Well, we thought COVID-19 would be the strongest deterrent to lower-league soccer matches taking place. Unfortunately, however, that prize is more deserving of the blatant racial injustice in our country.
Just when it felt like protests and outcry had reached a climax from yet another shooting, we saw video of another shooting on top of that, the Jacob Blake shooting in Wisconsin.
Because of this new boiling point for the black community, sporting events have been canceled nationwide, and that’s even affected the lower leagues. NISA canceled all its matches (and in the process, Chattanooga FC found themselves in hot water, a rare occurrence for the Boys in Blue). USL League One didn’t take that step, but Forward Madison chose to postpone their match scheduled for last Sunday against North Texas.
In any case, it’s been a peculiar time, and that’s bled into lower-league soccer as it has so often in this tumultous 2020. That’s not to say there hasn’t been quality soccer on offer, though, and it’s high time we start stanning again now that we’ve reached something resembling the halfway mark of the regular season.
The aforementioned North Texas is one of the bigges stories of the season. They will be hoping their unexpected weekend off will give them the spark they’ve lacked so far this year. Far and away winners last year, the glory days of yesteryear (literally) feel very long ago now. They have just six points from as many matches, good for a dismal ninth place.
As expected, the MLS reserve teams are occupying most of the spots alongside North Texas at the bottom of the table. Orlando City actually isn’t in last right now, mostly by virtue of Revs II’s poor performances. Fort Lauderdale CF are in a respectable 7th, buoyed by some quality play from young South American starlets. FC Tucson also sits in the bottom half of the table, sporting an even goal differential but with just 6 points from 6 games.
The team which shall not be named that rhymes with Battanooga Bed Bolves are in 6th on eight points from six matches. They’re making good use of their new stadium with two wins in three games, but a winless showing away from home is hampering them. They’re just as much in the playoff conversation as they are threating to hit the bottom three. Which means nothing in this league because pro/rel isn’t a thing, but I digress.
Inconsistency has been the biggest obstacle for fan favorites Forward Madison, but they’re still in a respectable position, even on points from the same amount of matches as the Red W- oh whoops I almost said that out loud. Two wins from their last three outings is a good sign for the ‘Mingos, but can they finally put together a long-term string of positive results?
The top three looks very interesting, especially after 2nd-place Richmond Kickers closed the gap on league leaders Greenville Triumph. Greenville are still ahead of their Richmond rivals by three points, but the Kickers have two games in hand. Union Omaha, also with two games in hand on the Triumph, sit four points abreast of the top of the table and just one point behind Richmond.
That leaves the club smallworld is stanning, GA-based Tormenta FC, in fourth. They’re currently in a playoff position, but they’ve also played twice more than the rest of the league. Their -3 goal differential isn’t ideal, and they’ll need to turn their form around to stay in the top four long-term.
With all that said, let’s make some sense out of a weird table and throw together some end-of-season predictions, at least for the top half of the table:
- Richmond Kickers: They’ve looked strong so far, and it’s hard to argue with beating the only team ahead of you. They’re in the driver’s seat if they keep performing like they did against Greenville.
- Greenville Triumph: They may have lost to Richmond, but they’ve been solid all season long. Two straight losses doesn’t look too good, but they have the quality in the squad to turn things around when they visit Tormenta next time out.
- Union Omaha: The Owls have a tasty-looking slate of matches in their near future, facing Orlando, Revs II, and Tormenta in their next three games. For now, they’re the only unbeaten team in the league, and if they keep taking care of business against mid- to bottom-table sides, they’ll be well on their way to title contention. Their penultimate match against Greenville will certainly be one circled on the calendar.
- Forward Madison: Rule #1 of life: don’t bet against the ‘Mingos. The hardest part of their schedule is behind them, and they have a lot of bright moments to build momentum off of. They’ll have real work to do to break the fortress of the three foes ahead of them, but all things are possible.
- South Georgia Tormenta: As much as I’d love to stick to my bias and throw them in the top two, four of their next six are against clubs in the top 3. Couple that with their having played two more games than the clubs around them, and even a top four place doesn’t look too secure, much less a berth in the final.
- Chattanooga Red Wolves: They’re just not winning outside of Chattanooga enough. They’re capable of turning things around, but it won’t be an easy road ahead for them. They’ll need to pick up results from away games against the likes of Madison and Richmond to see themselves into a playoff spot, and I’m not convinced that’ll happen.
- North Texas SC: It’s weird seeing them so far down the table, and they clearly aren’t the team they were last year. They still should find their way to relevancy, though, even if it’s too little, too late for a playoff push.
- Fort Lauderdale CF: There’s actually a lot of individual quality in this side. They aren’t exactly title hopefuls at this point, but they’re dangerous enough to shake things up as the season progresses.
- FC Tucson: Four losses from their last five games is not a statistic that gives me confidence. They’ll probably turn it around before the 16 games are up, but they’ve already dug themselves a deep hole.
- New England Revolution II: cause Orlando is in this league too.
- Orlando City B: just no.
Of course, smallworld is stanning our Georgia friends Tormenta FC, so let’s take a more in-depth look at their path to a top two spot.
Unfortunately, it’s not a very easy one. This Friday, they get their toughest test left on the schedule when they host league-leading Greenville Triumph. The good news is that USL League One, having fans at many of its venues, is showing more advantage to the home side than other leagues have that are all closed-door matches.
The bad news is, Greenville are really good, especially on the defensive end. They literally have as many clean sheets as they have goals conceded, at five each. That’s over half of their matches that they’ve shut out opponents, including two away games.
Looking ahead, Tormenta travel to Fort Lauderdale in a match they’ll have to see as a must-win before a tough road game in Omaha. Optimistically, we’ll say they take a draw from the Triumph match and the Omaha match and a win against FTL. They should take three of their last four, but I don’t see them getting anything out of a matchup with the Kickers in Richmond. That’s 14 points added to their current nine, putting them at 23 for the season.
Expecting Greenville to take less than six points from seven matches is not very reasonable. Neither is expecting Richmond to take nine points from ten games. If both those things happen, which they definitely should, even an optimistic look at Tormenta’s remaining schedule won’t be enough to see them into the final.
We’ll keep stanning them until the end, though, so here’s to hoping! Pablo Jara is possibly the best goalkeeper in the league, so if he stands on his head like he’s proven he’s capable of, it’s not too far-fetched to think Tormenta could get some surprise victories where we don’t expect them to, especially given their ability to score.
For me, though, realistically speaking, it’s a three-horse race and Madison is a dark horse fourth option. If you’re a Greenville, Richmond, or Omaha supporter, you’ve got a fun month or so of soccer on your hands!
As always, ESPN+ is streaming every League One match this season, so you can catch all the action as it heats up over the next few weeks.
Stay weird and support local soccer!