Regular Season Wrap-Up
The largest and most exciting regular season of Uralican football has finally come to a close, with SiPS doing the expected and claiming their third consecutive Shield of Honour as they won the Bolakliiga by five points. The big difference this season is who their number-one rivals were, considering that Dinamo Kirov finished a surprisingly low fourth. Instead, it was the Komi-Menno Derby between SiPS and Telekom Pazhga that turned out to be the big story this season, as the 'Kom went from finishing a disappointing tenth last season to finishing second this season thanks to career years from several players, not the least of which was Diedrik Siemens, who finished only two back of SiPS wunderkind Hessu Öörni for the league's assist lead.
Here's a look at the league-by-league story, though.
Award Winners: Petteri Vahalahti, SiPS (Golden Ball/MVP, Sami Hyypiä Trophy/Best Defensive Player), Joni Rasimus, SiPS (Golden Shoe/Top Scorer - he had 43 goals this season), Trevor Renzenbrink, Telekom Pazhga (Golden Gloves/Best Goalkeeper), Diedrik Siemens, Telekom Pazhga (Fair Play Award/Most Sportsmanlike Player), Csaba Száláy, Amkar Perm' (Best Youth Player).
Biggest surprises: Telekom Pazhga finishing second, FK Inta not getting relegated, FK Vorkuta finishing mid-table in spite of a horrendous start.
Biggest disappointments: Amkar Perm' finishing below .500 after losing the aforementioned Száláy to injury mere days after acquiring him, Udmurtiya Izhevsk, Mashinostroitel Kirov, and Dinamo Vologda having sub-par years, Spartak Ukhta almost getting relegated only a year after finishing 10th.
Relegated: FK Kotlas, FK Syktyvkar, FK Kirov.
The Bolakliiga was indeed interesting this season. Several teams were bitten by the injury bug, most notably Metafraks Gubakha, who at one point had all but four of their starters in the stands. Mashinostroitel Kirov was another one of these, although even when at full health they had so much trouble scoring that star goalkeeper Yevgeny Kudymov left for Mordovia Saransk in the Ykkönen, where he ended up guiding the Clarets to a mind-blowing perfect record of 38-0-0. Expect a major shakeup there in the offseason.
The three teams that were relegated were three of the four lowest-rated teams coming into the season, although the lowest-rated team at that point, FK Inta, managed to fight tooth and nail to stay out of relegation, although I don't think they'll be able to stave that off for another year, as much as they've improved. Both Mordovia Saransk and their runners-up, Ural Yekaterinburg, look like staying up after the 2011 season. As for the playoff winners, that remains to be seen. Last year's 1-nen playoff winners, CSKVC Kirov, actually finished in the last non-red zone position, 15 points clear of FK Kotlas. I have a feeling they'll be going down after next season, but who knows?
I have to hand it to Milan Sorokin, though. He took a limited budget and a horrible team that was expected to finish the season in single-digit points, and pulled them out of the gutter enough that they finished ahead of even Spartak Ukhta, getting double-digit wins. Easily the manager of the year. Not that Spartak didn't help them out somewhat by absolutely sucking, of course. There's another team I'm expecting a shakeup from in the off-season, before the 3rd annual Kanslerinkilpi starts in late February. I expect no fewer than five managers to lose their jobs in the B-liiga alone.
2010 was the year of the Old Guard. Two teams from the old Russian system finished 1-2, with Mordovia Saransk utterly obliterating all competition and leaving even Ural Yekaterinburg eating their dust. It's not like Ural didn't have a fight in the late stages for second place, either. I would heavily favour Öskölömen PK to win the Ykkönen playoffs - they got unlucky last year, running into a then-hot goalkeeper who spent most of this B-Liiga season injured. It's not like they'll rampage over the other three playoff teams - their archrivals Usovuoren JK, much-improved Spartak Yoshkar-Ola, and Old-Guarders Fortuna Nizhny Tagil - but I think they have enough of an edge in talent that betting on them would be pretty safe.
The biggest disappointment this season has to be that Pechorski SK didn't make the playoffs after doing so last year - they finished seven clear of Fortuna with 73 points, and finished ahead of Turan Ukhta on goal differential. Not far behind them, though, was this season's biggest surprise, and most-improved team by far. Isoustiukin Pallokerho finished just one point ahead of being relegated last season, but they did a major 180 this season, finishing ninth - seven behind Pechorski and Turan, and 12 ahead of Spartak Kirov and FK Ukhta (who also improved a fair bit). Two teams that haven't seemed to improve at all, though, are FK Kudymkar and Lokomotiv Kotlas - the latter saw themselves relegated for the second season in a row. FK Berezniki will be joining them, as will Khimik Koryazhma, whose luck ran out this season. Had they allowed but five fewer goals this season, they would be forced to a playoff against Olimpia Kirovo-Chepetsk.
Playoff rotation (starts Saturday, 4 December 2010):
(2) Öskölömen Palloklubi vs. (5) Fortuna Nizhny Tagil
(3) Usovuoren JK vs. (4) Spartak Yoshkar-Ola
Three entire tiers, comprising 26 divisions, debuted this season. The highest of these was the Kakkonen, which is split into two geographically-oriented divisions.
