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2024 USL Kickoff Season Preview: Northern Colorado Hailstorm FC

By ETHAN TRIEBSCH -, 02/15/24, 10:45AM EST


Big changes coming for the Hailstorm in 2024, but Éamon Zayed and Co. have a plan

Note: The club announced on March 1 that Brahima Ouattara will not be joining the club.

Coach of the Year finalist Éamon Zayed and his Hailstorm are coming off a season to remember; Northern Colorado finished one win shy of claiming the Players' Shield, confirmed its first postseason appearances in club history, fell one match short of reaching the League One Final and enjoyed sensational individual seasons from the likes of Player of the Year and Golden Boot winner Trevor Amann alongside Defender of the Year and Golden Playmaker Arthur Rogers.

A season after missing out on the playoffs due to the total wins tiebreaker in its inaugural 2022 campaign, Northern Colorado jumped out to an incredible 11-2-5 record across all competitions through the first half of the 2023 season with its only losses coming to eventual Players' Shield winners Union Omaha in league play and Major League Soccer rival Colorado Rapids in U.S. Open Cup play. A stretch of four consecutive losses in the middle of the season slightly stunted the Hailstorm's 2023 success, but finishing the season winning eight of their final 10 matches secured a club-best third-place finish in the table.

The Hailstorm's first postseason journey started with a bang; Northern Colorado downed Forward Madison FC, 4-1, in one of the most lopsided postseason victories in league history. From there, though, it was a third loss of the season to eventual champions North Carolina FC that would see the Hailstorm's second season come to an end, as Northern Colorado fell to NCFC, 3-1, in the Semifinals.

With the departures of club greats Trevor Amann and Arthur Rogers to USL Championship clubs and with Rob Cornwall's return to Bohemian FC in Ireland over the offseason, there will inevitably be a few massive voids in the Hailstorm's starting XI come the 2024 season. Still, Éamon Zayed and Co. have brought in an interesting collection of playmakers to help address those - and other - concerns.

The return of Goalkeeper of the Year finalist Lalo Delgado, All-League Second Team defender Bruno Rendón, Trinidad and Tobago international Noah Powder, winger Billy King and a healthy Irvin Parra will be huge for the Hailstorm. Additionally, the arrival of Ivory Coast youth international Brahima Ouattara, Trinidad and Tobago international Real Gill and League One legend Jake Keegan on loan from One Knoxville SC - who now sits behind only Emiliano Terzaghi among active League One goalscorers - should help the Hailstorm retain their position near the top of the table.

Despite the myriad of changes ahead of the club's third season, the future for the Hailstorm - no pun intended - is looking bright. Northern Colorado's permanent home within Future Legends Complex, the 6,500-seat TicketSocket Park, is nearing completion and the club is also gearing up to add a USL W League team, Northern Colorado Rain FC, this summer. With the Hailstorm's collection of new and returning playmakers coupled with the increasing experience of Head Coach Éamon Zayed, expect the quality on the pitch to be just as intriguing as the excitement off of it.

Players to Watch

Brahima Ouattara | Image Credit: FC Lausanne-Sport

FWD - Brahima Ouattara

It will obviously be incredibly difficult to top Trevor Amann's record-breaking 2023 season, but the Hailstorm are turning to 21-year-old Ivory Coast youth international Brahima Ouattara as a potential replacement. Ouattara began his professional career in 2018 with Racing Club Abidjan in the Ivorian Ligue 1, making more than 50 appearances for the Lions and scoring 20 goals across league and CAF Champions League play. From RC Abidjan, Ouattara was purchased by French Ligue 1 side OGC Nice in 2020 and was subsequently loaned to Swiss Super League club FC Lausanne-Sport, where he made 41 appearances and tallied seven goal contributions across league and Swiss Cup play. Between 2022 and 2023, Ouattara spent time with Swiss Challenge League club Neuchâtel Xamax FCS and top-flight Latvian Virslīga side FK Auda. On the international stage, Ouattara has made four appearances for the Ivory Coast's U-20 youth national team in the 2021 CAF U-20 Africa Cup of Nations qualification, scoring two goals in four matches. In March 2023, Ouattara made one appearance for les Petit Éléphants' U-23 team in a friendly match against Uzbekistan.

DEF - Bruno Rendón

A breakout star among a star-studded cast of Hailstorm players in 2023, Bruno Rendón shined in his first season in Windsor. After starting his professional career in 2022 with NISA's Syracuse Pulse, the Cuban defender was integral to Northern Colorado's stellar 2023 campaign as he contributed a combined nine goals and assists in 32 matches across all competitions. Even playing alongside the back-to-back Defender of the Year in Arthur Rogers, Rendón led his team and was top six in the league in duels won (189) and tackles won (46). Further, according to American Soccer Analysis, Rendón led all fullbacks in combined expected goals and expected assists (9.65) and led all defenders in goals added (3.51). A former Cuba youth international, if the 23-year-old defender continues to play at the level he did in 2023 it wouldn't be surprising to see him receive a senior national team call-up from the Lions of the Caribbean.

Bruno Rendón | Image Credit: Northern Colorado Hailstorm FC

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