This past weekend marked the end of the first quarter of the 2022 USL Championship season. So far, this year has delivered some pleasant surprises – hello, Detroit City FC and Las Vegas Lights FC – others that aren’t quite living up to the preseason expectations placed on them, and the teams that are bringing up the rear both in their records and their underlying numbers.
Here’s a look at every club as it stands after Week 9, including the players that have shone the brightest, the chances each side will make the postseason, and their current grade, based on their achievement against preseason expectation.
Let’s dig in.
Record: 2-7-0, 6pts
Goals (xG): 7 (6.13)
Goals Conceded (xGA): 21 (18.95)
Top of the Class: Robbie Mertz (+1.64 G+)
FiveThirtyEight.com Odds: Playoffs 4% / Title <1%
Aside from a memorable hat trick by Jackson Conway – the only one so far in the USL Championship this season – it’s been a season to forget so far at Fifth Third Bank Stadium. Atlanta has conceded the most goals in the league and has the highest Expected Goals Against mark as well. There have been a pair of wins, which is nice, but it’s not likely to get much better unless something drastically changes.
Record: 3-4-3, 12pts
Goals (xG): 8 (13.53)
Goals Conceded (xGA): 11 (11.51)
Top of the Class: Jonny Dean (+2.29 G+)
FiveThirtyEight.com Odds: Playoffs 59% / Title 2%
Ten games in, Birmingham is below the playoff line while at the same time in the picture to be a contender. The major challenge for the side so far has been delivering in front of goal with its -5.53 differential between its goal total and its Expected Goals mark the widest among teams with a net negative in their numbers. If it can fix those challenges – and with players like Juan Agudelo, Enzo Martinez and Prosper Kasim in their ranks, you’d think they can – then things should get better here. The Three Sparks aren’t in the place they wanted so far, but there’s plenty of room for growth.
Record: 1-6-1, 4pts
Goals (xG): 6 (8.51)
Goals Conceded (xGA): 16 (12.6)
Top of the Class: Aidan Apodaca (+1.89 G+)
FiveThirtyEight.com Odds: Playoffs 9% / Title <1%
Opening night victory aside, this has not gone to plan at all for the Battery and new Head Coach Conor Casey. The side has yet to record a goal in the second half of a league game this season and sits with the fifth-lowest Expected Goals mark in the league. After missing the postseason for the first time in the USL Championship era a season ago, the chances of making a return this year already look slim even with three-quarters of the season still to go.
Sitting on top of the Western Conference, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC has continued to build in its second season under Head Coach Brendan Burke. | Photo courtesy Isaiah J. Downing / Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Record: 8-1-0, 24pts
Goals (xG): 19 (10.52)
Goals Conceded (xGA): 8 (8.16)
Top of the Class: Hadji Barry (+3.09 G+)
FiveThirtyEight.com Odds: Playoffs 93% / Title 6%
In Year 1 under Head Coach Brendan Burke, the Switchbacks were a high-flying rollercoaster of a side that was prepared to trade chances to win. This year, there’s still that edge in attack with Hadji Barry and Michee Ngalina getting solid back-up from Elvis Amoh, Zach Zandi – who’s been excellent, cartwheels aside – but the more pragmatic defensive structure has cut way down on the chances the side is conceding. Through nine games, Colorado Springs is averaging conceding 0.91 Expected Goals Against per 90 minutes, down from 1.68/90 last regular season, and that’s pushing the side into position to be a real contender this year. The one concern? It’s probably right to be a little nervous about the big gap between the club’s goal total and its Expected Goals mark. Last year the Switchbacks’ 60 regular-season goals came on a 60.15xG mark. As good as this side’s attack pieces are, it might need to be more precise in the final third to deliver a higher volume of high-quality chances to avoid a drop-off there.
Record: 5-2-2, 17pts
Goals (xG): 13 (12.65)
Goals Conceded (xGA): 7 (11.08)
Top of the Class: Nathan Steinwascher (+3.28 G+)
FiveThirtyEight.com Odds: Playoffs 67% / Title 2%
Detroit City FC’s arrival in the Championship presented one of the most intriguing preseason storylines and after nine games the side has more than lived up to its expectations. Goalkeeper Nathan Steinwascher has delivered impressively throughout the season so far, and the side’s impressive home record has given the club a foundation on which a playoff berth can be earned. The only concern is a potential lack of depth to the roster that could be addressed as the season continues, but at this point you tip your hat to a well-drilled and organized squad that is showing it belongs.
