Although March usually sees English football edge closer to its nail-biting finale, for many leagues it signals fresh optimism as the local domestic scene kicks off.
Across Scandinavia, footballing hibernation is over as the spring beacons those who have been locked up all winter to brace the outdoors and play ball once again. Several competitions across Asia and the Americas also see the turn of the month as the ideal time to kick off their 2015 campaigns.
Here’s my preview for the countries which begin their campaigns in March. An April edition will follow.
Singapore: S. League
Opening match: 1st March
Singapore’s top domestic league, the S. League, kicks off the 2015 football-fest with its opening round taking place at the weekend. Both English players feature this Sunday, with former Hull City forward Craig Fagan set to make his debut for Steve Kean’s DPMM side.
The S. League has slimmed to ten teams for this year, with each side playing each other three times. Although the competition is the domestic league of Singapore, three sides from outside the country compete. Japanese side Albrix Niigata have a sister side which compete in the league, as well as Brunei-based DPMM and Malaysian side Harimau Muda B.
Warriors FC lifted the title last season, their first victory since 2009, and they boast the most English talent. As well as being managed by Stoke-born coach Alex Weaver, they also include compatriot midfielder Tom Beattie who is set to feature in his third consecutive season in Singapore. Weaver impressed many in his first full season in charge of the Warriors, becoming the first non-Asian manager to win the S. League title and only the second ever foreigner. Beattie also dazzled under Weaver’s leadership, having been re-united with his former coach after a spell together at Hougang United. The pair will be looking to hold on to their title this season when the campaign kicks off this weekend.
Elsewhere, the only other English player set to feature in Singapore this year also begins his campaign this Sunday. Former Derby County forward Craig Fagan joined Brunei-based side DPMM earlier this month, linking up with ex-Blackburn Rovers boss Steve Kean. DPMM will be looking to recover from a disappointing campaign last season, in which they finished 8th, and will be hoping that Fagan can provide the spark needed to guide them towards the top of the table.
USA: Major League Soccer and United States League
Openings match: MLS – 7th March, USL – 22 March
March marks the start of two of the US’s leagues as the country’s first and third tiers begin within the next four weeks.
Major League Soccer, the country’s premier competition, begins on March 7th and will include expansion sides New York City FC and Orlando City for the first time.
It’s fair to say they are not the only two notable additions to the MLS this year. Both Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard will make the move across the Atlantic to join LA Galaxy and New York City respectively following the conclusion of the Premier League season. Although that means the pair will both miss the opening months of the season, it has done little to dampen the enthusiasm of their arrival to the country.
The highly decorated pair will join ten Englishmen already plying their trade in the rapidly expanding league. They include ex-Villa players Luke Moore and Nigel Reo-Coker, midfielders Giles Barnes and Lloyd Sam and last season’s top scorers, Dom Dwyer and Bradley Wright-Phillips. English boss Adrian Heath also continues to take charge of Orlando City as they compete in the MLS for the first time.
The league kicks off its 20th season next week with two ten-team conferences and culminates in the end-of-season playoffs, which will include twelve teams this year.
Dom Dwyer with Dom Dwyer…
The newly rebranded United States League also begins next month, with its first match taking place on March 22nd.
The league has had a major overhaul during the off-season with the competition increasing from fourteen teams to twenty due tot he fact that every MLS franchise now has a reserve side, or an affiliate side, competing in the competition.
The increased number of teams means the division will now split into eastern and western conferences, adopting the structure of the MLS.
Two English managers will feature in the league, with Leigh Cowlishaw and former Everton player David Irving taking the reigns at Richmond Kickers and Tulsa Roughnecks respectively.
There are also several Englishmen on the rosters of the USL sides. One of those is former Manchester United youth defender Mark Howard who, after five seasons in Denmark, joined Oklahoma City Energy last season.
In addition, with many second sides in the division, players can easily drop down from the MLS. This will both increase the quality of the division and also give chances to Englishmen who may not be featuring regular in the top tier.
Read my piece on why you should watch US soccer here.
Several other divisions, especially those across Scandinavia, begin their league campaigns in April. There will be a separate post for those leagues. However, in Finland and Sweden, competitive football has already begun with cup competitions starting as early as last week in Finland and yesterday in Sweden.