Despite losing a team in the opening year (RIP Lansing), the first year of USL League One was a wildly successful one. With around 20 players making the jump to USL Championship and MLS sides, League One has quickly shown the benefits of having a third division professional soccer league. Whether it was independent teams that found unsigned players like Tormenta’s Connor Antley, who would win Defensive Player of the Year and made the jump to USL Championship, North Texas SC promoting 2nd team players to their MLS first team like Ricardo Pepi, or providing consistent minutes and competition for 1st team bench players like Tsubasa Endoh, who would later play in MLS Cup, the league showcased true talent in a competitive environment that came down to the last weekend of the season to determine the playoff teams.
In 2020, we will now see three new teams with an independent side in Union Omaha, and two MLS reserves sides in New England Revs II and Fort Lauderdale CF. The league now has 12 teams with the addition of the 3 new ones and the loss of Lansing Ignite (if you want to know what happened to Lansing, long story short, their owner was terrible and expected a faster turnaround in income. I spoke about it on The Total Soccer Show if you want to hear more). The league is split right down the middle with six independent teams and 6 USL Championship/MLS reserve teams.
Due to the pandemic, each of the 11 clubs, after Toronto FC II had to withdraw, will face one another at least once. The schedule has changed more than the weather, so click HERE for the latest one, including the postponement of tomorrow’s Richmond-Tormenta match due to an unconfirmed positive COVID-19 test.
Roster note: Teams may have up to 30 players on their active rosters and are allowed 7 international spots.
The top 2 teams in the standings will then meet the week of Halloween in the 2020 League One Final.
You can learn more about all the rules and regulations here.
Let’s get to the teams….
Chattanooga Red Wolves SC: Independent team, established in 2019.
2019 Review: Finished 5th of ten
Chattanooga was Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde when it came to home and away. Losing only once at home last year, they almost lost as many away games as wins at home, only winning twice on the road. Being saved by their keeper Alex Mangels, Chattanooga had the closest score lines of any team in the league, only losing by two or more goals three times and only winning by two or more goals once. This style almost carried them into the last spot of the playoffs until a late-season injury from their most involved player, Steven Beattie, led them to only 8 points in their last 8 games. Missing the playoffs with a 1-1 draw to Toronto FC II on the last game of the year. While they were one of the best crossing teams in the league, they struggled at times to create chances and registered the least key passes in the entire league. Going into 2020, the big question will be, can the offense create more chances and possession to alleviate the tired legs of the constantly defending backline? A new coach, new stadium, and new defense hopes to fire up a Chattanooga team and give the Scenic City Alphas and Red Wolves fans something to be hyped for. The new 5,500-seat stadium is scheduled to host the team starting this season and is the center of a $125 million development in East Ridge, Tennessee. A big change that will hope to surpass the reported average of 1,632 home attendance per game in 2019.
Out: Tony Walls, Vangjel Zguro, Richard Dixon, Juan Mare, Sito Seoane, Calvin Falvey, Jonathan Caparelli, Andrew Kendall-Moullin, Head Coach Tim Hankinson.
In: Jonathan Ricketts, Isaiah Dargon, Uchenna Uzo, Travis Nicklaw, Ronaldo Pineda, Tim Trilk, Ricky Ruiz, Nikolaos Pettas, Jason Ramos, Ricardo Zacarias, Mark Hernandez
Style of play: Keep your friends close and the score closer
One of my favorite songs is Bobby Caldwell’s “Open Your Eyes”, and his line “I take my chances before they pass me by” is a good way of describing Chattanooga’s play. Of their 28 games last year, TWENTY-FOUR were determined by a goal or less. This means despite being the only team in League One who didn’t hit the 200 mark in chances created, they converted key ones, ranking 3rd in the league in conversion rate. Another key element to their close encounters was their physicality, fouling more than any team in the league and having the most yellow cards to prove it.
When we look at an example of their 2-1 win against Orlando City B, Chattanooga had 21 fouls, three yellow cards, and one red card. However, it’s where they are fouling that shows why teams had difficulties playing Chatt. With red marks showing where Chatt fouled opponents and the green showing where Chatt won tackles successfully, you can see the tactics were to not allow for Orlando City to get things going in the middle of the field. That forced teams to push the ball to the side, where Chattanooga would overload and defensively win the majority of their tackles, recover the ball, and start their attacks. That was an important piece for a team that crossed the ball 252 times on the offensive end, the 4th most in the league and accounting for over half of their goals and scoring the most headed goals in the league (10). With a new coach and the departure of important players down the side both offensively and defensively, like Walls, Zguro, and Caparelli, it’ll be interesting to see if this year we’ll get a new approach, or if players like standout defensive midfielder, Ualefi, will have teams continue to pack the extra IcyHot for their trip down south.
Players to watch
Steven Beattie: Had it not been for his injury late in the season, Chattanooga could have very well made the playoffs. Steven led the team in goals, duels won, and fouls won. He was the heart of the team and the player to help spark a game-winning or saving goal when they needed it. Now with a lot more offensive threats like Liga MX’s Ricardo Zacarias, Beattie has more of a chance to be a facilitator and focus on creating chances more than finishing them. Coming off a bad injury, we’ll see what kind of form the 31-year-old midfielder will be in and how the team adapts around it.