Record: 4-5-1, 13pts
Goals (xG): 24 (19.61)
Goals Conceded (xGA): 17 (10.56)
Top of the Class: Diego Luna (+4.03 G+)
FiveThirtyEight.com Odds: Playoffs 62% / Title 3%
For a team that had the expectations going into the season that Locomotive FC had, the early-season struggles that saw the side leaking goals like a colander were eye-raising. Over recent weeks, though, those challenges have been somewhat addressed, and the club’s attack still looks as potent as it had. Locomotive FC is back up into the playoff positions after this past weekend’s win and with United States U-20 international Diego Luna, Luis Solignac, Dylan Mares and others driving the attack there’s unlikely to be a boring moment at Southwest University Park this campaign.
Record: 1-6-1, 4 pts
Goals (xG): 6 (8.8)
Goals Conceded (xGA): 12 (10.45)
Top of the Class: Modou Jadama (+2.11 G+)
FiveThirtyEight.com Odds: Playoffs 19% / Title <1%
The Athletic have been reasonably competitive in all their contests this season – in only one contest has the side lost by multiple goals – but the lack of scoring punch the side possesses has meant it couldn’t find the finishing it needed to flip a few more results the other way. The arrival of Corey Hertzog should help that, but for now the playoffs look a good way away alongside the other early-season strugglers in the East.
Indy Eleven has recovered from a slow start to the season to quickly become a playoff contender after one quarter of the 2022 season. | Photo courtesy Trevor Ruszkowski / Indy Eleven
Record: 4-2-2, 14pts
Goals (xG): 10 (10.39)
Goals Conceded (xGA): 8 (8.01)
Top of the Class: Stefano Pinho (+3.50 G+)
FiveThirtyEight.com Odds: Playoffs 57% / Title 1%
Admit it, Indy fans. When your squad came out and lost 3-0 to Loudoun United FC on the opening day of the season, offering very little in attack, you got nervous. And yet, one-quarter of the way through new Head Coach Mark Lowry’s first season, the Boys in Blue are in a playoff position, almost exactly living up to their underlying metrics, and still primed to improve. Stefano Pinho’s contribution to that can’t be underestimated – with four goals and two assists he’s carried the bulk of the club’s attack to the tune of a +3.50 Goals Added mark – but the determination and work rate that’s insisted on by Lowry is starting to come through. With two-time USL Championship MVP Solomon Asante on the way to add even more firepower, the progress so far for a club with high expectations has been strong.
Record: 3-4-2, 11pts
Goals (xG): 12 (11.12)
Goals Conceded (xGA): 14 (11.34)
Top of the Class: Michael Salazar (+2.13 G+)
FiveThirtyEight.com Odds: Playoffs 15% / Title <1%
As can be the case with the Galaxy II, on some occasions – see a 3-0 home win against Phoenix Rising FC – they can be very good indeed. On others – see a 4-0 road defeat to El Paso Locomotive FC – they just don’t quite measure up. If Los Dos can find some level of consistency it could be a contender to reach the playoffs, but so far it hasn’t shown that enough even with reasonably even underlying numbers overall.
Record: 4-4-2, 14pts
Goals (xG): 14 (9.66)
Goals Conceded (xGA): 15 (13.69)
Top of the Class: Danny Trejo (+3.59 G+)
FiveThirtyEight.com Odds: Playoffs 10% / Title <1%
The underlying numbers and history tell us that Lights FC may not be able to sustain the start they’ve made, but you’ve got to give Head Coach Enrique Duran and his squad credit for what they’ve accomplished so far. Danny Trejo’s six goals are still tied for the league-lead even if he’s cooled a little in recent weeks and picking up wins against Phoenix Rising FC and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC are accomplishments any club would like on its resume. We’re going to stay optimistic here for the moment.
Record: 2-6-1, 7pts
Goals (xG): 7 (10.78)
Goals Conceded (xGA): 14 (14.6)
Top of the Class: Sami Guediri (+2.32 G+)
FiveThirtyEight.com Odds: Playoffs 6% / Title <1%
Those first three games of the season were something, huh? Since that 2-0-1 start, sadly, things have regressed to where they’ve been for the last couple of seasons with an inconsistent attack and defense that can’t quite withstand the opposition. Sami Guediri has been a great addition and one of the better players to move up from USL League One this campaign, but he’s going to need help – particularly in the attacking third – if Loudoun is to find a way out of its spiral.
