USL Week 1 Recap: Strong Defense and Strong Debuts

Bethlehem Steel USL

by ANTHONY J. MERCED

Week one of the USL calendar was marked by strong defensive efforts around the league and equally strong debuts by several of the new teams.

Bethlehem Steel and Swope Park Rangers were most impressive with shutout victories over the weekend while others like FC Cincinnati and Orlando City B seemed to slip against established USL competition.

Overall, defenses were strong in the league as nine of the 13 games in week one were shutouts. On top of this, only three games were won by more than one goal. Part of this most certainly has to do with teams adjusting to their new lineups, but it cannot go unnoticed that players such as Matt Fondy are no longer in the league. New faces will need to step forward to fill the shoes of last season’s top goalscorer.

Bethlehem Steel Make Impressive Debut

The 2016 USL season started with the debut of one of the most anticipated incoming teams in Bethlehem Steel FC. They took on FC Montreal at the Stade Seputo and made themselves at home very early on. Fielding a competitive side, with veterans such as Cosmos familiars Walter Restrepo and Leo Fernandes, Steel FC were able stretch FC Montreal and dominate the possession stats from the very early stages of the game.

The only goal came in the 43rd minute when Walter Restrepo crossed the ball in from the left side and found Fabian Herbers unmarked in the box. Herbers buried the opportunity and took the air out of Montreal’s sails. Late in the second half, the home team attempted a comeback but Steel FC were as solid as their name, keeping most shots away from their goalkeeper.

The win not only sets Steel FC on the right path but also raises questions about FC Montreal’s offseason changes. Many of the same woes that haunted them in 2015 seem to have returned at least for week one of 2016. Players like Michael Salazar looked impressive but none of the pieces came together for a result.

Richmond Dominates Harrisburg City

One of the more decisive results of the weekend was the Kickers’ 3-1 win over Harrisburg City at City Stadium. By the 15 minute mark, Richmond had opened up the scoring and led 3-0 by the half. Goals from Michael Callahan (1), Jason Yeisley (1) and Yudai Imura (1) capped off a dominating performance. Harrisburg was able to get a goal back in the second half but it was little more than a consolation prize in a sputtering debut to the 2016 season.

Last season, Harrisburg City finished the season in disappointment as they failed to qualify for the USL Playoffs one year after making it to the Championship Final. This season’s start will certainly bring back the underwhelming feelings that have persisted, but the team will need to move past them quickly as they continue their four game road trip to open the season against the Charlotte Independence next week.

LA Galaxy II Look to Put Championship Letdown Behind Them

Last time we saw LA Galaxy II take the field, they had the most impressive performance seen in 2015 against eventual champions the Rochester Rhinos. While there were many positives to take away from that performance, they still left the northeast empty-handed.

One of the players who remembered that game was Ariel Lassiter, who kicked things off in style in week one against Arizona United SC. Lassiter scored twice in the first half to sink Arizona at Stubhub Center Track & Field Stadium. First, he converted a penalty kick he earned himself in the 10th minute and then placed a ball past the Arizona keeper in the 30th minute after a looping ball from Rafael Garcia beat the opposition’s backline.

LA Galaxy II have slowly separated themselves from the pack in the Western Conference with deep playoff runs in their first two seasons of play. Now the hot start to 2016 has to place them as one of the team’s to beat in the West. Ariel Lassiter appears to be developing fast as a devastating goalscorer and should be one of the most entertaining players to watch as the year progresses.

USL Week 1 Results:

Bethlehem Steel FC: 1
FC Montreal: 0

Sacramento Republic: 1
Seattle Sounders FC 2: 0

Toronto FC II: 2
New York Red Bull II: 2

Harrisburg City Islanders: 1
Richmond Kickers: 3

Louisville City FC: 1
Charlotte Independence: 0

FC Cincinnati: 0
Charleston Battery: 1

Wilmington Hammerheads: 2
Orlando City B: 0

Colorado Springs Switchbacks: 2
OKC Energy FC: 1

Rio Grande Valley FC: 0
Tulsa Roughnecks: 2

Portland Timbers FC 2: 1
Swope Park Rangers: 2

St. Louis FC: 0
Real Monarchs SLC: 1

Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2: 1
Orange County Blues FC: 0

Arizona United SC: 0
LA Galaxy II: 2