The Kakkonen West started as a three-way battle between Severstal Cherepovets, Sever Murmansk, and Stolitsa Yoshkar-Ola, but quickly went two-way once Csaba Száláy was shipped to Amkar during the summer transfer window. Severstal eventually won the lone auto-promotion spot.
Playoff Rotation West:
(2) Sever Murmansk vs. (5) Magyar LK
(3) Stolitsa Yoshkar-Ola vs. (4) Mennonites FC
Goin' down down down down: Karjala JK, Sapmi FK to Kolmonen A, Arsenal Syktyvkar, SSP Syktyvkar to Kolmonen D.
As for the Kakkonen East, the big story this season was the continuation of the feel-good story of this year's Kanslerinkilpi. Khalmer-Yu Town is based in a town with roughly five thousand inhabitants, and yet the level of football they play there makes you think the sleepy Northeast Uralican junction town is twenty times that size or more. They refused to sell during the transfer window, and it paid off as they dropped just six points all season (one loss and two draws). Who knows how far they'll go?
The real battle this season, then, was for the four playoff spots, and let's be honest here, one can't help feeling horrible for Nenets FK, who were in playoff position until the very last match - injuries took their toll down the stretch and they ended up on the outside looking in.
(2) Energiya Chaykovsky vs. (5) Progress Inta
(3) Rossia Krasnokamsk vs. (4) Octane Perm'
Goin' down down down down: FK Kungur, Pshenitsa Kudymkar to Kolmonen F, Traktor Berezniki, CSKVC Ukhta to Kolmonen H.
So they tried 24 teams per division this season in the Kolmonen and Nelonen, and it failed from the get-go because of awkward scheduling, so they immediately set about downsizing it, making promotion and relegation rather screwy in both divisions.
To be honest, though, the upper ranks weren't affected. One team goes up regardless of how many come down. Instead of a playoff tournament, they have a three-round Kolmonen Championship tournament played with the roofs closed (retractable roofs are mandatory in Uralica) between the eight teams that won their respective zones.
Kolmonen A - Karelia/Sapmi: Viipurin Palloseura
Kolmonen B - Western Uralica: Rapid Konosha (hoo boy was this ever close between them and Sheksna Cherepovets! Classic stuff!)
Kolmonen C - Southwestern Uralica: Sokol Sernur
Kolmonen D - Kirov-Syktyvkar: Peltinischer Sport Verein
Kolmonen E - Udmurtiya: FK Votka
Kolmonen F - Permski Rayon: TvinkiZavod Chaykovsky (the only other team in Uralica that had a perfect season domestically)
Kolmonen G - Southeast Uralica: Zenit Nevyansk
Kolmonen H - Northeastern Uralica: Gazovik Urengoy
Draw: A vs. F, H vs. C, D vs. G, E vs. B
So that will keep the Kolmonen fans interested for another couple of weeks.
Relegation varied depending on which zones got teams from relegation and which didn't. It is normally like this, but making things even more interesting was the whole downsizing.
For a complete list of all relegated teams, check this site's Tables section.
This season's bottom tier also dumped teams down, but in their case it was to help create a brand new division. The minimum relegation mandated for each was six teams, although some had more - a couple had as many as nine teams go down to help form the 32-division Vitonen, which debuts next March. In the same way, those zones that didn't receive many from relegation will have brand new teams debut next season.
A clerical error at the season's beginning resulted in several teams that should've been in Sub-Zone D2 playing in Sub-Zone D1. Some of these were relegated, while others will play in the D2 next season. This shift actually meant extra relegation for the D1.
The sixteen sub-zonal champions will play against each other for the Nelonen Championship, while there are playoffs in most sub-zones to determine sixteen more teams to be promoted.
Nelonen Sub-Zone Champs
Sub-Zone A1 (Karelia): Transit Vojatsu
Sub-Zone A2 (Sapmi): Rapid Kuálõk
Sub-Zone B1 (West Uralica): FK Vytegra
Sub-Zone B2 (Northwestern Uralica): Neftekhimik Onega
Sub-Zone C1 (Southern Uralica): Chŏvash Ulatŏr
Sub-Zone C2 (Mari El): Volga Yulser-Ola
Sub-Zone D1 (Kirovski Rayon): Transit Omuntninsk
Sub-Zone D2 (Komi-Menno): Peltinischer FC
Sub-Zone E1 (Udmurtiya North): Transit Votka
Sub-Zone E2 (Udmurtiya South + Izhevsk): Neftçi Ägerce
Sub-Zone F1 (Permski Rayon North): Tsementnik Berezniki
Sub-Zone F2 (Permski Rayon South): Dinamo Osa
Sub-Zone G1 (Southeast Uralica South/East): Zenit Yekaterinburg
Sub-Zone G2 (Southeast Uralica North/West): Rapid Nizhny Tagil
Sub-Zone H1 (Ural West Slope): Progress Vorkuta
Sub-Zone H2 (Yamalia-Yugra): YugraMash Kogalym
Draw: A1 vs. D2, H2 vs. F1, B1 vs. G1, C2 vs. E1, F2 vs. A2, E2 vs. H1, G2 vs. B2, C1 vs. D1.
Playoff draws are available in the site's Fixture Section.