Sacramento Republic FC and Louisville City FC are currently projected to top their respective conferences at the end of the regular season by fivethirtyeight.com. | Photo courtesy Sacramento Republic FC
With eight weeks in the books, we are officially one-quarter of the way through the 2023 USL Championship regular season, which means it’s time for an assessment of where every team stands in its bid to not only reach the 2023 USL Championship Playoffs but claim the title in November.
As has become familiar over the past few seasons, our friends at fivethirtyeight.com have provided game-by-game updates on where the picture stands – from preseason rankings to today using their analysis algorithm.
We’re going to look at those numbers – and offer thoughts on where they measure up to the eye-test, and where it might be underestimating some club's potential.
When the season began, Louisville City FC was the big favorite to go one better than its Eastern Conference crown as a 22% chance to win the Championship. That percentage has dropped over the first eight weeks down to 16%, but Head Coach Danny Cruz’s side is still the favorite to win it all.
It’s joined by defending title holder San Antonio FC (11%) and Sacramento Republic FC (12%) among the teams whose odds currently sit in double-digits, with Republic FC’s undefeated start making it the biggest mover from a 4% chance at the start of the season.
Analysis: This all seems to measure up correctly. While LouCity is in third place in the standings now, it’s overcome a serious wobble in form to right the ship. Sacramento, meanwhile, is now projected to finish with the best record in the Western Conference on 60 points, equal with LouCity in the East, which makes it the early favorite to claim the Players’ Shield for the best record in the regular season.
If you look beyond Louisville City FC in the Eastern Conference, the side rated as the next-best chance to win the league title is the Tampa Bay Rowdies at 6%, followed by Birmingham Legion FC at 5%, such is the respect LouCity has accrued over its run of reaching the Eastern Conference Final in every season of its history, and the Rowdies in earning three consecutive trips and two conference titles.
Out West, the fivethirtyeight.com projection was one of those that seemed to have figured out Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC wouldn’t drop off calamitously after all of its changes – the quality of players the side brought in likely had a good part to do with that – and now the Switchbacks are sitting even with San Diego Loyal SC as an 8% chance to lift the trophy for the first time, with the potential for a second-place finish overall. Phoenix Rising FC, meanwhile, sits at a 7% chance, putting it among the top eight contenders for the title.
Analysis: The Rowdies still sitting as second-favorite despite their struggles shows how their past performance is still factoring into the current projections, when in reality Birmingham Legion FC and the Charleston Battery – rated just a 3% chance to win it all – are probably the biggest challengers to Louisville as of this moment. Out West, though, Phoenix seems to be getting a similar boost to Tampa Bay despite its early form with a squad that looks good even if the club’s results haven’t quite been there consistently yet.
There’s no team that’s made a bigger move from the start of this season in fivethirtyeight.com’s model than the Charleston Battery, whose emergence as a force in the Eastern Conference under Head Coach Ben Pirmann has been noted. Charleston began the season effectively as a coin-flip to reach the playoffs (51%) with a projected points total of 39pts. Now they’re all the way up to 86% odds to make the playoffs and projected to finish on 49pts and as high as third place in the standings.
El Paso Locomotive FC hasn’t made quite as substantial a rise – the projection liked El Paso a little more in preseason, rating the side a 63% chance to reach the playoffs, which is now up to 72% as it sits in fourth place. There’s also respect for Loudoun United FC, which started as a 26% chance to reach the playoffs for the first time, but the projection still rates Head Coach Ryan Martin’s side as a coinflip to be in the playoffs.
Analysis: Everything adds up for the Battery, who have put together a stellar start and now look a firm playoff contender. But it feels like Loudoun United’s past is weighing against it a little heavily here, which is also factoring into the side’s SPI rating of just 9.1 – the lowest of any team in the league. What Zach Ryan, Kalil ElMedkhar and Panos Armenakas are bringing feels for real, and the points they’ve banked already should stand them in good stead moving forward.
Monterey Bay F.C. is currently firmly in the Western Conference playoff positions, has an attack that is off to a blistering start to the campaign, and has notched some impressive displays so far this season. All it’s got to show for that is a 47% chance of making the postseason, per the model. That’s below Orange County SC (53%), which literally just let go of its Head Coach after a subpar start to this season.
In the Eastern Conference, Miami FC has one win and four goals in eight games, and while it’s above the playoff line currently, it grades at a 72% chance to reach the postseason with a quarter of the season gone. That’s well ahead of teams like FC Tulsa and Detroit City FC, both of which it has already drawn this season, with Head Coach Anthony Pulis’ side earning a major vote of confidence thanks to one of the higher-rated defenses in the conference.
Analysis: When it comes to Monterey Bay F.C., the model doesn’t seem to be looking at results, but the potential for the side to continue to deliver in the manner it has. MBFC has the highest shot conversion rate of any team in the league currently (33%) and is far surpassing its Expected Goals mark (15 goals on 7.33xG), which the projection likely figures for a regression. In Miami’s case, it’s built credit due to a pair of playoff visits the past two years and a solid squad, but it’s going to need to start producing wins instead of draws to make the current projection a reality.
Tag(s): Features San Antonio FC CO Spring Switchbacks 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 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.