By CHARLIE CORR – firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, March 14, 2016
The Harrisburg City Islanders are coming off a down season in which the club did not qualify for the USL Playoffs after four consecutive years of postseason play. Having advanced to the final during the 2011 and 2014 seasons, the City Islanders are eager to regain that top-level status. The team has gone through a number of changes from an organization standpoint this offseason with a new president (Roy Mehl) and new home venues (10 games at FNB Field; five games at Clipper Magazine Stadium). Now the City Islanders are hoping for one more change – a reverse from the eighth-place finish in the Eastern Conference a year ago.
Head Coach: Bill Becher
Stadiums: FNB Field and Clipper Magazine Stadium
2015 results: 11-11-6 record; 8th in Eastern Conference
2015 postseason: Did not qualify for USL Playoffs
Goalkeeper: Nick Noble’s first season with the City Islanders was capped off with a nomination for USL Goalkeeper of the Year, and he has been a staple of the club since. Noble returns to Harrisburg for his fifth season with the side, and the 31-year-old has been one of the most dependable faces the franchise has had over the years. This past season, however, was up-and-down for Noble and the back line as a whole. He posted nine shutouts, but the team also allowed 53 regular-season goals, tied for second-most in 2015. Noble will be the man this team turns to in regaining some consistency in the back.
Defense: Center back Dante Leverock is returning for his second season with the City Islanders, the 23-year-old Bermudian international made 22 appearances and also contributed offensively with three goals and an assist. The team has only announced two defenders thus far in the offseason. The other is Georgia native Darvin Ebanks, who once was part of the University of North Carolina program, as he embarks on his professional career.
Midfield: Harrisburg’s midfield has had plenty of moving parts, and returnee Jose Barril was one of the most consistent of the bunch last year. The 23-year-old Spaniard led the City Islanders with seven assists and added three goals in 27 matches in 2015. Barril should be expected to be Becher’s biggest playmaker as he enters his third season. Jamaican international Cardel Benbow is back for his second season with Harrisburg. He started in 11 of 19 games and contributed two goals and two assists.
Forward: With Jason Plumhoff’s departure during the offseason, the City Islanders will need a new figure to take the scoring reins. A couple of returning players could play a bigger part in making that happen. Danny DiPrima saw his second season with the club end prematurely with a knee injury and according to Bill Becher is back to full strength. Garret Pettis was a key reserve player last year, logging two goals and an assist in less than 600 minutes. New to the fold is Aaron Wheeler, who spent 2015 with Wilmington Hammerheads FC. Wheeler has featured for the City Islanders before when he was on loan from the Philadelphia Union in 2013 and 2014.
Strengths: While some future signings are still pending, a defining element in Bill Becher’s City Islanders teams tends to be the depth in which they find their scoring. Perhaps this could come to fruition once again in 2016, despite the absence of Jason Plumhoff’s 10 goals last year. Keep in mind that last season’s Isles featured 11 different multi-goal scorers. The year before that, Harrisburg had 10 multi-goal scorers with no one scoring more than six goals that 2014 season. The City Islanders have been involved in some exciting high-scoring affairs over the years, and there are few reasons to think that they shouldn’t be able to generate that type of offense heading into this season.
Weaknesses: The inconsistencies on defense were the downfall of the 2015 City Islanders. On one end of the scale they had nine shutouts. On the other side they had nine games in which they allowed three or more goals. Outside of a three-game winning streak near the start of last season – allowing only one goal during that stretch – Harrisburg was unable to string together back-to-back wins at any other point. Noble and Leverock return, but a number of additional pieces need to be secured to bring this team into the postseason conversation.
Key number: 28 – Nick Noble was the only goalkeeper to appear in all 28 regular-season games during the 2015 USL season.
Noteworthy matchups: In the growing Pennsylvania USL market, the City Islanders are anticipating some exciting rivalry matchups this season. The Pittsburgh Riverhounds tend to draw some of the best thrills and goals, with this year’s series starting on April 9 at Pittsburgh’s Highmark Stadium. Newcomer Bethlehem Steel FC and Harrisburg meet three times this season – twice on the City Islanders’ home turf – with the first meeting on May 22 at Clipper Magazine Stadium.
Coach’s view: “We have consistently been one of the younger teams in the league, and that is by design. We know there are many quality players out there that just need a chance to prove themselves.” – Bill Becher
Current roster (updated: March 14, 2016):
Goalkeepers: Nick Noble
Defenders: Darvin Ebanks, Dante Leverock
Midfielders: Jose Barril, Cardel Benbow
Forwards: Danny DiPrima, Garret Pettis, Aaron Wheeler