Alex Mangels: While Dallas Jaye may have won the Golden Glove last year, I firmly believe Alex Mangels is the best goalkeeper in USL League One. With a league-high 85 saves, Alex faced the 3rd most shots in the league at 123, and saved 69% of them, nice. With a team that only won by more than one goal in one game last year, Mangels kept Red Wolves SC in the majority of their games and was arguably the most important player on their team. And with a lot of brand-new defenders, chances are he’ll be depended on to continue being that wall as the new guys find their groove.
Amirgy Pineda: With the departure of Vangjel Zguro, Chattanooga will have major questions about who will replace their team leader in crosses, key passes, assists, and accounted for 18% of their chances. When Pineda started in the 2nd half of the season, he proved he could be the spark that this Red Wolves team may desperately need. In only 13 starts, Pineda provided 23 key passes, four assists, and had the highest passing accuracy on the team. With Pineda also scoring free kicks this preseason, new coach Jimmy Obleda may give Pineda the keys in 2020.
Fort Lauderdale CF: Reserve team of Inter Miami CF, established 2020.
2019 Review: Just a twinkle in the eyes of USL and David Beckham
Outs: In the words of the great Keith Sweat, “nobody.”
Ins: Dylan Castanheira, Daniel Gagliardi, Ian Fray, Modesto Mendez, Frank Nodarse, Brian Rosales, Blaine Ferri, Rivaldo Ibarra, Eduardo Sosa, Ricky Lopez-Espin
Style of Play: Of course, everyone knows the boy bands New Kids on The Block and New Edition, but what you may not know is that they were both created by the same individual, Maurice Starr. Fort Lauderdale may have had the best offseason signing when they announced their own version of Maurice Starr: head coach Jason Kreis. While the former MLS and current USWNT U-23 head coach may seem overqualified for this position, it makes sense. With the Olympic qualifiers and potential games originally scheduled for this summer, MLS teams were probably not willing to hire a coach who would have been gone for a good portion of the season, which allowed the baby Beckhams to be waiting for prime pickings. Kreis will have time to establish a system which he will then pass off momentarily to former San Antonio FC head coach Darren Powell, who is serving as the Director of Player Development for Inter Miami. While we’re not sure if Inter Miami will want to implement the same style and formation their senior team plays, what we do know is, they’ve brought in the current U-23 USMNT Coach, who should be able to help shape their core of youth Cuban international players, academy players, and former USL and MLS players.
Players to watch
Brek Shea: Yes, that Brek Shea. The former English Premier League and USMNT player has made his way to USL League One in an attempt to turnaround his career. With a recent string of injuries and looking for consistent playing time in MLS, this may be Brek’s last chance to play at the top level. He has the opportunity to slowly rehab, get in competitive minutes, and work his way to the Inter Miami roster. Brek will bring experience, both on and off the field, as well as his quality overlapping and defensive work down the side. Regardless of the outcome, this league can always use some entertainment, and the left back/winger is walking entertainment.
Eduardo Sosa: Eduardo Sosa will play a vital role in Fort Lauderdale’s first season success. The creative number 10 was a full-time starter and key player for Zamora F.C. in Venezuela during two league title runs before making 18 appearances for Columbus in MLS. After finding it difficult to win his spot back after an injury with Columbus, Eduardo will now bring his impressive vision and dribbling to a U-23 national team coach (Jason Kreis), who will help him become the anchor of this offense.
Ricky Lopez-Espin: If Brek Shea didn’t make this the team of second chances, former Lansing Ignite striker Rick Lopez-Espin does. The 6’3” Miami native scored three goals in six starts for Lansing and looked to be a serious threat both in the air and with his feet. However, after firing off a few choice words at fans of the Greenville Triumph during an away game and the lack of work rate on the field, the team decided to cut dies with Ricky, who publicly apologized for the slurs. Now, Ricky has the opportunity to redeem himself and show whether he can continue his hot start for a whole season. With Inter Miami’s lack of depth at striker and no other forwards announced so far for Fort Lauderdale, it’s his position to lose.
Forward Madison: Independent team/Chicago Fire & Minnesota United(?) affiliates, established 2019
2019 Review: Finished 4th of ten
Ready to go Full Mingo? Chances are you probably already have. The most viral North American team of 2019 may have had the biggest impression on the league with a team full of personalities, diverse and die hard multiple supporters groups which bonded with the team and community, and a dedicated fan base that made Forward the highest attended team in USL League One (Averaging 4,292 fans per game). But, it wasn’t just the stylish jerseys, an appearance by Stanley from The Office, and their official team cow that made them the 18th highest attended team in all of USL. Their on-field performance was just as exciting as their off-field shenanigans. Captained by USL legend Connor Tobin and surrounded by USL experienced players like Don Smart, J.C. Banks, and Paulo Jr., Madison and head coach Daryl Shore had a very impressive first season. They got past a shaky 1st quarter of the season and ended with the longest U.S. Open Cup run of any USL League One Team, ending the season with only two losses in their last 13 games, & making a run to secure the last playoff spot during the last weekend of the regular season. Their season came to an end by the hands of eventual champs, North Texas SC, but with all of their offseason changes, can they carry over their first season charm?
