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Championship Return to Play Preview – Group E

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 06/26/20, 12:05PM EDT

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Playoff battle between Indy, Louisville and Saint Louis could go down to the wire


The Louisville-Indianapolis Proximity Association Football Contest will get four airings during the abbreviated regular season. | Photo coutesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

The group assignments for Groups E through H ahead of the USL Championship’s resumption of the 2020 season are being made on Friday, giving us a chance to take a first look at each of the teams as they get ready to return to action.

First today, we look at Group E, which features last year’s Eastern Conference Finalists – and noted rivals – Indy Eleven and Louisville City FC, a Saint Louis FC side that will be aiming to break through after a resounding opening performance, and a Sporting Kansas City II side that has the talent to cause the others problems.

Indy Eleven
Record: 1-0-0, 3pts | W @MEM 2-4 [3/7]
Head Coach: Martin Rennie
2019 Season: 19-9-6, 63pts; Eliminated Eastern Conference Final
OVERVIEW
The Eleven overcame an early scare to pick up victory on the road in Memphis back in March, and once again it was Tyler Pasher that shone the brightest in a 4-2 victory. The squad still looks deep front to back, which is going to be crucial against two sides that look to be built the same way in LouCity and STLFC, but Indy’s defensive strength should make it difficult to break down. If that’s the case, then a trip to the postseason beckons.
Player to Watch
Tyler Pasher
Pasher has been outstanding in his newly-found attacking role since the start of 2019, with Indy’s counterattacking ability a perfect fit for his speed of foot and speed of thought. That was on display in Memphis, and makes him one of the trickier players to defend in space in the Championship.
Louisville City FC
Record: 1-0-0, 3pts | W @NC 0-1 [3/7]
Head Coach: John Hackworth
2019 Season: 17-8-9, 60pts; Defeated in USL Championship Final
OVERVIEW
LouCity picked up a good road win to open things up against North Carolina FC as Cameron Lancaster fit right back into the lineup where he’d become the Championship’s single-season goalscoring record-holder in 2018. The notable thing about Louisville over their run of three consecutive trips to the USL Championship Final, though, has been the side’s ability to close a season strongly. Over the past three years, LouCity has gone 22W-9L-11D between the dates of July 11 and October 4, and if it achieves something similar here – say a record of 8-3-5 – that’s probably going to leave everyone else fighting for second place.
Player to Watch
Cameron Lancaster
There’s no-one that’s produced the strike rate that Lancaster has over the past three seasons in terms of goals-per-minute, and even with an abbreviated season the English forward has a great chance to reach 50 regular-season Championship goals by the end of the year – he resumes on 42 after his tally against North Carolina. If Lancaster is on form, the strength in depth behind him should allow Louisville to make another run at becoming the first team with three league titles to its name.
Saint Louis FC
Record: 1-0-0, 3pts | W vMIA 4-1 [3/7]
Head Coach: Steve Trittschuh
2019 Season: 11-14-9, 42pts
OVERVIEW
Saint Louis’ victory in its season-opener against Miami FC might have been the most eye-opening result of the weekend, with the hosts looking sharp from the off before pulling away for the victory. If that was a good early litmus test, though, the battles to come against Indy Eleven and Louisville City FC are going to put STLFC up against arguably the best the East has to offer. If Head Coach Steve Trittschuh’s side earns a place in the top two, and a second trip to the playoffs in club history, it’s really going to have earned it.
Player to Watch
Russell Cicerone
You might recall we put Cicerone in the collection of Forwards to Watch back in March. Two goals in STLFC’s opening game against Miami was a great start, but the defenses that Indy and LouCity bring are going to likely prove tougher to break down. If Cicerone can weave more magic over the next three months, though, Saint Louis’ chances are going to go up exponentially. .
Sporting Kansas City II
Record: 0-1-0, 0pts | L vCLT 1-2 [3/8]
Head Coach: Paulo Nagamura
2019 Season: 12-13-9, 45pts
OVERVIEW
There were silver linings to Sporting Kansas City II’s opening game of the season against the Charlotte Independence, especially in watching how the side controlled the tempo of the game and outshot its opponents 20-9, with 10 shots on goal. But, a loss is still a loss, and as talented as SKC II’s youngsters are they won’t be able to get away with many mistakes against three strong opponents in this group. If the resumption of play sees the side make a slow start, it’s going to be hard to find a way back into the mix.
Player to Watch
Wilson Harris
Harris was the highest-scoring teenager in America in 2019 across all professional levels, with his outstanding run of 10 goals in the club’s final 11 games showing the ability he brings every time he steps on the field. Given the opposition, it’s going to be difficult to produce something similar over the next three months, but if he can it would be a serious boost to SKC II’s chances of upsetting the odds, and also provide a launching pad for Harris’ own trajectory.

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