Travel expenses benching Sting; Tide will return

Posted May 03, 2010, at 10:02 p.m.

The Women’s Premier Soccer League’s Maine Tide will be back for its third season and will have a new coach but their male counterparts, the Maine Sting of the National Premier Soccer League, will cease operations for a year.

Cheryl Stokes, the president of the Atlantic Sports Group who serves as the chief executive officer of two franchises, explained that the travel costs for the Sting were prohibitive so they will have an Under-20 men’s team instead.

But she expects the Sting to return to the NPSL in 2011.

“This will give the league time to fill in more [New England-based] teams so our travel schedule [for the Sting] is more reasonable,” said Stokes. “This year’s schedule would have involved even more travel than last year.”

The Sting would have played in the Northeast-Atlantic Conference but just two of the other seven franchises are in New England: the Boston Tea Men and the first-year New Hampshire Mountaineers. Four others are from New York and one is from New Jersey.

“The feedback I received from the coaches and players was that having to play three games on a five-day road trip is not conducive to good play,” said Stokes.

The Women’s Premier Soccer League is comprised of 56 amateur teams nationwide while the National Premier Soccer League has 32 amateur teams.

Former Husson University soccer and baseball player Billy Shannon will coach the Under-20 boys team that will play an eight-game schedule. Stokes said an official schedule hasn’t been established as yet.

Meanwhile, York’s Hailey Blackburn, who played center back for the University of Maine and will graduate later this month, is the new coach of the Maine Tide in the Women’s Premier Soccer League.

And Husson University men’s assistant Mike Noblet will coach a Tide Under-20 women’s team that will serve as a reserve squad for the Tide and also play its own eight-game schedule.

The husband and wife team of Jukka and Carmen Masalin were the first-year head coaches of the Sting and Tide, respectively, last season but Jukka Masalin left his job as an assistant coach at Hartwick College to follow Hartwick head coach Ian McIntyre to Syracuse University.

Masalin will be the assistant coach under McIntyre.

“I’m very, very happy for him. He’s a great coach. I’m looking for him to potentially come back to help us next year,” said Stokes who added that Masalin will serve the technical director for the Maine franchises and advise the coaches.

Maslin guided the Sting to a 3-2-3 record last season after going winless (0-5-4) in their first season. The Tide went 0-9-1 a year ago after a 4-6-2 inaugural campaign.

Blackburn, who turned in a solid 62-game career at Maine, will be a player-coach.

“She has been doing a great job so far putting the team together,” said Stokes.

“She’s a great girl. She’s very organized.”

Stokes said all three teams will be comprised primarily of local players.

She said the Under-20 teams “give us the opportunity to groom the local players and develop them for the senior teams [Tide, Sting]. Every year, that has been a focus for us.

“I would say 99 percent of the players on the three teams are local [in-state] and that reduces the amount of administrative issues I’ve faced in the past.”

In their first season, a healthy percentage of the players for the Tide and the Sting were from out of state and Stokes had to find jobs and housing for them.

The Tide will play a 10-game schedule and open the season on the road on May 22 against the New England Mutiny in Agawam, Mass.

The Tide will play its first five games on the road and finish up with its final five at home at the Hampden Academy field.

The home opener will be on Sunday, June 23 against a new franchise, the Boston U-23 Aztecs, at 3 p.m.

The other three teams in the East-Northeast division will be the Boston Aztecs (senior team), the Connecticut Passion and Seacoast United (N.H.).

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