USL Week 1 Preview: Looking For A Fresh Start

Image, USL

by ANTHONY J. MERCED

The USL 2016 season is here and starts off with one of the league’s newest and most anticipated teams taking the field on Friday night in Bethlehem Steel FC. Also joining the fray are FC Cincinnati as they travel to South Carolina to play the Charleston Battery and Orlando City B hosting the Wilmington Hammerheads.

There are more than just the newbies taking the field with the marquee game of the weekend shaping up to be Seattle Sounders FC 2 hosting Sacramento Republic FC. Both teams have a tremendous amount to prove after significant offseason changes. Other veterans such as the Richmond Kickers and Harrisburg City Islanders hope to get off on the right foot after disappointing finishes to the 2016 season.

Steel, Cincinnati Look To Build On Offseason Success

There has been a large amount of buzz around new teams Bethlehem Steel FC and FC Cincinnati. Steel FC take center stage first as one of two games on Friday night. The USL affiliate team of the Philadelphia Union will play FC Montreal on Friday night in a game that may prove to be one of the most exciting of the weekend. Last season Montreal finished near the bottom of the Eastern Conference but had an extraordinarily youthful side that was extremely competitive. This year, they will hope to keep teams off of the scoreboard as they were near the bottom of the league defensively one year prior.

FC Cincinnati has had a star-studded start to their history with the signing of US Soccer legend John Harkes as head coach and striker Omar Cummings as a major player signing. Now they will need to produce on the field in the hopes of mirroring their ascendancy to relevance in the minds of soccer enthusiast. That begins on Saturday night against one of the oldest active teams in US Soccer — the Charleston Battery. Last year the Battery finished third in the East and had the second best defensive record in the USL. Not only will Cincinnati need to compete with a well organized side, but also one that did not lose at home in 2016.

Sacramento Look to Rebound Against Seattle

There is little doubt that the Sacramento Republic remain a perennial threat to claim the USL Championship. Paul Buckle’s side is entering its third year of existence and hopes to make the transition from Preki to Buckle-ball, particularly with a full preseason under his belt. Last season, a chaotic Western Conference saw the Republic finish in fourth place but only one point out of the first place spot. Despite being one of the favorites to repeat as champions, the Republic fell to bitter rivals LA Galaxy II in the knockout round of the playoffs.

Buckle’s side will have many new faces as Rodrigo Lopez and others have departed the club. One area the team is looking to improve is on the defensive side of the ball where they allowed 31 goals in 28 games last year. Week one will certainly be a challenge as Seattle had a proven ability, especially at home, to score goals.

If the Republic have ambitions of putting the league on notice, they will need a strong showing against Seattle to start the season off right.

Week 1 Schedule:

FC Montreal vs. Bethlehem Steel FC March 25th at 7PM
Seattle Sounders FC 2 vs. Sacramento Republic FC March 25th at 10:30PM
New York Red Bull II vs. Toronto FC II March 26th at 3PM
Richmond Kickers vs. Harrisburg City Islanders March 26th at 5PM
Charlotte Independence vs. Louisville City FC March 26th at 7PM
Orlando City B vs. Wilmington Hammerheads March 26th at 7:30PM
Charleston Battery vs. FC Cincinnati March 26th at 7:30PM
Tulsa Roughnecks vs. Rio Grande FC March 26th at 8PM
OKC Energy FC vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC March 26th at 8PM
Swope Park Rangers vs. Portland Timbers FC 2 March 26th at 8:30PM
Real Monarchs SLC vs. St. Louis FC March 26th at 9PM
Orange County Blues FC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 March 26th at 10PM
LA Galaxy II vs. Arizona United SC March 26th at 10:30PM