Louisville City FC newcomer Wilson Harris ranks second in the USL Championship in Goals Added this season with a +3.94 mark. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
Record: 7-0-3, 24pts
Goals (xG): 20 (17.86)
Goals Against (xGA): 4 (7.28)
Top of the Class: Wilson Harris (+3.94 G+)
FiveThirtyEight.com Odds: Playoffs >99% / Title 20%
The expectations are always high at Louisville City FC, so for the side to come through with its best start to a campaign in club history while retooling its roster – and in the absence of its all-time leading scorer – speaks volumes to how impressive the opening two months have been at Lynn Family Stadium. Day 1 starter Niall McCabe thinks this is the deepest the squad has been, and the addition of Kyle Morton in goal has been one of the best moves of the offseason, putting the side on the right side of the ledger when it comes to their goals conceded compared to Expected Goals Against mark.
Record: 5-2-1, 16pts
Goals (xG): 12 (9.57)
Goals Conceded (xGA): 9 (8.43)
Top of the Class: Jeremy Kelly (+2.05 G+)
FiveThirtyEight.com Odds: Playoffs 84% / Title 4%
Given Memphis had to retool after its two Championship All-League selections headed to Miami FC this offseason, the continuation of the upward path the club seems to be on is all the more impressive. So is the fact that it’s not just one player carrying the side; as good as Jeremy Kelly has been, 901 FC has eight players who’ve each recorded at least a +1.00 Goals Added mark so far. There’s strength in numbers here for Head Coach Ben Pirmann, who continues to impress managerially.
Record: 4-3-2, 14pts
Goals (xG): 9 (8.75)
Goals Conceded (xGA): 7 (9.81)
Top of the Class: Joshua Perez & Paco Craig (+1.96 G+)
FiveThirtyEight.com Odds: Playoffs 81% / Title 4%
There have been some good moments for Miami to start the club’s first season with Anthony Pulis at the helm. A first win on the road against in-state rival the Tampa Bay Rowdies tops that list, as does the way the side battled Inter Miami CF in the Third Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in the first Miami Clasico last month. That’s been counterbalanced by some of the disappointments, including a defeat in Louisville that showed the gulf that the side still needs to make up to be a contender and a home defeat to Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC in which the hosts didn’t deliver enough before trying to mount a comeback late. Still, Miami has the look of a solid playoff contender, and if it can get its attack clicking more consistently there’s room for additional growth here as we enter the second quarter of the campaign.
Record: 2-6-0, 6pts
Goals (xG): 8 (7.13)
Goals Conceded (xGA): 23 (14.51)
Top of the Class: Chase Boone (+1.67 G+)
FiveThirtyEight.com Odds: Playoffs 6% / Title <1%
It's been a hard go of it for Monterey Bay F.C. in its expansion season, but you could see some green shoots of hope in the club’s home opener on Saturday night as it took a deserved second win of the season. There are still defensive issues to be addressed – MBFC’s 14.51 Expected Goals Against mark is fourth-highest in the league – but getting a home-heavy schedule in the next couple of months could lead to upward progress in this grade, and the standings overall.
Record: 2-2-4, 10pts
Goals (xG): 8 (10.8)
Goals Conceded (xGA): 7 (10.09)
Top of the Class: Neco Brett (+2.71 G+)
FiveThirtyEight.com Odds: Playoffs 62% / Title 3%
It's been an intriguing start to Head Coach Zach Prince’s tenure with United, whose side has managed to overperform defensively and underperform in attack to leave the team in contention but not above the playoff line yet. There is the sense that when Neco Brett, Chris Wehan and the rest of United’s attack finds its rhythm this will be a dangerous side. The squad and fans will be hoping that moment arrives sooner rather than later.
Record: 1-7-1, 4pts
Goals (xG): 4 (6.74)
Goals Conceded (xGA): 15 (14.98)
Top of the Class: Jeremy Rafanello (+2.07 G+)
FiveThirtyEight.com Odds: Playoffs 2% / Title <1%
If you’ve followed the USL Championship for a while, it’s unlikely you thought you’d see the day when the New York Red Bulls II had one of the weakest attacks in the league. With only four goals this season – and an Expected Goals mark of 6.77, third-lowest in the league – this isn’t good, or even entertaining.
