The USL announced this week the regionalized groupings of teams for the restart of the USL Championship season on July 11th. Sporting Kansas City’s USL Championship side, Sporting KC II was placed in Group E for the tournament and will be matched up against Indy Eleven, Louisville City FC, and Saint Louis FC. All three of Sporting’s opponents are 1-0-0 in the short season so far while KC is 0-1 after their opening loss to the Charlotte Independence.
The Championship season will now be a 16 game season played mostly against teams in a club’s group. Sporting will play Indy, Louisville, and Saint Louis four times each for 12 of their remaining 15 games. Their last three games will be played against teams in a similar geographic area. The opponents for those last three games have not been announced yet.
Kansas City certainly didn’t get any favors with their grouping, getting two teams that were near the top of the league last year and a Saint Louis team that had just missed out on the playoffs in 2019.
Indy made the Eastern Conference finals in 2019 before losing to fellow group member, Louisville. In the regular season Indy had finished third place with a 19-6-9 (W-D-L) record. This season, Indy had defeated Memphis 901 FC 4-2 with former KC player Tyler Pasher scoring two goals and adding an assist for Indy.
Louisville made their third straight USL Championship in 2019, losing 3-1 to the Real Monarchs after winning the previous two over Phoneix Rising in 2018 1-0 and over the Swope Park Rangers in 2017 1-0. In the regular season last year, Louisville finished fourth in the East with a 16-10-8 record. They started the 2020 season with a 1-0 win over North Carolina FC.
Saint Louis has started the 2020 season strong, topping one of the preseason league favorites, The Miami FC 4-1 in their opener. Former Swope Park Ranger, Tyler Blackwood scored a goal in the game as did Kyle Greig who grew up in Olathe, Kansas. In 2019 Saint Louis just missed out on a playoff spot going 11-9-14, missing out on the last playoff spot by a point.
Sporting will have their work cut out for them, especially with the club likely being without most, if not all players from Sporting’s first team for the tournament as Sporting will be kicking off the MLS is Back tournament around the same time the USL season kicks off and Peter Vermes has said he wants to take all his healthy players with him to Orlando for the tournament. If no first team players stay behind with SKCII, that will leave the USL side with just 18 players on their roster for the restart of the USL season baring the signing of new players or academy players to academy contracts. Paulo Nagamura will likely be relying on veteran leadership from the likes of Christian Duke, who has carved out a strong career in the USL and Dillon Serna who has made over 100 appearances for the Colorado Rapids in MLS action to help the team weather at least the start of the season.