Outs: Josiel Nunez, Carter Manley, Wyatt Omsberg, Brian Bement, Brian Sylvestre, Ally Hamis Ng’anzi, Dayne St. Clair, Danny Tenorio
Ins: Josiah Trimmingham, Michael Vang, Eli Lockaby, Jalen Crisler, Wojciech Wojcik, Jamael Cox, Louis Bennett
Style of Play: Open field attack
The only Dixie Chicks song I know is “Wide Open Spaces” and that’s probably a good way to describe Forward’s attack. While I wouldn’t categorize them as a counter attacking team, Forward are at their best when they’ve absorbed an attack from the opposition and are able to spread the field with numbers. One of the ways they’re able to execute this is having offensive players that can interchange with each other extremely well, whether down the sides or in the midfield. Players like Paulo, Banks, and Smart are able to start wide and cut inside and vice versa, which is a nightmare for defenders as they draw them in to spread the field for overlapping backs to add to the attack. On the defensive end, the backline that conceded the second-fewest goals in the league, was led by the solid CB duo of Tobin and Wyatt Omsberg. Tobin had 22 more clearances than anyone else in the league (132) and Wyatt was 7th in the league, despite playing only 16 games (87). Wyatt, who came down from MLS side Minnesota United, was one of a few key players that Forward Madison were able to take advantage of their 2019 partnership with MNUFC. Mason Toye and Dayne St. Clair both had an impact, but none more than Carter Manley…
I'll be talking more on @League1Fun tonight, but @ForwardMSNFC is a different team when Carter Manley plays. His overlapping ability is so important down the sides, which led to both goals Saturday. Blue triangles represent defensive stops, green arrows is passes. #USL #FullMingo pic.twitter.com/rXIRfRvrDn
— Jason Weintraub (@HomeSweetSoccer) June 19, 2019
Forward uses overlapping backs to provide crosses and spread the field to allow their players space to attack. This also allowed players like Smart to get wide and deliver a team-high 89 crosses while having one of the highest successful crossing rates in the league. They’ll be delighted to get USL League One First Team XI left-back Christian Diaz, but the team will only have one of their outside back duos that combined for 111 crosses, as Manley was released from MNUFC and did not resign. He is a big loss for a team who relies on crosses and passes into the box where they scored ALL 33 of their goals. They will also rely a lot more on their unsung hero Eric Leonard to break up plays in the midfield as they’ve lost one of their most important pieces in Panamanian international Josiel Nunez. Without the man involved in the team’s most duels, key passes, and free kicks taken, Coach Shore is hoping Banks and newcomer Jamael Cox can help fill the void the box-to-box midfielder has left. Add in the fact that Forward has also lost their top two goalkeepers to the USL Championship, and there’s a lot of questions that need to be answered this season. Madison fans will be hopeful their newly formed affiliation with MLS side Chicago Fire can help answer some of those questions as well as a possible return from CB Wyatt Omsberg.
Players to Watch
Eli Lockaby: The newly-signed former Richmond Kicker will have a huge shoes to fill since Forward Madison relied heavily on the right side of the field for their attack. Eli contributed 34 interceptions and 27 tackles for the Kickers last year but will need to approve on his 69% passing in the opponent’s half if Coach Shore wants to play similar to last season. Eli has the speed to overlap and trackback well, but as the only RB on the roster, we’ll find out if he’s ready for the jump.
Wojciech Wojcik: While Forward’s offense flourished at times, the one thing they struggled finding was a consistent target striker. From Danny Tenorio’s injury to Mason Toye’s recall back to MNUFC, Coach Shore has hoped to have found his man in the 6’4” Polish striker. He scored seven goals and had four assists last season for Hartford Athletic in USL championship. Don’t let the height fool you though, the striker has a rocket of a foot.
Jiro Barriga Toyama: Jiro instantly became a fan favorite when he was revealed as MNUFC’s mystery trialist who was scoring goals for fun. While not a consistent starter for the Mingos, Jiro was a super sub who could dictate the game at multiple positions, using his defensive work, skillful dribbling, and passing ability. With Diaz already trialing with a couple of MLS teams and a roster that currently has no other left wings, this could be Jiro’s breakout year to becoming a vital piece of Forward’s play.
Greenville Triumph SC: Independent team, established 2019
2019 Review: Finished 3rd of ten. Lost title match to North Texas SC.
Like Chattanooga, Greenville also faced many games with a one-goal difference, but simply because they didn’t allow goals, like ever. Allowing a league-best 23 goals, Greenville started the year slow with only three wins in their first ten games but turned it around during the halfway mark, including a 10-game streak where they posted eight shutouts. So, what changed? Defensively, Greenville showed they were sound from the beginning, never allowing more than one goal in a game in their first ten games. However, the offense struggled to put the ball in the net at the other end. Leading the league in crosses, Greenville used players like Omar Mohamed and now Real Monarchs player, Chris Bermudez, to push up the side and send the ball into the box. When that didn’t work, Coach Harkes changed the tactics and relied on midfielders like Carlos Gomez and 2019 Defensive Player of the Year finalist, Tyler Polak, to play more direct, and in the middle of the field, allowing space for interchanging and runs down the side. This is when Greenville started finding their offensive flow, scoring nine goals in one month, something that took them almost three months to do in the beginning of the season. It was until their star striker Jake Keegan went down with a season ending injury that most Greenville fans wondered if they were championship bound. However, thanks to a stout defense and Gomez stepping up to score 5 goals in their last 5 games of the season, Greenville climbed the rankings and defeated Lansing 1-0 in the semifinals, being a missed flick shot away from potentially raising the cup, losing 1-0 in the championship to North Texas.
