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PDL title contenders

July 21, 2009

The Premier Development League field of 68 teams has been whittled down to 24 and counting.

The PDL playoffs are under way this week across North America, and by Saturday, the remaining 16 teams will square off for the right to be crowned divisional champions.

The Laredo Heat (7-1-8, 29 points) has the benefit of hosting its divisional championship after claiming the top seed in regular season play.

The club awaits the winner of a game between the second-seeded West Texas Sockers (8-5-3, 27) the third seeded Austin Aztex (7-4-5, 26) on Wednesday in Midland.

The extra day of rest for the Heat come in handy, especially for Greg Mulamba, who is recovering from a knee injury.

This season the postseason qualifying was tweaked, as the PDL executive committee voted to have three teams from each division make the playoffs rather than two.

The winner of Saturday's divisional championship advances to the Elite Eight tournament to be played Friday, July 31 through Sunday, Aug. 2.

The Elite Eight tournament is broken down into two groups of four with the Southern and Western Conferences' divisional winners playing each other and the Central and Eastern divisional winners facing off.

The playing site for the Elite Eight is to be determined by bids submitted by all teams to the league office by Wednesday. The championship game is to be played on Aug. 8 and aired by the Fox Soccer Channel. Again, the site will be determined by the best bid.

The Heat is looking to play in its fourth straight PDL championship and hoping to be the host for the fourth time, as well.

Vets and old foes

The Heat is not only the top seed of the division, but the most experienced squad, as well. This is the club's fifth trip to the postseason, and it could claim its third division title with a victory on Saturday.

The Aztex are making their second straight trip after winning the division last year; they were ousted from the playoffs by the Heat. The Sockers are making the postseason in their first year of existence.

The Southern Conference includes the Heat's Mid South and the Southeast Divisions. The Southeast division was won by the Mississippi Brilla (9-1-6, 33), a former member of the Mid South. The second seed is the Bradenton Academics (9-2-5, 32), who the Heat have faced only once before, in 2006.

Also making the postseason as the third seed is the New Orleans Jesters (5-0-11, 26), another former member of the Mid South. They were known as the Shell Shockers last season, but their sponsorship from Shell ended this season.

The Mid South Division champion plays the winner of the Southeast in the conference finals of the Elite Eight. That winner plays the survivor of the Western Conference.

Western Conference

Representing the Western conference from the Northwest are the top-seeded Kitsap Pumas (12-1-3, 29), Portland Timberwolves (11-3-2, 35) and Seattle Wolves (10-3-3, 33).

The Southwest Division will be led by the Hollywood United Hitmen (10-3-3, 33), followed by the Los Angeles Legends (9-3-4, 31) and Ventura County Fusion (7-2-7, 28).

Central Conference

The participating teams in the Central Conference will represent the Great Lakes and Heartland Divisions. The Kalamazoo Outrage (11-2-3, 36), Chicago Fire (10-1-5, 35) and Forest City London (8-3-5, 29) will compete for the Great Lakes title, while the Des Moines Menace (11-1-4, 27), defending champion Thunder Bay Chill (8-3-5, 29) and Real Colorado Foxes (8-5-3, 27) comprise the Heartland field.

Eastern Conference

The teams representing the Eastern conference in the Mid Atlantic Division are the Reading Rage (13-1-2, 41), Carolina Dynamo (10-4-2, 32) and Cary Clarets (9-4-3, 20). In the Northeast Division, Ottawa Fury (12-0-4, 40), Long Island Rough Riders (12-2-2, 38) and the Ocean City Barons (9-4-3, 30) will battle for their chance at the Elite Eight.