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USL Featured Five

Feature-Five

All eyes will be on the big derby match between FC Cincinnati and Louisville City FC this weekend. If you missed it, check out our detailed preview of Saturday’s match. Regardless of the result, the sun will come up on Sunday and we at Cincinnati Soccer Talk want to make sure you’re ready for what’s ahead. So, we present our USL Featured Five. In this segment we’ll give you the scoop on FC Cincinnati’s next five opponents and how they’ve started their USL season. At the end, we will draw some insights and tell you how we think FC Cincinnati will fare.

Toronto FC II

Toronto FC II Logo Hi

Sunday, April 24th @ 4pm in Toronto-Ontario Soccer Centre
1-0-1, 4 points, 6th in Eastern Conference

Toronto FC II entered the league in 2015 and faced a bit of a rude awakening. They finished 11th of 12 teams in the East, well out of the playoffs. They won only 6 of 28 games, allowing 52 goals (4th worst in USL) while scoring 26. Ouch.

Their 2016 campaign has gotten off to a much better start and they sit in sixth place in the East after only 2 games (most teams have played 3). They drew 2-2 away to an impressive Red Bull II side in their opener and defeated FC Montreal 2-1 in Montreal.

Player to watch: Twenty year old striker and Toronto native Raheem Edwards has two goals in two games including a screamer against FC Montreal. TFC II face Pittsburgh in their home opener this weekend and are favorites to earn another 3 points and continue their strong start.

Take a look at this half-field dribble and finish from Toronto FC II’s Malik Johnson which made USL’s goals of the week right next to Sean Okoli’s scissor kick special.

Wilmington Hammerheads

Wilmington Hammerheads FC Logo HiSaturday, April 30th @ 7pm in Cincinnati – Nippert Stadium
1-1-1, 4 points, 7th in Eastern Conference

Although Wilmington boasts an impressive 20 years as a professional franchise, they also had a season to forget in 2015. The Hammerheads finished bottom of the Eastern conference and managed only 3 wins all season. They finished with a USL low 19 points, 10 points less than Western conference cellar-dwellers Real Monarchs.

Wilmington also has gotten off to a much better start in 2016. After winning their opener at Orlando City B , they drew against 2nd place Richmond before losing away at Charleston.

Player to watch: Although there is young talent on this team that’s worthy of attention, it’s hard to look past the resume of 35 year old Irish midfielder Liam Miller. Miller has over 100 starts in the Premier League with clubs QPR, Sunderland, Leeds and Manchester United.

Orlando City B (OCB)

Orlando City B Logo Hi

Wednesday May 4th @ 7:30pm in Melbourne, FL – Titan SC
0-2-1, 1 points, 11th in Eastern Conference

Last year MLS club Orlando City had an affiliation with USL’s Louisville City FC but ended that relationship and started their own “MLS 2” club, Orlando City B. This is Orlando City B’s first year as a professional team.

Orlando City has started the season with two losses and a draw and are coming off a 4-1 thumping at the hands of Louisville City. They will hope to get their season back on track Saturday against a struggling Harrisburg City Islanders side. There is talent to this side, but Head Coach Anthony Pulis (son of West Brom manager Tony Pulis) is still trying to mold this young team who feature just two players over the age of 25.

Player to watch: Canadian Richie Laryea was selected 7th overall in the 2016 MLS Superdraft out of Akron by the parent MLS side Orlando City. He’s been loaned to OCB and is seeing significant minutes. He had an assist in the loss against Louisville City FC and leads the team in total shots and shots on goal.

Harrisburg City Islanders

Harrisburg City Islanders HiSaturday May 7th @ 7:00 pm in Harrisburg – FNB Field
0-2-0, 0 points, 14th in Eastern Conference

Harrisburg finished 2015 8th out of 12 teams in the East on 39 points, narrowly missing the playoffs. Last year in the USL’s Eastern conference, only 3 points separated 4th from 8th place and Harrisburg were disappointed not to make it into the postseason. Harrisburg had an affiliate agreement with Philadelphia Union in 2015 which was ended with the start of an “MLS2” side Bethlehem Steel.

Harrisburg currently sit at the bottom of the Eastern conference in 14th place after losing both of the 2 games they’ve played. They lost 3-1 to Richmond in the opener and 2-1 to Charlotte.  Both games were played away from home.

Player to watch: Spanish midfielder Jose Barril is the Islanders playmaker and has scored one of Harrisburg’s two goals this year. He led the team last year with seven assists.

Pittsburgh Riverhounds

2016 Hounds Logo HiSaturday May 15th @ 4:00 pm in Cincinnati-Nippert Stadium
0-1-0, 0 points, 12th in Eastern Conference

Pittsburgh are the only team in our Featured Five to have made the playoffs last year. They finished 2015 in 5th place on 41 points. They lost 4-2 in overtime to New York Red Bulls II in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

In 2016, the Riverhounds became the affiliate of MLS side Columbus Crew SC. Pittsburgh have only played one match this year which was a 1-0 loss away to defending champions Rochester. There’s not really enough evidence out there to judge this years version of the Hounds so we’ll have to watch how their season progresses.

Player to Watch: Kevin Kerr is Pittsburgh’s midfield playmaker and number 10. He provided quality minutes, goals and assists in their 2015 campaign and is likely to do the same this year.

Outlook for FC Cincinnati

These five games represent a time to “make hay” for FC Cincinnati. Three of these five teams have yet to record their first win of the season. There are only 2 wins total across all 5 featured teams in USL play (this is a little unfair to Pittsburgh after only playing one match). They will also face the team with the worst record in USL last year, Wilmington, at Nippert. One should be careful not to draw too many conclusions based on last year’s results though. As usual, there was a lot of player movement in USL’s offseason. Also, changing affiliations and MLS 2 agreements have a big impact on the talent these teams will put out on the field.

FC Cincinnati’s game away to Toronto FC II may be the most difficult of the next 5 games. That game could feature additional loans from TFCs MLS club because they will have played their match against Montreal the day before. A draw would be a good result. I think Harkes will hope FC Cincinnati can take maximum points from each of the four matches that follow.

The frequency of games for FC Cincinnati will pick up toward the end of this stretch. The two week period between May 4th to May 18th will see FC Cincinnati play 4 total games. May 4th will feature the club’s first midweek USL match away to Orlando City B. On May 18th FC Cincinnati will host their first Lamar Hunt US Open Cup match against the winner of Cincinnati Dutch Lions (PDL) and Indy Eleven NPSL. This may be the first time we see Harkes rotate the squad to ensure he has fresh legs to face the competition.

FC Cincinnati should be favorites going into many of these matches. Given their inexperience as a unit, it would not be a surprise if they don’t capitalize on all of their opportunities. Eleven points out of the fifteen available would be a great outcome.

@walkermichaelg for @cincysoccertalk

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READ MORE from Cincinnati Soccer Talk:

FC Cincinnati vs Louisville City FC – Simple Man’s Preview

Gotta Goetta W

This Week in FC Cincinnati- April 13th

Opening Night Observations

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