Velocity vs Hailstorm – Tough Test Ahead

It has been a whirlwind start for the Spokane Velocity, which kicked off their debut season in USL League One March 9 and now 14 days later are already set to take the pitch for a fourth time following three completely different outings.

It all kicked off in Greenville with nice start, scoring the opening goal. Then it went downhill in that affair to the tune of a 3-1 defeat. But the following weekend in their home debut against USL veteran club Richmond Kickers it was a completely different matter as an exhilerating start saw a pair of defenders put them up two in the early stages as they held on for a 2-1 win in front of an energized sold-out crowd. Then midweek in their first-ever US Open Cup match they went up against the defending USL2 champion Ballard FC in the first round and escaped a doozy of a game in which the hosts threw everything they had at them, tallying on a last-second strike that devastated the home crowd for a 1-0 win.

And now… after facing a storied franchise last week in Richmond and a tough underdog midweek they go up against what may be one of their toughest opponents this season in the Northern Colorado Hailstorm.

… so this week’s preview is heavy on the opponent!


Hailstorm a Title Contender
Facing Richmond, coming off a rare down season, was about facing a storied club with a tradition of success. Northern Colorado, however, is coming into this match as arguably one of the frontrunners to contend for the USL1 crown this year. They finished third a year ago in the regular season with a 18-6-8 record in a tight three-way title race that saw Union Omaha finish first with 65 points, North Carolina second with 63 and Northern Colorado right behind at 62. In contrast, fourth place Charlotte finished with 49. The Hailstorm easily advanced from the first round before falling in the league semifinals to eventual champion North Carolina. And the trajectory for the third-year club is trending upward considering their debut season saw them finish 7th, missing out on the postseason on tiebreakers.

Defense, Defense, Defense
Northern Colorado led the league with the best defense a year ago with just 37 goals allowed in 32 games. Finalists North Carolina and Union Omaha were two and four back, respectively, though several others finished within 40 or less. Coming back to lead those efforts are goalkeeper Edward ‘Lalo’ Delgado, third-year defender Brecc Evans and returning USL1 All-League selection Bruno Rendon. . Delgado led the league in shutouts with 13 last season and is heralded as the league’s all-time leader in penalty saves. And they are joined by some experience as well, including David Garcia, who joined the Hailstorm from USL1 champion North Carolina – in fact, he scored twice in the 3-1 semifinal win against Northern Colorado. Second-year Hailstorm back Lucky Opara also is in the mix. More on defense below in League Form.

Big Scoring
Probably to no surprise, the runaway trio were the three league leaders in offense. Union Omaha led the way with 61 goals with the Hailstorm second at 59 and North Carolina just one back in third. The Hailstorm lost league leading scorer Trevor Amann to USL Championship Sacramento, but they have plenty in reserve to fill his shoes. League leading assist man Aurthur Rogers also moved up to the Championship, joining FC Tulsa. The man behind him in that table though was Luis Gil of Union Omaha, now a member of the Velocity. Returning though are a solid, veteran club quartet of Irvin Parra, Marky Hernandez, Noah Powder and Billy King along with the addition of Jake Keegan. Fernandez is billed as their ‘key cog’ out wide and King comes into his second season after eight goals and four assists. Powder is a former MLS player that is back for his second campaign and Keegan joins the squad on loan from One Knoxville, where he had six goals. Parra is in his third season, but that’s a special story.

Striker Irvin Parra, the second oldest player on the team at 30, is a special story for the Hailstorm. A very experienced player, he was preparing for his second season with the club after an 11-goal season in 2022 when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in February. Continued spread after the initial surgery led to chemo, but he continued to stick with it and was able to return to play August 5 for the team’s stretch run. This season is his first full campaign back, no doubt creating some inspiration for himself and the club.

Hailstorm’s Local Ties
Parra is one of two with some local ties to the northwest. He spent a pair of seasons with Seattle Sounders 2 (now Tacoma Defiance) in 2016-17, scoring 10 goals in his time with the club. It was the first American club for the Californian as he spent 2012-2016 in Germany with a trio of clubs. Since the Sounders, he has bounced around with several USL Championship teams. An actual northwest native, Danny Robles hails from Burien, WA and signed with the Sounders Academy before college in 2015. He eventually made the Sounders 2 squad in 2018 and remained with them / Tacoma Defiance until 2021. From there he joined Northern Colorado and was a significant contributer in the midfield, but returned home to play for Ballard FC (Spokane’s Open Cup opponent last Wednesday) last season and helped them win the USL2 title. After winning the championship he returned to the Hailstorm for the stretch run.

Veteran / Experienced Roster
While Spokane is brand new and Richmond had a small group of returning players, the Hailstorm are another thing altogether. The team has 11 players that have at least one quality season under their belts on the team and another five newcomers with a wealth of experience in USL1 or the USL Championship. Among the players not already mentioned are Johnny Fenwick, a journeyman USL Championship player since 2019; Jackson Dietrich, third-year Hailstorm midfielder, Enock Kwakwa, a second season player that also has experience with USL Championship Charleston; third-year Hailstorm midfielder Destan Norman; and midfielder Chelo Martinez, a USL Championship (2019-22) and USL1 Forward Madison player a year ago.

International Flavor
The Hailstorm have a squad with a distinctly global element to it. The roster has nine players born abroad, but quite a few of the American born players have spent time abroad as well. Four players on the team have experience playing on the international stage. Forward Real Gill has six caps for Trinidad & Tobago’s senior team along with some time with the U20s. Jersey-born Noah Powder has been a regular with T&T, playing 13 times with four goals as a youth international and a dozen times with the senior team (two goals.) Bruno Rendon is a former Cuba youth international, and Billy King made 17 appearances over the years for Scotland from U15-U21. King may boast the most impressive resume on the squad at the club level by name recognition having played in Scotland for Heart of Midlothian, Rangers and Dundee United in the early years of his career (2012-2019).

US Open Cup
Spokane is coming off a 1-0 thriller in which they won the game when a throw-in deep into the box came out to the top of the area to Andre Lewis for a wide-open strike into the back half of the goal. The tally well into stoppage time was seconds prior to the final whistle. The Hailstorm, meanwhile, rolled to their opening round win, 4-1, against Tulsa Athletic of the NPSL. Opara opened the scoring just before the break in the 43 and in the second half Parra (50), Hernandez (65) and rookie Ethan Hoard (85) pushed the match out of reach before the hosts were able to tally in the 88th.

League Form
Just two games in Spokane is 1-1. As mentioned, they fell on the road all the way on the east coast in their opener. The lone goal in the 3-1 result came from a penalty. And, last week’s 2-1 home opening win came via a pair of early goals from defenders. Northern Colorado, meanwhile, is on quite an impressive run in league play. In their last 10 games, they have only given up more than one goal on two occasions – both to their nemesis and eventual league champ North Carolina. They have only played one match so far this season, a 0-0 draw on the road against Lexington, but they had the weekend off prior to their US Open Cup match midweek. The run of stellar defense rolls through last season. After a 3-2 win against Greenville September 6, they finished out the season on a 5-1-1 stretch that included a 2-0 loss to North Carolina and a scoreless draw amongst its four shutouts as they allowed just four goals in those seven games. They then won their playoff opener 4-1 before falling 3-1 to North Carolina in the semifinal.

For the second week in a row Spokane had a presence on the USL1 Team of the Week with both scoring backs – Romain Metanire and Ahmed Longmire – not surprisingly on the list. The previous week Josh Dolling was on the list for Spokane while defender Lucky Opara represented the Hailstorm for their shutout.