Nashville SC will play six Eastern Conference teams for the first times this season – two moving over from the West and four expansion teams – while at the same time bidding adieu to a quartet of last year’s opponents (One moving up to MLS, one going on hiatus before a likely drop to USL League One, and two who will play in League One’s inaugural season).
Before diving into the teams who we know from last year (and will be back this season), let’s take a look at the newcomers and quick touch on the departed.
Saint Louis FC
Moved from West
2018 Power ratings: 6th in Western Conference Table Power (52.9 projected points), 14th in combined table Pure Power (7th in West). No. 23 offense, No. 4 defense.
2018 Finish: 8th place in West, 53 total points. 44 goals for, 38 goals against.
All League selections: None
Team of the Week selections: D Sean Reynolds (3), M Joey Calistri (2, 1 POTW), D Sam Fink (2), GK Jake Fenlason (1), M Wal Fall (1), GK Tomas Gomez (1)
Key departures: Calistri (Phoenix Rising), Fall (Ottawa Fury)
Key additions: F Caleb Calvert (1 TOTW selection with Charlotte Independence on loan from Colorado Rapids), D Bradley Kamdem Fewo (Fresno FC), Paris Gee (third-leading scorer and leading assist-man for Tulsa Roughnecks), Joaquin Rivas (leading scorer for Tulsa Roughnecks)
Saint Louis was a playoff team last year by the skin of its teeth. It was also spiritually a bit more of an Eastern Conference team than one that belonged in the West (perhaps that’s what happens when you alternate leagues every year), with a mediocre offense but a very strong defense.
They’ve given up some of that offense (Calistri and Fall were tied for second on the team in goals and fourth in assists), but have added a couple guys who were pretty productive for a very bad Tulsa Roughnecks team. Can being in a more positive environment help those guys continue that production? Caleb Calvert was poor with Charlotte Independence last year, but could be hoping for the same change-of-scenery-fueled improvement.
The core of the defense is back, with both keepers and two defenders that had multiple Team of the Week selections returning. They also add a regular starter from what was a pretty good Fresno defense, and should remain very stout on that side of the ball.
Swope Park Rangers
Moved from West
2018 Power ratings: 8th in Western Conference Table Power (51.8 projected points), 19th in combined table Pure Power (9th in West). No. 12 offense, No. 23 defense.
2018 Finish: 7th place in West, 53 total points. 52 goals for, 53 goals against.
All League selections: F Hadji Barry (2nd Team)
Team of the Week selections: F Kharlton Belmar (3, 1 POTW), Barry (2), M Chase Minter (2), M Felipe Hernandez (1), GK Christian Herrera (1), F Tyler Blackwood (1), D Amer Didic (1), D Graham Smith (1), M Wan Kuzain (1)
Key departures: Belmar (Nashville SC), Barry (Ironi Kiryat Shmona – Israel), Minter (released), Herrera (released), Blackwood (Sacramento Republic), Didic (San Antonio FC)
Key additions: Ayyoub Allach (Lierse SK – Belgium)
The MLS2 sides – one of which Swope Park is, as the B-team for Sporting Kansas City – have a different paradigm in roster-building and seeking results. Their mandate, first and foremost, is to develop players for the first team. That’s why you’ll see a fairly strict policy at Swope of releasing players when they turn 26, if they’re not ready for SKC. That means they lose some of the USL club’s better players, and guys who were key to the previous season, but it’s about building for the A-team.
Kuzain isn’t listed among the departures because he’s still signed with Sporting KC and can be loaned down, and that’s where – along with the MLS SuperDraft picks who aren’t ready to contribute immediately in the Big Leagues – much of the talent for Sporting Kansas City will come from.
A club like Nashville, which looks pretty darn set on looking for results rather than development this year, should have a tough time knowing what to expect from Swope, because their roster will be fluid on a week-to-weke basis.
Birmingham Legion FC
Key additions: F Chandler Hoffman (2 TOTW selections with Real Monarchs), M Mikey Lopez (1 TOTW selection with San Antonio FC), D Eric Avila (Las Vegas Lights), M Daigo Kobayashi (Las Vegas Lights), GK Matt Van Oekel (OKC Energy), D Marcell Appiah (VfL Osnabrück – Germany)
Legion has built its roster with plenty of unheralded international players as well as a solid group coming in from other USL teams (albeit mostly teams that were very bad in the weaker Western Conference).
Hoffman is likely available only because he’s getting to be a bit old to be on an MLS reserve team (Monarchs are the B-side for Real Salt Lake), and he has a few good years left in him, even if the RSL front office didn’t expect him to make an impact with their first team. They have also added an exciting piece in San Antonio FC’s Mikey Lopez, but it seems largely like they’re building defense-first and hoping one or two guys can pour in goals.
That can work, of course, and Birmingham looks like one of the better expansion sides for 2019.
Key additions: M Alex Dixon (2 TOTW selections with OKC Energy), Ray Lee (Pittsburgh Riverhounds), Philip Rasmussen (OKC Energy), Mac Steeves (Houston Dynamo), GK Frederik Due (Randers – Denmark), F Sebastian Dalgaard (Middelfart – Denmark), F Wojciech Wojcich (New York Cosmos)
Hartford, like Birmingham, poached some of the better players from a bad team (OKC Energy) and is augmenting that with guys who were bit players for better teams, and a few MLS castoffs from New England.
