American soccer writing, history & data.
Like the rest of the USISL the Premier Development Soccer League's offseason prior to the 1998 season was one of relative consistency. The PDSL grew from 30 to 33 teams. The Cincinnati Riverhawks were formallly promoted to the USISL A-League and the Miami Breakers decided to move up to the USISL D3-Pro League. Long time member, the Chattanooga Express, folded following the 1997 along with a handful of other franchises. Two more long serving teams, the Lexington Bluegrass Bandits and Tucson Amigos, would go on hiatus for 1998. The Amigos has been part of the USISL since 1989 and were the second longest tenured franchise after the Austin Lone Stars.
The USISL PDSL brought in over a dozen new expansion franchises to more than make up for those losses. Among those were four teams from the Pacific Coast Soccer League. In November of 1997, the PCSL entered into a one-year trial affiliation. Four PCSL teams would be admitted as provisional members of the USISL PDSL and play a limited slate of games against Northwest Division opponents while still playing a full season in the PCSL. Those teams were the Okanagan Challenge of Kelowna, B.C., Victoria United from B.C., Abbotsford Action also from B.C., and the Seattle Hibernians. The Victoria United team had to drop out of the USISL in April of 1998 due to the University of Victoria keeping their soccer stadium closed all summer. The newly formed Umbro-86ers Development League fielded an all-star squad in the USISL, called the Umbro-86ers Selects, to replace Victoria United.
In addition, a number of A-League teams created reserve teams to play in the PDSL which joined the Minnesota Thunder's Twin Cities Tornado that began play in 1997. The Milwauke Rampage launched the Fox River Rebels which played at Calder Stadium in Menasha. And, the Arizona Sahuaros founded the Northern Arizona Prospectors which played in Prescott Valley.
The first four matches for most PDSL teams would be designated as U.S. Open qualifiers. Five regional group winners plus a wild card would make it to a playoff round following the group stage. Because the Twin Cities Tornado did not take part in qualifying they were replaced by the Finger Lakes Desperados. Located in Cortland, N.Y., about 35 miles south of Syracuse, the Desperados were a provisional team which played almost a dozen games against mostly D3-Pro League teams including its four USOC qualifiers. Three other provisional teams were part of the PDSL in 1998: the Brooklyn Knights; Oklahoma City Hatters; and Lexington Bluegrass Bandits. The latter would end up not playing any matches.
The Cascade Surge, Detroit Dynamite, Jackson Chargers, San Gabrial Valley Highlanders, and expansion Kansas City Brass would all move on to the USOC qualifier playoffs. Another expansion franchise, the Bradenton Academics, would be the wild card. Jackson, Detroit, and San Gabriel Valley won their matches to qualify for the first round of the USOC. Kansas City lost to Detroit but was awarded the PDSL's fourth spot in the USOC because it had the most points in group qualifying of the other playoff losers. The four PDSL qualifiers joined four USASA and eight D3-Pro League qualifiers in the First Round. All four PDSL teams were scheduled against D3-Pro League teams. And, all four PDSL teams lost.
The best team in the PDSL's 1998 season by far was the Jackson Chargers. The Mississippi franchise hired Peter Fuller to coach the team. He brought in a nucleus of players from the Belhaven College squad he coached that won the 1992 NAIA men's soccer title, top players from his current team at the University of Mobile, and a number of other elite college players. The Chargers would win all 16 of their regular season matches with an astounding 104 goals for and just 17 goals against. Jackson would make it all the way to the PDSL final where it was upset 3-2 by the San Gabriel Valley Highlanders from Pasadena, Cali.
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