The USL offseason has already been a busy one – you can stay up to date with everything that’s happened in the Transfer Tracker – which means with a little over two months until then new season kicks off there’s been plenty to chew over as to potential lineups when the opening weekend of the season arrives.
In the first of a new series, we’re going to look at three teams who have been highly active already in the player market since the end of last season. Two are clubs who have made some major roster overhauls since the end of last season, and the other is in the process of building a squad from the ground up.
While there are still moves to be made for all three clubs, here’s a look at where FC Cincinnati, Nashville SC and Saint Louis FC could stand when the season begins.
Photo courtesy Brett Hansbauer / FC Cincinnati
Potential Lineup (3-4-1-2): GK – Spencer Richey; D – Forrest Lasso, Dekel Keinan, Sem de Wit; M – Lance Laing, Corben Bone, Tyler Gibson, Matt Bahner; AM - Jimmy McLaughlin; F – Danni König, Tommy Heinemann
Having been handed the reins at the start of preseason a year ago, Head Coach Alan Koch has taken full advantage of his first full offseason to freshen up a squad that hit some major highs in 2017, but was unable to produce the consistency that would make it a championship contender at the end of the season.
That has meant new faces in all areas, starting with a player Koch is very familiar with in Spencer Richey. Brought in on loan from Vancouver Whitecaps FC, where he played for Koch as part of WFC2, Richey should be a good replacement for the departed Mitch Hildebrandt (Atlanta United). Richey could have a familiar face in front of him, too, in fellow WFC2 alum Sem de Wit, and should Koch decide to remain with his three-center-back formation, veteran Israeli Dekel Keinan and 2017 USL All-League selection Forrest Lasso could slot into the back line.
The theme of newcomers continues in midfield and attack, with Lance Laing’s versatility making him a potential fit for the left wingback spot in what would be a 3-4-1-2 formation, and fellow new recruits Tyler Gibson (midfield) and Tommy Heinemann (forward) adding to some solid returning pieces in Corben Bone, Matt Bahner, Jimmy McLaughlin and Danni König. FCC isn’t done dealing yet – right as we were getting ready to post this the club added former Real Monarchs SLC striker Emery Welshman to its forward contingent – but what they have so far looks impressive on paper.
Potential Lineup (4-3-3): GK – Matt Pickens; D – Kosuke Kimura, Oumar Ballo, Liam Doyle, Taylor Washington; M – Ryan James, Matt LaGrassa, Lebo Moloto; F – Robin Shroot, Tucker Hume, Michael Cox
It’s no small task, building a roster from scratch, but with 13 players under contract Nashville SC has already put together what could be a pretty solid starting 11 as it builds the remainder of its squad over the next two months.
What Nashville has done so far, though, has exhibited the influence of the technical team of Head Coach Gary Smith and Technical Director Mike Jacobs, with players from their previous stops both part of the new group. The arrival of goalkeeper Matt Pickens and defender Kosuke Kimura, both of whom played for Smith when the Colorado Rapids claimed MLS Cup in 2010, can certainly be attributed to Smith’s presence at the new club and will bring a veteran presence to the squad.
For Jacobs’ part, the trio of former Swope Park Rangers players – where Jacobs helped build back-to-back Western Conference champions over the past two seasons – should play a role this year. The trade for Lebo Moloto last month added the talented South African to defenders Oumar Ballo and Liam Doyle, both of whom performed well previously for SPR.
Maybe the most interesting addition of all, however, is that of Matt LaGrassa, who will join his second expansion side in as many years in Nashville. LaGrassa was arguably an unsung hero for Reno 1868 FC last season, making 31 starts and finishing second on the team in minutes played with 2,739 as he came into his own in his second professional season. LaGrassa’s ability as a two-way player in the middle of the park is going to be something to watch this year as Nashville looks to hit the ground running.
Potential Lineup (4-4-2): GK – Tomas Gomez; D – Jonathan Barden, Phanuel Kavita, Sam Fink, Sean Reynolds; M – Kadeem Dacres, Tony Walls, Wal Fall, Austin Martz; F – Christian Volesky, Corey Hertzog
With only five players retained from the 2017 squad, new Head Coach Anthony Pulis has been very busy already to build a squad that STLFC fans hope will take the club to the USL Cup Playoffs for the first time this year, and given the side available to Pulis so far on paper, it certainly appears as though things are pointed in the right direction.
Two-time USL Golden Glove Tomas Gomez is penciled in here, although the battle between he and returning goalkeeper Devala Gorrick should keep both players on their toes as Gomez returns to his hometown, but it’s the spine of the team that really stands out in terms of what Pulis and STLFC General Manager Jeremy Alumbaugh are building.
Leading off, the signing of Corey Hertzog should provide the attacking punch that was lacking last season, with the veteran forward coming off back-to-back All-League seasons with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. The addition of Wal Fall from the Rochester Rhinos to help the engine room of the team alongside Tony Walls is another that should pay dividends, with Fall having proven tough to match up with over the past two seasons.
Pulis also has some good options to work with at the back, with the return of Sam Fink one that was welcomed by the fans, and the arrival of former Louisville player Sean Reynolds and Phanuel Kavita offering two good options to play alongside the St. Louis native. With the potential return of U.S. U20 international Aedan Stanley at left back as well, the current group brings hope of a bright 2018 at Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis.