The talk of sides in USL Pro from the outside often begins and ends at Orlando City, and while they are arguably (and probably) the best side in the league the league is actually a bit more competitive than many think. Of course those that follow the league know this, but this year the competition will be even closer. Matches will be hard fought all year and no title is guaranteed by any means. It will an interesting and hard fought season.
The competition might actually increase this year despite Orlando’s recently earned MLS spot. One reason for this is the quick rise in affiliations with MLS sides. Last year Orlando’s relationship with KC landed them goal scoring machine Dom Dwyer who shouldered the entire goal scoring burden and lifted them to a championship, but few other teams had a guaranteed pipeline and this hurt them. Now teams will have MLS quality players in their line-ups all over the place that will help them compete. LA Galaxy II is nearly half MLS quality players or future MLS players in their starting XI. We’ve seen Jack McBean in LA Galaxy’s first XI on more than one occasion. There is an influx of higher quality players, which in turn raises the quality of the league.
The first weekend of matches reflects this in many ways. LA Galaxy II were vastly superior and looked in control the entire match. They looked like they could threaten any team in the league on their day since they seemed to be a little off and have room for improvement despite their dominance. They won 3-1, but it easily could have been 5 or 6 if they put the chances away that their lively attack created. Of course a large part of the dominance and chances created was the utter lack of any positioning or cohesion on the part of OC Blues. They were so disorganised that any team with any sort of attacking threat would create chances and end up with a goal. Credit where credit is due though as LA did look pretty good and seemed as though they could look quite a bit better and be a threat in the league and create another team to be competitive in the league.
Orlando looked like they really missed the dominance of Dom Dwyer as a number nine as they had a lot of trouble scoring goals and while they had corner after corner after corner they rarely looked threatening on any of them. Charleston played very deep and looked to hit on the counter which did give them the lead when Diouf hit a majestical strike in the second half. Orlando’s possession eventually paid off for them as they got the equalizer and ended up getting out with a draw. Charleston did receive a blow when Griffith was sent off late in the match after a poor challenge from behind. It was telling that Charleston looked like the away team even though they were the home side as they packed back deep and played on the counter; not quite at the stage of parking the bus, but defensive for sure. Orlando clearly commands respect still and a road point against Charleston is not a bad result, but a point against Orlando is also not a bad result. Orlando is still very good, but they lack the cutting edge that was given to them by Dom Dywer last campaign. This combined with an increase in talent around the league will result in a competitive and fun season for everyone.
(image courtesy of Charleston Battery)