While Major League Soccer is underway with its 18th season, the third season of USL Pro is days away from being realized. As the defending champions, the Charleston Battery are tops in the preseason power rankings here on The View From Avalon. Orlando City, even though they have been a power in the third division of American soccer, have some work to do if they want to claw back to the top, a position they have been familiar with for many weeks last season.
Here are The View from Avalon’s Preseason Power Rankings for the 13 teams competing in USL Pro.
1. Charleston Battery
At the top of the list are Michael Anhaeuser’s Charleston Battery, who defeated the Wilmington Hammerheads 1-0 to claim their fourth title in club history. Notable players to watch out for this season are midfielder Nicki Paterson, midfielder Jose Cuevas, defender Taylor Mueller and forward Ryan Richter. Charleston ended the regular season with a 12-2-10 record and open 2013 on Apr. 13 against the Richmond Kickers. Kickoff at City Stadium in Richmond, Va. is scheduled for 10 p.m. ET.
2. Wilmington Hammerheads
David Irving’s Wilmington Hammerheads finished the regular season with a 10-7-7 record but fell short of winning the title, losing to the Charleston Battery. This year, the Hammers are hoping for a much stronger campaign. Notable players to keep an eye on for Wilmington include defender Gareth Evans, midfielders Paul Nichols and Mark Briggs, and forward Cody Arnoux. Wilmington open up their season against Antigua Barracuda FC on Apr. 19. Kickoff at Legion Stadium in Wilmington, N.C. is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET.
3. Orlando City
It was a bittersweet season for the Lions of Adrian Heath’s Orlando City, who ended the regular season with a 17-6-1 record but were upset by the Wilmington Hammerheads. Better defense will be one of the themes coming into this year for the Lions, who are stacked and primed for dominance. Notable players to watch out for include defenders Kieron Bernard and Justin Clark; goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo; midfielders Anthony Pulis, Adama Mbengue, James O’Connor and Jean Alexandre; and forwards Dennis Chin and Long Tan. Orlando open up their season on Apr. 7 against Phoenix FC at Sun Devil Soccer Stadium on the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz. Kickoff is scheduled for 10:30 p.m. ET.
4. Rochester Rhinos
Jesse Myers’s Rochester Rhinos finished 2012 with a 12-5-7 record but were eliminated by eventual league champs Charleston Battery. Will this be the year Rochester come raging back? Key players to keep an eye on this year include goalkeeper Kristian Nicht; defenders Georgia Kyriazis and Tyler Bellamy; midfielders Danny Earls and Tyler Rosenlund; and forwards Tam McManus, Matt Luzunaris and Blake Brettschneider. Rochester open up their season on Apr. 13 against VSI Tampa Bay. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET.
5. Richmond Kickers
Leigh Cowlishaw’s Richmond Kickers finished last season with a record of 11-5-8 and were eliminated in the playoffs by the Wilmington Hammerheads. Richmond look to return to the playoffs and they have some faces that can get the job done in defenders Yomby William, Sascha Gorres and Henry Kalungi; midfielders Stanley Nyazama and Gerson dos Santos, and forwards David Bulow and Jason Yeisley. The Kickers open up 2013 with a match against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on Apr. 6 at City Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET.
6. Harrisburg City Islanders
Bill Becher’s Harrisburg City Islanders squeaked into the playoffs with a 10-7-7 record but were punched out by the Charleston Battery. Will they return to the postseason again? Some players to watch out for at Skyline Sports Complex in Harrisburg, Pa. include defender Tom Brandt, midfielders Morgan Langley and Jason Pelletier, and the African forward trio of Yann Ekra, Lucky Mkosana and Sainey Touray. Harrisburg open up their season on Apr. 13 against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds at the newly-constructructed Highmark Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pa. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET.
