Before the beginning of the 2013 USL PRO season, when we were still posting to a different site, the Reckless Challenge staff got together to predict where each of the teams would finish the regular season. With all humility, we did a halfway decent job as a group. Six of thirteen predictions were within a single spot of where the clubs actually finished on the table. We also got six of the eight playoff teams predicted correctly. Our prognostications would have been even better, but who knew that Rochester would miss the postseason for the first time in nearly two decades.
We’re back in the soothsaying business again this season. With a bigger, more knowledgeable staff, we’re bound to improve upon last year’s performance. Due respect is paid to several of the perennial powers. Trepidation seems to be the theme with respect to the newcomers.
The results are enumerated in the table below, and several of the staff members have backed up their picks with some analysis. If you think you can do better, we’d love to hear from you.
|1||Orlando City SC||Orlando City SC||Orlando City SC||Orlando City SC||Orlando City SC||Orlando City SC||Orlando City SC||Orlando City SC|
|2||Richmond Kickers||Charleston Battery||Charleston Battery||Charleston Battery||Richmond Kickers||Pittsburgh Riverhounds||Charleston Battery||Richmond Kickers|
|3||Charleston Battery||Richmond Kickers||Richmond Kickers||Richmond Kickers||Charleston Battery||Richmond Kickers||Richmond Kickers||Pittsburgh Riverhounds|
|4||Pittsburgh Riverhounds||Harrisburg City Islanders||Dayton Dutch Lions FC||Pittsburgh Riverhounds||Pittsburgh Riverhounds||Charleston Battery||Sacramento Republic FC||Harrisburg City Islanders|
|5||Harrisburg City Islanders||Wilmington Hammerheads FC||Charlotte Eagles||Dayton Dutch Lions FC||LA Galaxy II||Harrisburg City Islanders||Pittsburgh Riverhounds||Charleston Battery|
|6||Dayton Dutch Lions FC||Dayton Dutch Lions FC||Sacramento Republic FC||Orange County Blues FC||Harrisburg City Islanders||LA Galaxy II||Harrisburg City Islanders||Charlotte Eagles|
|7||Charlotte Eagles||Pittsburgh Riverhounds||Pittsburgh Riverhounds||Harrisburg City Islanders||Charlotte Eagles||Dayton Dutch Lions FC||Dayton Dutch Lions FC||Dayton Dutch Lions FC|
|8||Wilmington Hammerheads FC||LA Galaxy II||Rochester Rhinos||Charlotte Eagles||Rochester Rhinos||Charlotte Eagles||Wilmington Hammerheads FC||Orange County Blues FC|
|9||LA Galaxy II||Charlotte Eagles||Orange County Blues FC||Wilmington Hammerheads FC||Dayton Dutch Lions FC||Oklahoma City Energy FC||Charlotte Eagles||LA Galaxy II|
|10||Sacramento Republic FC||Rochester Rhinos||Oklahoma City Energy FC||Rochester Rhinos||Wilmington Hammerheads FC||Orange County Blues FC||Rochester Rhinos||Wilmington Hammerheads FC|
|11||Orange County Blues FC||Orange County Blues FC||Wilmington Hammerheads FC||Sacramento Republic FC||Sacramento Republic FC||Wilmington Hammerheads FC||Oklahoma City Energy FC||Rochester Rhinos|
|12||Rochester Rhinos||Sacramento Republic FC||Harrisburg City Islanders||LA Galaxy II||Oklahoma City Energy FC||Sacramento Republic FC||LA Galaxy II||Oklahoma City Energy FC|
|13||Oklahoma City Energy FC||Oklahoma City Energy FC||LA Galaxy II||Oklahoma City Energy FC||Orange County Blues FC||Rochester Rhinos||Orange County Blues FC||Sacramento Republic FC|
|14||Arizona United SC||Arizona United SC||Arizona United SC||Arizona United SC||Arizona United SC||Arizona United SC||Arizona United SC||Arizona United SC|
Some have questioned whether or not OCSC will be able to focus on the task at hand while looking ahead to MLS in 2015. Not Reckless Challenge. Orlando’s favorite sons are our unanimous pick to win the regular season title.
Kim says: As the team pushes toward its MLS debut in 2015, expect OCSC to look for the cup trifecta in order to end on a high note.
Brendan says: It would be foolish for anyone to look past this OCSC team. Head coach Adrian Heath has assembled a core group of players, both on guaranteed MLS contracts for 2015 and guys who will be hungry to impress over the course of this season in USL PRO… several players are among the best talent in the U.S. outside of the first division.
Another outstanding season is expected for last year’s regular season champions. The Kickers might not put together another 22-match unbeaten streak, but Leigh Cowlishaw will have his men ready for the rigors of the USL PRO campaign.
William says: I expect the Kickers to maintain the high level of play that propelled them to the USL PRO regular season championship. Despite the losses of Bruce Ownby and Joseph Ngwenya, who accounted for a large percentage of the Kickers offense, the Kickers are set to challenge Orlando again for the regular season crown and, ultimately, the league championship. Along with the affiliation with DC United, the Kickers made a move to offset the losses of Ownby and Ngwenya by signing former Orange County Blues forward George Davis IV.
Mike says: Richmond is always a solid team. They seemed to get a boost from the DC United loanees last season. We’ll see how this year’s loanees work out.
The Battery are a threat to contend for a title just about every year in USL PRO. Reckless Challenge doesn’t see this year as being any different.
Mike says: With several veteran players returning and the new affiliation with Vancouver, the Battery will battle tough all season.
Brendan says: 2014 will be head coach’s Michael Anhaeuser’s 21st year with the club first as a player and assistant coach. Anhaeuser has imprinted his personality into the club and has enough weapons to take care of business at Blackbaud Stadium while putting up a fight on the road.