Outs: Christopher Bermudez, Cole Seiler, Kevin Politz, Cameron Saul, Dominic Boland, Edmundo Robinson, Sami Guerdiri, Travis Ward, Ryeong Choi
Ins: Brandon Fricke, Alex Morrell, Colin Stripling, Abdi Mohamed, Cesar Murillo, Noah Pilato, Trevor Swartz, Lachlan McLea
Style of Play: Solid Like a Rock
Remember those old Chevy commercials that played Bob Seger and The Silver Bullets Band’s “Like a Rock”? They only showed really gritty and strong imagery like steel workers finishing a 16-hour shift, a bucking bronco who grazes across Carolina’s beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, and of course the Chevy Silverado, with the best mileage, best exterior corrosion protection, and more horsepower than your standard Ford truck. Whenever I watched Coach John Harkes’ league leading defense with the fewest goals allowed, fewest shots faced, and most clean sheets, that’s what popped in my mind. A well-run and disciplined defense that could withstand any attack, complimenting the torque vectoring wingers that take on any terrain with their four-wheel drive and V8 engine, supplying the most crosses and most successful crosses in the league. A rock-solid defense and a tough exterior team that would make your daddy proud.
Players to watch
Brandon Fricke: Replacing one of the best CBs in USL League One looked like it would be a tough task for Greenville after it was announced that Kevin Politz would be making the jump to USL Championship’s Hartford Athletic, but former Lansing Ignite Brandon Fricke is ready for the task. Ranking top-five in the league in clearances and blocks in 2019, Fricke will hope to transition smoothly into the league’s best backline.
Paul Clowes: With the retirement of Cole Seiler, Coach Harkes will have to go on without his most versatile player. Cole, who led the league in aerials won, was also able to play in the midfield as a ball stopper and attack starter. Paul Clowes and Aaron Walker are two midfielders looking to fill that void this year. However, I think it will be Paul that will be more defense-oriented and focusing on the most tackles and most duels for the team that Cole takes with him into retirement.
Alex Morrell: Alex may have been the most surprising signing this offseason, for the simple fact that any other team in the league could have used him, but he ended up with the runner-ups.. Able to play 4 different positions on the field, Morrell may find himself all throughout the attack as the team looks to replace Bermudez on the right wing and Cameron Saul on offense. One thing that’s for certain, if another critical injury happens this season, Alex’s 34 key passes, four goals, and three assists from last season have Greenville a lot more prepared.
New England Revolution II: Affiliate of MLS side New England Revolution, established 2020
2019 Review: Did not exist
Outs: Collin Verfurth to New England Revs
Ins: Maciel, Simon Lekressner, Mayele Malango, Tiago Mendonca, Keegan Meyer, Connor Presley, Dennis Ramirez, Joe Rice, Ryo Shimazaki, Meny Silva, Orlando Sinclair, Ryan Spaulding, Nick Woodruff
Style of Play: Stuntin’ Like My Daddy
Head Coach Clint Peay made it a talking point on League One Fun, that he will be focused on preparing players for the MLS first team, so it wouldn’t be too wild of an assumption that we’ll see a similar style of play between the teams. Especially when their Technical Director, Curt Onalfo, has done this before in MLS with LA Galaxy II. Looking at the roster, you will see a mix of international, USL, & academy players. However, the most experienced of the bunch seem to be on the offensive side. With assistant head coach, Richie Williams, bringing over a few players from USL Championship side Loudoun United, this team will have no issues putting pressure on defenses. Even defensive players like Ryo Shimazaki have been proven goal scorers and chance creators in college.
Players to watch
Connor Presley: I believe that Connor will be a catalyst of New England’s offense and will be on the top of the list for assists at the end of the year. The former Loudoun United player was very good on both sides of the ball but was particularly good at setting up strikers accurate crosses. Something that our next player to watch will love…
Orlando Sinclair: The Costa Rican Striker will already have a chemistry with his former Loudoun teammate as seen in their give & go in the video above, which will greatly benefit a team that has not played together before. Orlando is a great passer on top of his shooting ability, but it’s his composure on the ball while doing both that makes him a player to watch. Whether it’s hold-up play in the midfield or a calm flick over the keeper, Orlando has shown signs standout skills and will now get his opportunity with consistent minutes to show it.
Joe Rice: While the former Lionsbridge FC keeper only played two games last year while starting Richmond Kickers keeper Akira Fitzgerald was away on international duty, he accomplished two things not many can claim they did. After a rare away win at Toronto, Joe followed up that performance with a Save of the Month award in his next game. With a new team and new players, Joe has the chance to display his leadership and organize a newly created backline.
North Texas SC: Affiliate of MLS side FC Dallas, established 2019
2019 Review: 1st of ten. Regular Season and USL League One Cup Champions
Entering the inaugural season, we all knew that the FC Dallas system would produce a vibrant team full of young talented players who incorporate beautiful passing & new names that would become household by the end of the season. However, the biggest questions going into their first season was whether or not the physicality of the league would be too much for the young guns to handle and how would their defense hold up. They responded to this with the third-fewest goals conceded, the fewest balls given away by a defense, and the most tackles won in the league. But, it was the midfield and offense that left teams with their head spinning, as they ranked number one in the league in passing accuracy, passes, goals, shots, and assists! They also had individual accolades as Ronaldo Damus won the Golden Boot and Arturo Rodriguez took home the league MVP.
