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USL Championship Power Rankings - Week 1

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 04/28/21, 2:00PM EDT


The Tampa Bay Rowdies start the season in top spot as they get set for their home opener

Welcome back to the 2021 edition of the USL Championship Power Rankings.

You know the drill by now. It’s not just about whether you win, but how. Standings with style points, if you will.

And after taking last season and this preseason into account, we’ve landed on the Tampa Bay Rowdies as the team to beat going into the 2021 Championship season as they kick off their campaign at home to the Charlotte Independence this Saturday night.

We’ve also got some cracking early-season contests to look forward to this weekend – if you didn’t circle your calendar for Phoenix Rising FC vs. San Diego Loyal SC on Friday, and Birmingham Legion FC vs. Indy Eleven on Saturday, rectify that immediately.

As always, feel free to come and yell at me on Twitter (@NJEMurray).

Atlanta United 2 Austin Bold FC Birmingham Legion FC Charleston Battery Charlotte Independence Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC El Paso Locomotive FC
Hartford Athletic Indy Eleven LA Galaxy II Las Vegas Lights FC Loudoun United FC Louisville City FC Memphis 901 FC
The Miami FC New Mexico United New York Red Bulls II Oakland Roots SC OKC Energy FC Orange County SC Phoenix Rising FC
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC Real Monarchs SLC Rio Grande Valley FC Sacramento Republic FC San Antonio FC San Diego Loyal SC Sporting KC II
Tacoma Defiance Tampa Bay Rowdies FC Tulsa





