Division realignment was a major topic at the NPSL Annual Owners Meeting in Orlando last weekend (December 2-4, 2016). In the ever-changing world of US lower-division soccer, the NPSL has made some fairly significant changes to its conference structure for the upcoming 2017 season. What was a conference of 6 teams in 2016 is now expanded to a bi-divisional conference of 10 teams scattered across the Southeast. So what does this change mean for your Birmingham Hammers next season? Read on and I will break down what I know as well as speculate about what is still unknown.
The Hammers belong to the West Division of the NPSL Southeast Conference in 2017. They are joined by the New Orleans Jesters, Memphis City FC, NPSL newcomer Inter Nashville, and Chattanooga FC. Asheville City SC, the Atlanta Silverbacks, FC Carolina Discoveries, Georgia Revolution, and the Knoxville Force make up the East Division.
Although the Hammers’ schedule has yet to be released, it is a safe assumption that there will be at least 4 home-and-away series against West Division teams. There will possibly be an additional 2 cross-divisional matches against rivals from the East with one of those matches being at home and the other being on the road. Obviously, the cross-divisional matches are only speculation at this time, but if the schedule plays out as described above, there will be 10 regular season matches like 2016.
Keep in mind that the Hammers will also host a handful of other teams in pre-season or mid-season friendlies that will not count towards NPSL standings. I have confirmed with Morgan Copes, President and General Manager of the Hammers that there will be 8 home games in 2017.
In the 2016 season, the top 4 teams in the Southeast conference qualified for the divisional playoffs. If you recall, Chattanooga FC won the conference by defeating the Knoxville Force 5-0 in the conference Semifinals and then Memphis City FC 2-1 in the conference Final. It is speculated that in 2017, there will be 3 teams from each division of the Southeast Conference that make the playoffs (total of 6 teams). The winner of the Southeast Conference Playoffs will then proceed to compete in a national NPSL playoff matching the winners of each of the conferences against each other. At stake will be a spot in the 2018 US Open Cup.
The Hammers will have their hands full in 2017 for sure, but perhaps the road to the playoffs is a little clearer. The Hammers will have to significantly build on a 2016 last place campaign and strive for at least the 3rd spot in the NPSL West Division. Perhaps with the new coaching staff led by Coach Wulf Koch, the Hammers will improve upon the foundation they built in their inaugural season.
Stay tuned for upcoming posts on the Birmingham Hammers and the 2017 season in the coming weeks. Really looking forward to ramping the blog back up for you guys.