Am I an Idiot? Am I Genius? ¿Por Qué No Los Dos?
It’s that time of the year. It’s time to talk about which teams are “It” and which teams are… another word that rhymes with “it.” Every single year since starting content creation, I have done these predictions.
THIS IS NOT A POWER RANKING! There are teams who I think may be better or worse than other squads, but some teams just have a harder schedule or a harder sequencing of schedule. Getting Rio Grande Valley at home is very different than having to go to Rio Grande Valley, which will impact strength of schedule.
If you want to see last year’s and how I did, check this link out! I have been fairly accurate, with a few discrepancies along the way.
Biases and Process
Before going into any research or predictions, it is important to acknowledge the presenter’s biases and the process they used to come to each result.
My biases are pretty simple:
- I cover the Birmingham Legion nearly every day. I know not only their upside, but also their downfalls.
- On this, I also have natural dislikes of teams because of rivalries (Memphis, Pittsburgh)
- I am based in the Eastern Conference, so my knowledge of these teams is a little bit more secure.
- I cover the league on The USL Show, so I have a better understanding of the league than most people, but I don’t know everything
My system is pretty simple:
- Look at the schedules and find home and away stretches
- What is the hardest and easiest stretch for each team?
- Is there a rivalry between two clubs?
- How competitive is each rivalry?
- Does a team have a tendency of results (hot start, slow end, “dog days”)
- I look at my own personal notes on if a team is attack or defense heavy
- Counter attack vs possession, narrow vs wide, shoots a lot vs conservative attack
- After all predictions are done, I will look at John Morrissey’s numbers and see where they agree/disagree.
- Note on this: his projections are done through calculations of players, coaches, and difficulty of schedule. While his will likely be accurate in range, it does not account for the “human” aspect of soccer, which does include earlier points
- His will likely be more accurate, so put more weight into his projections
All of this adds up to what took me about 40 hours of making the tables, researching teams, taking notes, refining results, and finally writing this article.
The Final Tables
Here it is, in all of its glory. The final table. You can see how both conferences stack up against each other. Overall, it seems like a solid mix of teams. The team who missed the playoffs are likely going to be outside the playoff picture, no matter what conference they’re in.
You could see the final standings for each conference at the top of the page, but lets revisit that.
How does that compare to the 2022 season?
You can see I cut both off at 12, despite the Western Conference having 13 teams and the Eastern Conference having 14. I want to show the ranges of points. The East was a much wider gap, where the bad was… well… bad. In the West, however, the match ups were much more competitive. I think both conferences will regress to the mean.
Since my main audience is Birmingham based, I will start with the Eastern Conference. The order will be in final standings order from 1st to Worst.
Louisville comes back yet another season ranking as the best team in the East. Hey, people. Does it ever get boring just being good all the time? Please let the rest of us have a chance…
Anyway, this was a team who were the Beasts of the East last year and increased on the margins. They brought in an attacking midfielder Dylan Mares who played his college ball in Louisville. Mares is a very talented CAM who you will love watching.
If you weren’t familiar with the team last year, get to know Sean Totsch, Kyle Morton, Wilson Harris, and Paolo DelPiccolo. My Louisville people are screaming, “AND DON’T FORGET JOSHUA WYNDER!” He’ll be sold for $1 million in the summer and will only be around for half the season, so appreciate him while you can.
Tampa Bay and Louisville City always seem to be fighting it out at the top, and this year will be no different. While Louisville only lost a couple of players during the off season, Tampa Bay lost 15 players and brought in 10 players to replace that talent.
No bigger of the heartbreaks will be felt harder than the departure of Sebastian Guenzatti (who we will talk about soon), but he was promptly replaced by JJ Williams and Cal Jennings. Not bad. On the defensive end, they lost Jordan Scarlett, Robert Castellanos, and Laurence Wyke. Seems pretty massive, until you see they replaced them with Freddy Kleemann, Zachary Herivaux, and the best CB in USL History, Forrest Lasso.
The biggest signing for the Rowdies, in my opinion, made his way in a northern migration from Miami. Connor Sparrow had a very real argument to being the best goal keeper in the USL, sitting just behind Nate Steinwascher and Jordan Farr. CJ Cochran went down with an injury to end the season, and Tampa Bay just simply replaced him with somebody of equal or better talent. Insane.
