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Defending champion Tormenta set to kick off 2023 USL League One season
Tormenta logo
Tormenta logo

South Georgia Tormenta FC’s quest to repeat as USL1 champions begins Friday when they travel to open the 2023 campaign to take on North Carolina FC.

While Tormenta are the defending champions, they will have a new look about them as the roster will look very different from last year’s squad. Ten players return from last year’s title-winning team including leading scorer Kazaiah Sterling and central defender Jake Dengler, but there are also a lot of new faces on the team this year as well.

Part of the challenge for manager Ian Cameron is blending the talents of the new players with the returners and build a competitive team when the playoffs start.

“There’s a lot of talk about a target on our back and so forth,” Cameron said. “Look, USL1 soccer is crazy. The difference between top and bottom is minute. Playoffs is the first and foremost aim. We want to get ourselves into the playoffs and take it from there. That’s the challenge ahead of us.”

Cameron said it may take time for the team to round into form but he expects to see continued progress throughout the season.

“We’re going to be a team that develops and grows over the year and come the end of the season, hopefully we’ll be where we need to be contending,” Cameron said. “But I think we’ve still got a long journey towards that.”

One of those newcomers is midfielder John Murphy Jr., who joins Tormenta after playing last year with New York Red Bulls FC II. He said the team has bonded quickly both on and off the field.

“The coaches made it pretty clear that we all have a common goal and we’re all here for a reason,” Murphy said. “There’s no point in having any friction and stuff like that. The closer we are the better we’ll be on the field.”

Midfielder Kingsford Adjei acknowledged there may be some pressure on the team as they come in as defending champions, but the team has done what it can to put the pressure aside.

“The coaches know what they want. The whole team knows what they want and the whole organization has one goal that we want to achieve so that’s what we focus on. We don’t really focus on the outside.” Adjei said.

Dengler believes this team has come together into a cohesive unit more quickly than last year’s team. “The new guys bought in because it’s hard not to buy in to a team who has had success in the past. We’re excited to keep it going and bring the new guys a long with us.”

Two new clubs will join USL1 this year, Knoxville, TN and Lexington, SC, while one team, FC Tucson, will not be playing in League One this season. Tormenta will play 32 games starting Friday with the regular season ending on October 14. The top six teams make the playoffs with the top two seeds earning first-round byes.

One of the big questions coming in to this preseason was who would be the starting goalkeeper for Tormenta. Longtime keeper Pablo Jara started last year as goalkeeper, but was replaced by T.J. Bush for the stretch run and playoffs. Jara entered the championship game following an injury to Bush and both are back for the 2023 season with Tormenta.

“I’d call it one of the hardest coaching decisions that we have and probably one of the biggest problems we have to solve,” Cameron said of the goalkeeper situation. “It’s a good problem to have. Whereas some organizations might have two keepers and they’re not sure which one is going to get them results. We feel like we’ve got two goalkeepers who are both capable of being a starter on a championship-winning team.”

Cameron said both keepers could see action, with one starting the season while the other may handle the US Open Cup games that begin in April.

“We’re happy with where they’re both at. They both came in ready for the challenge against each other and I think throughout the year we’ll have to keep them both active and read y to help us win games,” he said.

Cameron and the players are excited to get the season started after a preseason that saw them play three college teams and two teams in the USL Championship league.

“It’s time to face off against teams with similar resources and similar level of talent and we’re excited to see what that brings,” Cameron said. “

“The main goal is to get the three points,” Murphy said. “But hopefully we look like a Tormenta team and honestly, if we put 100 percent effort forth and you can’t ask for much more.”

“I’m just excited to be honest,” Adjei said. “It’s been a while. You just want to be on the field and have some fun.”

Tormenta kicks off at 7:30 against North Carolina FC. The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Tormenta’s home opener will be March 25 when they host Charlotte Independence.

Tormenta to host U.S. Open Cup

South Georgia Tormenta FC was selected to host the second round of the US Open Cup with the second round to take place between April 4-6. Tormenta will be hosting Rio Grande Valley FC of the USL Championship league.

“Because we’re still in our infancy as a club we’re constantly getting ‘firsts,’” Cameron said. “Last year it was our first playoffs or our first championship with USLW, first playoff hosts, first (USL1) championship. This year, the first Open Cup to host so these things are really neat.”

The tournament, which consists of teams of all levels in the United States, including Major League Soccer, is held annually throughout the season. In 2022 Tormenta advanced to the round of 32 where they eventually fell to Inter Miami of MLS, but not after upsetting two USL Championship teams in Birmingham and new Tormenta defender Preston Kilwein’s Charleston Battery.

Although Kilwein didn’t play in that match, he remembers watching and was impressed with Tormenta and the overall talent level of USL1.

“I realized there’s not that much of a talent gap at all between the Championship and USL1,” he said.

Rio Grande Valley FC finished sixth in the USL Championship Western Conference in 2022 and lost in the third round of the US Open Cup to the Houston Dynamo.

Rio Grande Valley FC and Tormenta will square off on April 5 at 7:30 at Tormenta Stadium.