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Homegrown talent on NASL rosters ... 3-day countdown to NASL 2014 season kickoff

Homegrown talent on NASL rosters ... 3-day countdown to NASL 2014 season kickoff

Steven Bisig

With the spring season starting in a few short days, take a look at the homegrown players in the NASL, including former Seattle Sounders midfielder Blair Gavin.

Three days from now ... the race for the North American Soccer League 2014 Spring Season title kicks off with a wealth of homegrown American and Canadian talent on the 10 teams rosters.

One of the anticipated stars of the midfield in Atlanta in 2014 will be Blair Gavin, who joined the Silverbacks after playing for Seattle Sounders. The 25-year-old started his career with Chivas USA and the New England Revolution before ending up in Seattle.

“I’m extremely familiar with Blair as a player,” said Silverbacks technical director Eric Wynalda.  “Living in Los Angeles, I’ve been to a lot of Chivas USA games over the years, and I remember always leaving those games impressed with his abilities. He’s an extremely clean player and he works very hard on both sides of the ball, so I’m absolutely thrilled we were able to sign him.”

A native of Scottsdale, Ariz., Gavin amassed 43 appearances in three seasons with Chivas and scored three goals during his rookie season. A former U.S. youth international, Gavin attended the highly regarded residency program at IMG Soccer Academy.

Defender Connor Tobin comes to the Carolina RailHawks after two years of NASL experience playing for Minnesota United where he appeared in 34 matches and logged 2,710 minutes. In 2012, Tobin started all five playoff matches in Minnesota’s run to the NASL Championship Series.

“Connor is a great addition to our team and has the ability to be a starting central defender in our league,” said RailHawks boss Colin Clarke. “In addition to his wealth of experience in the NASL, we know he will be a great addition on and off the field.”

Tobin played collegiately at the University of Vermont, where he appeared in 77 matches, and began his professional career in Norway for Nybergsund in 2009.

At 16 years old, Hanson Boakai was the youngest player to play in the NASL when he was subbed into the Eddies’ match against Carolina RailHawks on June 16 and he is ready to once again make waves since impressing at Fortuna Düsseldorf in Germany, where he spent time during the offseason.

Boakai signed with FC Edmonton in February 2013 after spending the previous season on the Academy team. He has also played a key role on provincial and national teams, helping the Canadian U-17 men’s team in the 2013 U-17 World Cup.

“Without my family I would not be where I am today,” said Boakai. “I give a lot of credit to my old coaches who got me stared with soccer. A large reason of why I am where I am today is because I love the game too much.”

Darnell King started the 2013 NASL season as an auxiliary fullback, filling in for the injured Stéphane Guillaume and Ivan Guerrero. When Guillaume returned from injury, King was moved to the attack and soon found he had an eye for goal when he scored his first goal of the season in Minnesota. King finished the season with three goals and one assist and was the only member of the Strikers to appear in all 26 NASL games in 2013.

“Darnell King’s versatility and work ethic have made him an integral part of our team,” said Strikers Managing Director Tim Robbie. “Coach Kronsteiner is very impressed with Darnell’s speed and potential and sees great things for him in the future.”

Brownsburg native and former Indiana University product Chris Estridge will be familiar to local soccer fans after his two seasons with Indiana University in 2010-11, during which he started 40 of 42 matches for the Hoosiers. The right back earned First Team All-Big Ten and NSCAA First Team All-American honors following a senior campaign during which he scored three goals and added five assists while helping IU reach the NCAA Men’s College Cup Round of 16.

“Chris is another local product, another IU graduate, so we’re thrilled to get another quality player with Hoosier ties,” said head coach Jerugen Sommer. “With Chris we feel like we’re getting a lot of versatility and a very technical player. He can also pinch up into the midfield or play the left back position for us.  Chris is great addition because he is young but also has some solid professional experience under his belt.”

After winning the 2012 regular season championship with the San Antonio Scorpions, Aaron Pitchkolan signed with Minnesota in January 2013, giving options in both central midfield and central defense and years of experience across the American professional soccer landscape.

Pitchkolan scored two goals and contributed one assist in 2013, playing 1,665 minutes with 20 appearances for Minnesota. A versatile player, who can take the role of midfielder or center back, he was named to the NASL Best XI in 2013 for playing a key role on the defense and was selected to the NASL Team of The Week three times throughout the year.

Mineola, NY, native and Cosmos captain Carlos Mendes became the first player to sign with the rebooted New York and started the first 13 games of the season. He capped a memorable season by leading the to a Cosmos 1-0 Soccer Bowl victory over the Atlanta Silverbacks.

Prior to joining the Cosmos, Mendes spent seven seasons in MLS, including his first six in New York with the MetroStars/Red Bulls. During his tenure in New York, Mendes helped the team reach its first and only MLS Cup Final appearance, a 3-1 loss to the Columbus Crew.

Ottawa Fury FC Drew Beckie spent the 2013 MLS season with the Columbus Crew after completing a decorated four-year collegiate career at the University of Denver. Born in Regina, SK, Beckie earned his first taste of international experience with Canada in 2007 with the U17 squad and has since represented Canada at the U20 level and the U23 Olympic squad where he played alongside Fury FC teammates Carl Haworth and Andrés Fresenga.

“We are very happy to bring a former Fury player back home,” said head coach Marc Dos Santos of Beckie, who played for the Fury’s PDL team in 2012. “We believe Drew needs to play games so he could develop better as a player. He’s very committed and responsible on the field and his energy and enthusiasm should prove beneficial to his teammates.”

Walter Restrepo finished the 2013 NASL season with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, scoring two goals after recovering from knee surgery at the end of a brilliant 2012 campaign. During that season, Restrepo led the league with eight assists and added six goals to his name, helping him be named into the 2012 NASL Best XI. Restrepo played in 1,793 minutes in his first season with the Strikers and established himself as one of the best and most dynamic attacking players in the North American Soccer League.

“Walter is a technically gifted player that we hold in high regard who brings attacking flair and quality on the ball,” said Scorpions coach Alen Marcina. “He has demonstrated the ability to be a dominating player in the NASL and he is focused on winning and earning an opportunity to play at higher levels. He is a player with a wide array of attacking weapons and is a game-changer and a terrific acquisition for our club.”

Restrepo was born in San Diego and played professionally with several teams in Colombia before he returned to the United States. He was on the books of Deportes Tolima, Boyacá Chicó, and Express Rojo, appearing in both the Categoría Primera A and the Categoría Primera B between 2006 and 2010.

Attacking midfielder Keith Savage played 25 matches for the Rowdies in 2013, scoring four goals and recording two assists, including a brace in a 7-4 victory over local rivals the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.  Before joining the Rowdies, Savage appeared in 40 matches, scoring three goals and recording three assists with the Portland Timbers. During the 2009 season, he was one of only two players to appear in all 30 regular season matches.

Florida native Savage began his soccer career at the University of West Florida, where he was named a NSCAA All-American in 2006. During his four seasons, he scored 33 goals, which is the fourth highest in UWF school history.

Soccer fans around the world will be able to ‘Watch Every Match Live’ throughout the 2014 North American Soccer League season, which kicks off on the weekend of April 12/13.

By subscribing to either a 30-day pass or a season access pass at www.NASLLive.com, soccer fans can access all 135 matches during the 2014 NASL Spring and Fall Seasons.

Throughout the month of April, the NASL is offering a 10-day free trial to enjoy the weekly broadcasts as the league’s 10 teams battle to reach the postseason and compete in The Championship for the coveted Soccer Bowl trophy.

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