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Eastern Conference Preview: Harrisburg City Islanders

Part 6 of our 13 part USL Eastern Conference Preview series, this time brought to you by returning louisvillecoopers.com contributor Jason Ence! Links to previous precocious previews: Part I: Bethlehem Steel; Part 2: Charleston Battery; Part 3: Charlotte Independence; Part 4: FC Cincinnati; Part 5: FC Montreal

BACKGROUND

When it comes to success in the USL this decade, there aren’t many teams that can boast more than Harrisburg City. Despite their 8th place finish in the Eastern Conference last year, they have been USL Pro runners-up twice in the last five seasons. Until last season, they had not missed the playoffs since 2010, their final year in USL’s Second Division. (Yeah, USL has gone through a lot of changes, hope we didn’t lose you there). However, last year they had a rough season, especially when they faced Louisville City. There might not be a happier team in the USL to see Matt Fondy leave town. He scored seven (yeah, SEVEN) goals against them in two matches, including a first-half hat-trick in Harrisburg. LCFC won 5-1 and 4-0, respectively, for two of the easier matches of the season.

Founded in 2003, this will be their 13th season on the pitch, and they are hoping to bounce back from a disappointing 2015 campaign. For the first time since 2010, they will not be an affiliate of the Philadelphia Union (as the MLS club created Bethlehem Steel as their USL franchise), so they will have to do pretty much everything on their own. That means a new General Manager (current—and only—coach Bill Becher fills that role), a new stadium, and a roster made up wholly of their own players.

Speaking of stadium….poor Harrisburg City. If you watched the match that Louisville City played there last season, you will remember the atrocious playing surface they were forced to endure. Well, the USL had enough, and demanded that upgrades be made both to the pitch and the stadium. Because of that, Harrisburg City will split their matches between two baseball stadiums this season: FNB Field in Harrisburg for ten matches, and Clipper Magazine Stadium in Lancaster for the other five. They hope to have their stadium overhaul completed by next season.

PLAYERS

If you are to believe their website’s roster page, Harrisburg City are going with a unique 1-2-1 formation. With no goalkeeper.

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Luckily for us, they put out press releases once in a while….so we know they actually have a few more players than that. (Although still no goalkeeper, so who knows?) The closest thing to a star that they have returning is former Real Madrid youth player Jose Barril, who scored three goals and tallied seven assists last season. They will also return their second-leading scorer, Craig Foster, who was loaned to the club for a second year by Jamaican league side Reno FC after scoring eight goals on the season.

The team will have to replace their top scorer from last season, Jason Plumhoff. The striker took his ten goals and headed to Canada to join FC Edmonton of the NASL. (Hmmm, top striker leaving for NASL team. Sounds familiar.) They will also have to replace defender Ken Tribbett, who started all 28 matches for the side last year and logged over 2500 minutes. He was poached by Bethlehem Steel a few months ago—and was signed two weeks ago from them by the Union. Guess he impressed some people in Philly.

COACHING STAFF

As mentioned earlier, Becher has been their sole coach for their entire existence. He was an NAIA All-American third team selection in college, and scored the match-winning goal in the 1987 NAIA National Championship. He went on to play in the American Indoor Soccer Association (later known as the NPSL. Louisville Thunder, woo!) and the American Indoor Soccer Association. After retiring, he did something for other for a few years before taking over as manager for HCI in 2004. He has a career record at the club of 120 wins, 74 draws, and 81 losses. Not bad, but he ain’t no James O’Connor!

SUPPORTERS

The club has two recognized supporters groups: the City Island Hecklers, and the Sons of the Susquehanna. The two groups sit at opposite ends of the stadium and neither is very large. In fact, the Heretics might be a larger group than the SoS. As for the Hecklers, they were founded by a guy named simply The Heckler. And their name derives from sitting behind the goal and heckling the opposing keeper. That honestly might be the most boring origin of a supporters group in the USL. Well, except for FC Montreal, but only because they don’t have one.

This is where I would normally say where I would give a prediction as to what the season will be like for Harrisburg City, but that is a little bit tricky. I mean, this team doesn’t have a goalkeeper yet. Or a full starting outfield. Or a bench. So it is a little tricky predicting what their campaign will be like. Hopefully they get that sorted out in the next couple of weeks, or they might finish a lot worse than tenth this season.