Welcome back, Indianapolis! The Circle City decided to be pretty bad at the ol’ soccer for a while, but Mark Lowry and Company decided that they were sick of not competing for titles. All that excitement Lowry has brought to town was apparently enough to build a $1 billion dollar stadium. Want to come to Birmingham, Mark?
Let me ask you a question: does a forward line of Sebastian Guenzatti, Harrison Robledo, and Solomon Asante sound pretty good to you? Yeah? How about Aodhan Quinn and Jack Blake distributing them the ball? How would you feel if Cam Lindley was your holding midfielder? You would be pretty happy? That’s the life the IXI are living right now.
Indy went out and got rid of the “old guys” and brought in the other older guys, but these older guys fit Mark Lowry’s narrow system. My concern for Indy is that we’ve seen these “super star” teams before. They do well and then seem to fall apart in the playoffs. Even then, making the playoffs would be a success for Indy after these last two years.
Hey, Birmingham! I’ll keep this one short because I have another article coming out on this team and going in-depth on the season and squad.
For outsiders, this team got sick of not scoring and bought all the attackers. Neco Brett returns and joins Juan Agudelo, Enzo Martinez, Prosper Kasim, and now Tyler Pasher. Unfortunately, longtime member Bruno Lapa is no longer around to distribute the ball.
The backline remains mostly untouched, except for arguably the 3 Sparks best player Jonny Dean was shipped off to Chicago to join the Fire of MLS. Other notable additions are Gabriel Alves and Moses Mensah, two fullback/wing back talents that I rate highly.
I bet you weren’t expecting FC Tulsa to join the mix! “But Kaylor, Hartford and Charleston made all these sexy picks! Look at their signings!” We can talk about why I don’t love them as much, but Tulsa didn’t have as much to “fix.”
This squad kept it’s talent in Jorge Corrales, Dario Suarez, Marcus Epps, and Bradley Bourgeois. Those four helped lead this squad to a respectable 42 points.
If we’re being honest, they did enough to maintain and improve some deficiencies along the way. We’ll see if the backline continues to be hit or miss, but Tulsa went all out on going outside of the USL sphere. Most of their new talent like Brett Levis does come from outside of the USL world. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe it’ll be a complete failure. We’ll see.
Charleston is back in the playoff race and I am pumped! That said, I’m sure many people expected me to have them in the Top 4.
Last year, the Battery walked away with only 25 points to their name. This year they are walking in with arguably the best coach in the USL, Ben Pirmann. Pirmann manned a Memphis 901 squad that took everybody surprise. Now he’s moving to Charleston to secure the bag and right the ship down in Patriots Point.
In terms of who to watch for, Andrew Booth, Leland Archer, and Augie Williams are top notch players who are left over from the old Regime, but the Mann’s marque signing is A.J. Cochran, who made his way from Circle City, USA. The Center Back tightens up a massive hole in the squad, which is that defensive 3 man backline.
The reason I’m not too big on the squad is that much of the talent is a bunch of back up players. Sure, they know Pirmann and his system, but if any of these starters get hurt… well… it could be rough sailings on the South Carolina shores.
So, I didn’t plan for this to happen. Charleston pre and post Pirmann gained 17 points. Memphis during and post Pirmann lost 27 points. What happened?
Honestly, this squad could finish as high as second. I hate how much I like this squad. With Aaron Molloy, Phillip Goodrum, Rece Buckmaster, and Jeremy Kelly returning, and Bruno Lapa joining the squad, there’s a lot to be excited for.
So, no more Pirmann is just that bad? No, it’s not that. It’s the fact they signed Stephen Glass to be their manager. Glass has experience in the USL as Atlanta United 2’s manager, but he made his name as Aberdeen FC’s manager in the Scottish Premiership. To be brutally honest, Glass is one of the worst managers in Scottish history, leading Aberdeen to an astonishing 14-7-20 record. As a manager, he has not been known to put out strong defenses (career -39 Goal Differential), which is the biggest area of concern for 901.
To go from middling team who was always near rock bottom to getting into the playoffs is exciting for Hartford fans. That said, I’m not sold on the dream.
