It may be time for the entire USL to just start looking ahead to next season. No, not because Louisville City is the only team left which manages to pull in an average attendance of over 2,000, meaning most fans' favorite teams have been eliminated. And not because we may have already seen two of the most entertaining games in the playoffs this past round, as New York got by Rochester, and Swope Park scored, down two men, to bounce Orange County. It is time to look forward, because New York has already won.
First, you just compare New York to other teams who have made the championship game since 2011. Out of those ten teams and the four remaining teams this year, New York ranks first in points gained per game played (2.30), breaking the record that Rochester (2.18) set last season. They also hold the record for average goal differential per game, at +1.33, meaning that even taking into account their draws and losses they averaged winning by more than a goal. This crushed the previous record, held by Orlando (+1.08) during their championship run in 2013. New York is also second in goals scored per game in the USL's modern history. At 2.03, they only trail the now-PDL side Charlotte Eagles run of 2013, when they lost in the finals despite scoring 2.12 goals per game. Finally, their absolute worst stat (relatively speaking) is their goals allowed per game, which is third at 0.70, falling behind the aforementioned Rochester (0.54) championship season of 2015, and the Orlando win in 2011 (0.67). On paper, this may be the best team that we have ever seen. Paper is not everything, though.
As we all know, there are only three games left in the USL this season. #1 New York hosts #2 Louisville City in the East, while two MLS2 teams square off in the West, as #6 Vancouver Whitecaps 2 travels to the Sporting Kansas City USL team, #4 Swope Park Rangers. If you look at the matchups, though, saying that this is the Baby Bulls' season to lose is kind.
Their first game will be against a resurgent Louisville City team, which has won 6 of its last 7 games, the only exception being a draw (which some may argue should have been a loss, due to a questionable offside call) against Charlotte in the last game of the USL season. This hot #2 seed should give problems to a New York team that required a 119th-minute penalty kick to send the Rochester game into a shootout, right? Nope.
New York and Louisville have been around for two years each. In that time, New York is 4-0-0 against Louisville, having swept them home and away in 2015 and again this year in 2016. What is more important, is that Louisville has only scored in one matchup, a 2-3 loss in New York near the end of 2015. This year Louisville has been outscored 0-3 in the matchup, which is a major red flag. You must be able to put the ball in the back of the net multiple times to beat New York, who last lost a 1-0 contest back in April...of 2015. Including playoffs, 13 of the 14 losses all time in USL play for New York have come when their opponent scored multiple goals.
This type of a game is something that Louisville may not be able to play, though. We have seen them enter the playoffs this season in a scoring slump. In the first round, they needed extra time to edge past a ten-man Richmond Kickers team 1-0, in a game you can argue Louisville was outplayed, and they were only able to defeat Charleston 1-0, as well. Neither Charleston nor Richmond are poor on defense, but Louisville has only put up three multi-goal performances against playoff teams (excluding Orlando City B), and only fifteen overall. For reference, in 2015 Louisville notched 16 multi-goal games in two fewer attempts.
The lack of consistent goal scoring ability removes the only real chance of Louisville beating New York on an even playing field, which is to beat them in a high-scoring match. A game where Louisville is able to grind out a win seems further unlikely due to a history of New York being able to find the back of the net. While a Louisville win is certainly possible, the type of soccer that Louisville is playing does not lend itself well to beating the Baby Bulls, who you ether need to completely shut down, or keep on a constant defensive, as Rochester did the previous week.
The finals will likely be even more of a mismatch for New York. Both Swope Park and Vancouver will need to have fundamental changes in their approach to the game to have a shot at beating New York. While little inter-conference play existed this season, Saint Louis went 0-4-0 against Louisville and Cincinnati. Given, Saint Louis was below the quality of the West's finalists, New York should be able to walk through.
Additionally, both Swope Park and Vancouver have very shaky defenses. Both sides would rank in the bottom half of all teams that have made the USL Championship since 2011, with regards to defense. Swope Park would rank 8th after conceding 1.20 goals per game, while Vancouver at 1.47 goals allowed per game would finish 10th, only ahead of 2013 Charlotte and 2014 Harrisburg. If any team from the West wins the Championship, they will set records for doing so with the worst defense, worst regular season record, and worst goal differential ever.
Swope Park, the better of the two west teams defensively, finished the regular season conceding 36 goals. New York, against teams that allowed 36 or more goals, went 14-0-2 this season, with seven straight wins. While Swope Park or Vancouver may put up a fight, I fully expect them to fall victim to the blitz of New York, and be unable to keep up on the scoreboard. Even if New York is forced to go on the road, this will not cause a problem, as they performed better on the road 12-1-2 than at home 9-2-4.
The Championship trophy is New York's to lose. They have dominated Louisville for two years and Louisville is not currently playing soccer that will not match up favorably with the Bulls. In the championship game, New York should be able to completely run their opponents off the pitch. This is one of the best teams we have ever seen in the USL, and with Rochester dispatched, the final opponent who stands a chance against New York is gone.