If the Riverhounds finish as high as Reckless Challenge expects them to finish, it will mean a home playoff date at Highmark Stadium. Chartiers Valley High School seems like such a long time ago.
Chad says: Jose Angulo led the league in points and goals in 2013. Matt Dallman led the league in assists. Both are returning, and they will be joined by Joseph Ngwenya. If the Riverhounds can learn to hold onto late leads, they will be a very formidable club.
Brendan says: The Pittsburgh Riverhounds is a club on the up and up with a new contributing owner and Highmark Stadium still shiny. Head coach Justin Evans will have much of the same team that made the playoff quarterfinals last year and the chemistry between key players going forward, Dallman and Angulo especially, will only grow.
The City Islanders lost a lot of offense in the off-season, but Ray Stellhorn indicates that Harrisburg is accustomed to retooling. If that’s the case, it will be another trip to the playoffs.
William says: They have resigned their outstanding goalkeeper Nick Noble for a third season. Noble and veteran defender Colin Zizzi will anchor their defense, while Yann Ekra will try to step into the offensive void left following the departure of Lucky Mkosana and Sainey Touray.
Brendan says: Harrisburg lost 3 key players and may not be as lucky this term with the players loaned out from the Philadelphia Union. I may also still be holding a grudge from when Harrisburg knocked the Rhinos out of the playoffs a few years back with shenanigans and theatrics.
Not long ago, Dayton was one of the least competitive clubs in the league. Now the Dutch Lions are a serious threat to make consecutive appearances in the playoffs.
Chad says: First-year head coach Sid van Druenen appears to have done a masterful job assembling fresh talent around a solid core of returning players. The new affiliation with the Crew is just the frosting on the cake.
Kim says: They just signed a Brazilian trio to the squad in hopes of climbing their way near the top of the standings. Dayton finished about mid-table last season, which was just enough to enter the playoffs. Let’s hope their new signings help push them to the number six spot or higher.
The announcement that this is the final year for the Eagles in USL PRO has not stopped the influx of talent. Players with MLS experience have signed on to try to help Charlotte back to the championship match.
William says: The Charlotte Eagles enter their final season in USL PRO having to reload following the retirement of Eric Reed, their outstanding goalkeeper of the past three seasons, along with the loss of forward Christian Ramirez, who signed with the Minnesota United of the NASL. Defender Fiejro Okiomah signed with Chivas USA. After the surprising run to the championship match, the Eagles coaching staff have proven they are quite capable of taking a talented roster and get results. The Eagles have signed several players with MLS experience and look to be poised to make another run at the playoffs and a USL PRO Championship.
Mike says: Charlotte has always found a way to field a competitive squad. They’ll do so again this season, despite the absence of an MLS affiliation.
The Hammerheads would have qualified for the postseason in 2013 if they hadn’t been penalized a point for utilizing an ineligible player in a match. Assuming the mistake is not repeated, Reckless Challenge envisions that the final playoff spot will be theirs this season.
Kim says: The Hammerheads had a rough season in 2013, but with many players returning to the roster look for a solid team to return to the pitch.
Chad says: Some notable names have departed the squad. If newcomers Ackley, Jane, and Cole are able to pick up the slack, Wilmington should finish right around the same spot they did last season.
As the first MLS B-side to stand up as a USL PRO club, Los Dos will subject to a lot of attention this season. Collectively, Reckless Challenge sees them just missing out on the final playoff spot.
William says: They could very easily end up in the playoffs with the unbalanced western schedule.
Brendan says: Simply put, LA Galaxy II are just not in it to win it. Head coach Curt Onalfo told Jason Davis on Soccer Morning that “At the end of the day, if we’re winning every single game, we probably have to re-evaluate this,” because that would indicate the team isn’t utilizing enough academy or homegrown players in the match squad.
One thing is for sure, the marketing department in Sacramento is charging with a full head of steam. It remains to be seen whether a similar performance will be observed on the pitch.
Brendan says: Hype, hype, hype. With Preki at the helm and a few experienced guys to build around, this team should have a solid showing in 2014. Because the schedule out west is so strange, Sac Republic’s success will depend heavily on the quality of its neighboring teams.
Kim says: Sacramento is one of the newest teams to grace USL PRO. There are a lot of unknowns about the team, and it will be interesting to see how they come out in their first season.
The rebranded and refocused Blues are the team that LA never knew enough to forget. The staff at Reckless doesn’t think that a newly energized front office and fan base will be enough to get them back to the playoffs.
Chad says: This is the club that has the talent to take advantage of the unbalanced schedule in the west. Offseason acquisitions like Gibson Bardsley will propel Orange County to another playoff appearance.
Brendan says: The team has made positive roster moves and nailed down a single home venue, but I have no strong feelings about this team one way or the other.
The fall from grace in 2013 shocked everyone around the league, but left a lasting impression on all of us at Reckless Challenge. The Rhinos must be praying to get better talent from NE Revolution than they got last season.
Brendan says: This campaign can not be as awful as the last. The team has made some nice signings with Kyle Hoffer, John McCarthy, and Steve Pinau.
Mike says: It was a surprise drop last year. Can they improve on last season? It would be tough not to do so, but…
By now it’s no secret that Reckless Challenge doesn’t heap high expectations on expansion franchises. Perhaps Jimmy Nielsen’s club will surprise us.
Mike says: They are making the right moves, but they will have difficulty with the nuances of USL PRO.
Chad says: Some talent has come to the roster in the way of players with USL PRO experience and those with MLS experience. It will be enough to be competitive from time to time, but it won’t yield consistent success right away.
The new ownership group appears to be first-class. Nonetheless, the club is still without a coach, and nary a player has been signed. It could be a rough season on the pitch, but fans in the Valley of the Sun appear to be in a real treat for years to come.