Battalion have found that perfect concoction, the necessary blend of attacking flair and defensive prowess. The home tie in the first round is a tricky one however, as they battle Coras yet again, going toe to toe with the Riverside outfit in back to back games.
3. Deportivo Coras (7-3-2, 23 pts., 34 GF, 17 GA)
Organized. Physical. Strong. These are just some of the adjectives that describe Deportivo Coras. They are a gritty side, capable of bossing a game and controlling the tempo of any given contest. They were the second highest scoring team in the league, scoring just two fewer goals than the Battalion, but Coras pride themselves on their backline. Two defenders in particular were incredibly influential throughout the season, Fernando Cabello and Cody Shelton. Cabello is not only a consummate pro at the back, he is a menace going forward as well. He scored six times this season, including a go-head goal in the regular season finale in San Diego against the Battalion, a goal that nearly flipped the standing of the two teams. Had it not been for Justin Picou’s late equalizer from the penalty spot, Cabello’s goal would have been sent the first round playoff match back up to Riverside. The other Shelton brother, Shane, poses the biggest attacking threat from the run of play, but it is Cabello that must be kept in check on set-pieces. Coras drew 1-1 in both games against the Battalion. There must be a winner on July 9th at Del Norte Stadium.
4. So Cal SC (5-5-2, 17 pts., 23 GF, 20 GA)
So Cal SC had one of the most interesting regular seasons of any team in the conference. If there was one side seemingly bestowed with constant misfortune from the Soccer Gods above, it was most definitely the San Bernardino based club. They are a true footballing side. They play as a complete unit. They possess with ease, and can press forward as well as anyone. They are strong at the back, conceding just twelve times from open play this season. If there was one match that was a microcosm of their campaign thus far, it was definitely the home match against Albion, the 3-2 loss featuring the three converted Albion penalty kicks. They played the league leaders tough both times they faced off, and the orange clad fourth seeders are chomping at the bit for one more chance to take them down. Midfielder Bryan Guzman has been an ever-present force in the So Cal midfield, and must be in top form if his side are to pull off the upset.
5. FC Hasental (3-7-2, 11 pts., 21 GF, 32 GA)
Los Conejos had their moments this season. Cameron Artigliere was electric up top for the boys from Thousand Oaks, but a suspect defense was their inevitable demise.
6. Temecula FC (3-7-2, 11 pts., 18 GF, 32 GA)
It was the Red Quails from Galway Downs that came into Del Norte Stadium on May 1st and beat the North County Battalion 3-2, coming back from two goals down to record an improbable victory. Temecula Head Coach and former Scotland international Willie Donachie did everything he could to galvanize his troops this season, and that enthralling victory against the Battalion gave them some serious momentum. Unfortunately, Temecula hit a wall down the stretch, epitomized by the return fixture against the Battalion that saw them lose 7-2 at home, the Battalion most definitely taking out a little pent up anger stemming back to May 1st. There is a good young core in place with Temecula, and it would be nice to see them stick together through 2017. Their most promising young star however, Santiago Warren, has likely played his last game for Temecula, the 19 year-old bound for Scotland where he will be on trial with a host of clubs that have already expressed interest in signing the highly skilled striker.
7. Corinthians USA (0-9-3, 3 pts., 9 GF, 43 GA)
Corinthians were an absolute train wreck this season, falling apart at the halfway point, and occupying the basement of the Southwest Conference. What is quite remarkable though is how they performed against the two San Diego sides back in April and May. Corinthians stole a point from Albion with a 0-0 draw at Mission Bay, and were two goals to the good against the Battalion before losing in heartbreaking fashion, the Battalion storming back to win 3-2. Matteus Cunha was one of very few bright spots on the field for Corinthians, scoring three of their nine goals, including two against the Battalion.
NPSL Southwest Conference Best XI
- GK: Jean Antoine (Albion)
- D: Cody Shelton (Coras)
- D: Duach Jock (NC Battalion)
- D: Fernando Cabello (Coras)
- D: Luke Staats (Albion)
- MF: Bryan Guzman (So Cal SC)
- MF: Felipe Liborio (Albion)
- MF: Esteban Reyes (NC Battalion)
- F: Shane Shelton (Coras)
- F: Matt Clare (Albion)
- F: Eric Lopez (NC Battalion)
- GK: James Stroud (NC Battalion)
- D: Justin Picou (NC Battalion)
- MF: Max Rico (So Cal SC)
- F: David Luquen (Albion)
- F: Santiago Warren (Temecula)