With the 2019 USL Championship just 2 days away, it’s time to take a look at the USL Championship Power Rankings. Being that the league is still limited in media coverage, the USL Championship is the only entitly that issues power rankings. As we have discussed many times on the podcast, it’s difficult to make many predictions before the season kicks off, but let’s take a look at what the league thinks:
Fresh off their 2nd USL Cup in as many years, it is no surprise that Louisville City FC is on top of the pre-season power rankings. Although their off-season might not have been as splashy as some of the other teams in the Eastern Conference, the throne atop the league is theirs until someone knocks them off. Nashville SC (3rd) and Indy Eleven (4th) have both strengthened their rosters in hope of being the team that finally dethrones Louisville.
For the Western Conference, Orange County SC is ranked 6th overall, and 3rd in the West behind Phoenix Rising FC (2nd) and Sacramento Republic FC (5th). Phoenix being ahead of Orange County probably isn’t much of a suprise, since they did knock OC out of the playoffs last season, and have retained a solid group of players from that team. The bigger suprise might be Sacramento, who finished 2nd in the Western Conference last season (1 point behind Orange County), and were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by 7th seed Swope Park Rangers.
Phoenix is always going to be a threat as they look to be spot number 28 in the MLS, and this season is no different. A decent group was brought back from 2018, mostly made up of their more dangerous players. A few LAFC loans round out their ranks, but life without Drogba leaves some questions about leadership on the pitch. They'll need some cooler heads on warm summer nights, but their overall quality should still see them through most matches. They are undeniably the team with the most to lose this year.
With no disrespect to Cameron Iwasa and the rest of the Sacramento Republic squad, I believe they lack the clinical quality of Orange County and Phoenix. While they've held their own the last five years, I'm not sure they can be considered leaders of the West anymore when other teams are bolstering their attacks for what should be an exciting 2019 season. Their defense will need to be the best in the league all season long, while Iwasa and returnee Blackwood will need to have another career year for them to keep up towards the top.
Losing Thomas Enevoldsen is going to be a big hit for Orange County, but it seems that the recruitment staff have looked to the midfield and wingers to pick up the slack. Seaton's late season form was incredible and he undoubtedly looks ready to continue it into 2019. The "new" guys Harry Forrester and Jerry van Wolfgang will surely be tasked with putting up career numbers, but both have the natural ability to do so. Behind them, a solid core group was brought back and will likely continue to work well with the added desire to get back at Phoenix after last year's conference final. A few MLS loans will help shore up the defensive side of things.
The fact that both Phoenix and Sacramento are ahead of Orange County in the power rankings is a bit shocking. OC finished the regular season last year on top of the Western Confernece table, and have returned a good amount of key players from last years squad. They have also brought in some proven talent from both the USL and leagues in Europe, in hopes of improving on last year’s great run. The lack of a proven keeper might be the only thing holding this team back, but it shouldn’t mean 3rd in the west.
I have no problem with Phoenix ahead of OC in the power rankings, due to the fact that they knocked County out of the playoffs, and have also brought back a fair amount of quality players from last year’s squad. Sacramento is a bit more puzzling, since they seemed to fizzle out toward the end of the season and into the playoffs, where they were knocked out in the first round. Don’t get me wrong, Sacramento is a quality team, but I just don’t feel that they have done enough in the off-season to jump ahead of OC.
Orange County should start the season as one of the three best Western Conference teams behind both Phoenix and Sacramento. While they brought back a lot of talent, what keeps OC from the top slot is the back end of the pitch. There are still question marks regarding the keeper and the defensive back line that could lead them to drop some points early. If OC can solve Reno in week one, the Orange and Black have a chance to rise quickly back to the top of the West.
You can see the full power rankings by clicking the link below.