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South Jersey Soccer:
Barons End the Regular Season with Two Wins

Monday, July 19, 2004

By John Thompson
South Jersey Barons Correspondent

The South Jersey Barons finished their regular season campaign with a 3-1 win over arch rivals Reading Rage, Ryan Heins, Brian Devlin and Matt Maher scored for the Barons. The Barons then needed a win at the New Jersey Stallions-1 on Sunday night to cap of a memorable season. Neil Holloway (2) and Leon Brown scored as they fought off a determined Stallions side to finish the regular season with a 14-0-4 record.

The two wins meant the Barons finished the 2004 PDL regular season unbeaten. Only three teams in USL amateur men’s history have finished the season without a loss dating back to 1989. The previous PDL unbeaten's were Minnesota Thunder in 1994: 18-0, Jackson Chargers in 1998: 16-0, and the Des Moines Menace in 2002: 15-0-3. The bad news, however, for South Jersey is that none of the three previous unbeaten's went on to win the title. Minnesota and Jackson lost in the final and Des Moines was upset in the first round.

The Barons will play in the first round of the Northeast Conference championship Friday night in Brown Summit, NC home of the Carolina Dynamo. There they will play Williamsburg Legacy who finished the season 11-7-0. The Barons go in to the tournament ranked 2nd just behind the Chicago Fire Reserves who also had a tremendous season finishing unbeaten with a 17-0-1 record. Williamsburg are ranked 6th in the playoff seeding. The overall PDL Playoff Seeding looks like this 1. Chicago Fire Reserves. 2. SOUTH JERSEY BARONS. 3. El Paso Patriots. 4. Central Florida. 5. DFW Tornadoes. 6. Boulder Rapids Reserves. 7. Michigan. 8. Cape Cod. 9. Orange County. 10. Fort Wayne. 11.Cascade Surge. 12. Spokane Shadows. 13. Fresno.14. Cocoa Beach Expos. 15 Carolina Dynamo. 16. Williamsburg Legacy.

The Barons last made the Play-offs back in 1999 when they played in the United Soccer Leagues D3 pro league losing out in the national final 2-1 to the Western Massachusetts Pioneers to a golden goal in overtime.

This years team has been one of the most successful in PDL history and the plaudits should go to local collegiate players from South Jersey such as Joe Banks (Drexel), Ryan Heins (Temple), Matt Maher (Temple), Ryan Carr (University of Hartford). These talented soccer players have played the season like experienced pros and have done there playing careers the world of good.

In the past the Barons team has been made up of players brought in from all across the county in a bid to win the ultimate, a national title. These four players however are born and bread on the Barons door step. Each of them represented the South Jersey Barons Youth Academy teams for many years and are seeing years of hard work and dedication to the sport pay off.

It is rare for a youth soccer player to represent the same club for his whole career. It happens in Europe where clubs develop kids from the age of 6 years old until they make the professional grade. However, soccer players in the States have limited opportunities to play a higher level than college. The Barons hope that for many years to come the youth players of today can become the backbone of the senior men's sides of tomorrow.

Several young players from South Jersey in the Barons Youth Academy have been playing some excellent soccer in the United Soccer Leagues premier youth league called the Super Y-League. Local players such as Rich Baker, Brian Melchionni (Ocean City H.S.) Todd Sheridan, Evan Jeap, Billy Pinto, Rich Stone, (St Augustine H.S.) and several others are showing great potential, which is nothing but good news for the Barons Senior side.

Barons General Manager Neil Holloway is excited at the prospect of a whole Barons team made up from players whom have represented the Barons at a youth level "From what we see week in, week out from these South Jersey players in the Super Y-League there is no doubt in my mind that this club has a bright future on the field. These players love playing for the Barons, once they have that passion for the club they will want to play for us for as long as possible even after there collegiate days are done. To me having a soccer club is more important then a soccer team." This season Baron's team is stacked with talent and Holloway thinks they have a bright future in the game. "We see ourselves as a stepping stone for young players to get into the pros, not every player is good enough to play at the highest level, but we offer a level of soccer for those just on the fringe of professionalism. If we can get some of them in to the professional ranks that would also please us, it will show that the club has done its purpose to develop professional people and players." The Barons seem to be on the right track there and have the ability to draw players from across the river Delaware.

The Barons team also includes top talent from Philadelphia, Pat Hannigan (Temple), Brian Devlin (Penn State), Chris Williams (Philadelphia) Tony Donatelli (Temple), and Justin Saddler (Drexel) have been huge contributors to a successful season. With a good play-off run all the Barons youngsters will have the opportunity to impress professional clubs who scour the PDL for the stars of tomorrow. An example of how much recognition the PDL gets its players, last season 29 of the 49 players drafted to MLS teams played in the PDL.

This weekend will show whether there 20 game unbeaten season was just a fluke or the Barons of 2004 are the real deal. The team goes into the play-off's in confident mood having won their division title finishing six points clear of second placed team Cape Cod Crusaders. Cape Cod are the defending national champions who always come good during the play-off's. Holloway knows how difficult a task lays ahead for the Barons, "We may have finished unbeaten this season but that's not our goal, we want to become the only team in PDL history to go undefeated and win the national title, its about time some one did it. The bad thing for us is that every team is motivated to be the first to beat you, and when your at the top the only place you can go is down. We know teams bring there A-games against us, we have seen that toward the end of the season so we have experience of that. Our players are made of tough stuff though and we feel we are ready for any team." If both teams win their first play off games they will meet in the conference final. The winner of the Northeast conference will go to the final four. The final of which may be played as an opener to a MLS game.

2004 SJ Barons
Click on photo to enlarge

Front Row (L-R) Ryan Ovedeverst, David Daigle, Matt Maher, Neil Holloway (C), Ruben Mingo, Brian Devlin, Mussa Issa, Leon Brown

Back Row (L-R) Dan Christian (Head Coach) Wayne Grocott (Assistant Coach), Tony Donatelli, Joe Banks, Ryan Carr, Pat Hannigan, Chris Williams, John Thompson, Ryan Heins, Scott Middlmass (Assistant Coach)

Photos by Mark Fletcher

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