WINDSOR, Colo. — After narrowly missing out on the USL League One playoffs last season, Northern Colorado Hailstorm FC opens its second campaign against 2022 finalists Chattanooga Red Wolves SC Saturday at 5:30 p.m. Mountain time.
“It’s been a long, long offseason. I think everybody’s itching to get back, especially against Chattanooga,” Hailstorm FC captain Rob Cornwall said.
It has been an offseason of change for the Red Wolves, as they have added a new head coach and have just nine returning players on their 2023 roster. Of Chattanooga’s four all-league selections in 2022, only midfielder Moe Espinoza returns. Espinoza had eight goals and seven assists for the Red Wolves last season.
“They’re a strong team,” Hailstorm head coach Éamon Zayed said. “It will be tough. They will be absolutely dying to go out there in front of their fans.”
Chattanooga’s returning players scored just 15 of the team’s 55 goals and played less than a third of the team’s overall minutes last season.
The most notable newcomer for Chattanooga is head coach Ziggy Korytoski, who joins the Red Wolves from NISA club Albion San Diego. Korytoski led Albion to a 9-6-5 record in the NISA regular season in 2022 and pulled off a pair of upsets in the playoffs to reach the NISA Championship Final, losing 1-0 to Michigan Stars FC.
Korytoski brings with him Congolese forward Mayele Malongo, who had three goals and two assists with Albion San Diego last season. Malongo also scored in Chattanooga’s final preseason match against FC Cincinnati 2 last week.
Also among the newcomers for the Red Wolves is former Colorado Rapids fullback Mekeil Williams. Williams played 38 times for the Rapids in 2016 and 2017 and has been capped 30 times by Trinidad and Tobago.
“It’s a tough place to go,” Zayed said. “We didn’t go there last year and beat them at all, so we’re hoping to make that happen this year.”
Northern Colorado lost 4-1 and drew 0-0 in their two trips to Chattanooga in 2022.
There is continuity for Hailstorm FC, who bring back both of their all-league selections from 2022 in USL League One Defender of the Year Arthur Rogers and leading scorer Irvin Parra. Rogers set a USL League One record with 80 chances created last season and led Hailstorm FC with nine assists. Parra scored 11 goals and contributed five assists of his own.
“For me it was important to bring back as many players as possible from last year,” Zayed said.
A pair of key newcomers for Hailstorm FC will be Enock Kwakwa and Lucky Opara, who should provide stability and consistency in defensive midfield and at left back, respectively.
Hailstorm FC will be missing a pair of players for the season opener with goalkeeper Johan Peñaranda missing through suspension and forward Donald Benamna on international duty with Central African Republic.
The future home of Northern Colorado Hailstorm FC, 118-acre Future Legends Complex, will feature 6,500-seat TicketSmarter Stadium, 2,500-seat Future Legends Field, multiple baseball diamonds, multi-purpose fields, an indoor sports arena, lodging, and retail; and will host guests for major sports leagues, tournaments, events and more.
More information is available at HailstormFC.com and FutureLegendsComplex.com.