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Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!

Somebody wake me when reality sets in on this A-League season because much like the above quote from everybody's favorite man named Gomer I feel as if I've been knocked senseless after this weekend's action. So far it also looks like reality has sent a cold, hard slap into the face of the Milwaukee Rampage this past week with a 3-0 beating at the hands of San Diego and a 2-2 draw in the hinterlands of Texas against the Patriots. The one thing these two results say about the Rampage is that they're defense is going to need to make big improvements before their first meeting with the Thunder and other heavyweights this season. Some may try to blame their poor showing on the travel or it being early on and not having a chance for the team to gel but when you're billing yourself as a contender for the league title you don't lose matches to clubs that have only had a week and a half to get their entire organization together or draw with a club that habitually suffers a sub .500 record in your season opening matches.

Most people have picked the new San Diego team and El Paso to finish neck and neck in the West this season. Of course those necks were supposed to be wrapped in a hangman's noose for the team doomed to the Western cellar. So what of these two clubs? Well, San Diego served notice that they'll chug along quite adequately if their opening game had anything to say about it. Chugger Adair sent a couple of goals in for the home side to finish off a quite dismal display from their Milwaukee counterparts. All appears well and good in the "As-of-yet-unamed"'s territory where they start off with maximum points from their opening match if my pre-calculus doesn't fail me.

El Paso also appears to be off to a dream start after thrashing the D3 Arizona Saguaros 7-0 in their Open Cup meeting and following that up with the 2-2 draw against Milwaukee. This should epitomize their season in that they should take points away from the big boys when they come to play in West Texas and look to beat some of the lesser lights they'll play against at home or on the road. The addition of Carlos Farias to what already appeared to be a strong squad should make this team a lot tougher than originally thought.

The strange results didn't stop as we move across the country to have a look-in at the rest of the action. In the curtain raiser for this season Charleston lost out in a gritty affair with the Richmond Kickers on goals from Kevin Jeffrey and Josh Henderson. Jeffrey and Henderson may not equal DeRosario this season but they were enough to do in the Battery in what has to be considered a bit of a let down considering the signings that had been made by the Coppertops ahead of the season. They ventured closer to home for this weekend's match-up against newly promoted Charlotte but somehow contrived to lose 3-2 in overtime. Dustin Swinehart has set out to show he can do the stuff at this level as well and we're not talking about leading prayers either though he did answer several prayers by nodding in the game winner. The Eagles and their supporters will have gotten a huge lift from this one as they prepare for not only their first A-League competition but they're first Southern Derby duel as well. Charleston has to be a bit disappointed with their start and will get an early opportunity for revenge this coming weekend as the Eagles will be in town.

In Greenville, SC the Atlanta Silverbacks opened their Open Cup account with a bit of luck against the D3 Lions by winning 2-1 from the penalty spot. The Lions were left feeling a bit Iggy after the 'Backs Moleka put the game away from the spot. The result was a surprise to most considering the Lions had been fairly well shellacked in most of their pre-season fixtures and Iggy Moleka was hardly the guy everybody thought would come out scoring all the goals for the Silverbacks. Alas, this was a weekend for turning prior notions on their heads.

In Richmond the upset parade kept right on rolling as the Nashville Metros unceremoniously dropped the Kickers 2-1 on an overtime goal from rookie Brandon Wright. Prior to Wright's heroics the Kickers were given the Fenger by Nashville from the penalty spot. Jacob Fenger scored the tying goal from the spot after Richmond's Paul Lekics had put the home side ahead shortly after the break. The Metros get a week off to play Bermuda and follow that up with a return date at home with the Kickers who may be in the mood to give the boys from Nashville a good kicking.

Moving further north we come upon an intriguing little Open Cup match between the New Jersey Stallions of the D3 up against the Long Island Rough Riders. Interestingly enough the Stallions found themselves up on the Riders at the hour mark when they decided to allow Long Island to score three unanswered goals. The Riders, never ones to be outdone, tried to give the Stallions an open net to shoot at yet the ensuing shot somehow directed itself right into a waiting Long Island defender who cleared it from the line to preserve the unlikely, yet fortunate, come from behind victory.

Further north the Boston Bulldogs, formerly of the A-League, now of the D3 and coming soon to a theater near you, faced the Connecticut Wolves, whom many wished would just hurry up and go PDL to save everyone the trouble. Both teams appeared to have matched up exceedingly well in this game as they both somehow saw fit to draw level at one apiece. In this Open Cup match it seems Boston could likely be the club most disappointed with the result since it's been acknowledged that 5 wins could be a landmark year for the Wolves.

So that's what has happened in the early going of the season and I understand about bugger all of any of it so if anyone else has figured out why Nashville, El Paso, and Charlotte are near the top of their conferences could you write in and let us know? Hmmmm….

Did We Mention Surprises?

Henry Gutierrez, Craig Waibel, Amos Magee, Scott Cannon, Matt Napoleon, and Welton. Those were five surprise names being rang up in the shopping markets from Seattle to Charleston last week. The Pittsburgh Riverhounds decided to trump everybody but possibly Portland in the free agent market with their eleventh hour signings of Welton and Gutierrez. The pair of former Miami Fusion players will provide a tremendous offensive boost to their attempt to sneak into the playoffs this year.

Craig Waibel returns to solidify the Seattle Sounders back line and it appears he'll be needed. Speaking of the Sounders it's hard not to mention the shockwaves that went around some circles this week when the news came out that Neil Megson had resigned from his post as manager. Bernie James will fill in for Megson but to some on the outside of Seattle the timing has to look a little suspicious since they don't appear to be as strong as originally thought heading into their season opener.

Amos Magee will return to lead the Thunder attack in Minnesota this season and they have to feel a bit lucky at this point to be able to count on Magee and Menyongar up front in the short term. Now, how long before they take off for warmer or richer climes is open to speculation.

In perhaps the most intriguing move, though, the Charleston Battery have signed on former Richmond standout defender Scott Cannon. He'll hope to adapt quickly for the Battery so that he, Baptiste, Calichmann, and the rest of the Charleston defense can get things together while their offense takes its time in heating up. Cannon will likely be a target for Richmond fans when the Battery face off against the defender's former club which will add more fuel to an ever-burgeoning rivalry.

Matt Napoleon signed on with the Portland Timbers to solidify the mantle of busiest team in the big name market for the off-season. With guys like Napoleon, Clarke, Sancho, Ochoa, Sawatzky, O'Neil, Winters, and Howes they look primed to move in the West but if they don't the cumulative effect of combined salaries and the pressure of expectations could drive the Timbers front office mad.

On one last note, as far as surprises go, I'll be in Charleston this weekend for the re-match between the Eagles and Battery. Also in attendance will be Dan Barnes so we hope to see many of you there and rocking the 'Baud for this game.

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