We’ve had a few weeks of USL Championship action, and while I was going to wait a bit longer before going all number nerdy, things have been far too chaotic to ignore. Upsets galore, some expansion teams doing unexpectedly well, some doing far worse than I predicted, and generally lots of stuff to #HotTake about.
I’m not going team by team and doing all the numbers and explanations, that can wait until May when there’s a much larger — and more statistically significant — sample size. I am, though, looking at points-per-game data for 2018 and 2019 (so far), and using that for the basis of this rambling analysis.
I first calculated my numbers and ran a basic correlation analysis in Excel. It spat out a whopping 11.4%. In a nutshell, there’s basically no connection whatsoever between the results of this season and last. Let’s dive in to show just how chaotic things are.
We begin, as is tradition, with the Western Conference.
Two teams have moved by an entire point per game (roughly): Tulsa Roughnecks and Orange County SC. Tulsa has come out of the gate swinging, coming back from a 2-0 deficit to beat Orange County 5-3, blanking Tacoma and currently leads the Western Conference. They blew it right the hell up at the end of last season and it looks like it might actually work.
Orange County on the entirely opposite hand has walked into the gate, fallen over and passed out on the starting line. The club finally managed a win, just the one, after losing to Tulsa and expansion El Paso. Five points through five from a team that completely bossed the Western Conference around last year is bad, and more importantly, made me look stupid. I did give Orange County 10% odds of being a mess, but I honestly didn’t expect it might be this bad.
Honorable mention goes to Los Dos, who actually look half good for once in a very long time, and a major dishonorable mention goes to Phoenix Rising. Phoenix is sitting at four points through four games, and that’s just plain dreadful. It’s inexplicable. I might as well mention RGV, a team that was pretty bad last year and is much, much worse so far in 2019. The Toros have played five games and have two points. TWO. They can’t even use excuses about a tough schedule or road games, either. Not good, my dudes.
Only one team out West that was genuinely really good last year remains really good, and that’s Sacramento. They kept most of their major players, and they’ve been ramping up their efforts on and off the field to build momentum for MLS once again. Hopefully, it works. There aren’t many reasons why Sacramento shouldn’t be in MLS in two years.
And onto the East.
Saint Louis completed their fifth conference switch in five seasons, prolonging my favorite administrative meme in USL, and are finding the Eastern Conference a much, much easier game. They’re sitting comfortably atop the conference and are playing the best they ever have. Very, very great work. Tampa Bay and the Baby Bulls both get a nod for improvement, and they’re hot on Saint Louis’s heels.
On the opposite side, we find two teams with one point through three: the Swope Park Rangers and Charlotte Independence. They’re bad. Real bad. Very, very, very bad. Charlotte’s big announcement can’t come soon enough, as hopefully it means more money for this team. Also, we gotta talk about Louisville. Down .741 points per game from last season, they’re not far removed from the playoff bubble at the moment. I know it’s early, but yikes and/or oof.
Take a look at this. Them right there are the expansion teams. Now, let’s talk about the expansion teams.
In the West, one of the three newbies is within playoff range: New Mexico United. They’re fifth in the conference by PPG, have 10 points through six matches and are the only newcomer to have really figured things out early. They’re one of the few predictions I made in March that’s holding true.
El Paso and Austin are both doing OK. They’re not yet in the playoff picture, but they’re not so far away now that things are impossible. El Paso needs to find some chemistry with their defense, and they’ll be fine. Austin, meanwhile, needs to score more goals. It’s much easier said than shot, I’m well aware, but it’s the biggest issue they’re facing so far.
The same can’t quite be said as much for the East, unfortunately. Memphis is doing adequately, but not much better just yet, Birmingham and Loudoun are both struggling early, and then there’s Hartford. Oh, Hartford.
You see, back in March, I was buying all the Hartford Athletic stock I could get my hands on. Then, they went and lost their first five games played by an aggregate scoreline of 2-11. The flattening at the hands of the Rowdies was a particularly dire affair and I’m getting ready to start selling. A team that plays a 5-4-1 that can’t defend is a team with some rather serious problems. Maybe they’ll figure it out come June and they’ll be the next 2018 OKC Energy for me to write about in a few months. But I have some major worries about the new New England team.
I’ll hold off on any meaningful attendance discussion for now, simply because we don’t have much in terms of data just yet, but things are looking sufficiently fine to keep me from tweeting about it. Really, until everyone’s played at least four or five home games, there’s nothing to actually analyze.
Follow John on Twitter: @JohnMLTX.
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