El Paso Locomotive FC opened its preseason with a scrimmage against its U-20 Academy squad last weekend as Head Coach Brian Clarhaut takes for the new season. | Photo courtesy El Paso Locomotive FC
We’re just over five weeks away from the start of the 2023 USL Championship season, and all 24 teams across the league are underway with their training camp preparations.
As much has happened this offseason, though, there’s still a lot up in the air to varying degrees across the league. Whether its new coaches looking to make their mark or clubs aiming to complete their roster construction, we’ve got plenty to talk about.
Here’s a question we have for every squad in the Western Conference. You can find the equivalent questions for the Eastern Conference here.
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC – How quickly will the new pieces come together?
We recently put together a prospective new lineup for Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC after all of its offseason movement. On paper, it looks a solid starting unit, and there are other good options available including Jamaican winger Deshane Beckford and the returning Malik Johnson and Zach Zandi, among others.
On paper, of course, is one thing. How it works in practice is going to be a great early test for new Head Coach Stephen Hogan as he looks to maintain the course the club has charted the last two seasons in becoming playoff contenders. Results don’t matter much at this time of year, but there’s certainly confidence to be gained in putting together some cohesive displays. Veterans like Speedy Williams, Drew Skundrich and Romario Williams will need to lead the way.
El Paso Locomotive FC – What’s Marc Navarro bringing to the Championship?
There are two ways to look at Marc Navarro’s signing with Locomotive FC. If you’re the glass-half-full type, you’re looking at a player that brings La Liga and Premier League experience who’s still only 28 years of age. If you’re the glass-half-empty sort, you’re looking at a player that hasn’t seen competitive action in more than 18 months.
There’s no question of Navarro’s pedigree – El Paso is very excited to have him come aboard – but it’s going to be interesting to see what he can bring to the table as new Head Coach Brian Clarhaut works through preseason. In terms of impact offseason signings, it could be right up there if the former Espanyol man is at his best.
Las Vegas Lights FC – What can we expect from Isidro Sanchez’s second go-around?
Las Vegas Lights FC's Isidro Sanchez returns to the club for his second stint as Head Coach overseeing a similar build than the one he led in its inaugural season. | Photo courtesy Las Vegas Lights FC
You might recall that when Las Vegas Lights FC launched with Isidro Sanchez as its Head Coach in 2018, it embarked on an opening four-game undefeated streak that earned him the first USL Championship Coach of the Month award. Now, things didn’t go quite as swimmingly in the months that followed, but there was something there for Lights FC.
Since then, Sanchez added a UEFA ‘A’ coaching license to his resume and worked in Spain while attaining it. He’s got a small roster so far, but how Sanchez pulls together a squad that’s effectively going to be built from scratch in the same way it was five years ago is going to be central to whether Las Vegas can compete.
Monterey Bay F.C. – Where’s the defensive depth coming from?
As Monterey Bay F.C. enters its second season, there’s plenty to feel positive about. The club retained a solid core from its inaugural campaign and brought in two good new pieces in defender Alex Lara and forward Alex Dixon. The arrival of Dixon, in fact, would seem to fill out the attacking pieces for Head Coach Frank Yallop going into the new season.
At the other end of the field, though, it feels a bit light. Lara’s arrival as a third center back alongside veterans Kai Greene and Hugh Roberts is good, but there’s a lack of depth the side is going to have to address. The players MBFC brings in – likely needing a fourth center back and cover at both left and right back for Morey Doner and Grant Robinson – are going to be important over the course of the season.
New Mexico United – Can Santi Moar rebound to his best?
There’s no way around it – 2022 was the toughest full season Santi Moar has experienced in his USL Championship career. The Spanish winger’s six combined goals and assists were half his lowest prior total (12 in 2017 with the Philadelphia Union II) and a far cry from his Championship All-League First Team season with 16 goals in 2021.
After his re-acquisition by New Mexico United this offseason via a transfer, Moar will be aiming to get back to his best at a club for which he had 11 goals and five assists in its inaugural 2019 season. Finding a good early rhythm in preseason could set that stage for that to happen, and for New Mexico’s attack overall to flourish.
Oakland Roots SC – Who’s providing the attacking firepower?
Unless there’s an upcoming move for Oakland to reacquire forward Ottar Magnus Karlsson for the new season, Roots SC won’t have a player on its squad in 2023 that registered more than Edgardo Rito’s five goals individually a season ago. Finding the chemistry that’s going to fill the gap left by Karlsson and Juan Carlos Azocar – whose 10 goals went to San Antonio FC – appears the biggest task for Head Coach Noah Delgado this preseason.
There is some potential. Attacking playmaker Lindo Mfeka and forward Dariusz Formella have both shown their abilities in prior USL Championship seasons. At the same time, Roots SC is likely going to need more threat in the attacking third than it currently seems to have at its disposal.
