USL Championship playoff tiers: Favorites, dark horses, and more

Quick Hits
  • It’s time for the postseason in the USL Championship! Not all playoff teams are created equal, though
  • Ahead of this weekend’s opening round of games, we’re dividing the playoff field into tiers

It’s time for the postseason in the USL Championship, but not all playoff teams are created equal. Who’s for real, who could make a run, and who’s just lucky to have made the cut?

Let’s talk about that.

The Favorites

San Antonio FC: Champions of the Western Conference and the overall points leader in the regular season, San Antonio boasts an elite defense and a deep group of forwards. Their conservative style of soccer is built for a single elimination format. They’re the favorites.

Louisville City FC: Home-field advantage until a potential title game means a lot for Louisville; no club had a better record at home in 2022. Their new back three is sharp, too, and it just might be this team’s year after a title drought that dates back to 2018.

Tampa Bay Rowdies: Last year’s Eastern Conference champions finally have their star striker Sebastian Guenzatti scoring goals again and they’ve settled on a consistent backline. No team in the entire USL had a better goal difference in the regular season than the Rowdies.

They could do it!

Memphis 901 FC: This club nearly nabbed the East’s top seed, finishing four points behind Louisville. They’re well-organized in a 4-2-3-1, underrated forward Phillip Goodrum nearly won the Golden Boot, and the defense has been good even while dealing with injuries. Still, Memphis needs to prove they’re elite.

San Diego Loyal: The Loyal have the most dangerous offense in the USL and their midfield trio of Alejandro Guido, Jack Blake, and Charlie Adams is wildly creative. San Diego’s defense is suspiciously leaky, but they beat San Antonio in the regular season and could repeat the trick.

Sacramento Republic: Having reached the U.S. Open Cup final, Sacramento have proven their tournament mettle. Attacking is a red flag, but a flexible 4-2-3-1 that Mark Briggs debuted in the final week could help the final third play finally match the quality this team has consistently shown in defense.

Birmingham Legion: The Legion have a self-defeating tendency to play elite defensive midfielder Anderson Asiedu out of position as a winger and they’ll often sit back instead of pressing defensively. But when they do go aggressive, they’re a very formidable team. Enzo Martinez is a game-changer; he can win a match in a single moment.

Dark Horses

New Mexico United: Head coach Zach Prince regularly changed systems in 2022, but the 4-4-1-1 that he landed on towards the end of the year balances attacking talent and conservative fullback play. The expected goals data hates New Mexico, but their hard-nosed style leaves the door open for a playoff run.

Rio Grande Valley FC: No team in the USL earned more points than RGV in the last ten games of the season. Midseason pickups like forwards Christian Pinzon and Jonas Fjeldberg and fullback Akeem Ward add electricity in front of a stingy defense, and H-E-B Park is a fortress.

Detroit City FC: Le Rouge allowed the second fewest goals in the East, and Antoine Hoppenot can be the man for a team making a playoff run. Defensive injuries and general offensive inconsistency hold Detroit back, though.

Try Again Next Year

Pittsburgh Riverhounds: The Riverhounds have struggled against elite competition this year and regularly underperform with the most talented roster in the East. Bob Lilley has a sterling reputation, but he needs to prove his tactical chops in 2022.

Miami FC: Anthony Pulis has done a great job to get Miami in the playoffs in his first season, but the offense is lacking with just 47 goals in the regular season. Their defense is strong, but a first round Rowdies matchup is brutal.

Colorado Springs Switchbacks: The Switchbacks’ defense is the worst in the playoff field by a distance and their offense has been gutted since Hadji Barry’s transfer to Egypt.

Oakland Roots: Noah Delgado taking charge in the middle of the season and taking the Roots to the playoffs is a lovely story, but Oakland doesn’t have the balance to make a run. The midfield is dangerously thin.