The Premier Development League is preparing for its 23rd season, and all signs point to 2017 being another step forward for the league.
“The league enjoyed a highly successful year of operation, building upon a successful rebrand at the 2015 Winter Summit with elevated standards, a high level of play on the field and the commitment to quality operations,” PDL Director Todd Eason said. “We continue to focus on adding franchises with strong ownership groups that strive to help develop college-aged players on their path to the pros but also have high quality at the operational level and are involved in their surrounding community.”
The 2016 PDL campaign saw 67 teams across four conferences – Southern, Eastern, Central and Western – compete across North America, with 12 new teams joining the league before the start of the season.
“The evolution and growth of the league has been great to see,” Des Moines Menace General Manager Matt Homonoff said at the Winter Summit. “Just like any other league, the positive trends are when low-end teams drop out and they are replaced by higher-end teams, so as I look back on my four years in the league, it’s great to see the overall quality of franchises continue to rise on what seems like a yearly basis.
“So everything from raising minimum standards to the quality of play on the field to [league] initiatives, such as live streaming of games, all of those things combine to make this the obvious destination of choice for teams that value an inherently amateur experience, but with a path to professional soccer.”
A total of 19 teams took part in the 2016 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, with nine teams reaching the Second Round. The Menace enjoyed another successful Open Cup campaign, playing a professional team in the competition for the ninth and 10th time in franchise history. After securing a 2-0 win against USL club Tulsa Roughnekcs FC, the Menace nearly pulled off another impressive upset against San Antonio FC in the Third Round but fell, 2-1. For a second consecutive year, the Jersey Express also faced off against a professional club. In 2015, the Express topped USL’s New York Red Bulls II before falling to the New York Cosmos, who again topped the Express after a hard-fought battle in 2016.
A thrilling regular season, which included 1,301 goals scored across North America, ended with the Fresno Fuego, FC Tucson, Calgary Foothills FC, OKC Energy U23, The Villages SC, Michigan Bucks, Charlotte Eagles, Reading United, GPS Portland Phoenix and Menace securing divisional titles.
The Phoenix, Ocean City Nor’easters, Reading United, Western Mass Pioneers, Carolina Dynamo, SC United Bantams, Fuego, Burlingame Dragons FC, Foothills FC, Sounders FC U23, San Diego Zest FC and FC Golden State Force kicked off the 2016 PDL Playoffs in the divisional qualification round. The Nor’easters, who have a storied history in the PDL, claimed the Eastern Conference crown, while another well-established PDL franchise in the Bucks clinched the Central Conference. Foothills FC’s run to the PDL Semifinals served as one of the major talking points of the season, as the second-year PDL franchise won the Western Conference title and defeated the Nor’easters to reach the PDL Championship.
In a back-and-forth championship match, the Bucks earned a 3-2 win against Foothills FC, clinching their third PDL title – the most of any franchise – in club history. Russell Cicerone scored two goals and provided one assist en route to claiming the PDL Championship MVP.
“Overall, I think the PDL continues to grow,” Michigan Bucks Chairman and Owner Dan Duggan said at the 2016 Winter Summit in Clearwater, Florida. “The team we played in the final, Calgary Foothills FC, we’ve never seen before, and they were one of the best teams I’ve seen in history – my 22 years – and to know there’s that caliber of teams all over the country, and we don’t get to play them, says a lot about what’s happening in the PDL.”
As a developmental platform for more than two decades, the PDL strives to highlight and promote the best players across North America, and there were many standout performers in 2016. Christian Chaney, who excelled with the Fuego, finished the PDL campaign as the No. 1 PDL Top Prospect. Following the PDL season, Chaney signed a professional contract with USL’s Sacramento Republic FC. A part of the Nor’easters’ strong run to the PDL Semifinals, Chevaughn Walsh earned PDL MVP honors after leading the league in goals scored with 14. He, too, earned a professional contract and earned playing time for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds during the 2016 USL regular season.
“The PDL continues to be the league of choice not only for players who aspire to reach the professional ranks but also for quality franchises,” Eason said. “We introduced helpful web seminars for our clubs ahead of the 2016 regular season, and we will continue to look for more and better ways to provide our clubs with high-quality services in order to help them achieve their business goals locally and nationally.
“For the players in our league, the USL Scouting Network was, once again, a huge benefit, as scouts across North America supplied the league with invaluable evaluations of the PDL’s top players for the creation of the PDL Top Prospects list. Our No. 1 and No. 2 Top Prospects, Christian Chaney and Chevaughn Walsh, earned contracts with USL clubs, and so they serve as perfect examples of the ‘Path to Pro’ model that many players have taken.”