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Hamblin: Way too early Eastern Conference rankings

As the 2017 USL season is rapidly approaching, we are seeing teams take shape and looking to improve upon last year. For Louisville City, that will mean a USL Cup final and nothing less. For others, it may mean a chance to go to the conference finals, or maybe just the playoffs (St. Louis). Obviously, the ultimate goal is to lift that trophy. Let’s take a look at the East:

  1. New York Red Bulls 2 

Key Losses: Florian Valot and Vincent Bezecourt if they make the big boy team. As of December 21, they are on NYRB2. Devon Williams to LCFC, Zach Carroll to OCB, and Chris Tsonis to Charleston Battery. 

Key Signees: None on website, likely will be MLS Draftees.

Why Ranked Here: They bring youth, and with new draftees I think they should do well to match the previous rank as number

2. FC Cincinnati: With John Harkes as coach and new signings they should finish same or better this year.

Key Losses: Sean Okoli will weigh heavy in the losses as he has moved to NYCFC

Key Signees: 2 LCFC players and Andy Cravens should add a lot of firepower options.

Why here: They brought a successful first year here in the USL, and came close to 2nd place.

3. LCFC: The loss of several key fan favorites could play a factor in LCFC form dropping form a top 2 team.

Key Losses: Aodhan Quinn, Kadeem Dacres for Money FC, I mean FCC, Magnus Rassmusen to Denmark, and Chandler Hoffman and Enrique Montano to the West.

Key Signees: Devon “Speedy” Williams from NYRB2, Sean Totsch from Rochester Rhinos, and Sean Russell from Ireland. All bring Championship experience to LCFC. A host of returning players will also be at Slugger Field.

Why here: I think our run at 2nd best will be thwarted. However, I prefer a underdog story and think this really could be the year we go the USL final.

4. Rochester Rhinos: Always solid in the back they should be a strong playoff team.

Key Losses: Sean Totsch to LCFC, and Christian Volesky to Sporting KC.

Key Signees:  USL Golden Glove winner Tomas Gomez and All-League selections Kenardo Forbes and Joe Farrell.

Why Here: Always solid at the back and have 5 championships.

5. Tampa Bay Rowdies: I can see Tampa doing well in the League however breaking into the top 3 is unlikely.

Key Losses: Freddy Adu so I have heard.

Key Signees: Luke Boden from Orlando City FC, potential signings include Maicon Santos and PDL Goalkeeper Nico Campbell. Joe Cole will also return.

Why Here: They bring NASL experience and have always done well in their division.

6. Charlotte Independence: Always a contender for a playoff spot for last few years. Look for them to be in the hunt this year as well.

Key losses: Paul Clowes to OCB

Key Signees: David Spies, a Bundesliga product. Jorge Herrera will lead the pack of returnees.  

Why here: Always a consistent mid-table team, look for them to be much the same.

7. Charleston Battery: Always a solid overall team. Look for them to make the playoffs again this year.

Key Losses: Zach Prince who has made over 100 apperances during 7 seasons. Will likely take a coaching role.

Key Signees: Chris Tsonis from NYRB2, Jeremy Ebobisse, if he does not sign with an MLS team.

Why Here: They have been a mid-table team since the major expansion but have always made the playoffs. However they have 4 championships so they should be in the playoffs.

8. Ottawa Fury FC Ottawa is interesting on the one hand they could be great, or they could follow the bottom rung of the other Canada teams.

Key Losses: Romuald Peiser, Mauro Eustaquio and Marcel DeBellis all who were there from the beginning in 2014.

Key Signees: Jonathan Barden from Iceland, Roman Martin del Campo returns

Why Here: NASL experience could move them up the rungs from the previous Canadian teams.

9. St Louis FC: Has yet to make the playoffs in their existence but somehow wants MLS. 

Key losses: if the website is correct damn near everyone.

Key Signees: Dragan Stojkov from Indy Eleven, Jose Angulo form Fort Lauderdale Strikers.

