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The Court is in Session

Jesters' Season Preview

In the event that you spot a purple cloud wafting across City Park on Saturday (5.09) night, do not be alarmed. The mysterious mist is not the usual petrochemical gas leak or radioactive metahuman pesticide, but instead smoke bombs lit by the Royal Court to signal the start of the New Orleans Jesters’ 2015 season.


In retrospect, 2014 was a bountiful year for the Jesters. The team finished third in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) Southeast Division and qualified for the divisional playoffs, where they lost to Chattanooga FC in the finals. Under their own volition, a group of local soccer fans formed The Royal Court, the teams’ supporters group, bringing atmosphere and grit to Pan American Stadium. Finally, the 2014 World Cup increased local interest in the team to an all-time high. Excitement among supporters for Saturday’s opening game against former NPSL champion Jacksonville United (7 pm, Pan American Stadium) is at a fever pitch. 


Despite last season’s gains, Coach Kenny Farrell finds one aspect about 2014 bittersweet. The night before the team’s 0-4 loss to Chattanooga, most of the players started suffering from food poisoning, a condition that compounded the sting of defeat.


“We put our weakest team on the field all season in the biggest game of the season.” he says.


Farrell laughs about the situation and notes that Chattanooga FC deserved to win, played at a high level all season, and are a model organization in the NPSL that attracted over three thousand fans to the championship game. 


Still, he wonders what might have been and anticipates the rematch.


In the offseason, Farrell found little time to dwell on last season. In addition to managing the senior team, Farrell’ passion is the Jester’s soccer academy that focuses on developing complete, technically-gifted soccer players instead of amassing trophies. He is wholly committed to changing the US development system’s ossified process.  He also serves on the NPSL executive board, working with other teams across the country to build and improve the league. Over Christmas, he planned the first NPSL scouting combine in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where NPSL players were scouted by NASL and MLS teams. 


His ideas about the possibilities for soccer in New Orleans are inspiring. Asked about how he would like to build on last season’s success, Farrell switches from architect with a vision to a coach with a plan and is matter-of-fact.


“I’d like to give away less goals.” he says, “We won a lot of games last year, and we were unbeaten at home, but many of the goals we gave up were pretty soft. I want to tighten that up. At home, I don’t want anyone to get a sniff of goal; when we’re away, I want us to handle the pressure better. Last year, we had to score a whole lot of goals to win because we only had a couple clean sheets. It needs to be better.”


Changes to the roster might necessitate  a more defensive-minded Jesters, who lost several key players from last season. Both captains, Midfielder Sam Hurrell and forward Reece Wilson, have moved on to careers in coaching and finance, respectively. Offensive sparkplugs Jordan Hulme and Phil Dean both parlayed their on-field success with the Jesters into productive seasons with Salford City FC, a club owned by Manchester United legends Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, and Gary and Phil Neville. Defender Andri Jonasson is playing in Iceland and local goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell will train with an MLS club during the summer with an eye towards next year’s draft. 


The quality of the Jesters is growing each year and that means a high turnover of players. Farrell points to former player’s new opportunities as success stories, including Patrick Mullins, a NOLA native and former Jester who suits up for the MLS expansion team New York City FC. 


Quality new players and the development of homegrown talent add new dimensions to the squad. Farrell plans to rearrange some veterans’ to bolster his defense and use new players to shore up a depleted offense.The team brought in English goalkeeper Liam Davies who will have to ward off improved local Larry Newby for the starting spot.  New defenders Simon Nett from Norway and Harry McGregor from Scotland will join Icelandic centerback Dan Gudmundsson and newly converted right-back Jordan Rice. Forward Noel Johnson and midfielder Newton Henry, both from Jamaica, will inject much needed pace to the offense. 


Other players returning for another crack at the NPSL- Southeast Championship include fleet footed midfielder Keir Hannity and Johannes Forstpointer who will shift into midfield on the left wing. The Jesters have nine local players on their roster. Covington’s Tony Judice and Orlando Sanchez, a high school player, New Orleanian Jordan Rice, and Metairie’s Adam Toras will compete with Callum Cobb from England for the remaining midfield spots.  


Like last season, the Jesters face an arduous road to the playoffs. Competition between top teams in the Southeast Division is fierce. Division champions Chattanooga FC and their neighbors Nashville FC field high-caliber squads who tested New Orleans in 2014. They are joined by the Knoxville Force, the Atlanta Silverbacks Reserves, an NASL affiliate, and the Georgia Revolution to round out the division. The Jesters will also play friendlies against the Houston Hurricanes, the Houston Dynamo’s Reserve team, and this weekend’s game against Jacksonville United. 


Coach Farrell stops to think about what he looks forward to in the new season. As effortlessly as before, his analysis shifts from blunt strategy and tactics back to the academy and his goals for the future.


“The picture is finally coming together. When we started this, our idea was to eventually have a fully local team that could compete at a national level. We’re not there yet, but it’s coming. The academy is producing players; that’s my measure of success.” he says, “This has to be the route to the next level...and we’re coaching the young ones up to make sure they have the skills and attributes to [succeed at the next level]. So I’m excited to get the academy to watch the big team, and let them see high level soccer is a tangible reality. When they all get together at home games, and the young kids can watch, that’s probably the most exciting thing for me.”


The Jesters kick off against Jacksonville United at 7:00 in Pan American Stadium. Tickets cost 10 dollars and are available at the gate.

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Renard Boissiere, Evan Z.E. Hammond, Naimonu James, Wilson Koewing, J.A. Lloyd, Nina Luckman, Dead Huey Long, Alexis Manrodt, Joseph Santiago, Andrew Smith, Cynthia Via, Austin Yde


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