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Thunder start season with southern swing


Minnesota Thunder

open their 2007 campaign against the Charleston Battery tomorrow evening at 7 p.m. (CST). The game will be broadcast live on Fox Soccer Channel. The Thunder will then travel north to face the Carolina Railhawks on Saturday.

After a brutal 2006 season, finishing tied for last with a 7-15-6 record, the team's roster has been substantially overhauled. Fewer than half of last year's players will return for coach Amos Magee's second season.

Among the key returnees will be veteran goalkeeper Joe Warren, defensive midfielder Freddy Juarez, and central playmaker Godfrey Tenoff. Ansu Toure, who tallied four goals in just ten matches last season (and nearly secured a roster spot with the New York Red Bulls), will likely be more prominently featured in the attack. Diminutive striker Leo Gibson also looks poised for a breakout season.

Tougher to gage is the impact that the team's newcomers will have on the field. Potentially the most exciting addition is striker Rodrigo Hidalgo. The 19-year-old Colombia native has spent time with various U.S. youth national teams and was a standout at the University of South Florida for three seasons before leaving to try his luck overseas. Unfortunately a tryout with Irish club Bohemians ended prematurely after Hidalgo volunteered to play 'keeper during a match. The end result: a missing tooth, a broken nose, and 22 stitches on the inside of his mouth. For a swell primer on Hidalgo's tumultuous upbringing, see this 2005 St. Pete Times story.

Other intriguing newcomers include 6'4" Japanese target forward Keisuke Ota (who is yet to join the team owing to visa issues), and 19-year-old midfielder Lencho Skibba, a native of Ethiopia who has spent time with German club Alemania Aachen's youth side.

Defense looks to be the team's primary liability heading into the opener. The team's travel roster lists just four primary defenders for the two game road trip. Alfredo Esteves and Kevin Taylor are sidelined with injuries, while Jonathan Greenfield will be playing in Saturday's MISL championship game for Detroit. Newcomer Derek Smith should immediately get to prove his worth (or lack thereof) in central defense.

One other promising change for 2007: Minnesota soccer legend Manny Lagos will be working more closely with Magee on the sidelines.

As always, Blue Sky Soccer is the definitive source for Thunder news.

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