Record: 1-4-5, 8pts
Goals (xG): 14 (13.2)
Goals Conceded (xGA): 17 (11.15)
Top of the Class: Charlie Dennis (+2.23 G+)
FiveThirtyEight.com Odds: Playoffs 23% / Title <1%
Roots SC has been one of the rollercoaster teams in the league this season so far. It’s never truly out of a game, sitting tied for the most goals between the 76th minute and the final whistle with six this season, but has also dropped seven points from winning positions, tied for second-most in the league so far this season. That’s resulted in a league-high five drawn games so far – some of which felt like wins, others which felt like defeats – and a four-point gap to the playoff places.
Record: 2-3-3, 9pts
Goals (xG): 10 (6.09)
Goals Conceded (xGA): 12 (8.43)
Top of the Class: Milan Iloski (+2.95 G+)
FiveThirtyEight.com Odds: Playoffs 49% / Title 2%
With all the expectation that went into this season for the defending title holders, there hasn’t been a great deal to shout about so far. Orange County’s Expected Goals mark of 6.09 is the lowest in the league, and the fact it’s overachieving there thanks to Erick “Cubo” Torres, Sean Okoli and Milan Iloski’s contributions can’t really mask the lack of chances being created. OCSC is one of four teams to fail to register a shot in a half this season in its game against Oakland this past weekend. The other three? Monterey Bay, Loudoun United and Atlanta United 2, not the sort of company you expect this side to be keeping.
Record: 6-3-0, 18pts
Goals (xG): 18 (13.51)
Goals Conceded (xGA): 12 (14.14)
Top of the Class: Ben Lundt (+3.65 G+)
FiveThirtyEight.com Odds: Playoffs 87% / Title 7%
The challenge of having set the bar so high in prior seasons is when you’re not quite there one year, the questions start to come. And yet, despite a rocky couple of games, Phoenix is still right in the hunt in the Western Conference having defeated one of its biggest rivals for top spot – San Antonio FC – home-and-away while incorporating new pieces into the lineup and an evolving style. Yes, goalkeeper Ben Lundt has needed to be a star – as he was always likely to be – so there’s work to do defensively, but Rising FC’s campaign is off to a solid start overall.
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC sit second in the Eastern Conference so far this campaign with a strong attacking group led by new arrival Dane Kelly. | Photo courtesy Mallory Neil / Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
Record: 6-2-1, 19pts
Goals (xG): 17 (11.86)
Expected Goals (xGA): 8 (9.19)
Top of the Class: Alex Dixon (+2.78 G+)
With the returning pieces in the attacking third and the arrival of Dane Kelly to the mix, the expectation was the Hounds would find another gear offensively this season. That’s proven to be the case, and the only reason this grade isn’t higher is the Hounds couldn’t come to grips with their biggest exam of the opening quarter on the road in Louisville. Still, second place and looking strong overall, it’s a perfectly good start to the campaign.
Record: 3-6-0, 9pts
Goals (xG): 10 (10.28)
Goals Against (xGA): 13 (7.99)
Top of the Class: Dylan Borczak (+2.16 G+)
FiveThirtyEight.com Odds: Playoffs 35% / Title 1%
It could be a little confounding right now to be a Rio Grande Valley FC fan. Your side is good enough to be competitive in every game it plays – every game the Toros have played this season has been decided by one goal – but more often than not it’s come out on the wrong side of the result. Is it bad luck? Maybe a little, but the two goals the side has conceded through defensive errors haven’t helped. Is there the chance this turns around? The underlying numbers for the side say yes, and the schedule over the next two months seems manageable. Still, we’ve got more questions than answers for now as to where this season ends up for Head Coach Wilmer Cabrera’s side. That’s better than some teams have, but it’s not ideal.
Record: 4-2-3, 15pts
Goals (xG): 11 (14.27)
Goals Conceded (xGA): 9 (10.59)
Top of the Class: Rodrigo Lopez (+2.28 G+)
FiveThirtyEight.com Odds: Playoffs 71% / Title 4%
After the overhaul of its roster this offseason, Sacramento is back in the sort of position it expects and not too far off the front-runners through nine games. The challenge for the side, though, has been in executing in the final third, where it’s lagging its expected goals mark pretty notably so far. You want to know something weird, too? Sacramento has only led for 47 minutes this season, with three of its go-ahead goals in four wins coming in the 85th, 86th, and 88th minutes.
