Introductions to new players and new combinations are always part of the excitement of any season.
For the Ventura County Fusion, who open its sixth Premier Development League campaign tonight at Ventura College against the Los Angeles Misioneros, excitement is always heightened by the team-building process.
The PDL season annually overlaps with spring practice for NCAA Division I programs, which leaves the Fusion without a chunk of its college-based players for a week or two.
"As you know, the team hasn't fully assembled yet," Fusion coach Ole Mikkelsen. "It's the same challenge at the beginning of the year, you're not quit fully rostered yet
The Fusion will return a core of goalkeeper Sam Hayden, defenders Mickey Daly and Matt Wiet, who played all 24 matches for nationals semifinalist UCLA last fall, and forward Gyasi Zardes, the All-American striker who scored 18 goals in 20 matches for Cal State Bakersfield last fall.
"Those guys have already made their mark on our team in previous seasons," said Mikkelsen.
Zardes, perhaps the most exciting player the Fusion have had in its history, is expected to join the Fusion next week along with Cal State Bakersfield teammate and former Ventura High star Kory Kindle.
"He probably has the most raw talent of any individual I've been involved with in the PDL," said Mikkelsen of Zardes.
Fringe players a year ago, former Oxnard College midfielder Ivan Mirkovic and Bradley University striker Jochen Graf return with more responsibility.
"He started to step it up as we hit our exhibitions last year," said Mikkelsen of Mirkovic, "and I expect him to be a main cog of the team this year."
Other familiar faces who have a chance to make an impact tonight include former Oxnard College stars Gabriel Gonzalez and Emigdio Ramirez, as well as veterans Armando Guerrero and Brent Whitfield.
The backline will be boosted by newcomers like UC Santa Barbara defenders Tim Pontius, the younger brother of DC United star Chris Pontius, and Peter McGlynn and UCLA goalie Earl Edwards.
Midfielder Frankie Lopez, expected to be the next creative midfielder from the Rodrigo Lopez/Danny Barrera mold, is awaiting clearance from the Mexico federation after a spell with Jaguares de Chiapas.
The Fusion are also expecting to add Rio Mesa High graduate Michael Roman, who starred in the NCAA tournament for Louisville, later this month.
"We're looking forward to his return," said Mikkelsen of Roman. "He's so confident on the ball, he looks almost effortless. He's a very smooth player."