United Soccer League ICYMI: 5/31/18

Let’s talk about reserve sides. By now, you’re probably aware that most USL sides are linked to MLS sides; in some cases, these are actual full-on reserve sides (e.g. NYRB II, Atlanta United 2, Real Monarchs SLC, Seattle Sounders FC 2, etc). And their USL success varies wildly. At one extreme, you have two MLS reserve sides — Real Monarchs SLC and Portland Timbers 2 — leading the Western Conference.

At the other extreme, you have Toronto FC II in the Eastern Conference cellar with a winless record, and no end to the misery in sight. Meanwhile, another reserve side, Seattle Sounders FC 2 is only one point off the bottom in the West. The fortunes of these sides is obviously tied to the current talent in the pipeline and how long that talent stays. It’s an existence of vicissitude.

Moreover, many of the reserve sides draw abysmal attendance figures. For example, the four lowest USL attendance averages are from reserve sides (in descending order): LA Galaxy II, Toronto FC II, Swope Park Rangers, and New York Red Bulls II. Combined, the average attendance for these is 962 (!) per match. In the case of NYRB II, this season’s figure is actually an improvement on last season’s 632 average. Just woeful. Optically, nobody wants this.

I wonder if the long-term health of the USL will require moving these reserve sides off to their own league(s). The low attendance is camera blight for ESPN+’s USL broadcasts, and the variable fortunes of reserve sides makes deep-rooted supporter cultures and traditions difficult to foster.

Recently, Germany made this move for its third division (the 3.Liga). The likes of VfB Stuttgart II, Mainz 05 II, Werder Bremen II, etc. are out. Additionally, many Bundesliga clubs are simply disbanding their reserve sides, in favour of loaning out their best youth players in order to accelerate their development.

While a move in the spirit of Germany’s 3.Liga is probably not financially feasible (yet!) for the USL, it’s an option to keep in mind, as the league continues to grow and reserve sides litter the table.

Regardless, the reserve teams are here to stay, and you need your USL round-up. So let’s get to it.

If you haven’t read it yet, you might want to start with my inaugural piece for this series, which covers the basics for getting to know America’s vast lower league.

Three Storylines

  • Rise of the reserve sides in the West: Real Monarchs SLC remains #1 in the conference standings, despite a 1-0 loss at Portland. The match itself was a bit of a carnival with Portland missing two penalties, and SLC committing a humiliating passing turnover in front of its box, leading to the game’s only goal, as Portland’s Renzo Zambrano played a devilish through ball to veteran Dairon Asprilla, who nutmegged the keeper.
  • Toronto FC II stinking up the joint: Geez, Toronto’s reserve side is bad, as in really bad. This weekend’s 2-4 home loss to Tampa means TFC II is winless with 9 losses and 2 draws this season. Oh, a GD of -14 certainly doesn’t help.
  • U.S. Open Cup: Last week, 10 USL sides head-to-head in the 3rd round of the US Open Cup tournament. The headliner was Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati with the visitors stealing a huge 3-1 win, scoring 2 goals in 2 minutes in the 2nd half, breaking open a tight match.
  • Pittsburgh is the still the only undefeated USL side, after another freaking draw!

Match highlights of the Week

The league’s best atmosphere. Derby match. #1 vs. #2 in the Eastern Conference. We’re talking Cincinnati FC vs. Louisville City FC, the league’s defending the champs. Louisville took 3 massive points on the road, thanks to an early goal and closer:

The match didn’t disappoint. After Louisville’s early “ground ball” free kick goal, Cincinnati fought hard for the equalizer, narrowly missing out. However, Louisville strangely dominated the match’s final stage, scoring its 2nd goal. Only acrobatic saves from Cincy keeper Evan Newton kept the homeside from deeper embarrassment.

Goal of the Week

L.A. Galaxy FC II’s Ethan Noah Zubak scored the fastest hattrick in league history in his side’s 7-2 wrecking of Las Vegas. So I’m going with Zubak’s 3rd goal this week:

Open space work. Pacy run. And that corner of the woodwork finish. Who doesn’t love a tight pinball number, reminding us all of soccer’s sumptuous geometry?

Your Las Vegas Lights (FC) Flash

In honor of the Stanley Cup Finals, and the Vegas’ Golden Knights riding strong as an expansion team, let’s all recall that time when the Lights showed up at the hockey show to kick things off.

Top 5 Standings

After the weekend Ohio River derby clash between Louisville and Cincinnati, we have a new #1 in the East, as the defending champs take back the table top with an impressive 2-0 road win.

Charlotte Independence crack the East’s top 5, thanks to a 3 match winning streak. In the West, despite a close 1-0 loss at Portland, Real Monarchs remain #1, as both Phoenix and Sacramento slip a spot down the standings. Meanwhile, Portland’s MLS reserves continue its dominant streak, winning 3 and drawing 1 in its last 4 matches.

Eastern Conference

Place Club Matches GD (+/-) Points
1 Louisville City FC 10 +7 22
2 FC Cincinnati 11 +5 20
3 Charleston Battery 11 +4 19
4 Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC 10 +7 18
5 Charlotte Independence 10 +5 17

 

Western Conference

Place Club Matches GD (+/-) Points
1 Real Monarchs SLC 11 +10 25
2 Portland Timbers 2 12 +9 23
3 Phoenix Rising FC 12 +9 21
4 Sacramento Republic FC 11 +4 21
5 Orange County SC 11 +12 20

 

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