Welcome to the 5th and final installment of Cincinnati Soccer Talk’s 2016 USL Eastern Conference Preview. Today we cover 3 squad looking for dramatic turnarounds from their 2015 performances, Toronto FC II, Wilmington Hammerheads FC, and Western Conference’s Saint Louis FC.
Toronto FC II (2015: 11th Place-23 pts.)
MLS Affiliation: Toronto FC- Owned
Background: In their inaugural season, Toronto FC II finished with a 6-17-5 good enough for 11th out of 12 teams. Ranked 23rd in offense and 21st on defense in 2015, Head Coach Jason Bent has his work cut out for him. One of the downsides of being a “2” club was a lack of consistency among the squad. Unlike most teams in the USL who average 25-30 players per year, Coach Bent had to feature an astounding 40 players last season.
Key Players: Last season’s top Forward Mo Babouli who scored 4 goals and 4 assists was recently signed by the top club but could again see minutes with TFC2 if playing time dries up. Also expected to join the squad from the parent club are Goalkeeper Alex Bono, 6th Pick in 2015 MLS Superdraft, and Forwad Darius Madison. A mainstay for Toronto should be Canadian 2013 U-17 World Cup Midfielder Adam Bouchard. Bouchard came up through the academy last season and could see a spot start for the MLS team if an injury calls.
Season Outlook: 11th-14th, Missed Playoffs. Unlike the MLS squad that should challenge for the playoffs, TFC2 is expected to struggle once again at the bottom of the league. Contrary to some of the statements coming out of camp stating they are expecting to compete, actions and signings show that the organization is treating this team no more than a second squad to get their MLS fringe players minutes.
For an updated Toronto FC II squad click here.
Fixtures vs. FC Cincinnati: Away- April 14, 4:00 P.M.; Home- June 18, 7:00 P.M.
Wilmington Hammerheads FC (2015: 12th Place-19 pts.)
MLS Affiliation: NYCFC- Affiliation Agreement
Background: Established in 1996, Wilmington is known for the The Port City Firm, the official supporters group of the club. This season the Hammers promote former assistant, 34 year old Mark Briggs to the Manager position. Briggs who last played for the Hammerheads in 2013 has some work to do. With league lows in wins, points, and goals, Briggs must shore up the back line and add some offensive firepower to try and make the playoffs.
Key Players: While most fans may wince when you hear your clubs is bringing back just 5 players, Hammers fans may rejoice. Coach Briggs and staff have made nice strides in bringing in talent to push towards the playoffs. 35 year old Liam Miller of Manchester United, Leeds United, and QPR glory joined the club. Miller will be united with another QPR veteran Bruno Perone. I am most interested in the diminutive Spanish midfielder from the famed “La Masia” academy of Barcelona, Josue Currais Prieto (or simply “Josu”). He spent time at recently at RCD Espanyol, Finland, and India. During his move in Finland he transitioned from defender to a creative midfield role. He is my early pick to become the next star of the USL. The team also added 2014 NASL Golden Glove Keeper John Smits.
Season Outlook: 8th-12th, Borderline Playoffs. As you can see from the Key Players segment, the Hammers have added some serious talent. Coach Briggs will have some creative players on the roster but will they have the depth needed to carry them through the dog days of summer? If will also be interesting to see what late arrivals they get from NYCFC to sure up the roster. Will they win the championship? I say No but have them as my dark horse pick to improve 6 spots and get that 8th spot in the playoffs
For an updated Wilmington Hammerheads FC squad click here.
Fixtures vs. FC Cincinnati: Home- April 30, 7:00 P.M.; Away- September 11, 3:00 P.M.
Saint Louis FC (2015: 9th Place-33 pts.)
MLS Affiliation: Chicago Fire- Affiliation Agreement
Background: It is an exciting time to be a soccer fan in St. Louis. MLS has stated its interest to expand to the city and area leaders are forming an ownership group to make this interest a reality. Although SLFC did not qualify for the playoffs in their freshman season, the support is there for a run this season but it will not be without its difficulties. USL shipped Saint Louis out to the Western Conference in 2016. Now, why we are reviewing a team in the West? SLFC was named regional rivals of Louisville City FC and FC Cincinnati and will play each team home and away.
Key Players: Saint Louis FC made a major addition signing of 24 year old El Salvador international Irvin Herrera. Herrera recorded 25 goals in 2 seasons of the Salvadoran Primera Division. He also made 10 appearances for El Salvador internationally. The clubs also added former Houston Dynamo defender A.J. Cochran and midfielder Chad Bond. Cochran made 26 appearance for the Dynamo over the last two seasons. Bond led Tulsa Roughnecks FC with eight assists in 24 starts and 2,104 minutes during the 2015 season.
Season Outlook: 6th-10th, Borderline Western Conference Playoffs. Herrera can punch in goals while Cochran will lead the back line for Head Coach Dale Schilly. The big question is how they will handle the geography and competition of the Western Conference. With powerhouses like Los Dos, OKC, OC, Seattle, and Sacramento in the West, SLFC has some stiff competition for one of 8 playoff spots.
For an updated Saint Louis squad click here.
Fixtures vs. FC Cincinnati: Away- July 6, 7:05 P.M.; Home- August 24, 7:00 P.M.
This concludes our 2016 USL Eastern Conferences Previews. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave a comment below. If you would like to catch up on our other previews you can click the links below.
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.
For our third preview of the Louisville City FC, New York Red Bulls II, and Orlando City B click here.
For our fourth preview of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Richmond Kickers, and Rochester Rhinos click here.