Week 3 in the USL Championship provided lots of late drama and high-scoring draws, which in turn raised questions about some lackluster defending among other things.
Before Memphis 901 FC and the New York Red Bulls II kick off the Week 4 slate on Friday night (7 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+), I took some time to address the lingering questions that fans across social media have been asking since Sunday night.
Let’s get started.
Reddit user @CaptainJingles asks: The Hounds have given up an uncharacteristic amount of goals (for Head Coach Bob Lilley) so far. Is this for real or will they regress back to their expectation?
I don’t think this is anything to worry about over the long term. It has been weird to see Pittsburgh concede four times over its opening two games – and weirder still to see some of the lackluster defending that led to a couple of those goals – but I think that just comes down to early-season missteps and a small sample size. And even despite the disappointing start, there are some encouraging signs. The Hounds have faced the fewest shot attempts in the Championship so far (15), which ranks them ahead of the 11 other sides that have only played two games. While last year’s defensive record of just 28 goals conceded and 17 clean sheets may be tough to replicate, there’s little doubt in my mind that Bob Lilley will have things sorted out at the back sooner rather than later. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pittsburgh’s first shutout of the season come this weekend at Bethlehem Steel FC either.
Reddit user @JterrellNMU asks: With Tulsa currently sitting on top of the table in the west are they the biggest early surprise? And if not, what is the biggest surprise and disappointment?
To me, Tulsa is by far the biggest surprise in the Championship so far. The most impressive improvement has come on the offensive end, where the side has already scored 11 goals after just finding the back of the net 36 times last year in 34 games. I’m still not sure how sustainable it is – especially since defender Luca Lobo leads the team (and league) with five goals in four games – but Head Coach Michael Nsien deserves plenty of credit for his side’s early-season performances. The fact that the Roughnecks could surpass their 2018-win total (3 games) in April tells you all you need to know.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, I’d say my biggest disappointment to this point is Nashville SC. There’s nothing particularly wrong with a road draw with the New York Red Bulls II or a defeat to Saint Louis FC, but I just thought I would be seeing more production in the attacking third at this point. It’s still early – and I’m not backing off my USL Cup prediction after three weeks – but I expect more from the flashy offseason acquisitions of Cameron Lancaster, Daniel Rios and Kharlton Belmar.
Nashville SC has scored only three goals in three games to start off the regular season after making a splash with attacking upgrades. | Photo courtesy John Wilkinson III / Nashville SC
Facebook user Colin Mall asks: Do you think this is the year for the west to win the title?
After backing my prediction of Nashville to win the USL Cup above, it’d be kind of difficult for me to answer this with anything other than no. However, while I do think that the Eastern Conference has the greater share of title contenders, I can also see a situation where that comes to hurt the team that reaches the USL Cup. The gauntlet that a team from the East could face this postseason could wear out the emerging finalist, whereas the road might be just slightly easier out West. I’ve been very impressed with Sacramento Republic FC so far, but fellow preseason favorites Phoenix Rising FC and Orange County SC still have some work to do. There’s a long way to go between now and November, though.
Facebook user Jonathan Nazari asks: Do you think Jimmy Nielsen will be able to replicate the success he had with the Energy with Hartford Athletic?
Despite Hartford’s early-season struggles, I can absolutely see Head Coach Jimmy Nielsen replicating his past success with the Athletic over the long term. Let’s remember that Nielsen missed the USL Cup Playoffs in his first season in charge of OKC Energy FC before leading the side to the Western Conference Final twice in the following three seasons. Given the brutal road schedule that Hartford has before playing in front of its fans at historic Dillon Stadium starting in May, I expect the Athletic will build too big of a hole to climb out of to reach the postseason this year. However, Nielsen’s side showed promise in its loss to Louisville City FC last weekend and there’s no reason to doubt that things will get better.
@USLWesternMemes asks: From 1-10 how good are my memes?
I’m going to give you a 6/10 for a solid start. Saying that your page has only been in existence for less than a week, though, I can’t go any higher than that without raising expectations. I’ve also got some concerns about some repetitive content (what did Billy Forbes do to you?), though the cut-inside clock gave me a good laugh. Also, your rendition of “The Creation of Adam” featuring Phoenix Rising FC VP of Marketing and Sales Sam Doerr is a true work of art. Give me more of that. Let’s just get one thing clear, @USLMemes is still King here. And when you come at the King, you best not miss.