We’ve seen high flying scorelines, big mistakes, fantastic goals, and lock down defense from very unlikely sources… and it’s not even week 2 yet. As this season continues to get started, we’ll begin to see just how good some of these teams are as they continue to find their fitness and cohesion. There are some big match ups this weekend after finishing out the second round of the Open Cup and we’re looking to see some exciting soccer yet again! Count on drama, goals, and hopefully no open letters to soccer fans across the world and ESPN. Anywho, onto the 2nd week of the season!
*USL L1 Review Game Of The Week* Forward Madison vs Union Omaha: Draw 1-1
Forward Madison are getting ready to play their 3rd game of the year after grinding out a draw with the Red Wolves from a last second stunner of a goal. Having rested some of their starters but still putting on an absolute show against Cleveland, they’ll be looking to continue their fine form and prove to people that while flamingos are kinda cute, they are still very dangerous. Nazeem Bartman has been on fire for the Go’s and will surely be someone that Omaha have to keep an eye on. At the same time, Madison will be looking to keep some solidity to their defensive structure as it’s a given that Omaha will look to pepper the Madison goal. In my opinion, it’ll be important that Glaeser continues to come good on the ideals he discussed in pre-season about their solidity in and out of possession. Preventing quick transitions will be key and the rest-defense for Madison has to be *on point* if they hope to stifle the always high powered attack of Union Omaha. They’ll also want to continue their decisive shooting. They’ve looked confident in good positions and are working hard for each other everywhere else as well. This looks like a happy group to start the season, and you know what they say… happy team… happy… scoreline?
Key Player: Mitch Osmond
The defense will have to be switched on for absolutey every second of the 90 because of how dangerous Omaha can be on the break. Osmond will be a huge part of making sure those transitions are snuffed out. Osmond got a rest on Wednesday, so let’s hope that gets his legs ready and that his mind stays sharp.
Union Omaha on the other hand will need to be ready to finish their chances this weekend after taking over twenty shots with only a set piece goal and lasered header of an own goal to show for it and only 7 shots on target. These are great in one-off situations, but eventually you have to start putting more balls on the target if you want to win games. I’m sure they’ll do that soon, but the question is if they can iron out some of this by Saturday. They are such a threat going forward and it will be fantastic to watch them attempt to unsettle Madison and pull people out of position. Coming up against what looks like a really solid defense will be a great first League One test for the boys in black and volt. On the other side of the ball, the nature of UO’s defensive structure makes it almost impossible to break down. It will be interesting to see how the new faces in the back line cope with L1. The tight defensive lines and fast closing of Omaha were big reasons for their title run. They were so suffocating and will likely look to do the same again. Force Madison into mistakes, frustrate their forwards and deny space for passes between the lines. They already looked strong against a tough Des Moines Menace side and are surely relishing their return to league action for a chance of reclaiming that title.
Impact Player: Joe Brito
Brito was so important to the Buhos on Tuesday, creating so many good chances in open play and set pieces, and even contributing effectively on defense, making 5 tackles. Surely Madison see him as a threat, but as is always the case with Union Omaha players the question is not who is a threat, but can you contain that threat?
The home crowd will surely be ready to cheer on the guys on their home opener and I expect this to be one of the most exciting 1-1 draws we will see all season. Come back mid-week next week for the match review!
North Carolina FC vs Chattanooga: NCFC Win 1-0
This past weekend, NCFC proved they might not be the same old team from 2021. Tight defensive lines, good clearances, dangerous breaks, and grinding out a result were not things you ever said about them, but here we are in a new season. They put on a defensive masterclass against Tormenta and will have to be even more ready against the pressure cooker that is the Chattanooga Red Wolves. I genuinely think they will continue with their stout defensive performances and alot of that will come down to Jordan Skelton and the rest of the back line.
On the other end of the ball, Oalex Anderson will be so important to the counter attacking style NCFC seem to be looking to employ and surely will cause trouble making runs in behind the Chattanooga defense. He’s been a bit of a terror so far and I fully expect him to be a huge headache with some really intelligent runs off of defenders. We already got a glimpse of that over the weekend with the assist for Mclaughlin’s goal and we saw some really good runs from him on Wednesday as well from some Servania service.
Impact Player: Oalex Anderson
If NCFC are to pull of the victory, the direct runs of Oalex will be key. Last year, Chattanooga’s aggression did a lot of good, but it also put them in vulnerable positions in transition. NCFC will have to exploit this vulnerability if they want to come away with a victory. Oalex is just the guy for that with smart runs behind, speed, and decisiveness.