Signing players like Elvis Amoh, Antoine Hoppenot, Kyle Edwards, and keeping Andre Lewis and Danny Barrera is obviously huge. It really sures up the attack, but that wasn’t even really the problem last year.
The ability to defend and attack seemed to kill Hartford. When they would sit 9 people behind the ball, they were near impossible to break down but they never seemed to be able to spring a counter. When they went for a goal, their defense was ripped to shreds. Signing Tristan Hodge, Matt Sheldon, and keeping Tulu is a step in the right direction, but I’m far from sold.
Miami. Sorry, I mean The Miami. I didn’t expect you to be here, but frankly, I’m sick of falling for your lies. Kyle Murphy, Joaquin Rivas, Florian Valot, Mark Segbers, Paco Craig, Ben Ofeimu and Bolu Akinyode are all awesome players.
You know what? I’m even a fan of Ben Mines, Gabriel Cabral, Curtis Thorn, and Adrian Zandejas. Every year since joining the USL, I have ooo’d and ahh’d over your line up and it always disappoints me. Losing Connor Sparrow was really the final knife in the playoff back.
The attack just does not do enough to give the defense a break. I like Salazar as a new option as an attacker, but until I see it work, I’m just going to assume that it won’t.
Detroit City came in hot last year, putting the league on blast. I assumed they would be good because they had a few established guys in the line up and a STUD in-between the sticks.
This year, they come in without Pato Botello and Antoine Hoppenot. While I am a believer in the ability of Maxi Rodriguez and Connor Rutz, not having an established goal scorer on a team that struggled to score does not fill me with confidence. Maybe that attacking threat will be Ben Morris or Adrian Billhardt. I just hope a razor thin roster doesn’t get hurt again.
Here’s what I will say, Detroit City. Get Devon Amoo-Mensah back and continue to let that Trevor James defense cook, you could sneak your way into the playoffs. Nate Steinwascher will get you wins along the way, you just need SOMEBODY to step up in the attack.
Well, well, well. Isn’t it funny to see you here, Robert? Lilley-ball appears to be broken. As of writing this article, this roster is atrocious.
On the way out, Pittsburgh lost the likes of Russell Cicerone, Alex Dixon, Danny Griffin, and the best goal scorer in USL history, Dane Kelly. Who did they replace those attacking super stars with? Two center backs, a goal keeper, and a striker straight out of college.
Sometimes Bob Lilley really is a meme of himself. Cicerone, Dixon, Griffin, and Kelly are absolutely legendary players. Dixon and Cicerone are in that prime of their career, sitting on top of the world, and they left Pittsburgh.
Look, I really like Joey Farrell and Patrick Hogan. I think they’re great center backs, but that whole conversation I had with Detroit City? About finding a goal scorer? That’s Pittsburgh and some. Kizza had an incredible playoffs. I hope it propels himself into having an amazing career.
Even though they sit in last in the East, I really like what Loudoun are doing. I was a bit shocked I had them so low. If they had this line up last year when they were still playing MLS 2 sides and really only the East, I think they make the playoffs.
Tommy Williamson, Koa Santos, Panos Armenakas and Landry Houssou are guys I like a lot. I don’t know if they’ll compete this year, but they’ll 100% be an improvement on what we saw last year. Don’t be shocked in Loud and United MASSIVELY overperform these projections and make the playoffs. They have the talent.
Mentality Monsters are back, and they don’t look like they’re going anywhere. This star studded team is back and looking to make a run. According to good friend Ryan Allen, San Antonio’s 2022 team was the USL team OF ALL TIME (according to ELO). Insane stuff.
What you remember of that starting XI is pretty much all back, aside from Santiago Patino who looks to be making a move to MLS (unannounced at the time of writing this). Other guys like Saad Abdul-Salaam and Alassane Diouf also exited the building.
Who needs those guys when you can bring in Juan Azocar on loan? That’s right. Juan Azocar is still on loan from Deportivo La Guaira. He went from RGVFC, to Oakland, and now landing in San Antonio on 3 different loan spells lasting 4 years. Weird career.
Anyway, this backline of Taintor, Manley, Gargia, Maloney, and Gomez is untouched. Oh, and that Jordan Farr guy is in-between the sticks. Will they repeat the USL Cup? Maybe. Right now, they are certainly the heavy favorites.