San Antonio FC has delivered on its position as preseason favorites to claim the USL Championship over the first quarter of the 2022 campaign. | Photo courtesy Darren Abate / San Antonio FC
Record: 7-2-0, 21pts
Goals (xG): 14 (13.86)
Goals Conceded (xGA): 7 (10.39)
Top of the Class: Mitchell Taintor (+2.69 G+)
FiveThirtyEight.com Odds: Playoffs 99% / Title 19%
San Antonio came into this season as fivethirtyeight.com’s favorite to win the title and while it battled through some fine margins at times the overall quality and understanding of the style that’s going to make them most effective has delivered impressively so far. So has goalkeeper Jordan Farr, stepping up after Cristian Bonilla’s surprise early-season retirement. The only thing keeping this from being a straight A, in fact, is the two defeats to Phoenix Rising FC, but you’d expect SAFC would dearly love another chance at that matchup should it come to pass in the playoffs.
Record: 6-2-2, 20pts
Goals (xG): 22 (13.7)
Goals Conceded (xGA): 17 (13.09)
Top of the Class: Kyle Vassell (2.55 G+)
FiveThirtyEight.com Odds: Playoffs 88% / Title 6%
The positives have far outweighed the negatives in SD Loyal’s third season. They’re in third place in the standings, have big road victories against Phoenix Rising FC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies to their credit, and have found the potential solution to their attacking challenges over the first two year in Kyle Vassell. On the other side of the ledger, though, the memory of that 5-2 home defeat to Louisville City FC is hard to shake, particularly because it highlighted the major issue for San Diego so far this season; no team in the Championship has conceded more goals from defensive errors (4) this season. That effectively makes up the difference from the club’s goals conceded mark and its xGA and needs to improve if the side is to avoid coming up short in the biggest tests at the end of the season.
Record: 3-3-4, 13pts
Goals (xG): 14 (17.09)
Goals Against (xGA): 11 (7.35)
Top of the Class: Jake LaCava (+2.48 G+)
FiveThirtyEight.com Odds: Playoffs 85% / Title 7%
As you can see above, the two-time defending Eastern Conference title-holders are really underperforming where their performances should have led them so far. If you’re a glass-half-full sort of person, you’d probably have confidence those issues can be solved – surely the side can’t keep letting the chances its created slip away much longer this campaign? (They could, and don’t call me Shirley.) If you’re a glass-half-empty sort of person, the drop-off in goalkeeping this year compared to Evan Louro a season ago has been noticeable. Raiko Arozarena has conceded eight goals on 4.07 Expected Goals Against, which accounts for almost the entire disparity in the club’s overall numbers. It can and should get better, but it’s been pretty disappointing so far.
Record: 4-6-0, 12pts
Goals (xG): 16 (10.35)
Goals Conceded (xGA): 19 (18.39)
Top of the Class: Rodrigo da Costa (+2.77 G+)
FiveThirtyEight.com Odds: Playoffs 36% / Title <1%
Tulsa is right in the middle of the playoff race 10 games in, but the side’s defensive challenges so far this campaign could be a major hindrance as to whether that remains the case if they’re not solved. Tulsa has the second-highest Expected Goals Against mark in the Championship at 18.39xGA on 19 goals, and the big problem is the side hasn’t yet committed an error that led to a shot – this is just how easy it’s been for opponents to create scoring chances. That’s got to be addressed if this season isn’t going to see the side take a step back after back-to-back playoff appearances.
Tag(s): Features San Antonio FC CO Spring Switchbacks LA Galaxy II Orange County SC Phoenix Rising FC Rio Grande Valley FC Sacramento Republic FC FC Tulsa Charleston Battery Louisville City FC New York Red Bulls II Pittsburgh Riverhounds Tampa Bay Rowdies Las Vegas Lights FC Birmingham Legion FC Atlanta United 2 Indy Eleven Memphis 901 FC El Paso Locomotive FC New Mexico United Loudoun United FC Hartford Athletic San Diego Loyal SC Miami FC Oakland Roots SC Detroit City FC Monterey Bay F.C.