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Way-Too-Early Predictions for the 2021 League One Season

By CAMERON KOUBEK -, 01/04/21, 11:15AM EST


What might happen in the league's third year?

Union Omaha impressed as a first-year club in 2020, and could have the league's toughest defense in 2021 / Photo courtesy Union Omaha

The calendar has finally turned, and with 2020 in the rearview mirror, it’s time to start looking ahead to the 2021 League One season. The league’s third season looks set to be its best yet, with Greenville Triumph SC defending its crown against 10 hungry challengers. Though the start of the season remains months away, here are five way-too-early predictions for the way it could go.

Richmond Kickers
Richmond Kicks On
The big positive for Richmond in 2020 was the side's drastic improvement upon its ninth place finish during the 2019 campaign, earning fourth place under first-year Head Coach Darren Sawatzky. But after sitting in second for most of the season, the team’s form faltered down the homestretch, and the Kickers missed out on a spot in the League One Final by just three points.

Despite that major disappointment, momentum at City Stadium is trending in the right direction. The club has already re-signed key figures like reigning League One MVP and Golden Boot winner Emiliano Terzaghi, defender Ian Antley and veteran goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald. The squad will have learned from the heartbreak of coming up just short last season, and again looks primed to be a contender for the League One title in the second season of Sawatzky’s project.

Greenville Triumph
Smart and Liadi Thrive In New Surroundings South Georgia Tormenta
Don Smart (from Forward Madison FC to Greenville Triumph SC) and Azaad Liadi (from FC Tucson to South Georgia Tormenta FC) are both high-profile strikers to switch clubs this offseason, and each looks set for success in their new homes. With his wealth of experience in professional soccer, Smart seems like an ideal fit for Triumph SC Head Coach John Harkes’ system.

That system is built around a versatile core of attacking players who don’t overwhelm opposing defenses with sheer numbers, but with the intelligence of their movement and the clinical nature of their finishing. Smart brings both of those things - across his two seasons in Madison, he scored nine goals and maintained a 51.1 percent shooting accuracy rate. He also showed he can create for others, tallying eight assists and 59 chances created.

The 22-year-old Liadi doesn’t boast the same veteran’s instincts as Smart, but offers real reasons for optimism nonetheless. He’ll be in a familiar place back in Statesboro, where he finished his college career at Georgia Southern University. His three goals and three assists for FC Tucson in his 2020 rookie campaign showed the talent he has, and Tormenta FC Head Coach Ian Cameron believes Liadi is “nowhere near his potential yet.” Liadi’s speed and eye for goal are sure to bring a different dynamic to the Tormenta attack and excite fans of the South Georgia side.

USL League One
The Regular Season Title Is Decided By Less Than Six Points
Greenville Triumph SC led the field by a margin of six points when all was said and done in 2020, and though the South Carolina side looks poised for another strong campaign, the rest of the league’s teams look ready to close the gap. Expect a tight race for both the title and the playoff places, which could come down to the season’s final matchday thanks to a strong and balanced field across the league.

Union Omaha
Union Omaha Boasts League One’s Best Defense
It was hard not to be impressed by what Union Omaha did as a first-year club in 2020, putting together an excellent season to finish second in the League One table. Look for this squad, which already works well together as a unit, to gel even further in Year Two under Head Coach Jay Mims. Los Búhos have already brought back all their core starters from a solid defense that allowed only 15 goals in 16 matches in 2020.

Goalkeeper Rashid Nuhu makes an excellent anchor behind Mims’ seemingly-preferred back four of Damia Viader, Daltyn Knutson, Illal Osumanu and Ferrety Sousa. Midfielder Tobias Otieno - who joined midway through the 2020 season and provided important cover for the back line to help the team overcome a slump in form - returns as well. Another year playing together and building on its already-strong chemistry, Omaha has great potential to be the league’s strongest defensive side in 2021.

Chattanooga Red Wolves SC
Chattanooga Leads the League In Goals Scored
In 2020, Chattanooga’s offense ranked third in goals per game with 1.4, just behind North Texas SC (1.69) and title-winners Greenville (1.5). Though the Red Wolves’ offseason additions have mostly been midfielders, those creators should help out returning forwards Marky Hernandez and Ronaldo Pineda.

Former Acenso MX and USL Championship midfielder Jose Carerra Garcia will bring real quality to the Chattanooga midfield and drive the creation of scoring opportunities for the Red Wolves’ talented front line. Though unproven at the professional level, new signing Jackson Dietrich is an intriguing prospect up top, while fellow incoming young players Jimmie Villalobos and Josue Espana add even more attacking ability to a midfield corps that features two established League One players in Ualefi and Amirgy Pineda. 2020 All-League selection Ricky Ruiz does a little bit of everything on the left flank, defending well and getting forward effectively.

The apparent desire of Head Coach Jimmy Obleda and GM and President Sean McDaniel to stockpile young creators and goal scorers suggests the Red Wolves are looking to play exciting soccer in 2021, and it looks like they have the firepower to do so.

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