Chattanooga Red Wolves SC’s 3-2 win over FC Tucson last Saturday night was the 42nd game of the 168-game 2021 League One regular season schedule, meaning we’ve now officially played just over one quarter of the season so far. The staggered start to the year means clubs are still on an unequal number of games, with teams having played as few as five matches or as many as 10.
Even with that catch, we’ve seen each team enough times at this point to grade them on their start to the season. Putting on my professor’s hat as I did last season, here’s how I grade all 12 League One clubs on their performance through Saturday, June 13.
This new-look Chattanooga side has been just about perfect to start the season. Minus the blip of an away loss to Tormenta, they’ve shown tremendous fight and a flair for late finishes, winning three games thanks to goals scored in the 80th minute or later.
The Red Wolves also became the first team to beat North Texas away in nearly 18 months, and came back from two goals down to earn a point against New England. Jimmy Obleda has this team pointed firmly in the right direction at the moment.
Fort Lauderdale has been a bit all over the place at times this season, alternating wins and losses for its first seven games of the season. But even in defeat (and especially in victory), the team has played some really entertaining soccer. George Acosta has been flat-out excellent in midfield for the Florida club, leading the league with five assists.
One thing that’s become abundantly clear is that this young and hungry team is far from easy to beat. To become a true playoff contender though, Fort Lauderdale needs to create consistency of results - its current points-per-game rate of 1.3 likely won’t be enough to get over the line come October. .
The Flamingos certainly look a more complete team than they did last year. The strong defense is still there under Head Coach Carl Craig, and has allowed only six goals in its opening seven games. The attack looks much-improved, with the arrivals of Jake Keegan and Derek Gebhard among others adding real quality up front.
The results have been strong too, as Madison has compiled 12 points and lost only once so far. Yet there’s one thing keeping me from putting them in the A category: the Flamingos have been in control of games plenty of times this season, but they rarely turn that control into dominance on the scoreline. The one time they did so was in the second half of a 3-1 comeback win against Tormenta - so we know it’s in there. But that’s their only win by a multiple-goal margin so far - do that more often, and you’re looking at a team that’s ready to challenge at the top.
This would have been a solid A if not for Greenville’s flat performance in a 3-0 loss to North Texas last weekend. It’s nowhere close to panic time for Triumph SC though - they looked like a team which hadn’t played for three weeks in that game, and have otherwise been excellent to start off their title defense.
Before the blowout loss to North Texas (which it beat 4-0 earlier in the season), Greenville allowed only two goals in five games, winning four out of those five and drawing the other. This is clearly a well-balanced team once again, and one I fully expect to be in and around the top of the table throughout the season. Marios Lomis and Don Smart both look like wise offseason pickups, and if they can continue to produce in addition to the team’s familiar faces, Triumph SC have a fair shot at a repeat.
Like last year, the Revolution II are a really difficult team to beat. But also like last year, the results haven’t been coming enough for a young team. This trend is perfectly exemplified by each of the team’s last two games: a 3-2 loss to Richmond and a 4-2 loss to Omaha. In both games, the Revolution II played some eye-catching soccer and gave a solid account of themselves, but came up short on the scoreboard.
No one is walking into a match with New England and expecting an easy three points (or if they are, they’re not getting them). But for the Revolution II to put themselves in playoff contention this year, the team has to figure out how to translate quality performances into points. They definitely have the personnel to do so.
North Carolina FC’s start to life in League One hasn’t gone how they would have hoped, but it’s not all doom and gloom for NCFC. All four of their losses have been narrow ones - each was by one goal, and two came as a result of conceding goals in second-half stoppage time.
Not once have they been roundly outplayed - the results just haven’t come yet. The team has also been missing one of its best leaders and players in midfielder Nazmi Albadawi for the entire season so far. It’s unclear when he’ll return, but that is sure to give the team a boost when it happens. Selmir Miscic is a real talent, and has all three of the team’s goals, but they’ll need goals from more sources and more often if they’re to break their early season rut. Don’t write this team off yet.
At the start of the season, North Texas was perhaps the most difficult team to gauge. They lost a lot of star power, but the foundations for success under Head Coach Eric Quill are still there. Seven games in, and it still doesn’t feel like we’re much closer to knowing.
The team started well enough, beating Fort Lauderdale 4-2. But then it got blown away by Greenville, and followed that up with its first home loss in nearly 18 months. A win against Tormenta preceded a loss to Toronto, and North Texas is still the only team to have lost to Toronto so far. But they also just beat Greenville 3-0, making them the only team to hand Triumph SC a loss so far.
Long story short: who knows what to expect the rest of the way from this team? For now, North Texas ends up in the B range because this feels familiar from last year - they started slow and a lot of us wrote them off before a late season surge saw them finish third.
It hasn’t been an awe-inspiring start to the season from Richmond, but it’s definitely been solid. The defense is looking strong, allowing only seven goals in eight matches. The attack isn’t setting the world alight, but it’s showing signs of becoming a more cohesive unit.
On paper, this Kickers team can compete with anyone in League One, which makes it tough to figure out why they’re not quite as high up the table as they’d like to be this far into the season. This evaluator’s gut tells him we’ve yet to see the best from this group, but if they’re to avoid the late season slump we saw last year, they need to find a spark, whatever that is.
If this article was written two weeks ago, the grade would have been much lower for Tormenta. But South Georgia now finds itself on a three-game winning streak, having not conceded a goal in 278 minutes of League One action. Some tactical tweaks from Head Coach Ian Cameron seem to have stopped the rot which saw Tormenta lose six of its opening seven games.
Even during that losing streak, South Georgia rarely looked like an inferior side to their opponents. The results just weren’t there at the time, but it appears they are now. It’s going to take a lot to overcome that many losses, which count the same in May as they will in October. But this is a team with a ton of League One experience and plenty of talent all over the pitch. The next month or two will be critical in determining this team’s chances at doing something special this season.
You might be thinking: with only one win in its opening seven games, why is Toronto’s grade not lower? The simple answer is because of the very unique obstacles in the Young Reds’ path. They’re already on their second different “home” venue of the year, and playing between Arizona and Florida while being a young squad that’s very far away from its actual home cannot be easy.
Things got off to a great start with a 2-1 win over North Texas, and Toronto nearly beat North Texas for a second time the following week. But the Young Reds are now on a six-game winless run, and despite some impressive performances like the 1-1 draw against Omaha, that’s going to keep them in the C range for now.
It’s tough to know what you’re going to get from this Tucson team. There’s the side that picked up six points in a week with two quality away victories, and there’s also the side that got blown out 5-1 against Fort Lauderdale. The biggest positive for Tucson is that it has managed to score in all seven of its games so far; the biggest negative is that the team has yet to shut out its opposition in that same stretch.
I bumped them up from a C to a C+ because they have the league’s most difficult travel requirements, but finding consistency in defense will be key for this club as the season progresses. They have the talent to compete with anyone in League One.
What’s not to like about this team so far? A grueling six-game road trip produced 11 points and only one loss away to Madison, which the team then avenged the following week by becoming the first team to defeat the Flamingos this season.
The attack, midfield, and defense all appear strong and connected, and 12 of 20 remaining games on Omaha’s regular season schedule are at home. The team has impressed despite the absence of one of its star attackers in Evan Conway, who has missed out through injury in recent weeks. Omaha can beat you in a variety of ways and is difficult to score against, and feels very much like a team hungry to prove itself after the disappointment of last year. But it’s still early, and the team needs a solid month to consolidate its position atop the table.