I’m not afraid to say it. I love this Sacramento Republic line up. They may have lost Maalique Foster, Deshorn Brown, and Dan Casey, but who cares when you can brin in Russell Cicerone?
Cicerone burst onto the scene years ago with FC Cincinnati, then fully flourished with St. Louis (the real St. Louis…). After his move to Pittsburgh, we really got to see how much of a monster he can be. Pair this guy with Rodrigo Lopez and Keko? Good luck.
I like the back 3 of Desmond, Donovan, and Wiedt. If all 3 can stay healthy, they will be contending for the USL Cup and the West. Even if they don’t, Johnny Fenwick is a more than qualified starter at the USL level.
No Donavan? No problem! Miller takes over as the gaffer for San Diego, taking over a great squad that is ready to win now.
On the outs you have Kyle Vassell, Jack Metcalf, Jack Blake, and some other dude. The first three named were massive parts to this squad, but joining the squad is Joe Corona, who will be that beautiful passer up to Conway and Amang. Sitting behind will be Collin and Elijah Martin, both absolute studs in their own right.
I am also the President of the Nick Moon fan club. I am always taking applications.
This one may shock some folks if you were only halfway paying attention last year. For much of the season, Monterey Bay FC were struggling down at the bottom of the table, not really able to score or defend to save their lives.
At the end of the year, we got to see the backline as it was originally constructed and it was beautiful. Hugh Roberts has been a staple of the USL for a long time now and for dang good reason. He and Kai Greene will be the center back partnership for one of the best defenses in the USL.
Oh, and the attack still has Sam Gleadle and Christian Volesky, and added Alex Dixon. If you don’t know who Alex Dixon is, jump on this hype train now. Dixon had a real conversation of being the best winger in the league last year. I’m excited to see it out west!
Phoenix is a funny animal to deal with. I love their roster and I love their coach, yet every time I picked them to win a match, it felt like a mistake.
Much of this roster is new. This headline signing was Danny Trejo (not that one). Trejo has been one of the brightest stars in the USL and still has not hit his athletic prime yet. Joining him is Erickson Gallardo, who will likely be playing as a second striker.
The notable players returning are Darnell King, Kavon Lambert, and Gabi Torres. I like the additions of Patrick Rakovsky and Rocco Rios Novo in net, as well, with Ben Lundt out the door to MLS.
Overall, this is a nice roster with a ton of upside. That said, we said the same thing last year. Maybe Phoenix will be like a phoenix and rise from their own ashes. Or maybe somethings are truly dead once they die.
When I looked back at New Mexico’s record last year, I was shocked to see that they were as successful as they were. On The USL Show, it felt like every single week we were discussing how they couldn’t score, couldn’t figure it out.
This was a team who lead the league in attendance and yet had the worst record in the league. Maybe this version of attack will get the job done.
I love the pick up of Greg Hurst and Santi Moar. Losing Neco Brett and Jerome Kiesewetter seems like a massive loss for New Mexico, and on paper it is. When you dive into it, though, New Mexico never truly utilized the hoard of forwards that they had. Maybe less options means less tinkering.
Defensively, Tambakis is a stud in-between the sticks, but I absolutely love Will Seymore. He an old head in the defense that is surprisingly young still, especially for a center back.
While New Mexico will “regress” in points, I believe this will be a much more competitive squad.
Rio Grande Valley FC is a sneaky good team this year. While they lose a lot of talent, especially guys like Akeem Ward and Emilio Ycaza, I really like this squad.
For all my SEC football fans who maybe aren’t familiar with Rio Grande Valley, Edinburg is a place of Voodoo Magic. Edinburg is like Jordan-Hare Stadium on an October or November night. For some reason, all the bounces go their way. The field just seems to have this ability to change everything in favor of RGVFC.
Rio Grande Valley is one of the few teams that run a proper 4-2-4. They use every single inch of their pitch in width to try and break down the other team. The only thing I’m bitter about is that we don’t get to see a Mark Lowry Indy XI side go to Edinburg and try and out-narrow the wide play.
I really like Juan David Cabezas, Frank Lopez, Jonathan Ricketts, and Ricky Ruiz in this squad. Should be a fun team to watch this upcoming season.
