2006 PDL Preview

While some regions have seen a clubs establish a stranglehold on the postseason berths over recent years, others are wide open, making preseason championship prognostications virtually impossible.

The Central Conference has historically been the most consistent in its postseason representation as the Chicago Fire Premier, Michigan Bucks, Boulder Rapids Reserve and Des Moines Menace have been perennial powers with a total of five championship appearances, including the last four.

The Menace, who have been in the playoffs four of the last five years and went unbeaten in 2002, became the first, however, to win a championship for the region since the repeat of the Chicago Sockers in 2000. Meanwhile, the Boulder Rapids Reserve had been to two finals as they made the playoffs in three of the last four years. Michigan has been a premier club since their launch in 1996, missing the playoffs just once and reaching the 2000 final. The Fire Premier have never missed the postseason in five years, reaching the final in 2003 and going unbeaten in 2004.

Outsiders looking to crash the party are likely hoping for Chicago to finally have an off year in the Great Lakes Division after seeing two dozen players drafted by Major League Soccer the past two years and the Menace to struggle in the Heartland Division without championship MVP goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum in goal.

The Eastern Conference will have a slight shake-up with the new three-division alignment, but the Ocean City Barons and two-time champion Cape Cod Crusaders will be the frontrunners to take their divisions. The Crusaders are on a four-year postseason run that began with their back-to-back titles and the Barons have dominated the past two seasons with an unbeaten 2004 campaign and just two losses in 2005. After three years at the top, the Williamsburg Legacy gave way last year to the former professional club Carolina Dynamo, who have not missed the playoffs at any level for nine straight years. The Dynamo, however, are now part of the newly-aligned Southern Conference where they will likely be the favorites to take the South Atlantic Division, leaving the Mid Atlantic wide open aside from the Richmond Kickers Future, who were unbeaten last season going into the last weekend of action.

The most wide open conference is without question the Southern, where the El Paso Patriots have become the dominant side after reaching the playoffs both seasons since moving down from the USL First Division, reaching the final last year. El Paso has suffered just three losses both years and finished first in scoring last year after being second the year before.

Also in a new three-division alignment like the Eastern Conference, the Southern’s wild card will be a wide open race while the Southeast could go to anyone in the established trio of the Bradenton Academics, Cocoa Expos and 2004 league champion Central Florida Kraze.

The Western Conference on the other hand, has seen a handful of teams step to the forefront over the past few years with a trio taking center stage. Orange County Blue Star has become the annual favorite, reaching the playoffs four of their five seasons and winning the regular season title last year. The Fresno Fuego have been in the playoffs two of their three seasons while the Southern California Seahorses have been in the top three in the Southwest since joining the league in 2001. The Cascade Surge has represented the Northwest, which has added the Utah pair of the BYU Cougars and first-year Ogden Outlaws, the last four years. Changes in the Northwest combined with the new Southwest additions of the Los Angeles Storm, San Fernando Valley Quakes and former USL power San Francisco Seals could throw a wrench into the usual outcomes.