Local soccer season set to kick off campaign

Reigning champion Beersheba looks to make it four in a row, while Maccabi TA, Beitar Jerusalem eye contention.

HAPOEL BEERSHEBA coach Barak Bachar (left) and Beitar Jerusalem’s Guy Luzon (right) have hopes of leading their respective teams to success this season (photo credit: ERAN LUF/REUTERS)
HAPOEL BEERSHEBA coach Barak Bachar (left) and Beitar Jerusalem’s Guy Luzon (right) have hopes of leading their respective teams to success this season
(photo credit: ERAN LUF/REUTERS)
The Israel Premier League is back this weekend as all 14 teams will be in action between Saturday and Monday in Round 1, the first of 36 to be played from August through May.
As always, there have been plenty of personnel changes both in the coaching ranks and on the pitch itself as new players have come and others have gone. Let’s take a look at what the new campaign has in store for each club.
Hapoel Beersheba: Head coach Barak Bachar, who has won three straight championships for the Southern Reds will look to add another title to his trophy case. Ariel Harush replaces Guy Haimov in goal while Eden Ben Basat comes on board along with Hen Ezra who take over the offensive role from Tony Nwakeme, who moved to Turkey. Veteran John Ogu returns for another season to anchor the midfield together with Maor Melikson while defender Shir Tzedek is back after a lengthy suspension last season.
Maccabi Tel Aviv: New head coach Vladimir Ivic took over from Jordi Cruyff who left quite a mark on the yellow-and-blue history book. But now it’s a new team with a new staff and plenty of new faces. Itay Shechter moved from Beitar Jerusalem to Macabi and will join Vidar Orn Kjartansson, American-Israeli striker Aaron Schoenfeld and Eliran Atar up front, while a pair of Spanish defenders in Jair Amador and Enric Saborit joined the side. Add to that Omer Atzily, Eli Dasa and Eitan Tibi, plus a number of players who returned from loan, and Maccabi looks primed to compete for the championship once again.
Beitar Jerusalem: With a new owner in Moshe Hogeg and a new sense of hope, Beitar will set out to compete once again in the Championship Playoffs. The loss of Itay Shechter and Marcel Heister will be significant, but with the addition of Eran Levy, Maor Buzaglo, veteran defender Tal Ben-Haim and Idan Vered, who is continuing with the club, the yellow-and-black – which had been counted out earlier in the summer – is back and back with a vengeance under head coach Guy Luzon.
Hapoel Haifa: Nir Klinger will again man the Carmel Reds’ sidelines after winning the State Cup last season. Ernestas Setkus, one of the league’s top ’keepers, also returns as Greek marksman Athanasios Papazoglou joins the side, which lost Eden Ben Basat, Alon Turgeman and Ruslan Barsky.
Bnei Yehuda: Head coach Yossi Abuksis and Bnei Yehuda fit like a glove. The veteran boss retooled his squad after losing a significant number of players which featured last season, including Maor Kandil, Almog Buzaglo and Matan Hozez. However, Abuksis who gets plenty out of his side will look at Mavis Tchibota and Yarden Shua as players who has something to prove.
Maccabi Netanya: The two-headed coaching monster in Slobodan Drapic and Shai Barda brought in veteran American and national team defender Jonathan Bornstein to stabilize the back line as Gaby Kanikowski, whose family hails from South Africa, and Shoval Gozlan will provide the offense along with the league’s top scorer Dia Saba.
Maccabi Haifa: Fred Rutten will look to bring the Greens back to the forefront of Israeli soccer as he along with Mo Allach brought in a number of new players, Michiel Kramer, Georges Mandjeck and ’keeper Guy Haimov.
Hapoel Tel Aviv: Koby Refuah will be on the sidelines for newly promoted Hapoel Tel Aviv, which will be back in the Israel Premier League after a season in the second tier. Omer Damari returns to the Reds as Roie Zikri and Roger Bernardo join the squad, which made making wholesale changes since moving back up to the top league.
Ironi Kiryat Shmona: Haim Silvas returns as coach for his second season with the club, which made a number of moves during the offseason to strengthen the roster. In are veteran defender Yuval Shpungin, Ori Magbo and foreigners Jorge Morcillo Levi Garcia and Lukas Serafim, while out are Carlos Cuellar and ’keeper Itamar Nitzan.
Maccabi Petah Tikva: Former Israel national team head coach Elisha Levy takes over at Petah Tikva and will have a number of weapons at his disposal including veteran midfielder Yossi Benayoun and the returning Gidi Kanuk.
Bnei Sakhnin: With Beni Ben Zaken on the sidelines, Sakhnin will look to return to the Championship Playoffs with veteran Mahran Radi, who has won six straight league titles, and Claudemir Ferreira together with veteran captain Khalid Khalaila.
Ashdod SC: New head coach Blagoja Milevski lost a number of significant players in Or Inbrun and Blessing Eleke, but added Ben Reichert, Amit Bitton and Leonard Assoa as Yoav Gerafi will remain in goal.
Hapoel Ra’anana: Martin Alaniz, Mirko Ormush and Or Dasa will look to jump start the offense for head coach Menachem Koretzky after losing Shimon Abuhatzeira and Roie Zikri.
Hapoel Hadera: Niso Avitan will be the head coach for Hadera, which gained promotion from the Leumit League and will look to stay afloat in the top division as Lucio will provide the attack and one-time Real Madrid hopeful David Mateos will anchor the defense.
Joshua Halickman, the Sports Rabbi, covers Israeli sports and organizes Israel Sports Adventures for tourists and residents. Follow the Sports Rabbi on Twitter @thesportsrabbi or visit www.sportsrabbi.com. Contact the Sports Rabbi via email at  [email protected]