The Hawaii Tsunami, 1995 Northwest Division champions of the United States Interregional Soccer League, will open tryouts today at 5 p.m. at Kapiolani Park. Tryouts will last three weeks and the team will be picked on April 26.
Team officials have laid out a 23-game schedule for the franchise's third year of existence. That includes six dates at Aloha Stadium and four road trips.
The USISL season opened last weekend and the Tsunami, still without a coach or a roster, won't begin play in the Western Conference of the newly designed league for six more weeks. They will host the Philadelphia Freedom on May 18 at Aloha Stadium in their opener.
But Tsunami general manager Frank Doyle said he prefers the late start.
"Sure the other teams will have a few games under their belts when we open," said Doyle. "But we tried to condense our schedule to keep interest up, rather than having a lull of several weeks between games."
Team officials admit they will have to rebuild the team on the field from top to bottom. Departures of key personnel from Hawaii's banner 1995 year have opened the door of opportunity to local prospects.
Gone are Andrew Rowley, the Northwest Division coach of the year; Billy Thompson, the Northwest Division Most Valuable Player (21 goals, five assists); and Samuel Ekeme, the Northwest Division defender of the year.
A successor for Rowley, who led Hawaii to a 19-4 record, has yet to be chosen. University of Hawaii women's head soccer coach Pinsoom Tenzing is listed as the Tsunami head coach on the information sheet on file with the USISL. But Doyle said he was unable to work out a deal with Tenzing and is continuing to talk with other candidates.
Besides Thompson and Ekeme, the Tsunami lost two other All-Northwest Division Team selections: goalkeeper Mark Dougherty and midfielder Sterling Wescott.
All are now in the MLS, along with former Tsunami forward Peter Woodring (New England Revolution) and midfielder Josh McKay (Colorado Rapids). Thompson is with the Columbus Crew, Ekeme is with the Kansas City Wiz, Dougherty is with the Tampa Bay Mutiny, and Wescott is with the Washington D.C. United.
Rowley is coaching and working on a small soccer stadium project in California.
Doyle said he hopes to have 12 to 18 prospective players at Kapiolani Park today, including popular two-year veteran Jerry Proctor, the hard-nosed forward from Pearl City who scored six goals off the bench for the Tsunami last season.
Other Tsunami veterans expected back are John Pak (Aiea), Matt Snyder (Maui), and Carl Friedl (Kailua).
If they return, they are expected to play a larger role than they did last year, when they had to play behind several players with national team or European pro league experience.
Doyle said he's also counting on former Punahou and Dartmouth standout Geoff Zawtocki to join the team. He is listed on the information sheet submitted to the league as the team's "top newcomer."
While it appears that the Tsunami will return to being a mostly local team, Doyle said he hopes to have some experienced foreign players. He said these include former second division players Ruben Gonzales,a midfielder from Mexico, and forward/midfielder Zoran Bosanoic of Yugoslavia.
The Tsunami, financially challenged from the start last season, decided only two weeks ago to give the franchise another go, thanks to sponsorship from Aprica Kassai, a Japanese baby stroller maker, Hawaiian Airlines and Outrigger Hotels.
"We did not want to have a season we would not be able to complete," said Tsunami investor and marketing director Manny Menendez.
While MLS officials are confident their league will fly with Division I-caliber players, the Tsunami and the rest of the USISL must operate with those not playing in the MLS.
So, how does Doyle expect to draw fans?
"We'll draw because this level of play is still so much higher than we usually see out here," he said.
He said he hopes to draw between 2,500 and 3,000 per game.