Why Here: Cause they are bad. No I am Kidding, they couldn’t do it in the West or East so I expect much the same.

10. Richmond Kickers: Might be the only playoff worthy team on the outside looking in.)

Key Losses: Scott Thomsen to OCB, Hugh Roberts to Bethlehem Steel FC, and Potential on Loanees if DC United wishes to recall them.

Key Signees: Oliver Minatel  from Puerto Rico FC, Loanees from DC United include Miguel Aguilar, Charlie Horton, Luke Mishu, Travis Worra, Andrew Dykstra, Matt Turner from New England Revolution, and Conor Shanosky.

Why Here: They have been an underperforming team through the first half of the season for 2 years now look for them to make a final push like before to get back on track.

11. Harrisburg City Islanders: Call them a sleeper pick for a playoff berth. They have improved their team a bit so hopefully they can make the playoffs.

Key Losses: Apparently their Staff was a big hit. Their Twitter feed is blown up on Staff Updates.

Key Signees: Liam Doyle from Swope Park Rangers, re-signed Paul Wilson and Mouhamed Dabo

Why Here: Harrisburg has always been competitive in the league just at the middle of the table. Look for them to do much better this year and maybe be a playoff team.

12. Orlando City B: Expect much the same from them. OCB is inconsistent but has potential to beat the best.

Key Losses: According to the club website not many players returned. Nearly all on roster have signed this year.

Key Signees: Scott Thomsen from Richmond Kickers, Fernando Timbó from Ottawa Fury FC, Zach Carroll from New York Red Bulls 2, Paul Clowes from Charlotte Independence , Austin Martz from Wilmington Hammerheads,  Jordan Schweitzer from Seattle Sounders FC 2, and Ben Polk from Portland Timbers 2.

Why Here: They were competitive all year long just did not click for 90 full minutes and mistakes cost them games. Maybe with new signs like above they can surprise me, but for now they do not look threatening for a title run.

13. Bethlehem Steel FC: Same team as last year but expect new signings soon.

Key Losses: Jamie Luchini, Gabe Gissie, and Nick Bibbs,Fred, Mickey Daly, Samir Badr, and Ryan Richter all from the inaugural season roster.

Key Signees: Hugh Roberts from Richmond Kickers, James Chambers resigns, Cory Burke from Loan to deal from Rivoli United.

Why Here: Next to Pittsburgh watching this team’s games is a nightmare. One game they look great, the next looks like my u9 team. Look for them to have a slip in form this year and finish toward the bottom.

14. Toronto FC 2: Unless they get a great signing from the MLS Draft I see much the same.)

Key Losses: 8 players had contracts expired or declined the option

Key Signees:  6 returning players. Likely picks form the MLS Draft.

Why Here: They are not Toronto FC duh! No they are here because they have a bad academy system and it shows with this team.

15. Pittsburgh Riverhounds: Inconsistent is an understatement for this team; Corey Herzog is the team pretty much.

Key Losses: ???

Key Signees: Let’s just say the website has a lot of signees and every other article is one

Why here: the last three years they have finished near the bottom and nothing will change that for awhile.

That is my way to early predictions for the East. I am not going to cover the west as it is not the league we play in but for those who crave to know the playoffs potentials. Here is the list of playoff teams from the West that LCFC could face if they go to the finals.

West Playoff teams:

  1. Sacramento republic FC
  2. Swope Park Rangers
  3. Colorado Springs Switchbacks
  4. LA Galaxy 2
  5. Rio Grande Valley FC

That is the top 5 I see in the West this year. These are 5 potential teams that could face the East this year in the final. Overall, I think this New Year will bring more intense soccer than previously, we now have FCC and STLFC in the same division so it should be another great season for LCFC. Hopefully, some of the USL teams can make a run at the MLS teams this year in the US Open Cup! SOCCER CITY IS COMING SOON GET READY!!!