It was an interesting opening weekend overall for USL League One.
After months of hype and chatter, one of my biggest fears heading into the USL League One inaugural weakened was the chance of not living up to the hype. However, after the first game on Friday night, I was all in. In a weekend full of goals, mistakes, and teenagers catching the world by surprise, there was plenty of good things as well as bad.
When watching lower league soccer, one of the things that stands out the most is players not being able to finish chances that a skilled striker should finish. However, the highlight of USL League One this weekend may have been just how well players finished their chances across the whole league. With four of eight teams having a shooting accuracy over 33% and finishing key chances at 48%, strikers took advantage of the opportunities and made a big splash in week one.
In a game filled with organized defense and great goalkeeping, Tormenta only found themselves able to take three shots inside the box and only one that wasn’t contested. But, one was all it took for Alex Morrell to finish his chance, a chance that his teammates were so confident in his shooting ability, they were celebrating before he had finished shooting it.
Alex Morrell was easily the most active player in the game, and he was finally rewarded for his work rate by having the only 1v1 chance vs the keeper after a great counter attack sprung by Marco Micaletto. Speaking with the Tormenta players after the games, they all feel that Alex is an easy contender for Golden Boot and has a knack for a goal they’ve never seen before. Something to watch for this Wednesday as Tormenta plays a quick turnaround game against an FC Tucson team that travels cross country after only a 4-day rest.
When your team loses, usually the goal you score doesn’t get talked about enough, but I really think Maxi’s goal is a great one. While it may not be flashy, I thought technically it was a really good strike and a much-needed one for Richmond, whose offense didn’t have too many opportunities. A nice shot, off the self-bounce from the flick in a place the goalkeeper can’t reach will always get love from me.
And we definitely can’t have a goal scoring party without some chips. Thank you, Guillermo Delgado.
While there were some really great goals, there were also very easy ones, and that was thanks to careless mistakes by the backlines of many teams. In a league where teams have made up the majority of their defense with former USL Championship guys, I thought it would be a challenge for a lot of the new teams to figure out a way to break down the more experienced players, I thought wrong.
Ricardo Pepi will make headlines this week as any teenager who scores a hat trick on his professional debut should, but an equal headline from this game should be the lack of decision making from an experienced backline.
In a league filled with teams who have young, fast, and pressing offensive players, the pressure on backlines is only going to get worse. While some point to three-man backlines being exposed, I truly think it was the decision making during 1 v 1 situations that was the major issue with defending. When teams have backlines of veterans who have started close to 100 games in USL Championship, you should have the dependability to send up wing backs and depend on their one on one matchups. Long balls were huge this week, leading to 33% of total goals from all teams. (5/15) The goals given up this weekend were not from defenders being outrun or being caught in 2 v 1 situations, it was a lack of awareness and what I think may be the biggest issue from this weekend…
Even though the game ended 0-1 for them, I was very impressed by Greenville Triumph’s ability to hold their defensive shape and even more, their communication. Guam keeper Dallas Jaye did a fantastic job at barking orders and helping a backline stay organized in their first professional game ever as a team. But outside of this game, it’s all downhill.
The common theme in all of the defensive giveaway gifs you’ve seen has been that they could have been prevented by better communication. Whether it was Orlando’s keeper not clarifying to his defender to box out or Chattanooga’s keeper communicating that’s too much boxing out and to clear the ball, a lot of these goals are unacceptable to give up on a professional level and too easy for the strikers in this league. Even on set pieces, you saw a lack of awareness and overall preparation on which guy was marking who. This was extremely evident in the Richmond/Lansing game, as almost every Lansing player makes their run into the box without any real contesting.
But I’m a positive person and like to play angel’s advocate at times. So, in a new league with new teams, coaches, and styles, it’s understandable why the communication and backlines need time to adjust. It may need to be sooner than later though, with the offenses of every team who moved up into USL League One (Lansing, Tormenta, Tucson) connecting for a win, showing that playing in a more competitive league doesn’t change the cohesiveness the teams have already developed. Especially when those players can live up to the talent of the new league.