They also seem to be all-in on scouting Northern Europe and Scandinavia – most of their incoming players from overseas are arriving from Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. How they’ll manage those foreign players with just seven international spots (probably trade for more with a team that doesn’t have use for them) remains to be seen.
Loudoun United doesn’t have any players yet and only signed its coach last week. Presumably they’ll be filled out with players loaned down from DC United and up from the DC United Academy (albeit one of the lower-reputation academies in MLS – and the only one that isn’t free for players), but for the time being, they don’t appear to have a ton of ambition.
Season’s less than six weeks away! And they don’t have any players! And they have Nashville first! NSC should be able to handle them pretty easily.
Key additions: F Heviel Córdoves (1 TOTW with Richmond Kickers), D Marc Burch (Minnesota United – MLS), M Dan Metzger (Penn FC), Josh Morton (Tulsa Roughnecks), D Todd Pratzner (Pittsburgh Riverhounds), F Luca Uccello (Toronto FC II), M Wesley Charpie (Jacksonville Armada – NASL)
Memphis has built in a similar way to some of the other expansion teams: pick of the best players from the clubs departing USL Championship (in this case, Richmond, Penn, and Toronto FC II), grab a few who got limited minutes in MLS or with some of the top teams in USL, and augment with college players and international signings.
Interestingly, they have a strong connection in Trinidad, with four international signings coming from the top two teams in a country that definitely did not beat the United States Men’s National Team Oct. 10, 2017 – with two of the four players here in the starting lineup, and another on the bench.
Moved to MLS
2018 Power ratings: 1st in Eastern Conference Table Power (77.4 projected points), 1st in combined table Pure Power (1st in East). No. 1 offense, No. 6 defense.
2018 Finish: 1st place in East, 77 total points. 72 goals for, 34 goals against.
All League selections: M Emmanuel Ledesma (1st Team – League MVP), D Forrest Lasso (1st Team), M Corben Bone (2nd Team)
Team of the Week selections: Ledesma (6 – 1 POTW), Lasso (3), Bone (3), M Nazmi Albadawi (2), D Dekel Keinan (2), GK Evan Newton (1), D Paddy Barrett (1)
FC Cincinnati is off to MLS, with most of its best players going with it (Keinan is bound for Sacramento Republic, while both Newton and Barrett will play fro Indy Eleven). The Orange and Blue were the best regular-season team in league history – or at least in a dead heat with the 2016 NYRBII side – but the cracks that they showed in even victory eventually did them in during the playoffs.
On hiatus, will likely return at a lower level
2018 Power ratings: 13th in Eastern Conference Table Power (36.3 projected points), 27th in combined table Pure Power (13th in East). No. 30 offense, No. 22 defense.
2018 Finish: 13th place in East, 37 total points. 38 goals for, 47 goals against.
All League selections: None
Team of the Week selections: F Lucky Mkosana (2), D Ken Tribbett (2), F Tommy Heinemann (1 – 1 POTW), GK Romuald Peiser (1)
Penn FC was bad last year, which made Nashville SC’s draw in Harrisburg particularly frustrating early in the year (though that they turned out to be better-than-expected defensively takes some sting off it). They’ll be most notable this year for providing Ken Tribbett to the Boys in Gold. Tribbett would have almost certainly been an All-League selection if not for missing nearly half the season with injury.
Moved to USL League One
2018 Power ratings: 15th in Eastern Conference Table Power (22.1 projected points), 33rd in combined table Pure Power (last in USL and in East). No. 32 offense, No. 33 defense.
2018 Finish: 15th in East, 22 total points. 30 goals for, 80 goals against.
All League selections: None.
Team of the Week selections: F Heviel Córdoves (1), M Brian Shriver, GK Travis Worra (1)
The Kickers were terrible last year. They finished ahead of Toronto FC II in the table, but they were much, much worse on a game-to-game basis. They scored one goal and gave up two while at home, and gave up nearly three (while averaging well under one) on the road.
They had a couple nice players on the squad, but their mission as a club – the top level of a massive youth operation – is probably a better fit at the League One level, with the top-end players from last year’s team moving along.
Toronto FC II
Moved to USL League One… eventually bound for a Canadian domestic league?
2018 Power ratings: 16th in Eastern Conference Table Power (18.4 projected points), 32nd in combined table Pure Power (32nd in USL and 15th East). No. 21 offense, No. 32 defense.
2018 Finish: Last place in East, 18 total points. 42 goals for, 77 goals against.
All League selections: None.
Team of the Week selections: M Tsubasa Endoh (2 – 1 POTW), GK Caleb Patterson-Sewell (1), M Matt Srbely (1)
TFCII was the worst team in the table, taking until July 28 to earn their first win (no word on who it came against). However, many of their losses were pretty close, and they did earn some impressive wins later in the year, including a 4-1 blasting of eventual champion Louisville City on the road. Don’t get me wrong: they stunk. Just not nearly to the degree it seemed based on the table all year.
They were not particularly ambitious with their personnel for the MLS2 side (which is fine – it’s not really the goal of reserve teams to win, but rather to develop their talent), and they gave extra home games to Pittsburgh and Charlotte (further unbalancing a schedule that already had an imbalance due to different three-play opponents for each team) in addition to playing a handful of their home games in Rochester, New York.
Stay tuned for the rest of the NSC schedule in two installments in coming days.