For Chattanooga, they’re sputtering a bit offensively to start off the season. They’re missing some key players to start off and you can see that those players will be welcome additions once they are back in the squad. Outside of a beautiful volley outside the box, there hasn’t been much good generated offensively. They have the lowest xG of all the teams in the league that have played a game and according to Goals Added by American Soccer Analysis, they are also the team that has been least effective on the ball. Now this is from one game (that was quite physical) so it really doesn’t mean THAT much, but the tide didn’t turn offensively against a tough Louisville City side either. They’re missing important offensive components and I could see them struggling a bit until they get those folks in the team. If Chatt can get an early goal and force NCFC out of that turtle shell, i’m sure they can grab a result. Otherwise, i’ll have to stick with my current predicted scoreline. The thing about Chattanooga is we KNOW how good they can be and how infuriating their system can be for opponents, but it’s now up to them to execute with a lot of new players.
Impact Player: Jimmie Villalobos
The all action midfielder has been a bright spot so far, both on and off the ball. Scoring that beautiful volley at the Chattanooga home opener as well as being an absolute beast in defense. He’ll be an important part of disrupting any attacking plays from NCFC and as we saw against Tormenta, this young NCFC side isn’t necessarily going to be able to gain any sort of continuity under a lot of pressure. Villalobos and JCG will be key to ensuring that Chattanooga have control of the game and dictate it the way THEY want, including helping their team pepper the back of the net.
Richmond Kickers vs Northern Colorado Hailstorm: Kickers win 2-1
The Kickers are flying high right now with a HUGE win over Tucson and a trip booked to the third round of the U.S. Open Cup. From what I heard, this match was QUITE physical and that’s good because it’s apparently what NoCo is going to be known for as well. The OTHER new western team is coming to Richmond, hoping to prove that they have what it takes to hang with the best of them. Richmond haven’t lost at home since a 1-0 loss to Greenville in April 2021 and this is sure to be a stout contest for the new guys, just coming off a huge win against USLC western conference giants, the Switchbacks. Tucson didn’t quite looked prepared for their trip to Richmond last week, and it’s anyone’s guess as to whether The Hailstorm will be. They just recorded their first win, but that was marred by a red card and 100 minutes of what had to feel like hell for the 10 men defending their goal with their lives (according to sofascore, almost 50% of the 120 minutes was spent in the Hailstorm defensive third). 28 tackles and 54 clearances later, Mclean and Desdunes combined for a beautiful transition goal. So we know that they’ve got good mental stamina, but can they do that twice. I can’t write too much about this match just on the basis of how little i’ve seen of the Hailstorm with 11 people on the field (27 minutes to be exact).
Richmond Impact Player: Nil Vinyals
This man ended last season on fire, and decided to pick up where he left off. The former Tormenta man was so dangerous in creation and in front of goal last week, scoring 2 goals and assisting another. He’ll surely be a huge part of anything good Richmond does.
NoCo Impact Player: Jerry Desdunes
If you’ve kept up with Northern Colorado’s preseason or even just taken a short glance at their twitter page, you’re likely to see this name. All pre-season long, this man was finishing off plays with goal after goal and he carried that into the open cup as well, scoring in the 96th minute while his team was a man down.
Charlotte Independence vs Central Valley Fuego: Fuego win 3-1
This is another game I won’t write a lot about as we haven’t seen that much of the Independence either. They lined up in a 4-2-3-1 of sorts and looked good for a little while due to some great work from Ayrton Paez, before capitulating to a red card and a 4-2 loss. Meanwhile, Fuego took on League One Open Cup Punching Bag, El Paso Locomotive and absolutely destroyed them 4-1. You can read about Fuego’s slightly slow start before they took off here. 2 wins for the Fuego is 2 wins, no matter how they go down, while the Independence lost control late on against a semi-professional team. If the Independence can’t keep control of this game, it could get ugly.
Independence Impact Player: Ayrton Paez
This man was a bright spot against the Fusion on Tuesday. Beautiful set piece delivery and a nice goal kept the independence in the game for a little while, before all his work was destroyed. Look for him to have a big game if the Independence are to get a result.
Fuego Impact Player: Villyan Bijev
This one is very hard because there are a couple of options on this Fuego squad. I’m going to go with Bijev though because while he was a little less than tip top on Saturday (while kind of injured), he really came into his own against the Locomotive and I fully expect that to happen again here on Friday. The creative attacker will be a key component for an offense that is almost literally on fire.
A couple of teams get a rest after their Open Cup games, but this looks to be an exciting match week at every turn. Expect excitement, expect goals, expect ESPN to be included in some kind of weird coorespondence with the world. Also, if I get these wrong, no I didn’t. Thanks for reading!