NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Jesters kick off its 2018 National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) season at home Saturday against the Emerald Force SC from Knoxville, Tenn., but not before last year’s conference playoff finalist hosts former Premier Development League (PDL) rival Mississippi Brilla in the opening round of the US Open Cup at Pan American Stadium Wednesday.
The Jesters, who went unbeaten (8-0-4) in Southeast Conference play last year, are fresh from a 2-1 come-from-behind pre-season road win against AFC Mobile over the weekend. And according to head coach Kenneth Farrell, he likes what he sees heading into the new season.
“I saw what I was looking for and that was the tenacity and attitude to win games,” Farrell told reporters during the team’s Media Day luncheon Monday. “They showed me everything I needed to see there to be prepared mentally for this game on Wednesday night.”
The Jesters found themselves down 1-0 at halftime, before rallying in the second half thanks to goals from midfielder Igor Siscov of Moldova and defender Lucas LaVanway of California.
Farrell says his English trio of defender Samir Bihmoutine, and midfielders Oliver Roberts and Mason Walsh are high on his radar at the moment, with Walsh, the son of former Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester City standout Paul Walsh, earning man of the match honors for his leadership during the Jesters comeback win over Mobile.
“I was looking very closely at Oliver Roberts and Samir, but man of the match was Mason Walsh, who is in his fourth-year with us,” said Farrell. “He came back and took over the game for us a little bit in the second half and led the team through his own performance and we went on 2-1.”
One noticeable name missing on the 2018 roster is last year’s star forward Jon Evans, who earned "Best XI" honors for the NPSL South Region. Evans has initially opted to remain with family back home in Wales, and while the Jesters are hopeful he may in fact return during the season, the team feels it has the talent to contend again and improve on last season.
“No one is going to feel good about losing Jon Evans who proved he can score against really good teams, but I feel confident we have players in there and we’ve got that covered,” explained Farrell. “Tom Peers (GBR) came in last night and did not play in the game on the weekend. He plays at a high level and I’m looking forward to seeing him in that role and then Tony Judice, a local kid [from Covington], who has been with us a long time did a great job, so I think we’ll score goals.
“We’ll know when we play the games if we’ve replaced him, but I think we have at this point.”
Replacing star talent is nothing new for the Jesters, who have sent two New Orleans-area athletes to the sport’s highest division in the U.S. — Major League Soccer (MLS). San Jose goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell, 24, of Mandeville and DC United striker Patrick Mullins, 26, of New Orleans have both advanced onward from their days with the Jesters, and Farrell believes other homegrown talents currently on the roster could be next to follow suit.
“It’s part of what we got into this for in the first place,” Farrell told WGNO. “We’ve grown to where now we want to move to a bigger level and be a full time pro organization and we are moving in that direction.
"However when we first got into it, it was about continuing that pathway for local players that didn’t have that opportunity. To get Tarbell when he was 17 and Mullins when he was 16, or vice versa, was great because they both had four or five seasons here and along with their top quality NCAA seasons along with this season they will both tell you that coupled it really prepared them for the next level.
“We have a double focus: one is to win games and win championships; the other is to get these young players in as early as possible to continue to give them the opportunity to be hopefully at the right place at the right time if they have the talent to move up.
“I think we do [have that talent], now is it going to work for them who knows?” he continued. “We just brought in a 17-year-old goalkeeper from Jesuit, Shane Lanson, who hopefully follows in the footsteps as Tarbell. He’s brilliant, but he is playing behind a very experienced goalkeeper right now (Chad Collins, GBR). So for his development it’s going to be great he going to be training and he’s going to get into games when I see fit, and hopefully he will be here for four years.
“We have a kid Kenroy [Rodriguez], 17, from Grace King who came on Saturday night and didn’t look out of place at all. That kid would be lost in obscurity if we didn’t have this program — and there’s others.
“There is Jude Burst, 17, who is now training in Spain, but he is from Metairie. He is going to be back at the end of this week and going to be involved, so that’s part of what we do, that’s part of our mission and we’ve never lost focus on that.”