Jesters Season Preview
The recipe used by New Orleans Jesters director of coaching Kenny Farrell for having a successful Premier Development League soccer team in the United Soccer Leagues hasn't deviated over the years. Find as many talented young soccer players as possible with name recognition from New Orleans-area high schools. Sprinkle in some talented foreign players, preferably with experience from the English Premier League junior systems. Then, hope that the players gel quickly into a team that can have a dominant season or at least make the playoffs.
The formula worked when Jesters qualified for the PDL playoffs in 2010. It almost resulted in another playoff berth last year, but the team faded down the stretch and finished 7-7 with 23 points.
Farrell is hopeful that the Jesters can return to the postseason when the team starts its season on May 19.
"I think this team is back there to the level it was when it made the playoffs, because of the talent level and the experience," Farrell said. "Last year, we had great talent, but no experience, and I think the pressure got to them late in the season."
The Jesters return Maryland University forward Patrick Mullins, who led Jesuit to two state championships. Mullins only scored five goals last season, but they came in key matches late in the season to keep the team in playoff contention.
Goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell returns as living proof that the Jesters' youth soccer programs pay dividends. Tarbell, who played at Fontainbleau High School, started in the program as a sophomore. He has 16 starts in the PDL, which has played a key role in helping to mature him for the chance to play at Clemson University this fall.
Farrell said the Jesters' youth program will be expanding its ages from six to 18 this fall.
"Our ultimate goal is to have kids come through our training system, which would allow us to use more local players," he said.
Tarbell's experience with the Jesters and his hard work have helped him to mature into a solid player. He was strong in net for most of last season.
"Andrew is so natural, and he is very good defending on crossing shots," Farrell said. "Andrew is very, very brave."
Chris Williams and midfielder Yazeed Davids are expected to give the team experience in the back and creativity in the middle.
"Chris is a great manager, a great header and tackler, and he reads plays well," Farrell said. "Yazeed was called in to train with the U23 South African team. When he is on the ball he is a special player. He just floats. He is so creative."
Midfielder Sam Hurrell, who played for Chelsea's Academy team in England for two years, could be an offensive force for the Jesters. Hurrell is used to playing against some of the top players in the world and has developed strong skills in the midfield.
"Sam has a great left foot," Farrell said. "He is very fast and a great passer of the ball."
Farrell also said he is hopeful for future contributions from Jesuit junior Jordan Rice and former Acadiana High School player Nick Saboe. Rice will benefit from training with the Jesters and getting some sparse playing time in matches. Saboe may be able to play big minutes early.
If nothing else, the influx of talented players plus the developing atmosphere at Jesters' home matches at Pan American Stadium should give the team a good chance to win its eight home games. And winning home matches is key to success in the PDL, because of the distinct atmosphere that each team creates.
The Jesters averaged 1,500 fans at Pan American Stadium last year, but that average could increase if the team makes the playoff run Farrell is hoping for.
"We've had a lot of interest," Farrell said. But ultimately, everything all depends on the recipe Farrell has used for years. Can the Jesters come together quickly enough to win games and even a PDL championship? Or will it take too much time for things to go well?
"We've added more experience, and I think we've got good enough players," Farrell said.
Farrell also said he likes where the total Jesters program is headed.
"Everything seems to be going in the right direction," he said.