Thursday, August 1, 2013
AUSTIN, Texas -- If there’s a sense of newness in the air at House Park on Friday night as the PDL Championship Semifinals kick off, it will be understandable. After all, for three of the four teams, it will be a new experience, and the opportunity to claim the first championship in club history.
That’s not the case for the regular-season champion Thunder Bay Chill, though. The 2008 PDL champion, and one of the league’s most recognizable names following seven consecutive trips to the postseason and four appearances in the semifinals, the Chill arrive in Austin aiming to continue their remarkable season.
Falling just once in the regular season, Thunder Bay has continued its tradition of success with players such as All-League selection Axel Sjoberg and All-Conference standout Nolan Intermoia. What’s more impressive about the Chill’s success this season is it has been accomplished in the main without 2012 PDL Most Valuable Player Sullivan Silva, who returned from injury late in the season and could provide a decisive edge this weekend.
The other three teams, however, have proven worthy of the spotlight. Each arrives as a division champion, with the host Austin Aztex aiming to continue a perfect record at House Park. Led by All-League selection Kris Tyrpak and three other All-Southern Conference selections in Devin Cook, Max Gunderson and Tony Rocha, the Aztex took a pair of impressive wins against the Panama City Beach Pirates and Laredo Heat on the way to their first Southern Conference Championship.
Impressive would also be the word to describe the Ocean City Nor’easters’ season. Finishing first for the second consecutive season, and advancing to the third round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the side led by Coach Tim Oswald has reached new heights in the past two seasons. The Nor’easters were moments away from taking the Philadelphia Union to extra time at PPL Park back in late May, and an attack led by Dwayne Reid and Frank Tweneboa will be out to continue its strong form after sweeping past the Ottawa Fury 3-1 to win the Eastern Conference Championship for the first time.
One of the best stories of the season also finds itself in Austin, with the Victoria Highlanders FC undergoing a big transformation to go from sixth place to the Northwest Division champions in one year. With a passionate fan base behind them, the Highlanders surged to the top of the standings in one of the PDL’s toughest divisions, beating out three MLS affiliates to take top spot behind the outstanding defensive work of Tyler Hughes and the dynamic attacking pairing of Brett Levis and Jordan Hughes, both of whom had nine goals in the regular season.
Whether the Highlanders will be able to get past the Chill in an all-Canadian semifinal will remain to be seen, but the chance that we will see the 16th different champion in the 19-season history of the league appears to be a distinct possibility.