Welcome to SmallWorld’s opening edition of what I’m calling Round Table, a weekly recap of lower-leauge American soccer results around a few different leagues. Though the primary focus of the blog will be on highlighting off-the-field impact that local clubs have on their communities, it’s equally exciting to keep track of a club’s on-field performance. With this in mind, I want to give regular updates on leagues that don’t get much content written about them. This first go at Round Table will just feature the USL leagues, and the second part each week will do the same for the other three main leagues in session this fall (outside of MLS), the NISA, the NPSL Members Cup, and the UPSL.
First up is USL Championship. There’s a good amount of information that can be found on the league’s website and most of the clubs have good social media pages themselves, but I still want to write on the Championship because there could very possibly be a few clubs that end up with feature blogs later on.
For those who don’t know USL Championship well, it’s the second division of American soccer and it’s enormous, with two conferences of eighteen teams each. In the Western conference, New Mexico United started off the season brilliantly, going unbeaten in their first seven matches and bagging a 5-1 win against Real Monarchs. Recently, though, they’ve struggled to stay consistent and sit one spot above the playoff line in 9th position. Speaking of that Western playoff line, it’s a crowded place with about 10 matches left for each team. The difference between 4th place, Austin Bold FC, and 14th, Las Vegas Lights, is exactly 5 points. Thus, it’s going to be an exciting fight to the finish to determine who’s in, who’s out, and who hosts the first round of playoff matches as well. At the top of the table, Didier Drogba-owned Phoenix Rising FC have a 12-point cushion in 1st position over Fresno FC and Reno 1868, respectively.
Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, things are rather interesting at the top. Nine days ago, a couple of important matches at the top of the table made things even more so; North Carolina FC (currently in 5th in the East) beat Tampa Bay Rowdies 4-2, closing the gap between them and the league-leaders, New York Red Bulls II, while the aforementioned Red Bulls traveled to First Tennessee Park and left with a 2-1 victory over Nashville SC. As a result, the table now shows NYRB II on top with 53 points in 26 matches. Tampa Bay sits in second, 4 points behind, but having only played 25 games. Nashville SC occupy the 3rd position and have 48 points to their name after 26 matches, but 4th place is where it gets wacky. Indy Eleven, despite sitting on 46 points, actually look the most likely to take the title at this point, considering they’ve only played 22 games, they’ve won four of their last five, and they’ve yet to lose at home all season. That’ll be a fun battle to watch, as the top two spots are worth a bye in the first round of the playoffs. Ottawa Fury, Birmingham Legion, and Charleston Battery round out the top ten in that order, and all three look fairly secure in their efforts to make the playoffs.
Matches to keep an eye on this week in the USL Championship include a heavyweight battle in Florida as Tampa Bay Rowdies host Nashville SC (Saturday 8-31, 6:30PM Central) and LA Galaxy II’s fight for playoff positioning with Sacramento Republic (Saturday 8-31, 9PM Central). All USL Championship matches are live streamed on ESPN+.
Thankfully, USL League One fields a much more manageable 10 teams. Most clubs have between five and seven matches remaining, and final positions are competitive since only four teams reach the playoffs. As of right now, those top four are North Texas SC, Lansing Ignite, Greenville Triumph, and Forward Madison. Madison shouldn’t be particularly comfortable with their position, however; South Georgia Tormenta and Chattanooga Red Wolves both sit one point behind in 5th and 6th with one more match left to play. Orlando City B have lived up to the dismal precedent set by their parent club, Orlando City SC, and are the first team to be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. They’ve won three of their 23 matches to date. Being an Atlanta United supporter, I’m always looking for a chance to hate on Orlando, but I don’t think there’s an insult that even I could have thought up that would be worse than looking at that statistic.
Both the Red Wolves and Tormenta FC are able to use their game in hand to try and surpass Forward Madison over the next two days; Chattanooga face FC Tuscon away from home (Friday 8-30, 9:30 Central) and Tormenta host Richmond Kickers at Erk Russell Park (Saturday 8-31, 7PM Central).
That’s all for now in the USL Championship and USL League One- if you’ve got a club in either of these leagues near you, go out and support them by attending a match! I can attest personally that both leagues provide some fantastic soccer and fun atmospheres, and it’s a great way to represent your community and help your local club do the same.
Watch local soccer, unify those around you, and seek out diversity!