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USL Power Rankings: Open Cup success, new contenders & more from Week 12

After 12 weeks of USL Championship action, we're ranking every team in the league.

25 min read
Design: Peyton Gallaher

After a start to the USL season where the usual suspects – Louisville, Charleston, and Sacramento – stole the show, the table is beginning to shift. There’s a new number one in the West, and two more upstarts have cracked the top three in each conference.

This was also a week of change, with Wilmer Cabrera debuting on the El Paso sideline, Birmingham adding an all-league talent, and numerous superstars succumbing to injuries.

Between the off-field news, a thrilling round of Open Cup games, and 11 league matches, which teams fell and rose this week? Let’s dig in.

1. Louisville (+1)

Result: 0-0 draw at Rhode Island

The wing back spots for LouCity have ended up in a much different place than many would’ve guessed during the offseason.

Amadou Dia, a long-established star, and trade acquisition Sam Gleadle seemed like the nailed-on starters heading into the year. Then, Jake Morris and rookie Jansen Wilson displaced them with excellent early-season outings. Then, Aiden McFadden came in on loan from Atlanta United, and the fact that he started in an inverted role on the left on Saturday illustrates just how deep this group is for Danny Cruz.

McFadden's contributions were critical. Louisville often hinged Kyle Adams higher on the left side of their back three, and McFadden made runs upfield that wouldn't be out of place from a forward. Meanwhile, Ray Serrano and Elijah Wynder held intermediary positions. You'd get Adams knocking long balls towards McFadden with Serrano and Wynder ready to clean up further behind. That scheme and typically tremendous counterpressure kept Louisville on the front foot.

Once in the final third, things were uncharacteristically quiet. Finishing wasn't the issue as much as baseline chance creation.

Taylor Davila struggled to make his presence felt on the edge of the box, and the tempo of passing moves was a shade too slow amidst relatively static movement. Cruz changed things up by introducing Jorge Gonzalez on the left and replacing Wilson Harris with the quick and versatile Sam Gleadle, but it wasn’t enough to get over the line.

Still, a draw on the road in Rhode Island is nothing to scoff at. LouCity will want to execute to a greater degree in the weeks ahead, but they generally controlled the balance of the match and are still probing for the top spot in the East.

2. Charleston (-1)

Result: 2-1 loss v. El Paso

After a heartbreaking penalty-kick loss to Atlanta United on Tuesday, Charleston – who used their best lineup in the Open Cup – had to circle the wagons against a new-look El Paso at the weekend. Mostly keeping their best XI together, the Battery did decide to bench Nick Markanich and replace him with Diego Gutierrez, a right-footed attacker starting on the right in a rare case of Ben Pirmann not inverting a winger.

The real story was the shape of the midfield in the press. Charleston are always fairly flexible in the way they mark, but there was a real commitment to keeping a man on both members of the Locomotive pivot at all times on Friday. Either Chris Allan or Aaron Molloy would consistently step high next to Emilio Ycaza at the No. 10 spot to assure parity.

Still, an Allan sending-off just before halftime threw a wrench in a game plan that was going off without a hitch. Charleston had to move into a 4-4-1, and without a second layer through the middle, they gave up too many touches between the lines. The effort was impressive to stay level until the very end of the match, but the loss felt inevitable.

If there’s a lesson, it’s in the importance of finding ways to finish your chances. Charleston put up 11 shots and no goals in the first half alone. This season has mostly gone to script, but disciplined, precise finishing will be key as the going gets tougher down the stretch.

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