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2019 Midseason Review – Eastern Conference

By USLChampionship.com Staff, 06/28/19, 6:35PM EDT

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Halfway through the regular season, how is your team faring?

This weekend marks the midway point of the USL Championship’s 33-week regular season, an ideal time to survey the landscape on who stands where in the race for the postseason and to make note of some of the standout performances that have already made this campaign a memorable one.

I’ll be looking at the where things stand in the Eastern Conference, while my colleague Nicholas Murray has the overview for the Western Conference right here. While there’s a solid gap between the top 10 teams and the chasing pack, the battle for the conference title and home-field advantage in the postseason is setting up an exciting second half of the season.

Atlanta United 2
Atlanta United 2
Record: 3-8-4 - 14 pts
Playoff Odds: 2 percent
Atlanta United 2
ATL UTD 2 won three of its first six games of the season but has now gone over two months without picking up three points. While his team has had its ups and downs this season, Wyke has been a consistent performer throughout his rookie season. Splitting time as a center back and defensive midfielder, the 22-year-old Englishman leads his side in clearances (44), recoveries (106), tackles won (29 of 41) and duels won (84 of 155). Add in a pair of goals as well and Wyke has been a key to ATL UTD 2 remaining within six points of the playoff places in the East.
Bethlehem Steel FC
Bethlehem Steel FC
Record: 4-8-4 - 16 pts
Playoff Odds: 3 percent
Bethlehem Steel FC
With a rotating cast of characters around him, Chambers has been the constant for Steel FC since arriving at the club ahead of the 2016 season. This year has been no different as Bethlehem has dealt with its fair share of injuries in the first half of the campaign, leaving Chambers in charge of keeping things steady from the center of the park. The Irishman has contributed three goals and an assist in attack, while leading his side in recoveries (121) and aerial duels won (36 of 53). Steel FC has an outside shot to reach the postseason for the third straight year, but if it makes a run it’ll be because Chambers leads the way.
Birmingham Legion FC
Birmingham Legion FC
Record: 5-9-4 - 13 pts
Playoff Odds: 3 percent
Birmingham Legion FC
Legion FC has struggled to consistently find offense over the first half of its inaugural season, but Kasim has been the bright spot in Birmingham to this point. The 22-year-old Ghanaian winger shares the team lead with three goals and ranks second with 22 key passes but none of those have turned into an assist. Kasim has also done his fair share of defensive work, ranking among the team’s top five in both recoveries (93) and interceptions (16). If he can continue his strong start and get some help from veteran Chandler Hoffman and others, Legion FC could make its way back into the postseason conversation.
Charleston Battery
Charleston Battery
Record: 5-4-7 - 22 pts
Playoff Odds: 76 percent
Charleston Battery
The Battery are on track to continue their record of reaching the postseason in every Championship season to date and Lewis is a big reason why. The 25-year-old Bermudan has made a major impact in his first season in Charleston and leads the team in goals (5), assists (2) and chances created (22) despite missing time to represent his country at the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup. With Lewis now back in the forefront for the Battery, Head Coach Mike Anhauser’s squad is well positioned to make a run at a top-six finish.
Charlotte Independence
Charlotte Independence
Record: 2-7-7 - 13 pts
Playoff Odds: 14 percent
Charlotte Independence
The Independence won just one of their opening 14 games this season – leading to the departure of former Head Coach Jim McGuinness – but hasn’t stopped the quality of Gutman from showing through. The 2018 MAC Hermann Trophy winner as the top men’s collegiate player has made a swift transition to the professional ranks, showing a strong two-way game from his left wingback position. Gutman, who is on loan from Scottish side Celtic FC, has chipped in three goals and an assist while leading the Independence in recoveries (115), tackles won (27 of 35) and interceptions (24). If the 22-year-old returns from Celtic preseason training for Charlotte’s stretch run that would be a big help to a potential turnaround.
Hartford Athletic
Hartford Athletic
Record: 2-10-4 - 10 pts
Playoff Odds: 4 percent
Hartford Athletic
