MONTGOMERY, Ala. ---- Prior to entering his junior season at Auburn Montgomery, team captain Taian Souza received a chance to play in the Premier Developmental League, the top amateur soccer league in the United States. As the only member of his team to be named all-conference, it is safe to say that he took advantage of the opportunity.
As a member of the Panama City Beach Pirates, Souza was the only player to appear in all 16 games. He led a defense which allowed one goal or fewer in nine of those games, including six shutouts.
Souza was informed by the team's owner shortly after the season that he was selected as a member of the All-Southern Conference team for his defensive efforts. The Southern Conference, comprised of 14 teams across two divisions, is one of four conferences in the PDL.
"I wasn't expecting the honor, but our defense was pretty solid until the last couple of games, so it was exciting," Souza said. "I hope it can help in the future to maybe get an opportunity professionally."
Souza became connected with Panama City through AUM volunteer assistant Kevin Ray. Ray was friends with Pirates Head Coach Greg Devito, and after a few introductory emails Souza was asked to join the team.
In their inaugural season, the Pirates were competitive for most of the year. The team had a 6-3-2 record through the first 11 games before earning only one point in their final five.
Defensively, however, Panama City remained strong throughout the campaign. The team was ranked fifth in the conference with only 19 goals allowed in 16 games.
After a 1-0 defeat to start the season, the Pirates earned shutouts in the next three games. With the exception of a 4-0 loss to conference champion Ocala, Panama City held the opposition to two goals or fewer in every game.
Souza played a key role in this, and he also provided some support offensively with two assists and six shots for the season. Despite playing with standout players from across the country, Souza did not feel there was a dramatic difference from the level of competition he sees at the NAIA level.
"There are stronger players in the PDL," Souza said. "Guys are fast and strong. But technically speaking, it wasn't really that different."
The PDL is generally regarded as the fourth tier of competition across the United States and Canada. It is ranked behind the three professional leagues: Major League Soccer (MLS), the North American Soccer League (NASL) and the USL Professional Division (USL Pro).
The season takes place from May through July each year. Several former PDL players have gone onto successful professional and international careers, including 2010 United States World Cup members Herculez Gomez and Jay DeMerit.
Souza will hope to use the experience gained from playing in the PDL in the quickly approaching fall season at AUM. The Warhawks started practicing last week, and Souza is excited about the team's prospects once the regular season begins on Aug. 25.
"We have good chemistry and we've been training hard," Souza said. "We have high expectations for this season."