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Loudoun United 2019 USL Championship preview

We look at D.C. United’s USL team before the inaugural kick.

Black and Red United

The coming inaugural season of Loudoun United FC (D.C. United’s USL affiliate) has flown a little quietly under the radar of many observers, but pretty soon many DMV folks will find themselves with the ability to go to a USL Championship game at their convenience and (sort of) in your general neighborhood. So if you’ve not paid much attention to D.C.’s former affiliate Richmond Kickers and you’re new to second division soccer or to Loudoun United, what do you want to know?

So they’ll be able to field a team every week, right?

Just barely! As I write this (Tuesday night) they have 11 officially signed to USL deals, and need 1 more signed to a professional contract to hit minimum. They have a mix of established professionals, youngsters just starting their careers, recruits from abroad who occupy international roster spots, presumably some players loaned from D.C., and most likely some academy players too. So long as they’re registered with the USL, they can be part of the 23-player Game Day Pool. You can have as many as 30 players on each team.

Wait, did you just say international roster spots? Really?

Yes, really! Each team gets 7 international spots per season, and these are tradeable. Loudoun has officially announced five players (Harri Hawkins, Omar Campos, Orlando Sinclair, Ariel Fantoni, Jack-Jean Baptiste) and have already traded their other two spots away so if they want anyone else, they’ll have to acquire spots, likely for cash.

Other than the internationals, who else is on the team?

Loudoun has two goalkeepers: USL veteran Calle Brown and rookie Colin Miller. They also have three guys (Peabo Doue, Shinya Kadono, Kyle Murphy) who were on trial with D.C. in preseason. You’ll probably have some D.C. United players like Donovan Pines and Antonio Bustamante find some time with Loudoun, along with some current and former Academy players.

Wait, CURRENT Academy kids can play with the USL team? How can they do that?

Well, the USL has built in a rule where up to 5 Academy players can play without counting towards the overall roster total (anyone beyond those five will count towards the roster). So current Academy players like Griffin Yow, Bryang Kayo or even Moses Nyeman could play for Loudoun without having to occupy a roster spot. As long as they’re under 21, have never competed in an NCAA program or register with FIFA, they’re good to go.

If this is like Triple-A for soccer, can Loudoun players get recalled or promoted to D.C.?

Recalled? Yes. You can sign players to Short-Term (no more than 4 day) agreements from the USL affiliate to your MLS club, for competitions like U.S. Open Cup, Concacaf Champions League or friendlies. You can only sign a player to 4 of those agreements each season. D.C. can place priority on up to 3 USL players to sign to MLS deals, which requires placement on the team’s Discovery List.

Is there anyone in this year’s squad that could get promoted?

Ask me again when Loudoun starts playing games that count, jeez! If I were to guess right now, I’d think Sinclair and Kadono could fit that bill, but that’s partly because D.C. are a little empty at forward. Baptiste and Fantoni are being talked up by Technical Director Dane Murphy so they could be viable, albeit on a longer-term development arc.

Just how good or bad is Loudoun United right now?

Like I said, ask me again when they start playing games that count. That said, since 2014, 10 MLS teams have started USL affiliates, and 5 of them had single-digit win totals in their first season (those same teams have played 34 total USL seasons, and 15 of them have had winning records). Even in a league where 10 of 18 teams in each conference can make the postseason, it may be ugly early on. On the other hand, at least they beat fellow MLS satellite/USL Championship side Bethlehem Steel 2-1 a couple of weeks ago, and followed it up with a 3-2 win over the Richmond Kickers (USL League 1) last week.

Wait, that’s a lot of teams that make the playoffs...and just who are these other teams in the conference?

In the USL Championship, there are 36 teams, but you only play league matches against teams in your conference. Loudoun is in the East, which, duh. Here’s the full list of teams they’ll be seeing on the regular:

USL Championship - Eastern Conference

Team MLS parent club (if any)
Team MLS parent club (if any)
Atlanta United 2 Atlanta United FC
Bethlehem Steel FC Philadelphia Union
Birmingham Legion FC
Charleston Battery
Charlotte Independence
Hartford Athletic
Indy Eleven
Loudoun United FC D.C. United
Louisville City FC
Memphis 901 FC
Nashville SC
New York Red Bulls II New York Red Bulls
North Carolina FC
Ottawa Fury FC
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
Saint Louis FC
Swope Park Rangers Sporting Kansas City
Tampa Bay Rowdies

What else should I know?

It generally rolls like MLS, with two exceptions: games are official after 70 minutes in case rain or other inclement event pops up, and a 4th substitute is available in extra time for playoff games. While teams can carry 30 players, they have to submit a roster of 23 players at least 48 hours before kick so IN THEORY, you know who could or couldn’t play.

Bottom line: who should I expect to see start every week?

This is probably incorrect both by names and by formation. Loudoun has played two preseason games, and the one I saw had them line up in a sort of 4-4-2, which would seem to be inconsistent with how the organization wants to look in their 4-2-3-1. Maybe coach Richie Williams will tinker further, but assuming all things are equal and optimal: