Taking stock of the Eastern Conference: 2017 also-rans and expansion teams

A couple days ago, I gave a first look at the contenders of the Eastern Conference – at least based on how things finished up last year. Now, let’s delve into the teams that had a lot of improving to do (or are new to USL).

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Many of last year’s bad teams: Geographically convenient!

Orlando City B

Defunct

  • 2017 position: 9
  • Points/game: 1.31 (10 wins, 10 losses, 12 draws)
  • Goals/game: 1.16
  • Goals against/game: 1.13

Orlando City has claimed its reserve team is merely on hiatus, but all indications point to it being nixed, at least as a USL side. Goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. was on the USL second-Best XI and has signed with the MLS side for Orlando City, while leading scorer Hadji Barry is with Swope Park Rangers of the USL’s Western Conference (runners-up in USL Cup to Louisville City).

Ottawa Fury

  • 2017 position: 10
  • Points/game: 1.19 (8 wins, 10 losses, 14 draws)
  • Goals/game: 1.31
  • Goals against/game: 1.28

The Fury were yet another “more boring version of NYRBII,” but the less scoring you do, the greater the chance of 0-0 or 1-1 draws, and they did a lot of that. They didn’t lose a ton, but they drew too many games rather than winning them. That will see you finish outside of playoff territory.

Leading scorer Steevan Dos Santos (aka “Duba,” with 10 goals and an assist last year) is back, as is fellow striker Sito Seoane (five goals, one assist). Right winger Carl Haworth only had two goals, but contributed five assists, and returns as well. Keeper Calium Irving (who was actually their most-used passer?!?! Has to be an error on the USL stats page) saved .655 of shots faced last year while playing every minute. Center back Ramon del Campo led the team in clearances and blocks; he’s also back.

They didn’t shed a lot of talent, but midfielder Jonathan Barden has headed to St. Louis FC (Western Conference), defensive midfielder Lance Rozeboom headed to Tampa Bay as mentioned above, and center back Shane McEleny is back in his native Northern Ireland playing for Derry.

Wanting to shore up an already-good defense, they added a pair of fullbacks from the now-defunct San Francisco Deltas of NASL, left back Maxim Tissot and right back Nana Attakora. Neither made the league’s Best XI – though center back teammate Reiner Ferreira did, and they certainly played a role in his success (for the record, he’s as-yet unsigned as far as I can tell).

Penn FC

Re-branded from Harrisburg City Islanders

  • 2017 position: 11
  • Points/game: 1.16 (10 wins, 15 losses, 7 draws)
  • Goals/game: 0.88
  • Goals against/game: 1.47

The Islanders had the most anemic offense of all but the barrel-bottom teams in the Eastern conference, and a pretty bad defense, too. They actually managed to get some decent winning done, given their inability to score goals, but it would take a lot for them to become competitive in the East.

Striker Pedro Ribeiro (three goals, four assists) and attacking midfielder Paul Wilson (three goals, no assists) should be able to get a bit of chemistry going with another year together. Midfielder Jonathan Mendoza (two goals, four assists) will return, as well. Center backs Tiago Calvano, Lee Nishanian, and Travis Brent – leaders in clearances and breakups playing in a three-man backline – are all back, as is starting goalie Brandon Miller. If there’s any value in continuity, this team should take a step forward.

Striker Ropapa Mensah was the leading scorer with eight goals (plus two assists), and he returns. At just 20, the Ghanaian is a high-upside guy, too. He now plays for Nashville SC, though! (I wrote all but the last sentence before NSC signed him when I had thought he was returning, for what it’s worth). The other major loss is another center back, Shane McLaws (more frequently used as the team’s leader in minutes, but obviously far less disruptive per minute played), who has moved to OKC Energy.

They have not publicly added any players since the conclusion of the 2017 season – but given the sheer number of returners, that shouldn’t be a surprise.

St. Louis F.C.

Moved to Western Conference

  • 2017 position: 12
  • Points/game: 1.13 (9 wins, 14 losses, 14 draws)
  • Goals/game: 1.09
  • Goals against/game: 1.50

Since they’re no longer in the Eastern conference, I’m not going to give SLFC the full preview treatment (unless they’re a crossover opponent, at which time I’ll come back and run through the personnel in the same fashion). They had a bad defense and a poor-not-terrible offense last year, but playing primarily in the weaker Western conference, they should be able to improve bigly.

Pittsburgh Riverhounds

  • 2017 position: 13
  • Points/game: 1.13 (8 wins, 12 losses, 12 draws)
  • Goals/game: 1.03
  • Goals against/game: 1.31

The Riverhounds had a slightly more effective offense than their in-state brethren, and a better defense, as well. They were just not particularly timely in stringing good performances together, resulting in a whole lot of draws and not many wins.

The huge loss comes in the form of Corey Hertzog, a forward who accounted for nearly half their scoring last year in the form of 14 goals and two assists. The USL Best XI second-team pick is headed to the Western Conference and St. Louis FC. Chevaughn Walsh was the team’s second-leading scorer last year and will have to step up to fill that void, but his five goals and two assists is a pretty precipitous dropoff. Captain Kevin Kerr (3G, 5A) will return to run the central midfield. Defensively-oriented central midfielder Jamal Jack and center back Tobi Adewole are among the key returners. A goalkeeper-by-committee approach probably returns this year, though Trey Mitchell was the most successful of the bunch (.741).

Many of their additions since last season have come as a benefit of the disbandment of the Rochester Rhinos: leading assisters Christiano Francois and Kenardo Forbes (a right wing with six helpers and one goal, and a central midfielder with six assists and three goals), left back Raymond Lee (22 interceptions and 13 clearances), No. 2 keeper Dan Lynd (.641 save percentage – well below the starter, for what it’s worth), right back Jordan Dover (46 interceptions, 28 clearances) all came over from the Rhinos. Joe Greenspan, a defender from Minnesota United who spent most of his time last year on loan with the Riverhounds anyway, is another notable addition.

Richmond Kickers

  • 2017 position: 14
  • Points/game: 1.00 (8 wins, 8 losses, 16 draws)
  • Goals/game: 0.75
  • Goals against/game: 1.13

This offense was three goals clear of the second-worst in USL (Toronto FC II, just below), and even a pretty stout defense couldn’t do a whole lot more than scrape out a bunch of scoreless (or 1-1) draws. It’s clear where this team needed to improve.

That they’ve lost last year’s leading scorer (Alhaji Kamara, who made a move to Saudi Arabia) isn’t promising on the face of things. Attacking midifelder Sunny Jane, who scored three goals and notched two assists last year, is the leading returning scorer and and left mid Fred Owusu Sekyere (2G, 3A) are going to have to step things up a bit this year. Left back Braeden Troyer and center backs Mallan Roberts and Yomby Williams were stalwarts in the back with plenty of interceptions and clearances each (Roberts leading the way in clearances with 116, Troyer in interceptions with 64). All return, but most-used goalkeeper Matt Turner (.714 save percentage) is gone, with his loan from New England Revolution coming to an end.

The Kickers have picked up a couple players, including two potential goal-scorers. Heviel Cordoves arrives from the Charleston Battery, for whom he scored nine goals last year. Brian Shriver comes from the Jacksonville Armada, for whom he scored zero goals in eight NASL appearances. Amping up the offense is important, and those guys will have to do it. Defender Austin Yearwood also comes from Charlotte Independence.

The Kickers are a USL affiliate for DC United, which has a lot of young talent and not many minutes to give them, so MLS squad player-level talent can probably augment their performances at various times throughout the year.

Toronto FC II

  • 2017 position: 15
  • Points/game: 0.78 (6 wins, 19 losses, 7 draws)
  • Goals/game: 0.84
  • Goals against/game: 1.69

TFC II was absolutely despicable in all things performance-related (but like I’ve said before, it’s their job to develop players not rack up victories).

They’ll have a lot of interplay with the senior team, players coming and going on loan, and… well, in terms of statistical production, there’s not a ton to write home about. Check back later to see who actually takes the field for them when the season begins.

Atlanta United 2

Expansion

See what I’ve written above about pure reserve teams, but add in that there isn’t a baseline level on which to judge ATL UTD 2. There should be some exciting future MLS players, but again, the results are less important than the development.

Indy Eleven

Expansion, moved from NASL

Indy finished No. 6 in the NASL across both the Spring and Fall seasons, with 39 goals scored, but a league worst 56 allowed in the 32-game season. The difference in quality between NASL and USL can be evaluated to an extent (except inasmuch as NASL isn’t going to exist going forward, so it’s pointless anyway, I guess). If Indy is good this year, it’s in part because of a decrease in competition.

Their all-time (and 2017) leading scorer, Eamon Zayed, mysteriously departed the club yesterday, which is not the best start. Strikers Justin Braun (7G, 5A last year), Ben Speas (4G, 5A), and David Goldsmith (3G, 2A) have their work set out for them in making up for the gap. Goalie Jon Busch got almost every meaningful minute between the pipes, though at 41 it’s probably time for him to start ceding a bit of playing time so the Eleven have a transition plan ready when he retires.

They’ve added center back Cory Miller and winger Paulo Júnior since the late stages of the 2017 season. Junior has been pretty much an NASL lifer outside of a stint with Real Salt Lake. Miller had previously been with Indy Eleven but didn’t play in the Spring NASL season.

North Carolina FC

Expansion, moved from NASL

NCFC was third in the NASL’s combined Spring-Fall seasons last year, scoring the third-most goals (behind only Miami FC, who blew everyone away with 61) and the fourth-in-table New York Cosmos. They had the third-best defense, too, once again behind regular season champion Miami and second-place team (and Soccer Bowl – king of the ridiculous name trophies – champions) an Francisco Deltas.

Lance Laing, last year’s leading scorer (8G, 5A) from the left wing, has moved to FC Cincinnati in their bid to become more than just a US Open Cup phenomenon. Striker Renan Gorne had six goals and two assists but has headed home to Brazil. Midfielder Namzi Albadawi led NASL in chances created with 56 and was second on the team only to Laing in assists with four… and will join his compatriot with FC Cincinnati. Keeper Brian Sylvestre got most of the time between the pipes (outside of a loan to the Philadelphia Union)… and is another player no longer on the roster, moving to MLS expansion side LAFC.

Defender Connor Tobin was an NASL Best XI selection last year (as was Albadawi), and should spearhead efforts on that end of the pitch. Billy Schuler, a striker by trade who was often drawn into midfield last year, will probably have to pick up some of the scoring slack. He had six goals and one assist – so not too far behind Gorne.

Keeper Austin Guerrero, whose experience includes MLS and Liga MX, will probably step into the starting role there. Offensive replacements Bernhard Luxbacher and Marios Lomis should be able to contribute, as well.

3 thoughts on “Taking stock of the Eastern Conference: 2017 also-rans and expansion teams

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