Welcome to the 3rd installment of Cincinnati Soccer Talk’s 2016 USL Eastern Conference preview. This preview will cover 3 of the more interesting teams in the league, New York Red Bulls II, Orlando City B, and the new arch-rival to FC Cincinnati, Louisville City FC. Unlike most “II” teams in USL, Orlando and New York are expected to field competitive squads that will benefit from fielding MLS players in need of minutes or young up and coming members of their organization. Louisville City FC will start 2016 as an unaffiliated club after Orlando started up their B squad and will rely on a mix of USL veterans and former MLS players to compete.
Louisville City FC (2015: 2nd Place-48 pts. Lost Eastern Conference Final)
MLS Affiliation: Unaffiliated
Background: In their freshman season of 2015, Louisville City FC had a sensational campaign culminating in a heart breaking loss in the USL Eastern Conference Finals to eventual champion, the Rochester Rhinos. From the start, LCFC were successful on the field and well supported by the city. Their average attendance of 6,765 was the 2nd highest in the USL behind the Sacramento Republic. With the town full of MLS aspirations stated by the Mayor of Louisville, how will the club and its braggadocios supporters group, The Coopers, respond in 2016?
Key Players: (Crack) Did you hear that? That was the sound of LCFC fans hearts breaking with the loss of both league MVP Matt Fondy and Defender of the Year Bryan Burke to Jacksonville of the NASL. With the loss of 22 goals and 7 assists from Fondy, Louisville has turned to MLS pinball Chandler Hoffman to carry the load. Also new to LCFC this year is defender Ben Newnam who appeared last season with the Colorado Rapids and Pittsburgh of the USL and George Davis IV, a dynamic midfielder who scored 19 goals in two seasons with Richmond.
Season Outlook: 1st-5th, Playoffs. When people look back at the beginning of FC Cincinnati, they will recognize that it was the first step in the relegation of Louisville City FC to the NPSL. Not only does LCFC and Coach James O’Connor have to deal with the loss of 2 key players, they also have to play in that trapezoid of a pitch otherwise known as Louisville Slugger Stadium. Will they be able to avoid a sophomore slump and be replaced by a regional competitor as the favorite for a coveted MLS position? All kidding aside, I expect Louisville City to challenge for the title and can not wait for the first game vs FC Cincinnati on April 16.
For an updated Louisville City FC squad click here.
Fixtures vs. FC Cincinnati: Home- April 16, 7:00 P.M.; Away- June 25, 7:30 P.M.; July 24, 4:00 P.M.
New York Red Bulls II (2015: 4th Place-42 pts.)
MLS Affiliation: New York Red Bulls – Owned
Background: Compared to other MLS owned sides in the Eastern Conference in 2015, the New York Red Bulls II had a more successful campaign than most teams in their situation could dream of. Not only did the season end with a spot in the playoffs but the depth of the entire organization shown through.
Key Players: This past offseason, the Red Bulls focused on youth in a big way, as Sporting Director Ali Curtis signed seven homegrown academy products (Tyler Adams, Brandon Allen, Derrick Etienne, Alex Muyl, Chris Thorsheim, Mael Corboz, and Scott Thomsen). While they won’t be counted on in their first season with the MLS side, all of them could see serious minutes with Red Bull II. In addition to the 7 homegrown players, NYRB2 members Rafael Diaz, Stefano Bonomo, Tim Schmoll, Noah Powder and Mason Deeds trained with the MLS clubs this pre-season.
Season Outlook: 4th-8th, Playoffs. As shown above, the Red Bulls have some serious young talent in their organization. With the majority of the MLS squad cemented in their positions, the club will be forced to send players to the USL club to learn and grow. With youth comes struggles but Manager John Wolyniec has to be excited with the pipeline of players at his disposal.
For an updated New York Red Bulls II squad click here.
Fixtures vs. FC Cincinnati: Home- July 20, 7:00 P.M.; Away- August 28, 5:30 P.M.
Orlando City B (Expanison Club)
MLS Affiliation: Orlando City – Owned
Background: In 2015 Orlando City decided to end their affiliation agreement with Louisville City and created Orlando City B. With 2 USL titles and 3 Regular Season Commissioner’s Cups, this led to the reincarnation of the most successful USL franchise this decade. Orlando City also announced that Anthony Pulis would coach the new team. Pulis was a player for Orlando City SC’s USL club from 2011–14 and is the son of Tony Pulis, currently the manager of English Premier League side West Bromwich Albion.
Key Players: Kyle Callan-McFadden was one of the first signings of the club and spent his last 2 years as a defender for Norwich City playing with their youth teams and in the FA League Cup. Jonathan Mendoza rejoins OCB after leading the Rochester Rhinos to the 2015 USL Regular Season and Postseason Championships. The 25-year-old Colombian midfielder featured for Orlando in 2011-2013, becoming the second player in Club history to earn promotion from the U-23 side to the first team. Lewis Neal was recently signed by the B squad and will also serve in a coaching position within the organization. He played 21 games for Orlando in MLS last season and could be a mentor to the younger players coming through the system.
Season Outlook: 4th-8th, Playoffs. Orlando City B gives the organization and Head Coach Adrian Heath (MLS) more options and more opportunities for players to make their mark. When the Lions last fielded a team for USL play there were only 14 teams in the league and now there are 14 teams alone in the Eastern Conference. With a mixture of veterans and academy players, Tony Pulis has enough to make his mark and push for a playoff spot in 2016.
For an updated Orlando City B squad click here.
Fixtures vs. FC Cincinnati: Away- May 4, 7:30 P.M.; Home- September 17, 7:00 P.M.
Look for more previews over the next couple of weeks as we head towards FC Cincinnati’s inaugural 2016 season.
For our first preview of Bethlehem Steel FC and Charleston Battery click here.
For our second preview of the Charlotte Independence, FC Montreal, and Harrisburg City Islanders click here.