The Jesters prove that sports is alive and well throughout the year in New Orleans
New Orleans has long served as a host for the world’s bold pioneers, whether it has been in exploration, industry, religion, sports or music. Now we can add a new name to the list in the arena of sports: Coach Kenny Farrell, who has sought to bring soccer to the fore of the city’s consciousness with the New Orleans Jesters. The Jesters are a first-year addition to the United Soccer Leagues’ Premier Development League (PDL). Farrell, who hails from Dublin, has resided in New Orleans for 12 years and has built a foundation for a major league sport that may one day match that of Dave Dixon’s contributions to pro football. With his weekly radio show, the Jesters Soccer Hour (Mondays from 8 to 9 p.m. on WGSO 990-AM), Farrell has educated the once-unknowing New Orleans masses about the revelations of soccer. Now they can see his handiwork on the field as well.
The Jesters have moved into the renovated Pan American Stadium, which itself has garnered rave reviews and will prove an important destination for the local sports fan in the summer months. The average fan, accustomed to a regular diet of Saints, Hornets and Zephyrs, may be wondering why they need to add another local team to their repertoire. Listen to Farrell’s show or attend a Jesters game and you’ll find out.
Soccer is, at first blush, a simple game: There are few substitutions and only 17 rules (or laws), thus penalties are rare, which permits a regular, steady flow of intense action. It is a game of stamina, ingenuity and brilliance. Players are expected to make their own decisions, as coaches largely focus on tactical decisions; players play nearly the full ninety minutes and rarely come off the field, so they are required to take the initiative. Consider further that a player must perform one of the most difficult feats in sports—controlling a ball at high speed, which he must drive forward while being tackled by several opposing players. If he survives, he must decide within a split second his next move and coordinate the next play in the same manner. Seen live, the skill and athleticism in the combined passing, shooting and tackling leaves many fans wowed.
It is true that soccer might not fit perfectly in the American sports rubric, as there is little room for some of the off-field (or off-court) high jinks that pro sports fans have become accustomed to in their once-traditional games, such as the constant blaring of music. In many sports today, the fans are encouraged to watch everything but the game; but in soccer, which has few stoppages and a constant flow, the game is the whole point.
The Jesters in particular offer an attacking offensive style, playing a 4-4-1-1 variation on the Italian Style, with the striker, James “Gleddy” Gledhill playing very high up the field, generally causing all-round “murder” near the box, while at other times offering opportunities to Leo Barros, who plays in the hole, along with an excellent mix of local, U.S. national and international players. The roster is packed with speed, youth and a good dose of collegiate championship, PDL and even English Premier League experience, providing an especially potent combination and chemistry that is particularly remarkable for a first-year team. The blending of the players’ individual abilities and Farrell’s philosophy allow for rapid interaction and countering by the team’s capable wingers, fullbacks and center midfielders and defenders. Besides Barros and Gledhill, the team offers wingers Andy Drummond and local Jesuit grad Brandon Chagnard (who has been scoring at a rapid rate and more than living up to his billing as the local player most likely to have a shot at playing on the U.S. national team and in a World Cup), while Ben Callon (who also has provided a steady hand as the team’s director of operations), Matt Edrington, Chris Williams, Marc Young and Gary Stopforth, of whom provide a reliable defensive backdrop that is ever-ready to charge the ball back up the field at the first chance of counterattack.
The team has come out firing with a strong 1-0-3 record in the first quarter of the season, which is a fantastic start considering that six of their first nine games will be on the road. Indeed, given the team’s strong road success so far—including a dramatic 3-3 tie retained from a strong halftime lead in Jackson and a tie claimed in their inaugural game in Baton Rouge—and the fact that the Jesters will have the advantage of five of its last seven games at home, they look well-positioned to deliver a playoff run.
Altogether, the steady helmsmanship delivered by Farrell and Callon, along with the impressive professionalism of first-year owner Dana Stumpf, indicate a sincere dedication to building a pro franchise the right way, one seeking a strong foundation for the future and an interwoven commitment to the community. Ultimately, if New Orleans seeks to regain its footing as an international city and one that is progressively seeking to emerge further into global commerce via its sports commerce niche, it might just find a hidden jewel in the form of the Jesters. The burgeoning international and U.S. soccer industry could very well find a permanent home here, just as local sports fans seeking to engage in the passion of sport year-round can surely find a home for themselves at every Jesters game throughout the summer.
The Jesters’ 2009 Home Game Schedule:
6/06 Nashville Metros
6/20 Mississippi Brilla
6/25 Nashville Metros
6/27 Panama City Pirates
7/11 Baton Rouge Capitals
7/17 Atlanta Blackhawks
All games at 7 p.m.