A Look At The USL 2015 Season

USL

by ANTHONY J. MERCED
USL Beat Writer

The 2015 season is the start of something very new for the USL as they see fourteen new teams come into the league and a new structure that mirrors something closer to Major League Baseball than what we’re used to in MLS or the NASL.

What this does is make any kind of season comparison difficult since just about everything is unique entering 2015. Still, there were trends from the 2014 season that should become the main storylines to watch in 2015. With only a week before USL kicks off, here are a few of the more interesting stories to keep an eye on from the league.

Sacramento Republic FC Look to Continue Momentum On and Off the Field

One of American soccer’s brightest stories in 2014 was the firestorm that was Sacramento Republic FC. In their first home game last season they doubled the USL attendance record by putting a whopping 20,231 fans in the seats with over 5,000 being season ticket holders. Instantly, they became the darlings of the league and a niche following for many fans across the national. Sporting the second best goal differential and fourth in goals scored made them one of the more exciting teams to watch in the league. Led by head coach Predrag Radoslavjevic (Preki), the team had a much more major league feel than almost every other team in USL Pro and a tactical approach that fit their expansive goals.

By the end of 2014 Sacramento Republic FC lifted their first trophy by defeating the Harrisburg City Islanders in the USL Championship game. They also had top statistical marks with goalkeeper Jack Gleeson tied for third with six shutouts and Rodrigo Lopez landing second in assists with eight all season. The sky is the limit for Sacramento entering 2015 as they look to repeat as champions and have to be considered favorites to become one of the future MLS Expansion teams.

Expect Some Familiar Faces on the Field

This will be the first season where the USL will function as a true developmental league for MLS. Twelve of the twenty-four teams in the league have affiliations with MLS franchises and we could see some main roster names making appearances for various reasons. Expect rehabbing or out of form players to score minutes for their USL side and potentially bolster trophy chances. Riding the bench may no longer be an option for draft picks or returning players should their teams not have room for them.

This does open up a bit of an issue should the USL club be in good form. The transitioning of players in and out of the main roster could create chemistry problems but that will remain to be seen. The head coaches of these twelve teams will have to be aware of the possibility or even the chances that their best players could be called up should the need arise and the financials match. Coaching throughout the league will be quite unique and a major talking point throughout the season.

USL Final Will Have an Original Pairing

Unlike MLS or NASL, the USL final will pit two teams against each other that have never played each other in a competitive setting all year (unless they meet in the US Open Cup). The way the new playoff structure is set up, six teams from each conference make the knockout stages. Then it progresses similarly to MLS with one game playoffs between places three through four and places five through six. After each of the conference playoffs produce a winner those two will meet in the USL Final. So should LA Galaxy 2 win the western conference and play New York Red Bull II in the final, it will be the first time they play each other all season, creating a tactical conundrum for both head coaches.

The reasons for this schedule arrangement is to decrease the need for long distance travel that can be extremely costly. From a fan perspective it helps to grow local rivalries and make the final playoff match an original pairing. A similar style existed in Major League Baseball until interleague games became fashionable in the late 90’s.

Whether it will be successful remains to be seen but it is a rarity for an American soccer league and adds yet another element to the USL that separates it from the NASL and MLS. All of the games being streamed live on YouTube will also be a major factor as, similar to the NBA D-League, fans will have free access to games on mobile and smart TV devices.

This 2015 USL Season is shaping up to be a massive experiment. Should it be a success, financially and on the field, the league would be one step closer to their stated goal of Division 2 status. A failure on any front and they may see that hope fade away as the NASL hopes to make major strides in 2015 towards solidifying their claim to not only Division 2 status but also towards proving that they are a viable alternative to the current first division product.