Outs: Arturo Rodriguez, Richard Danso, Jatta, Brecc Evans, Cesar Murillo, Bicou Bissainthe, Carlos Avilez, Tanner Tessmann, Callum Montgomery.
Ins: Alex Bruce, Juan Manuel Alvarez, Pedro Conceição Alves, Philip Ponder, Gibran Rayo, Lamar Batista, new generation of Academy kids.
Style of Play: Well-Oiled Machine
Have you ever seen those videos that people make on YouTube where one action (like falling dominoes) activates another action (like a ball rolling down a ramp), and about a minute later all of these things buildup to a final frame of a puppy getting a treat or something extremely satisfying? That’s what watching North Texas SC is like. As the best passing team in the league, North Texas’ accuracy, discipline, and stinginess with the ball is a reminder of how beautiful watching soccer can be. No player with more than 300 passes on North Texas last season had less than a 78% passing accuracy. There were SEVENTEEN different players who passed the ball more than 300 times! This was not only a representation of their offense, but their defense as well, which was highlighted by the captain Brecc Evans, who led his backline with a 93% passing accuracy rating. With the least turnovers in the league and the most midfield duels won, NTX complimented their possession passing attack by rarely making mistakes and turning over the ball. With the Golden Boot Winner, Ronaldo Damus, who even gave the league a third of a season head start before becoming the consistent up top striker, after Ricardo Pepi made the jump to the FC Dallas first team, the only team that could stop them was themselves.
However, all good things must come to an end, and after an impressive season ending with a championship celebration, North Texas was prime picking for USL Championship and MLS teams, losing 7 to 8 of last year’s usual starters.
Players to watch
Lamar Batista: North Texas’ biggest and possibly only weakness was defending free kicks and corners. With the lack of height and physicality, teams found success keeping the score close and going for the win on a free kick or corner opportunity. Batista, who was loaned down to Tucson FC from LAFC last year, can be the dominant defender they’ll need to compete.
Juan Manuel Alvarez: With the loss of those key starters, Liga MX’s Monterrey loanee Juan Álvarez will look to fill that void. The right back has been in the Monterrey system since 2015 and will be playing his first season outside of Mexico. The versatile player has been rumored to be playing more in the midfield this preseason and is said to be turning heads with his play. With the possibility of a constantly changing roster this year, I have a feeling Juan will solidify a permanent place on the lineup.
David Rodriguez: After the year that his brother Arturo Rodriguez had, I’d put a twice removed 3rd cousin of the Rodriguez family on this list. But with a new generation of academy kids coming up, over 70% of the starting lineup with new players, I think the key will be handed to David to keep the Rodriguez name dominating the league. In only 13 starts last year, David had 32 key passes, a goal and an assist. With an 88% passing accuracy on over 1,000 passes. David has a chance to break the records that his brother set.
That brother connection 🤝
— 🏆 – North Texas SC (@northtexasSC) August 12, 2019
Orlando City B: Affiliate of MLS side Orlando City SC, established 2019
2019 Review: *insert GIF of Bugs Bunny sawing off Florida* Finished 10th of ten
In 2019, Orlando City B was a lot of things but not many of them were good. The last place team in the league had a backline that conceded 52 goals and an offense that only produced 23 goals, which, you guessed it, were both last in the league. It wasn’t always bad for Orlando as the springtime flowers bloomed for them, winning three of their four total games won last season during the first ten games of the season. Then things got bad, like last season of Game of Thrones bad. They won only one more game the rest of the season, had only two or three consistent starters with only five players playing more than 20 games, and fired their coach with only four games left in the season. However, at times, Orlando’s attack was very fun to watch. While the backline was atrocious, players like Thiago De Souza and William Bagrou showed their offensive skills and had many exciting runs and goals that were highlight-worthy. The only issue is…they’re not coming back for the 2020 season and they’re not the only ones.
In fact, only two players from last year’s team return as standouts Austin Amer and Moises Tablante try to continue to be a silver lining on the struggling team and earn themselves an MLS opportunity on the first team. If you’re a true #PlayTheKids activist, then this may be the team for you with the majority of the team being academy players.
Outs: Everybody but Tablante and Amer
Ins: AC Milan’s Lucas Paquetá’s brother, Matheus Paquetà was days away from his arrival before he posted a video of him guns and drugs, which led to being investigated for trafficking (Yes, I’m being serious). Aleksandar Gluvačević, Teddy Ndje, and, John Rosale (maybe).
Style of Play: One glimmer of hope this year for OCB is that their new coach, Marcelo Neveleff, is also their academy director. This means Marcelo will bring a system to OCB and knows his players well enough to know which ones will fit in the system. With the team not being able to secure many loans with pandemic and the rumor that the first team players will not be loaned down due to concern of positive test results from COVID-19 testing at Orlando City, it could be a long year for the youngsters and OCB fans as well.
Players to watch
Aleksandar Gluvačević: Returning only two players from their last place 2019 team, OCB will focus on scoring more goals (where they ranked last in the league) and preventing more goals (where they also ranked last in the league). Hoping to kill two birds with one stone, the 6’5″ Serbian striker has proven his goal scoring ability, scoring 35 goals his senior year at IMG Academy. He can also assist with defending corners and set pieces, where Orlando gave up more headers than any other team and had the worst aerial duel percentage.