The Athletic ran the gauntlet over the first eight weeks of their inaugural season – playing and losing all eight games on the road, seven of which came against current postseason sides – but have started to turn things around in recent weeks. Part of that turnaround has been sparked by Swartz, who has had a productive start to his rookie season in Hartford. The forward has found the back of the net three times in eight appearances, tying him for the team lead with Jose Angulo. If those two can form a productive partnership over the second half, Hartford could continue building momentum.
Indy Eleven
Indy Eleven
Record: 10-2-3 - 33 pts
Playoff Odds: >99 percent
Indy Eleven
Given their record and standing atop the USL Championship standings, the Eleven clearly haven’t struggled much this season. But whenever Indy needs of a moment of inspiration, it seems that Pasher has been the one to provide it. The Canadian midfielder leads the team with six goals – four of which have been game-winners – and has done so on just 16 shots for a conversion rate of 37.5 percent, which ranks in the top five league-wide for players with at least five goals. If he and Ayoze can continue to create opportunities down Indy’s left flank and Dane Kelly finds his shooting boots, the Eleven will be favored to hold onto the East’s top spot.
Loudoun United FC
Loudoun United FC
Record: 3-6-3 - 12 pts
Playoff Odds: 18 percent
Loudoun United FC
MVP - Peabo Doue
Loudoun has played the fewest games in the Championship so far this season, which gives the expansion side plenty of opportunities to make up ground to the playoff places in what will be a busy second half. If United is to make things interesting over that stretch, Doue will likely play a prominent role in keeping things tidy at the back. The 27-year-old left back has sometimes moved into the center of defense for Loudoun and leads the team’s outfield players in clearances (47), recoveries (75) and interceptions (21). He has also shown the ability to aid in attack, adding two assists for a team that has created the least chances in the league (6.25 per game).
Louisville City FC
Louisville City FC
Record: 7-5-4 - 25 pts
Playoff Odds: 93 percent
Louisville City FC
The two-time defending champion struggled with injuries over the first half of the season – with captain/midfielder Paolo DelPiccolo and core players missing time – but Rasmussen stepped into a prominent role in midfield to steady the ship while others were out. The 26-year-old Dane, who made 20 appearances (12 starts) for Louisville last season, has carried the offensive load with six goals and one assist while also making 19 key passes. That will make it hard for Head Coach John Hackworth to take him out of the lineup, even if others get healthy and find their form for the stretch run.
Memphis 901 FC
Memphis 901 FC
Record: 2-7-5 - 11 pts
Playoff Odds: 5 percent
Memphis 901 FC
MVP - Marc Burch
Memphis has scored the fewest goals in the Championship to date – 12 in 14 games – so it seems natural to pick a defender as their top player so far this season. Burch, who has served as 901 FC’s first captain, has been sturdy at the back and leads the side in clearances (58) while also winning 17 of 20 tackles and 53 of 81 duels. The 35-year-old has also contributed on the offensive end and is tied for the team lead with two goals and one assist. Memphis will need more help on the offensive end if it wants to push for a playoff spot in its inaugural season, but it can count on Burch being a strong leader at the back.
Nashville SC
Nashville SC
Record: 8-3-5 - 29 pts
Playoff Odds: >99 percent
Nashville SC
Nashville SC made plenty of big splashes this past offseason, but the acquisition of Rios has paid the biggest dividend so far as the forward has carried the scoring load for much of the first half of the season and especially when fellow newcomer Cameron Lancaster was out injured. Rios ranks second in the Championship with 10 goals – halfway to his 2018 total – and has put Nashville in a strong position to improve on its debut season, which ended with a first-round playoff exit. If Rios can keep up his impressive form and build a strong partnership up front with Lancaster, there will be more good things to come in Nashville.
New York Red Bulls II
New York Red Bulls II
Record: 9-4-2 - 29 pts
Playoff Odds: 98 percent
New York Red Bulls II
The Red Bulls II are back to doing what they do best – scoring lots of goals – but they also have shown a bit more steel than they did a season ago in what has been another strong start for Head Coach John Wolyniec’s side. One of the key figures in their success has been the attacking play of Stroud, who has scored five goals and recorded a team-high four assists. The 22-year-old forward will want to improve his shot conversion rate of 14.29 percent a bit in the second half, but Stroud seems poised to fill the shoes of Tom Barlow and lead another potent New York attack into the postseason.