1 Tampa Bay Rowdies
Week 2: v. CLT
The Rowdies brought back 15 players from their Eastern Conference Title-winning side and also added some pieces like Dayonn Harris that seem to have slotted in well this preseason. That gets them the top spot to start.
2 Phoenix Rising FC
Week 2: v. SD
I wasn’t too convinced by Rising FC’s defense on paper, and the last two preseason outings and the postgame comments by Head Coach Rick Schantz are concerning. But, if you’ve taken silverware each of the past three years, you get the benefit of the doubt, for now.
3 El Paso Locomotive FC
Week 2: --
Locomotive FC has reached back-to-back Western Conference Finals and has retained a strong central core. If Luis Solignac can be consistent in front of goal, El Paso will be in the picture for silverware again.
4 Louisville City FC
Week 1: W, 2-0 v. ATL
Week 2: --
John Hackworth departing the club one game in is a serious headscratcher, but LouCity at least looked the part on the field on Saturday night in its win against Atlanta United 2.
5 San Antonio FC
Week 2: v. COS
There are a good number of new additions for this season which could take time to develop. The pedigree of those new faces speaks for itself, though, and Jose Gallegos is going to look to level up, which should be a real source of excitement.
6 New Mexico United
Week 2: @RGV
If you caught any of New Mexico’s streamed preseason action, there was certainly a lot to like. We’ll see if that carries over into the regular season against Rio Grande Valley on Saturday.
7 FC Tulsa
Week 1: W, 3-1 @OKC
Week 2: v. SKC
Tulsa put in solid work at both ends of the field in its 3-1 victory against rival OKC Energy FC. Getting another three points in the club’s home opener against Sporting Kansas City II is going to be important before a four-game run on the road.
8 Sacramento Republic FC
Week 2: @LA
Sacramento reinforced its spine defensively and could prove one of the more difficult teams to break down defensively this year. If Dariusz Formella can build on his eight-goal campaign in 2020, this is going to be a title contender.
9 Birmingham Legion FC
Week 2: v. IND
Legion FC has advanced to the playoffs in each of its first two seasons and has made some big offseason additions. There should be progress at BBVA Field this campaign.
10 San Diego Loyal
Week 2: @PHX
All the signs for SD Loyal this preseason have been positive, both in terms of new faces fitting in and the general vibe at the club. Let’s see how that pays off on Phoenix under the national television lights on Friday.
11 Indy Eleven
Week 2: @BHM
Indy was busy in the offseason and believes it has found upgrades at numerous positions. Its opening game against Birmingham on Saturday is one everyone should be paying close attention to.
12 Orange County SC
Week 2: --
On paper, Orange County looks formidable, but we thought that last year as well. Let’s see how it goes in practice in a couple of weeks.
13 Charleston Battery
Week 2: --
If there’s something you can always rely on, it’s the Battery being a postseason challenger. With the collection of returning talent they have this year that should apply once again.
14 Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
Week 2: --
There are going to be a lot of new faces in Black and Gold this year, but adding Todd Wharton to Kenardo Forbes in the center of the midfield might be one of the shrewdest moves any club made this offseason.
15 The Miami FC
Week 2: v. LDN
We got pretty excited about the talent Miami had assembled last preseason, and then the side didn’t live up to expectations. Miami’s pulled the same trick this year, but it seems things may be coming together a little more cohesively this time.
16 Charlotte Independence
Week 2: --
The Independence have added some intriguing new pieces to their squad, including midfielder Brandt Bronico on loan from neighbor Charlotte FC. If they maintain their scoring punch, this group could do big things.
17 Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Week 2: @SA
Seeing Hadji Barry score twice in the first official game at Weidner Field must have been big for the Switchbacks’ fans, but they’ve got a bit opening test against San Antonio on Saturday.
18 LA Galaxy II
Week 2: v. SAC
Raise your hand if you’re hoping to see Mexico youth international Alex Alcala on Friday night against Sacramento Republic FC. Los Dos will have the potential to surprise again as it looks for a third consecutive playoff berth.
19 Austin Bold FC
Week 2: --
There are some notable names in Austin’s attack led by Jason Johnson and Sean Okoli. Will it all come together to lead a resurgence after last season’s late fade?
20 Oakland Roots SC
Week 2: --
Oakland has some talented pieces at its disposal, but the optics of the Head Coach departing 13 days before your season opener aren’t good. We’ll see how this plays out.
21 Hartford Athletic
Week 2: @NY
Hartford Athletic advanced to the playoffs in 2020, now we’ll get to find out if that was a function of the group they were in, or whether the club’s growth has only just begun.
22 Memphis 901 FC
Week 2: --
Memphis is still building its roster, but the names arriving have decent pedigree at this level. We’re looking forward to what Head Coach Ben Pirmann can do to pull it all together.
23 Rio Grande Valley FC
Week 2: v. NM
New season, new era, old Head Coach. Wilmer Cabrera’s return to the Rio Grande Valley is a serious source for optimism for the future, but Saturday’s game with New Mexico is going to be a challenging one.
24 OKC Energy FC
Week 1: L, 1-3 v. TUL
Week 2: v. ATL
You can pull some silver linings from Saturday’s defeat to FC Tulsa, but this side has got to be ready to go for a full 90 minutes if its going to get things turned in the right direction.
25 New York Red Bulls II
Week 2: v. HFD
There are going to be a lot of new faces on the field for the Red Bulls II on Friday night after last season, but there’s reason to believe Head Coach John Wolyniec will have everyone on the same page.
26 Real Monarchs SLC
Week 2: --
The Monarchs are young, but talented. The big question is whether that talent can win against the more experienced talent it’s going to be going up against in the Mountain Division.
27 Atlanta United 2
Week 1: L, 0-2 @LOU
Week 2: @OKC
The structure was in place, but there wasn’t enough attacking edge from Atlanta against Louisville on Saturday. Things should at least stay reasonably ship-shape under Tony Annan while a permanent Head Coach is sought.
28 Las Vegas Lights FC
Week 2: --
Lights FC is going to remain the most interesting club in the Championship off the field, but there should be plenty of interest in how Steve Cherundolo fares pulling this new project together.
29 Sporting Kansas City II
Week 2: @TUL
This might be a little low given what we know about SKC II over the years. Saturday’s game with FC Tulsa will reunite forward Ropapa Mensah with some former teammates now in Tulsa.
30 Tacoma Defiance
Week 2: --
As competitive as the Pacific Division looks, the young standouts in the Defiance’s squad are going to get plenty of tough games over the course of this season. Who’ll rise to the challenge?
31 Loudoun United FC
Week 2: @MIA
The only way is up for Loudoun after last year, and a trip to face Miami’s retooled squad to kick things off on Sunday night is going to be a big yardstick.

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