Moises Tablante: While Amer is getting the attention for a potential first team jump, Tablante was very impressive in the 11 starts he had last year, with two goals, 10 key passes, and winning 71 duels. This year, Moises will be able to roam the midfield and become a bigger part of the team and hopefully a consistent starter. With a new big man up top, I expect Moises to be able to drift wide to send in crosses as well as draw defenders to him to allow runs into the box from his teammates.
— Jason Weintraub (@HomeSweetSoccer) May 22, 2019
Richmond Kickers: Independent team, established 1993
2019 Review: Finished 9th of ten
As the oldest existing team in the league and the oldest still active team in professional U.S. Soccer (I know Charleston folks will want to fight about this but I’m almost 7,000 words in, I’m tired), Richmond Kickers saw their first season in USL League One as a fresh start after a disappointing exit from USL Championship. They started the year off well, losing only two of their first eight matches and both of those losses to Lansing Ignite. However, teams caught on to what Lansing exposed, their weakness against a high press and set pieces. 2nd in conceded set pieces (behind Orlando), Richmond seemed to lack organization in the back. There appeared to be a lack of communication and chemistry, allowing open headers and crucial mistakes. As the season progressed and defense improved, the biggest concern became scoring. Depending on Joe Gallardo, who scored 36% of the team’s goals and had twice as many chances created than any other teammate, once teams were able to zone in shutting him down, it became a struggle for Richmond. The Kickers suffered nine one-goal difference defeats and went goalless in seven games.
Outs: Joe Gallardo, Daniel Jackson, Braeden Troyer, Joshua Hughes, Eli Lockaby, Aboubacar Keita
Ins: Devante Dubose, Victor Falck, Ian Antley, David Diosa, Kyle Venter, Jonathan Bolanos, Emiliano Terzaghi Stanley Alves
Style of Play: Who Can It Be Now?
Men At Work’s “Down Under” is their most popular song, but let’s be honest “Who Can It Be Now?” is better (“Overkill” is their best and don’t bother arguing with me). The point is, this is the question that all Richmond fans will be asking when it comes to scoring goals after the departure of their star player Joe Gallardo. Leading the team in goals, chances created, and passing accuracy during attacks, Richmond relied on their solid defense that posted 10 clean sheets (third-most in the league) to allow Joe to produce incredible individual efforts. However, at times it felt like Joe was needed to do too much or felt the need to do too much. In fact, Joe accounted for 47 shots while only two other teammates reached 20. Given the short end of the straw, Coach David Bulow was (unfairly in my opinion) let go after not being given a chance to integrate the players he wanted into his system, a system that would take time.
Coach Bulow tried to implement a system where the team focused on possession, building from the back to draw in opponents, and utilizing the open space in the midfield to string together passes which led to attacks. When it worked, it was beautiful, but it wasn’t beautiful all the time. Richmond struggled to get the ball out the back against fast-paced teams that could high press, like Lansing and North Texas, whom Richmond went 0-5-1 against. Without the back able to find the slots at the speed they needed to, Richmond kept shooting themselves in the foot with turnovers in their own half. Something that teams would take full advantage of with Richmond being one of the stingiest defenses to score against on the run of play. Going on a late run at the end of the season, we saw the potential of Richmond once the offense picks up, and new head coach Darren Sawatzky will try to find that spark without their biggest flame.
Players to watch
Emiliano Terzagh: With the departure of Gallardo, Richmond has a huge hole to fill without their leading goal scorer and chance creator. Emiliano has spent almost a decade playing soccer in Argentina and was scouted by Coach Sawatzky, who asked his network to bring in a veteran goal scorer who can relieve pressure on a Richmond defense.
Ryley Kraft: Kraft joined the team later in the season and only started four times. However, within those four appearances, he was able to produce eight key passes, six crosses, and two of three shots on target. Not necessarily mind-boggling stats but definitely got the attention of fans in Richmond and others in the league. We all dug the trailer enough to buy a ticket, now it’s time to check out the main feature that this former USL Championship/USYNT U19 midfielder has to offer.
Kyle Venter: Coach Sawatzky may have taken note of the miscommunication in the back last year and hopes to fix it by bringing a familiar face with him to Richmond. Captaining Sawatzky’s FC Tucson to last year, Kyle was one of the premiere CBs in the league and will be joining another standout Defender in Wahab Ackwei, who ranked just one place higher than Venter in clearances (5th and 6th in the league). Venter also added four goals last year (with both his feet and his head) and has ups for his size. With the addition of the new offensive players, Venter will be hoping to continue the shutdown defense and turning 1 goal losses into points.
South Georgia Tormenta FC: Independent team, established 2015
2019 Review: Finished 6th of ten
After coming off an undefeated season in 2018 in what is now USL League Two, some people (me) predicted that Tormenta would come out the gates hot. With chemistry, a system that players were comfortable in, and an ownership that made everyone feel appreciated, Tormenta started the year better than any other team, losing only one game in their first 12. With as many individually talented players as any team in the league, the playoffs and a possible championship was theirs to lose. And boy did they lose it…
After a very unfortunate injury to an important player like Lucas Coutinho, the injury report grew bigger with every week and depth became a huge issue. Tormenta FC, who also field a team in USL League Two, started to bring up players to help fill in spots to their injury-plagued team. And while Tormenta FC 2 was very competitive in their league and even beat Chattanooga Red Wolves in the U.S. Open Cup, it was challenging for the youngsters to get acclimated with the level of play and system, as Tormenta would win only one game of their final 12, despite having the Defensive Player of the Year in Conner Antley.
