The 2014 USL Pro season is under way and has certainly been one of change. Farewells were said to both VSI Tampa Bay and Antigua Barracuda. Phoenix FC re-branded themselves as Arizona United SC. Orlando City will be playing in their last USL Pro season ahead of their MLS transition. The league welcomed new-comers LA Galaxy II, Oklahoma City Energy and Sacramento Republic and are further preparing for the 2015 expansion sides Tulsa Roughnecks and the Colorado Springs Switchbacks.
As we pass the quarter mark of the 2014 season, Coopers, we find that action has intensified this year over the previous. New boys LA Galaxy II and Sacramento Republic sit in 2nd and 4th respectively while USL old boys Charleston and Pittsburgh lay agonizingly in the bottom of the table. Several teams with multiple games in hand (Arizona and Wilmington) still look to define themselves in the already crowded middle while teams like Charlotte, Oklahoma City and Orange County attempt to create space between themselves. This week we’ll be looking at the top of the table and their expectations during this season’s campaign.
We begin our analysis with Orlando City. Their final, valiant defense of the USL Pro Championship has gone as expected. They top the table with 14 points from 6 games and have yet to surrender a loss. MLS signing Kevin Molino leads point leaders with 10 and has shown flashes of MLS quality all season. Fellow attacker Dennis Chin (4 points), whose own MLS future is shrouded, has complimented Molino well thus far this campaign. Yordany Alvarez, a name RSL fans will surely recall, has fared well for Orlando tallying 540 minutes through his first 6 games. His younger counterpart and MLS Orlando signing Darwin Ceren has played in four games and assisted once. Orlando boasts a superb defensive line held together by fan favorites Luke Boden, Brad Rusin and Tyler Turner. Equally, goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo (guy-AR-doh) is working hard to secure his MLS move having played in all of Orlando’s games with only 5 goals against. (0.833 GAA)Orlando
Coopers, it astonishes me to say this but, the LA Galaxy II are resting in 2nd place. We joked on the podcast that this was a throwaway squad; a skeleton crew of reserves. Corrected, I stand. This “throwaway squad” is riding steadily behind Orlando City. They’ve blasted the completion (15 goals forced) in just 7 games. Their defense, however, appears more porous than Impenetrable. They’ve let in 9 goals which ties them with Dayton for 3rd worst. (OC Blues have allowed a league worst, 13). Goals allowed aside, with names like Robbie Rodgers, Jack McBean, Chandler Hoffman and Raul Mendiola on the team, we can expect tough, thorough attacking all season. Look for Mendiola to have a breakout USL Pro season. Pay particular attention to how Galaxy II does this year. This is Euro-academy style soccer under the guise of Americana “reserve” ball. They play the same style as the first team. If Galaxy II does well in USL Pro this year, expect to see a couple more “reserve” teams populate the league next year.
Turning our attention to another savvy attacking side we find the Richmond Kickers, who currently sit in 3rd with 8 points from 5 games. The 2013 Commissioner’s Cup winners will attempt to do what Orlando did in 2011 and 2012 and repeat as cup champions. With 13 goals scored they sit only behind LA Galaxy II who boast 15 goals forced. Equally they’ve allowed 8 goals this year. The Kickers have talisman-midfielder George Davis to lean on this year. The talented mid can play box-to-box and has a knack for striking with 3 goals and 1 assist thus far this campaign. Fellow teammate Matthew Delicate has pilfered 3 goals and 1 assist himself. Davis has help in the midfield by way of Kyle Porter, whose 3 plundered goals from 6 shots in 180 minutes played, is outstanding. Attention to detail will be Richmond’s charge this year. An undeveloped backline has yet to find consistency with only defender William Yomby playing all 5 games. Perhaps D.C. United loanee and 2014 Superdraft participant Steven Birnbaum can solidify the much need position.
Fellow new boys Sacramento Republic had made headlines recently with a record attendance of 20,231 for their inaugural home opener. Ultimately, they were pulled into the undertow of Harrisburg City, losing 2-1, but still sit in 4th place. Coached by none other than THE Kansas City Wizard himself, Preki, he and Sac-town aim to be in the top 5 by season’s close. What began 18 months ago without certainty, now shows that USL Pro can draw numbers once thought impossible. Sacramento is close to a balance of eager youth and seasoned vets, with more youth in their ranks currently, yet they have played well so far. The tall backline of 6’4” 205 lb. Harrison Delbridge and 6’3” 180 lb. Jack Lane are showing signs of camaraderie as the season progresses. They are kept in line by equally large 6’5” 210 lb. net-minder Dominik Jakubek. Midfielders Max Alvarez and Chad Bond will look to break into the starting line-up permanently while forwards Adam Jahn and Thomas Stewart will attempt to assemble some offensive chemistry between themselves.
The 2014 Rochester Rhinos have perhaps the stingiest defense thus far and if they can replicate that week after week, they should position themselves well by seasons end. In 4 games, they’ve allowed just 4 goals and all coming away from home. Defenders Kyle Hoffer, Tony Walls, Patrick Slogic and Babacar Diallo(dee-ALL-oh) have formed a palisade in front of goal-minder Luis Soffner. Midfielders Tyler Rosenlund and Lance Razeboom have orchestrated themselves well. Forwards Jimmy Bank and Hugh Dixon have placed most of the shots (12 of 18) for the team and have the most time up front. (265 and 207 respectively) Bank’s guile will be tested constantly this year. If he can hold steady, the Kickers should do well, but the Rhinos will have to deliver the ball better. They’ve scored only 5 goals in their 4 games.
Is this the year of another grand paradigm shift in American soccer? We’re only months away from World Cup 2014, expansion is occurring in all divisions of the soccer pyramid and the US Open Cup looks to be its strongest. Concurrently, pro soccer (MLS) now does just as well in attendance numbers as the NHL and MLB. The lower divisions have some room to cover but the outlook is good. I’m hardly a betting man, but I’d wager this may be the best USL Pro season yet.
Written By: Timothy Clark