Orange County SC – Is Korede Osundina ready for his close-up?
United States U-20 international Korede Osundina will be aiming for a positive preseason ahead of what's set to be a big year for the 18-year-old forward. | Photo courtesy Liza Rosales / Orange County SC
Last season, Louisville City FC and United States U-19 defender Josh Wynder grabbed the spotlight as the next big talent to come out of the USL Championship. This season, it could be the turn of Wynder’s teammate on the U.S. U-19s and Orange County SC winger Korede Osundina to grab the spotlight in the same fashion.
Called into the United States U-20s camp for the first time in January – and spotted training this week alongside fellow OCSC youngsters Alex Villanueva and Bryce Jamison at Eredivisie club Feyenoord – the 18-year-old has shown flashes of what’s he’s capable of in the USL Championship so far. This year, it’s a big opportunity to drive forward and not only make a case to be part of the U.S. U-20s squad at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in May, but to follow in the footsteps of former Orange County teammate Kobi Henry and earn a major overseas move.
Phoenix Rising FC – How quickly can Rising FC build its defensive chemistry?
After ranking fifth in the Championship with 500 shots allowed, and eighth with 174 shots on target faced, Rising FC and Head Coach Juan Guerra have undertaken a major overhaul defensively this offseason. The arrivals of players with Championship experiences including Alejandro Fuenmayor and those from elsewhere like Daniel Krutzen and John Stenberg means we could see a completely new defensive unit in place on March 11.
When it works as planned, defensive chemistry can come together quickly – just look at when the Tampa Bay Rowdies brought in goalkeeper Evan Louro and center backs Forrest Lasso and Aaron Guillen before the 2020 season. If Phoenix can find even an approximation of how that unit came together, it could quickly be back among the contenders.
Rio Grande Valley FC – Are the Toros the Western Conference’s dark horse?
It’s been a pretty calm offseason at Rio Grande Valley FC. The Toros have retained many of the key pieces from their consecutive postseason trips including former United States international Jose Francisco Torres and veterans Juan David Cabezas and Tyler Deric, and added some interesting new attacking pieces in Haiti international Christiano Francois and former USL League One standout Juan Galindrez.
All of that feels like there might be something brewing in South Texas for Head Coach Wilmer Cabrera. Should Christian Pinzon continue to prove the game-changer he was after his midseason arrival last campaign, it’s going to be interesting to monitor how things progress for a team that feels like it’s flying a little under the radar.
Sacramento Republic FC – Can Rafael Jauregui make a big impression?
Sacramento Republic FC academy product Rafael Jauregui more than doubled his minutes in the Championship last season, and will look to continue his progress this preseason. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
The experience in Sacramento Republic FC’s midfield was one of the key elements in its run to the 2022 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final. As the club looks to find that level consistently this season, it’s likely the group including Rodrigo Lopez, Luis Felipe Fernandes and Matt LaGrassa will be at the forefront again for Head Coach Mark Briggs.
For 18-year-old Rafael Jauregui, that’s the challenge to try and overcome to earn more regular First Team minutes. The Republic FC Academy product made 12 appearances a season ago, including six starts, as he more than doubled his career minutes. A strong preseason – in the vein of Jose Gallegos at San Antonio FC in 2020 – is going to be key to become a consistent part of the club’s rotation.
San Antonio FC – When are the signing announcements coming?
The manner in which San Antonio FC strode to the USL Championship title a season ago was incredible, and the good news is there are major pieces from that group confirmed as coming back for the club’s title defense. Having 2022 Championship Goalkeeper of the Year Jordan Farr, Defender of the Year Mitchell Taintor and talisman Connor Maloney among that group is strong.
At the same time, as of this morning’s announcement of Cristian Parano’s signing, San Antonio has 15 players on its roster. Not among them is Colombian forward Santiago Patiño, who proved essential in the playoffs. It certainly feels like there’s more depth needed for the up-tempo style that Head Coach Alen Marcina favors. This preseason should be a busy one for SAFC as it fills out its squad. Watch this space.
San Diego Loyal SC – How quickly will Joe Corona and Alejandro Guido reconnect?
The arrival of former United States international Joe Corona at hometown club SD Loyal is one of the best stories of the offseason. When you add that he’s going to reconnect with former Xolos de Tijuana teammate Alejandro Guido, and it only gets better.
The two bring plenty of on-field ability and experience to Head Coach Nate Miller’s squad. Add them to the returning Collin Martin and Charlie Adams and you’ve got potentially one of the best midfield units in the Championship. If Corona finds the right balance with Guido over the next few weeks, it could help SD Loyal take the next step toward its first silverware.