Outs: Conner Antley, Charlie Dennis, Kobe Perez, Daltyn Knutson, Alex Morrell, Peter Pearson, Shinya Kadono
Ins: Devyn Jambga, Pato Botello Faz, Rhys Williams, Abuchi Obinwa, Luca Mayr-Fälten, Daniel Jackson, and a handful of academy/Torrmenta FC 2 kids.
Style of Play: At the blink of an eye
Some people say it only takes a minute to fall in love, and in that amount of time, Tormenta could score at least three goals. Using the CDMs to fall back and assist the backline, Tormenta allowed for their backs to venture upfield, not just to attack, but to win the ball. No one was better at this than the DPOY, Antley. Adding extra bodies in the midfield, Conner would read an interception perfectly and spark the counter. Usually dishing it off to a midfielder, Tormenta’s one-two passing was of the best in the league and allowed for different ways for crafty players like Marco Micaletto and Coutinho to receive the ball with space for them to make defenders look silly before scoring. It was also players like Charlie Dennis, who were able to help pivot these attacks, as he created the second-most chances in the league. It was an attack that they perfected and made them one of the exciting teams to watch. However, it wasn’t just the interception that made Conner the player he was, Conner would also make the through ball pass or give and go down the line, contributing six assists and six goals. Now without Conner’s interceptions and Charlie’s hold up and distribution, will Tormenta plug in new players to continue their style or will head coach John Miglarese be cooking something up for the new season?
Sitting at top of the @USLLeagueOne table, @Tormenta_FC has shown their ability to leave defenses completely helpless against their counter attack. How do they do it? Here’s my breakdown. #USL #WeAreOne pic.twitter.com/NuJZhV32XR
— Jason Weintraub (@HomeSweetSoccer) April 5, 2019
Players to watch
Pato Botello Faz: When healthy, Pato is one of the most complete strikers in the league, winning a starting role midseason with Lansing Ignite. With seven goals and three assists in only 11 starts, Pato is at his best when he hits the box hard during an attack and cross from the sides. Oh, what do you know, Tormenta like to counterattack down the sides! If Pato can stay healthy, look for him to be competing in the Golden Boot race (Though I doubt they’ll let the new guy take PKs).
Luca Mayr-Fälten: After dominating USL League Two last year with seven goals and three assists, it was easy to see that the Austrian native was ready for the step up. After making the League Two All XI, Tormenta FC didn’t have to look far to find a midfielder that’s both creative and a goalscoring threat. With the departure of Dennis, there will be an immediate spot for Luca to take. Word around Statesboro is that he’s looked amazing in preseason and is ready for the role. Luca was an important piece that made Tormenta FC 2 the most dangerous attacking side in the league and now he’ll try to replicate it in League One.
Abuchi Obinwa: A player like Abuchi can help pick up the pieces in the midfield that were dropped last year when injuries occurred. With experience playing in Germany, MLS, and Portugal, Abuchi covers a lot of ground and will be able to win duels in the middle of the field to help launch a Tormenta counter, which is where they flourish. However, being a versatile player may be the biggest reason Tormenta wanted to sign the well-traveled player. Being able to block in the midfield and assist on the backline, if the injury bug comes back for Tormenta in 2020, they have a player who can slot in multiple spots.
Toronto FC II
Due to the global pandemic, Toronto FC II will not be participating in the 2020 League One Season. With stricter travel restrictions in Canada (because they’re smarter than us), it wasn’t possible for them to play.
FC Tucson: Affiliate of USL Championship side Phoenix Rising, established 2010
2019 Review: Finished 8th of ten
A powerhouse in the PDL for years, Tucson was given the reputation of a model lower league club. Finishing 1st four years in a row in their division, Tucson was welcomed to the professional soccer realm where they had an opportunity to have players loaned down to them and play their up and coming talent. Unfortunately, one of the things that went wrong was the never-ending rotation of players. Scoring three or more goals in five games last season, Tucson had quality attacking players in Devyn Jambga, Jamael Cox, and double-digit scorer Jordan Jones. However, with a seemingly new backline every week, Tucson had a hard time protecting their net and gave up the third-most goals in the league. Making a playoff push towards the end of the season, the team with the most amount of sky miles in the league suffered heavy legs and weren’t able to handle the double game weeks down the stretch. Now with a roster of over 80% new players and a new coach, I expect consistency this time with the players in the back and still continuing to be an entertaining team to watch with all of the young attacking talent that they’ve signed.
Outs: Everybody but Carlos Merancio Valdez, Erik Virgen, Raheem Somersall, and Kody Wakasa
Ins: Charlie Dennis, Josh Coan, Charlie Booth, Giovanni Rivera, Shak Adams, Niall Logue, Roberto Alacon, and many more.
Style of Play: How much counter could an FC Tucson counter if an FC Tucson could counter counters?
