Published May 21, 2022
Written By:    Mairead Forrest
               East Region Contributor


Out-of-season conference realignment has left the Mid-Atlantic Conference looking much different than last year. The result is a truly-anyone's-game road to conference championships. And while there are many exciting matches and conferences across the WPSL this season, the race to crown the 2022 Mid-Atlantic champs is worth keeping an eye on.


The biggest shake-up this season is the departure of 4+ time reigning conference champions Penn Fusion. A historically strong Pennsylvania youth club, the Penn Fusion WPSL team will compete as a member of the Colonial Conference in the 2022 season. The departure of the Mid-Atlantic's multi-year champions leaves many remaining clubs with an unprecedented opportunity to spark their own legacy of conference domination, starting with their result this season. None more so than the 2021 Mid-Atlantic Conference runner-up Lehigh Valley Tempest.


In Penn Fusion's absence, the Tempest will look to build on the momentum created by its returning group of standout staff and players, which led the club to a second-place conference finish and selection as one of four East Region "Franchises of the Year" last season. The Tempest will undoubtedly face obstacles. For example, the loss of three of its five 2021 All-Conference honorees could have an impact on the club. 


Still, it can surely count on the return of all-conference team pick and Mid-Atlantic Conference Offensive Player of the Year, Emily Banashefski, and Mid-Atlantic Conference Coach of the Year Erik Burstein, to help rise to the challenge of this new conference landscape. Its talented roster for the upcoming season also includes returning 2021 all-conference team pick midfielder Alex Marsteller, a rising sophomore. 


But Lehigh Valley Tempest isn't the only 2021 conference finalist vying for Mid-Atlantic domination this season. Real Central NJ looks to make the most of its conference realignment shift and shake up the Mid-Atlantic after missing out on Metropolitan Conference South Divison gold during its WPSL debut. The only New Jersey-based club in a Pennsylvania-heavy conference, RCNJ could be considered the wild card of the 2022 season. While the club held its own last year in Metropolitan South against formidable competition, what, if anything, does that mean for its 2022 season's prospects in an entirely different conference? 


Adding to the uncertainty is the heavy turnover of many of the club's 2021 all-conference picks heading into this season. Though, when you’re based out of a state with a soccer history as rich and storied as New Jersey’s… that isn't necessarily a bad thing. The club's fresh, relatively-WPSL-accolade-green roster adds another layer of intrigue to the Mid-Atlantic Conference competition. Look out for which young, unknown players use this vacancy to make names for themselves early on. 


The 2022 season also marks the debut of the conference expansion team, PA Classics, which looks to make waves in its inaugural season. And, building off its long history as a successful youth club provides a solid foundation to do so. But the club's journey toward a cinderella-story-first-season won't be without challenges. Not only does the new conference alignment mean the fledgling club must compete with two 2021 conference finalists, but also take on three other reputable and established clubs returning to Mid-Atlantic play this season, each of which has long, successful conference and league histories of their own.


Fever SC and Hershey FC have previously competed in six WPSL seasons each and sport third and fourth-place finishes in the 2021 Mid-Atlantic standings. While Hershey has the edge when it comes to championship appearances, Fever can look to returning all-conference team defensive pair Brooke Kane and Nicole Palmer to help change that in 2022. 


Rounding out the conference is Torch FC, which boasts an impressive three championship appearances over its 11 WPSL seasons–the most of any Mid-Atlantic team. Returning senior midfielder and all-conference pick Carmen Zenia Nava leads the club's roster.


Mid-Atlantic play opens with no less than a bang, as the season starts off with one of the most anticipated matchups of 2022 as Lehigh Valley Tempest hosts Real Central NJ tonight, May 21st, at 6:00 PM EST. Then, Hershey FC is set to host Torch FC in match two of the season tomorrow at 2:00 PM EST


And, since in true east coast fashion, the Mid-Atlantic Conference has no interest in taking things slow, two more conference matchups are set to take place before the week is out.