New Orleans Jesters Season Preview
The 2013 season is one of change for the New Orleans Jesters, but one with the promise for long-term opportunity for soccer in the city.
The team's 11 th season marks its fi rst as a member of the National Premier Soccer League. The club announced in the winter that it would leave the USL Premier Development League. While the Jesters missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season in 2012, the switch was made primarily for off-fi eld reasons.
The NPSL is owned and operated by its 57 clubs. The PDL, on the other hand, is privately owned. When the Jesters announced the decision, they mentioned that their plan for community development would fi t better within the structure of the NPSL.
That plan is the biggest challenge facing the Jesters in 2013.
As a semi-pro team, the Jesters cannot compete fi nancially with the Saints, Hornets, or even the Zephyrs on the New Orleans sports scene. But they have a greater power to infl uence the athletes who hit the pitch before they hit puberty.
A large part of the Jesters' mission is to convince area kids that soccer is no joke. It hopes to create a fully stocked minor league system, much the same way that European teams do, training and developing players from a young age. By centralizing player development, players learn the game the same way over their careers. That tactic reinforces the skills the team is looking for, and gives players better chemistry with their teammates, since they grow up knowing each other's favorite moves.
One part of the Jesters' expansion into developing a citywide soccer system was announced May 11. NOLA Soccer Academy, the Jesters' youth arm, will expand its partnership with the Carrollton Boosters, a NORD club.
NOLA Soccer Academy and the Carrollton Boosters have worked together for four years already, but the new arrangement will solidify their ties. Carrollton players will get exclusive training from the Jesters. In exchange, the best players will compete under the Jesters name, from U8 through U11.
But in order to claim the attention of young athletes, the Jesters need to claim victories.
When Kenny Farrell took over as head coach in 2009, he guided the team to an undefeated season, 26 points, and a spot in the PDL playoffs.
Headlining the Pan American Stadium marquee once again will be forward Patrick Mullins, who exemplifi es everything the team wants to create for New Orleans soccer.
Mullins starred at Jesuit, winning a pair of state championships. He made an immediate impact at the University of Maryland, earning ACC Freshman of the Year honors in 2010. His progression as a player continued into the fall of 2012. Mullins scored 17 goals in 24 games, assisting on 10 others, and won the MAC Hermann Trophy as the best player in the country.
Like Mullins, many of the players on the Jesters' roster are current college players. As a semi-pro team, the Jesters offer them the opportunity to develop their skills and maintain their conditioning during the summer. Other players come from schools such as Clemson, Cornell, UNO, and Delta State. Many are from Greater New Orleans, but others were born in Germany, Wales, and Austria.
The change to the NPSL does not mean the Jesters' fate will change. Both leagues operate on the fourth tier of American soccer. Both leagues are primarily made up of college players or former college players, so the level of competition will remain similar.
While the 2012 season ended with a 3-6-7 record and a fi fth-place fi nish, the Jesters ended with positive momentum, winning their fi nal game.
They opened 2013 on a similar note, introducing themselves to their new league with a victory over a team from Houston, wowing the crowd with fi ve goals. Each one gives the Jesters a better chance at their ultimate goal.
Photo by Bennett Biever