With a constantly rotating lineup and random players being loaned down from Phoenix, it’s no surprise tactically Tucson decided to implement a system that even new players could follow. Absorb the attack and as soon as you get the ball, counter like your life depended on it. Tucson had the least amount of possession of any team in the league, and they were probably 100% okay with that. With speedsters like Jambga and free kick champ Devin Vega, defenders were left in a lose-lose situation where you didn’t want to let Devyn get behind you (which he was going to do anyway) and you didn’t want to foul him to let the other Devin put one over your wall (which he was going to do anyway, as well). While this meant for the majority of the game FC Tucson had us looking at our phones or wondering random things like who was the first person that decided to break open a crab and eat the meat once, when the ball was in their possession, it was must-see TV.
Players to watch
Niall Logue: Last season, FC Tucson had a back line that changed week to week and the club never really found their four staples to hold things down in front of Carlos Merancio. With team captain Kyle Venter joining the Richmond Kickers, Niall Logue has an opportunity to step in and become the leader of a team with a lot of new players. Logue brings in Europa League (yes that Europa League) experience and was a consistent starter in the League of Ireland Premier Division prior to joining FCT. There’s potential for Logue to team up with USL League Two standout Charlie Booth, who led the Flint City Bucks to a championship in 2019, in the back for Tucson. Logue and Booth make up a defensive partnership that knows how to win — keep an eye on them in 2020.
Erik Virgen: If you’ve listened to any episode of League 1 Fun, you’ve probably seen me find any excuse to bring up this kid. Given the keys towards the end of last year for Tucson’s midfield, Erik quickly grabbed the attention of fans everywhere, producing 26 key passes in 15 starts (a team-high). Erik’s vision stands out and his ability to read where the holes will open up and where he needs to be positioned for a counter, shows that despite him being only 20 years old, Erik is ready to take control of this team and possibly the league.
Charlie Dennis: People knew that Charlie was good at Tormenta last year, but I’m not sure they understand how good. Creating 53 chances (2nd in the league) and winning the most duels in the league, Charlie was a pain for defenders to deal with whether he was in the midfield or if he was at the top of the box. With his 6’2 frame, Charlie is also a scorer both in the air or with his feet, scoring three goals on 30 shots with 11 on target. A distributor and scorer that is effective in multiple spots on the field, I have a feeling this was a transfer that Phoenix Rising wanted, so they can keep a close eye on him.
Union Omaha: Independent team, established 2019
2019 Review: Will be playing their first season in 2020
Ins: I’m not going to list everyone, so here is their roster page.
Style of Play: *Throws my hands in the air and starts doing the classic white woman dance (Like Scarlett Johansson in “Marriage Story”) and sings Ellie Goulding’s “Anything Could Happen” *
With a brand-new team and limited amount of preseason games, it’s pretty unpredictable what Head Coach Jay Mims will try to execute. Even though there may be a plan, Mike Tyson said it best when he said, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Coach Mims may have been at the Real Salt Lake academy, but it wouldn’t be a sure thing that he copies their style. This is his chance to create his own identity and see if that baby owl will fly. However, when you look at the players he’s equipped with, you get an idea of what he COULD do. Mims has found himself with a group of guys who can adjust, which is very important in this league. Xavier Gomez is a player who can be both a defensive and offensive asset being able to support both sides of the field, Tyler David was literally everywhere on the field tirelessly during the couple of preseason games they played, and don’t forget about the finishers they’ve brought in with Elma N’for and Ethan Vanacore-Decker. Already with an impressive preseason including a win vs 2019 USL Championship title-winners Real Monarchs, the one thing that stood out was composure on the ball. A brand-new team is prone to having bad giveaways and communication issues, just watch Chattanooga RedWolves’ 1st game against North Texas SC last year (unless you’re a Chatt fan). But, I don’t see that happening with this team. I see a lot of close games and a team full of experienced players who will be able to handle it.
Players to watch
Damià Viader: Unless you were a fan of the NPSL, Damià Viader will be an unfamiliar name that may take you by surprise this year. One of the most versatile players in the league, Damià can defend, pass, score goals, and probably properly do your taxes. Already scoring Union Omaha’s first-ever goal in preseason, the former Duluth FC Defender was one of the best players in NPSL. With the ability to play anywhere on the field, look for announcers to constantly say Damià’s name, as he’ll always be involved in the action.
Sebastian Contreras: Getting a 30-year-old veteran who led a USL Championship team (El Paso) last year in most key passes (46) is not too shabby for your inaugural season. Sebastian is a talented player who will be looking to send through forwards like N’For and help keep things controlled in the final third. With a shortened season, Omaha will be able to get more of Sebastian than they thought they originally would, as the midfielder was subbed off 16 times last year.
Rashid Nuhu: Goalkeepers are crucial in this league and played a huge role in the standings. Forward Madison were saved in multiple games with the former keeper Bryan Sylvestre, Alex Mangels did the same for Chattanooga, and Greenville’s Dallas Jaye was the organizer and leader in the league’s best defense. For Omaha to succeed, they will rely on the former New York Red Bulls 2 keeper Nuhu. At 24 (which is like 16 in goalkeeper years), Nuhu was All Atlantic 10 two times when in college and showed a ton of potential. Now, not having to sit behind Ryan Meara, Rashid has a chance to show the athletic and stop shopping ability that he’s been raved for, for all eyes to see.