Death. Taxes. Oakland finishes in the last playoff spot. I wish I could speak highly of this Oakland squad, but with Ottar Karlsson and Juan Azocar out the door, there’s a lot to be desired with this team.
I do like the signing of Napo Matsoso from Louisville City, but that deeper lying center midfielder doesn’t really fix the scoring problem.
That said, Oakland always seems to figure it out and then win a playoff game for your troubles. Sometimes you just have to trust tradition.
El Paso is in this time of real turbulence around the club. Three coaches in three years doesn’t do a lot for consistency, and you can tell that with the plans of the team. There just doesn’t seem to be one.
They have a whole lot of defensive players to try and over correct for their lack of any defense last year, but now I am struggling to see where the goals come from. Is it Aaron Gomez? Lucho Solignac? They aren’t bad attackers by any means, in fact they’re dang good, but they need to play 90 minutes every match if they want a chance to win.
I would be remised if I didn’t mention their new manager Brian Clarhaut, who was with GIF Sundsvall last year. GIF Sundsvall was in the top flight of Swedish football, who signed former USL stars like Ronaldo Damus and Forrest Lasso. After joining the top flight, being managed by Clarhaut, GIF Sundsvall were promptly relegated on only 4 wins, 2 draws, and 24 defeats. Only managing the 14 points on a -52 goal differential…
Two years removed from winning the USL Cup, Orange County still feel like they are in a rebuild mode.
Luckily Orange County still has Milan Iloski up top, the reigning USL Golden Boot winner. For how long, though, is the question. This isn’t a bad team, but the Iloski Brothers were the bright spots for a poor team last year.
This year, the big signing is Andrew Fox, a mainstay at El Paso who now decided to move to the inviting beaches of California. Between Fox, Kiernan, and Pedersen, it’s a back 3 I like, but nowhere near enough to safely say they’re a playoff squad.
Colorado Springs were on a path that was meant for certain glory, then decided to switch back to mediocracy.
To talk about players lost first: Hadji Barry, Jeff Caldwell, Tristan Hodge, Michee Ngalina, Isaiah Foster, Elvis Amoh, Cam Lindley, and Michael Edwards. Oh, and their coach Brendan Burke, who went off to Houston.
Replacing that talent is Patrick Seagrist, Maalique Foster, Jay Chapman, and Speedy Williams. These are all names you know, plus Aaron Wheeler and Matt Mahoney, but nowhere near the talent they lost.
I hope I’m wrong, but this is about to be a long, long, LONG season, Colorado Springs fans…
A couple of weeks ago I was on this notion that Las Vegas was going to be really good and shock people.
I changed my mind.
I got excited when I saw the names Pato Botello, Azriel Gonzalez, Justin Ingram, Zach Carroll, Issa Rayyan, and that other guy, but the rest of that line up is rough…
On the bright side, they are one center back away from having a full starting XI, which is progress from last year…
My Predictions vs “The Numbers”
By the numbers, I mean our resident super genius John Morrissey. He has his own model that you can check out HERE. While you’re checking his stuff out, make sure you’re subscribed to Backheeled to not only support independent soccer coverage, but our own John Morrissey.
So, here’s the fun part. I didn’t look at John’s projections a single time while working on this project until I started working on this particular section of this article.
Where do we differ? Well, I believe that his points look more “realistic.” What you see with how his points are distributed amongst clubs is more realistic to what you will see in season, although maybe they are a little too close.
With my projections, the range of points is likely too large. Teams like Pittsburgh, Memphis, Loudoun, Colorado Springs, and Orange County, I am not giving enough credit to. Does that mean I’m right and John is wrong? Vise Versa? Honestly, I don’t know. For me, this exercise is not exactly to be “right” or “wrong” on my predictions, they’re honestly my way to get to know the league and properly settle in on the different tiers of teams out there.
First off, I don’t think I’ll do this again. It was so much work I was not fully prepared for. Second, as somebody who has only been west of the Mississippi twice in my life, I didn’t realize the amount of city names in the west with Spanish influenced names. I say them all the time, but seeing them and writing them hundreds of times now, it really blew my mind. Especially since my hometown was named after a rock.
In all seriousness, I am excited to see how this season will go. I think I did a decent job, but I am fully prepared for Loudoun and Memphis fully outperform my predictions. I would not be shocked in the slightest if they did.
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