Photo: Courtesy of Harrisburg City Islanders
As the Philadelphia Union prepare to face Harrisburg City Islanders at PPL Park on Tuesday night in the quarterfinals of the US Open Cup, PSP is happy to welcome Derek Meluzio to provide some background information on the club. Derek is the man behind the City Islander’s blog Upper 90, which will be familiar to readers of PSP’s daily news roundups.
There is a rich history of soccer in Central Pennsylvania. Over the years the Hershey Wildcats (A-League 1997-2001), Harrisburg Heat (NPSL and MISL 1989- 2003) and the Hershey Impact (NPSL 1988-1991) have all fielded teams in the professional indoor and outdoor ranks. The City Islanders were formed in 2004 just after the Heat folded. (By the way, the Heat will return next fall.)
What’s in a name?
There is question from time to time over the actual name of the city’s current USL Pro team. Are they “Harrisburg City,” or just plain Harrisburg? Are they the Islanders, or the City Islanders?
This will help shed some light on the subject. It should be noted that the team really does play on an actual island. Their field is located at Skyline Sports Complex on City Island which is right in the middle of the Susquehanna river. From the bleachers you can see the skyline of the city of Harrisburg; hence the name, Skyline Sports Complex. When you hear these details it does make sense: They are the Harrisburg “City Islanders.”
The team has had success in USL league play over the years since their founding in 2004. More times than not they have had a strong winning record, but the highlight would have to be their 2007 USL-2 championship when they defeated the Richmond Kickers on the road in penalty kicks. Another major success in league play would be their 2011 USL-PRO National Division title (defeating Rochester Rhinos in the division final), which earned them a championship match against league powerhouse Orlando. They would go on to lose that match in crazy fashion at the Citrus Bowl, also in PK’s.
US Open Cup success
The club’s other main success has come in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. In fact, it was made aware to me by Josh Hakala of TheCup.us that, since 2007, only the Seattle Sounders have made it to the Open Cup quarterfinals more times then the City Islanders. They have gotten attention for having beaten MLS clubs in the past: DC United in 2007; New England Revolution in 2009 and 2012; New York Red Bulls in 2010 and 2012. Despite that, the key to their Open Cup success has been doing well in the early rounds and not getting knocked out by fellow league teams or teams from lower divisions. Having a shot at beating an MLS opponent is great, but you have to take care of business in the early rounds to get there first.
Affiliation with the Union
Since 2010, Harrisburg have been affiliated with the Philadelphia Union. In my opinion, the relationship has worked out very well for both clubs. The City Islanders have received players on loan such as Antoine Hoppenot, Chandler Hoffman, and Nick Zimmerman, while Philly has signed and incorporated into their lineup former Harrisburg players like Sheanon Williams, Morgan Langley, J.T. Noone, and Chase Harrison. Multiple Harrisburg players have trained with the Union (Tomer Chencinski, Danny Cepero), been drafted by them (Tom Brandt), or made appearances for their reserve squad (Andrew Marshall, Stephen Basso, Sainey Touray, and Andrew Welker to name a few recently).
Here is a cool fact: The only goalie to pass through the Union’s initial open tryout during their first year in existence and get invited to camp was Sam Bishop, a former City Islander.
On the City Islanders side of the affiliation, the players coming on loan have been helpful on a short term basis, but, oddly enough, they are not the greatest asset to the partnership. I would say that having the affiliation with the Union in general helps Harrisburg the most through benefits such as joint tryouts, the yearly friendly, shared coaching connections, among other things.
The affiliation also helps attract more interest from free agent players looking for a team. Yes, making it to the USL PRO finals last year helped. If you are a player looking for a team, you will want to be on a winning club, so you would contact the guys who made it deep in the playoffs first. That being said, Harrisburg is not a team with a big budget, and they can not lure players with big bucks. Instead though, the affiliation has helped because players know, “Hey, if I sign with these guys, do well and impress the staff, I might get noticed by the Union.” That is not downplaying my City Islanders; it is just fact.
In the end, Harrisburg is proud of the players they have cultivated and helped move on to MLS or other leagues, such as Ty Shipalane (DC United), Tomer Chencinski (Orebro SK), Chase Harrison, Sheanon Williams, Morgan Langley, etc.
City Islanders supporters
As for supporters, Harrisburg is well aware of the Sons of Ben. We are very appreciative of them, because even before the Union were formed and had played league matches, the SOBs traveled to City Island to support Harrisburg, as you can see in the videos below. I think that helped plant the seed in Harrisburg for our fans wanting to cheer for and support the Union. Then, the actual affiliation and loaning of players made it grow even more from there. When you visit Skyline Sports Complex, you often see Union jerseys sprinkled throughout the crowd.
As for local support, the City Islanders have the CI Hecklers (City Island Hecklers) and S.O.S. (Sons of the Susquehanna). Each group is positioned behind each endline at Skyline Sports Complex. The CI Hecklers have been around since the very beginning. They are positioned on the Socceritaville deck just behind the one goal and they have, and always will, heckle the opposing team’s keeper (hence the name). S.O.S is a newer supporters group. They are at the opposite end and have been very active in the last few years.
Hope this helps you get a better idea of who Harrisburg is, what they have accomplished in the past, and who their supporters are.
Sons of Ben at City Islanders in 2009
Sons of the Susquehanna
For more Harrisburg City Islanders video, check out the Upper 90 YouTube channel, where you can also see a playlist of footage from past meetings between the City Islanders and the Union.