North Carolina FC
North Carolina FC
Record: 7-2-6 - 29 pts
Playoff Odds: 99 percent
North Caolina FC
The Dave Sarachan era at North Carolina FC has gotten off to a strong start as the side looks assured of making the postseason for the first time after just missing out in 2018. A big part of that has been the impressive play of Miller, who has scored five goals from midfield and leads the team with four assists. While the 29-year-old has been a steady contributor to NCFC’s top-10 offense, Miller has also played his part in breaking up opponent’s play by winning a team-best 20 of 27 tackles.
Ottawa Fury FC
Ottawa Fury FC
Record: 7-2-6 - 27 pts
Playoff Odds: 97 percent
Ottawa Fury FC
Like North Carolina, Fury FC has been a pleasant surprise through the first half of the season and looks a sure bet to make the postseason field after missing out a season ago. The biggest difference from last campaign to this has been on the attacking end, where Ottawa is just six goals shy of matching its 2018 offensive output (31 goals) after just 15 games. While the finishing of Christiano Francois, Mour Samb and Wal Fall has been a key part of that turnaround, Haworth has played his part in aiding the attack while also keeping Ottawa a top-10 defense from his spot at right back. The club’s captain has four goals and four assists on the season and leads the team in chances created (31), tackles won (23 of 30) and interceptions (24). If Haworth and company can continue their strong play, they’re going to be a tough out come playoff time.
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
Record: 4-2-7 - 19 pts
Playoff Odds: 96 percent
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
Despite their slow start to the season and current position in the standings, FiveThirtyEight loves the Hounds’ chances to return to the postseason and it’s hard to argue against it. Pittsburgh’s defense has shown more gaps than we’re used to from a Bob Lilley side, but the club has lost just twice despite having already gone to Charleston, Indy, Louisville and Tampa Bay. The second half of the season should provide more opportunities for three points and with Forbes leading the way in midfield – having already amassed a goal, four assists and team-best 31 chances created – Pittsburgh is primed to climb up the table.
Saint Louis FC
Saint Louis FC
Record: 5-3-5 - 20 pts
Playoff Odds: 86 percent
Saint Louis FC
MVP - Sam Fink
After moving back to the Eastern Conference this offseason, Saint Louis FC has started building on its first postseason appearance in club history and looks likely for a second straight trip come season’s end. Much of the club’s early-season success has been based at the defensive end where Fink has been strong, leading the side with 52 clearances and winning 59 of 88 duels. He has also been a solid contributor on the offensive end, netting four goals in league play and heading home the game-winner to send STLFC to the Quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. If Head Coach Anthony Pulis can get his side to convert a few more of the opportunities Lewis Hilton provides, STLFC can push for a top-six finish.
Swope Park Rangers
Swope Park Rangers
Record: 1-8-6 - 9 pts
Playoff Odds: 2 percent
Swope Park Rangers
As the last team sitting on a single win in the Championship, the Rangers haven’t had much to celebrate so far this season but if there is a silver lining it’s been the play of their creative midfielder. Hernandez has already doubled his scoring output from last season with his team-high six goals and has chipped in two assists to go with it. His shot conversion rate of 37.5 percent may not be sustainable over the second half of the season, but if the 21-year-old Colombian can continue to make an impact down the stretch he could well be in contention for the Championship’s Young Player of the Year award come season’s end.
Tampa Bay Rowdies
Tampa Bay Rowdies
Record: 9-1-6 - 33 pts
Playoff Odds: >99 percent
Tampa Bay Rowdies
After missing the playoffs last season, the Rowdies began the year on a 13-game unbeaten run and haven’t looked back as they sit level on points atop the East with Indy Eleven. The key to that early-season success has been a league-leading defense that has conceded just nine goals in its opening 16 games. That defense has been anchored by the 6-foot-4 Diakite, who leads the league with 99 clearances and all Rowdies outfield players with 88 recoveries while also winning 12 of 13 tackles and 86 of 130 duels. If Tampa Bay can continue to keep opponents out at this rate in the second half of the season, it could find itself rewriting the Championship’s record book soon enough.

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