When Mississippi Brilla takes the field in May for it’s ninth season in the Premier Development League, a new crop of talent will be looking to move up in the professional ranks. If the past is any indication, Brilla will be the “Path to Pro” for several aspiring professional soccer players.
Last summer the PDL unveiled it's “Path to Pro" marketing slogan. With over 70% of the players drafted in the MLS SuperDraft coming from the PDL, the league is clearly the first step along the path to becoming a professional soccer player. Mississippi Brilla FC is no exception.
Brilla has had its share of former players move on to the professional ranks over the years. With former players currently playing in USL and NASL professional leagues in the United States, as well as professional leagues in Turkey, Brazil, England, and Australia, Mississippi's only minor league soccer team has certainly paved the way for future pros. The path reached a new level the last couple of years with the addition of former Brilla players moving on to Major League Soccer.
Mike Azira's road to the Seattle Sounders began in Mississippi from 2010 through 2011, then went through the Charleston Battery of USL, and eventually landed him a contract with the MLS team. Azira was a key member of the Sounders in 2014 and has started the first two matches of the 2015 campaign.
“Mike is the poster boy for Brilla,” said Executive Director Rusty Bryant. “He embodies everything that Brilla is about, and he is now making a name for himself in the highest professional league in the United States. We are very proud of Mike and his accomplishments.”
While Azira’s road to the MLS was a natural climb up the proverbial ladder, another former player recently became the first from Brilla to be drafted into the MLS. Kharlton Belmar, who played for Brilla in 2012, was drafted by the Portland Timbers in the 2nd round of the MLS SuperDraft. He has since signed with Portland’s USL team, Timbers 2, for the 2015 season.
Goalkeeper Alec Kann is a third player from Brilla that has landed with a Major League Soccer team. After playing in Mississippi for one season, Kann signed with the Chicago Fire in 2013. After being on loan to the USL’s Charlotte Eagles in 2014, Kann is back on Chicago’s roster for 2015.
Because the PDL is a part of the United Soccer Leagues, it is not surprising that a number of Brilla players have gone on to play professionally in the USL. In addition to Belmar, four other former Brilla players currently play in the USL. Bryce Taylor (Austin Aztex), Richard Dixon (St. Louis FC), and JJ Greer (Colorado Springs Switchbacks) have all signed with newcomers to the league, while Willie Hunt recently signed with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds after several years playing in the NASL.
Several other former Brilla players are scattered around the country playing professionally. Billy Forbes is currently with the San Antonio Scorpions in the NASL; Brendan Moore signed with League 1’s Fleetwood Town in England; Debola Ogunseye plays in the Turkish First League; Gui Brandao recently landed with a professional side in Brazil; Harrison Russell and Nathaniel Foster have signed with teams in Australia.
“We are obviously very honored to be a stop along the way for these professional soccer players,” said Bryant. “We are looking forward to helping many more players achieve their dreams.”
Mississippi Brilla FC will kick off the 2015 season on May 16 at Clinton High School’s Arrow Field.
| Mike Azira