2012 saw the establishment of a new soccer team in Baltimore; the Bohemians, by name. Playing in the United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League (USL PDL), the fourth tier of American soccer, the Bohs created a buzz through the metro area during their inaugural campaign that shows no signs of slowing down in the seasons ahead.
It all began back in mid-February, when the club announced that it would start its maiden PDL campaign at Cedar Lane Park in Bel Air on May 19th. The team had already acquired a major sponsor in National Bohemian beer, a favorite potent potable among many Baltimore residents. The club's colors were a vibrant black, gold, and red, honoring the flag of Maryland, as well as the Bohemian Football Club in Ireland, who have a similar color scheme. Steve Nichols, formerly the head coach at the McDonogh School, was named as the Bohs' first bench boss, with Brandon Quaranta in the assistant's role.
As the calendar turned to March, fans were already clamoring for tickets and apparel, in particular, the team's distinctive home jersey. The distributors at nattybohgear.com had to refill their orders several times in order to keep up with the growing demand.
April was a very productive month for the club, in terms of both personnel and business partnerships. Early in the month, Mike Lookingland, no stranger to the Baltimore soccer scene (having played with Crystal Palace Baltimore and the Baltimore Blast), joined the Bohs as an assistant coach. A few weeks later, the club reached an agreement with the one of the most popular athletic suppliers in the country. Adidas teamed up with Baltimore to provide training and match apparel. The aforementioned home jersey, however, would still be produced locally.
With weeks to go before the club's inaugural match, Baltimore joined together with D.C. United of Major League Soccer (MLS), making the two sides development partners. As part of the agreement, Baltimore would provide the four-time MLS champions with prospects that could gain an opportunity to play at the professional level.
A week before Baltimore's opening match, the team's roster was set. 24 players were listed on the squad, with heaps of local talent, many of them having played for head coach Nichols at McDonogh. The anticipation for the start of the season was palpable.
Finally, it arrived. May 19th, 2012 would go down in history, as the Bohemians stepped onto the Cedar Lane pitch for their first competitive match. Their opponent was the Ocean City Nor'easters, a team with a 15-year history in the PDL. Despite some early scoring opportunities from the hosts, their visiting counterparts would prevail in a 2-0 shutout win.
Five days later, the Bohs would play their first contest away from home against the Long Island Rough Riders. Chris Somerville would go down in the history books, as he scored Baltimore's first goal in PDL play from the penalty spot in the 49th minute. The 1-1 draw gave Baltimore their first points in the standings, but little did they know that points would be hard to come by in the first half of their 16-game schedule.
In their second home match on the 27th, another animated crowd filled Cedar Lane Park, only to see the hosts blanked once again, this time by a single goal, at the hands of the New Jersey Rangers. It wouldn't get much easier for the Bohs, as they had to then endure a four-game road trip, their longest of the season.
Things started out promising, as Baltimore snatched a 1-1 draw against the Jersey Express on May 30th. A Christian Barreiro free kick with just seconds to spare in the match gave the Bohs some much needed momentum. However, Baltimore would drop a pair of two-goal matches in the days to follow. Reading United defeated the Bohs by a 2-0 count on June 2nd, while the Nor'easters would take the season series from Baltimore with a 3-1 triumph at the New Jersey boardwalk on the 10th. The road swing ended on the 13th with a 1-1 draw to another Garden State side, the Central Jersey Spartans, leaving the Bohs winless in their first seven games of the season, with just four goals to their name.
As the Bohs' season reached the midway point, the club could be comforted in the fact that six of their final nine games would be at their home ground. A three-game homestand began with a 3-1 victory over the Westchester Flames on June 16th, snapping the hosts' long winless streak, and giving them their first PDL victory in franchise history. Decked out in vintage 1967 Baltimore Bays jerseys, the Bohs exploded for their highest offensive output to date, as Somerville, Jereme Raley, and Pete Caringi all scored for the home side.
Four days later, Baltimore would get revenge on Reading United, shutting out the visitors, 1-0, and splitting the season series. The Bohs would prevail by the same scoreline on June 24th, defeating Central Jersey for a perfect homestand, bumping their overall record to 3-4-3, and moving the club to the middle of the Mid-Atlantic Division table.
Baltimore's road woes would continue at the end of June and leading into July, as consecutive one-goal defeats to the Brooklyn Knights and New Jersey Rangers saw the Bohs without a win in seven matches away from Cedar Lane.
On a steamy July 4th afternoon, Baltimore returned home to take on the Jersey Express in a "Military Appreciation Day" contest. Despite trailing 2-1 at the half, the hosts came back from that deficit, as second half goals from Brian Graham and Kingsley Onwuka gave the hosts their fourth win of the season.
The Bermuda Hogges would provide the final road test for the Bohs on July 8th. Making the nearly 800-mile trek to the island, Baltimore could not gain the lead after tying the game at the stroke of halftime, falling 2-1.
With a winless road schedule out of their minds, the Bohs could fully prepare for their last two home matches, played on July 14th and 15th. The first match, against Brooklyn, turned out to be a fiery encounter. Tempers flared in the latter stages of the game, with Somerville being sent off for pushing a Knights player, while eight yellow cards in all would be issued in the 2-2 draw.
In the final match, Baltimore closed out the 2012 campaign with a 2-1 win over Long Island. Goals from Graham and Elton Joe gave the Bohemians their fifth home win of the season, good for second best in the division, along with Reading United and the Jersey Express.
At the end of it all, the Bohemians finished up with an overall record of 5-7-4, good for sixth place in the PDL's Mid-Atlantic Division (finishing ahead of Brooklyn, Bermuda, Central Jersey, and Westchester). Despite scoring only 20 goals all season (tied for third-worst in the division), they only surrendered 24 (fifth best). Baltimore and Westchester were the only two clubs in the ten-team Mid-Atlantic to go winless on the road, although, the Bohs did pick up three points away from home.
Despite not making the postseason in their inaugural year, Baltimore had some encouraging news after the season concluded. A week and a half after their last match, Christian Barreiro signed a deal with the Puerto Rico Islanders of the North American Soccer League (NASL). Barreiro would register two shots and a yellow card in 184 minutes of play for the Islanders, who would lose to Minnesota in the quarterfinals of the playoffs. On July 30th, the midfielder would be named to the PDL All-Eastern Conference team.
The off-season is sometimes a dormant period in soccer circles, but not for the Bohemians. In mid-November, Steve Nichols announced that he would return to the club for his second season behind the bench, and at the USL's annual banquet on December 14th, Baltimore won the PDL Media Award, headed by brothers Jim (director of team operations) and Joe Tirabassi (director of marketing and media relations).
So what will the Bohs' second season have in store? Well, if season one is any indication, there will be plenty of anticipation, excitement, and reflection through the various peaks and valleys of the season. And, the club hopes, some more "firsts", especially when it comes to reaching the postseason.