7. Charlotte Eagles
Mark Steffens’s Charlotte Eagles fell short of the postseason after earning a 11-3-10 record. The View from Avalon doesn’t expect the Eagles to break into the top six but fans shouldn’t sell this side short, because there are some notable players on this team, including midfielders Joseph Kabwe, Matt Gold and Drew Yates. Charlotte open up their season against Antigua Barracuda FC on Apr. 13 at Dickson Field on the campus of Queens University in Charlotte, N.C. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET.
8. Los Angeles Blues
The Los Angeles Blues had to go through a coaching change after slumping to a 9-3-12 season. Jesus Rico-Sanz is the new manager, and he hopes that this year, the Blues can finally break through and be a title contender. Notable returning players include defenders Eryls Garcia, Corey Miller and Matt Hall; and forwards George Davis IV and Allan Russell. The Blues are one of two teams that open up their season early, as they take on Phoenix FC Wolbes on Mar. 23 at Titan Stadium on the campus of California State University, Fullerton. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. PT/10:30 p.m. ET.
9. Dayton Dutch Lions
Ivan van Dinteren returns to the helm for the Dayton Dutch Lions, who languished last year with a record of 4-10-10. A lot of retooling needs to take place before Dayton can consider themselves in the hunt for a spot in the playoffs. The Dutch Lions open up their season late, on Apr. 20 against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds at Beavercreek High School in Beavercreek, Ohio. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET.
10. Pittsburgh Riverhounds
Justin Evans’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds had a forgettable year, finishing next-to-last on the table with a 4-5-15 record. This season, the Hounds feel they can become a contender, and with little expectation from The View, this could be their time to shine. Notable players to watch for the Riverhounds include defenders Anthony Vazques and Nikola Katic; midfielders Rich Costanzo and Mike Seamon; and forwards Darren Amoo and Jhonny Arteaga. Pittsburgh open up their season on Apr. 6 against the Richmond Kickers at City Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET.
11. Antigua Barracuda
Tom Curtis’s Antigua Barracuda FC had their high point come in the CFU Club Championship. In USL Pro, they never stood a chance, finishing dead last with a 5-1-18 record. As the team that holds a majority of the top football talent in Antigua and Barbuda, higher expectations and a motivation to win matches will need to be prioritized for the Barracudas to make their move. Notable returning players include goalkeeper Keita DeCastro; defenders George Dublin and Tamorley “Ziggy” Thomas; midfielders Quinto Griffith and Randolph Burton; and forwards Peter Byers and Stefan Smith. Antigua open up their season on Apr. 13 against the Charlotte Eagles. Kickoff at Queens University is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET.
T-12. Phoenix FC
We have a tied for the bottom in the preseason power rankings, and they go to the new clubs. Phoenix FC Wolves, managed by David Robertson, is a new club that will debuting this year. They play their home matches at Sun Devil Soccer Stadium in Tempe. The Wolves will look to challenge early and often the rest of the the league and they have some key players in goalkeeper Sheldon Parkinson; defenders Scott Morrison, Renan Bofleur, Cyprian Hedrick and Jose Ramos; midfielders Netinho, Diego Faria and Anthony Obudai; and forwars Darren Mackie and Aaron King. Phoenix will open up their season on Mar. 23 against the Los Angeles Blues at Titan Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. PT/10:30 p.m. ET.
T-12. VSI Tampa Bay
Also tied for the bottom are fellow new club VSI Tampa Bay FC, managed by Matt Weston. The Flames play their home matches at Corbett Soccer Stadium on the campus of the University of South Florida in Tampa, Fla. Notable players to keep an eye on for VSI Tampa Bay include goalkeeper Alex Horwath; defenders Jean Jacques Bitielo, Richard Dixon and Jamie McGuinness; midfielder Shawn Chin; and forwards Sallieu Bundu and Karamba Janneh. VSI Tampa Bay open up their season on Mar. 30 against Phoenix FC at Sun Devil Soccer Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. PT/10:30 p.m. ET.