What follows is one bold prediction for every team in the USL West. These are not predictions that are guaranteed to happen, nor are they things that I view as an impossibility. These predictions are simply bold. Are some of these going to happen? I sure hope so. Are some of these going to make me look dumb in a few months? Probably. Without further ado, lets get this party started.
Arizona United FC - Will have Carl Woszczynski nominated for goalkeeper of the year.
With an improved lineup in 2016, Arizona will have a better record and allow fewer shots on goal, providing for less goals allowed by Woz. This will elevate him to contention and a nomination.
Colorado Springs Switchbacks - Luke Vercollone will win the USL MVP.
Honestly, he should have won in 2015. With the departure of his main competition, Matt Fondy, to the NASL, the veteran Vercollone will not only earn the nomination for leading the Switchbacks to back to back playoff appearances, but deservedly take the MVP award home.
Los Angeles Galaxy II - Will finish in the middle of the playoff hunt for the third straight year.
Following up their 2014 third place seed and 2015 fifth place seed, Los Dos will return to where they are most comfortable: The middle of the playoff hunt. They may have lost Diop, Lassiter and Steres over the offseason to the MLS, but Los Dos still are going to benefit from their parent organization's deep pockets enough to finish in the middle of the playoff hunt for a third straight year.
Oklahoma City Energy - Danni Konig breaks the USL regular season goals scored record.
In 2015 Konig had 21 total goals, the second most ever in a single USL season. With the league expanding to include two additional games in the 2016 season and the loss of Kyle Greig, who was second on the team with 7 goals in 2015, Konig increases his scoring output in 2016 and breaks Matt Fondy's 22 goal record.
Orange County Blues - Orange County repeats as the USL West regular season champions.
Orange County has quietly been building their roster with acquisitions such as the signing of the 2015 USL Goalkeeper of the league Brandon Miller from Rochester. With few losses, this team will pickup right where they left off in 2015 and are poised to stay on top of the West.
Portland Timbers 2 - Portland will finally lift the ban on chat for their USL stream.
The Vancouver Whitecaps 2 have a twitter account now, so miracles do happen. Portland will finally join the rest of the USL in allowing a base amount of fan interaction. Maybe.
Real Monarchs SLC - After finishing last in 2015, Real Monarchs will make the playoffs in 2016.
In the second half of the season, the Real Monarchs were quietly one of the better teams in the league. With recently announced loanees on the defensive side of the field for the Monarchs, they will be a difficult team to beat in the early part of the year, and will be able to ride that to their first playoff appearance in franchise history.
Rio Grande Valley FC Toros - Will lead the league in saves.
Remember what Arizona United was known for last year? Having an above average keeper who was asked to do far more than any keeper should, resulting in shattering the USL save record? RGV is going to follow the same path. I haven't seen too much that shows that the Toros will be a top team, but they do have a good keeper in Devin Perales. Perales played with Austin throughout their PDL days and through their USL time, winning PDL All-Conference Keeper in 2013.
Sacramento Republic FC - Will allow the least amount of goals in the USL West.
Despite the losses of Nemanja Vuković and Mickey Daly, Sacramento has bolstered their backline with the signings of Mike da Fonte and Chris Christian. There may be minor step back, but the signing of Evan Newton will be a difference maker. Newton is one of the top keepers in the league, and will keep Sacramento as one of the top defensive teams in the USL West for a second straight year.
Saint Louis FC - Saint Louis will score at least 10 more goals in 2016 than 2015.
After the move from the East to the West, a Saint Louis team that has been given more time to gel will benefit from a change of scenery. Saint Louis would have ranked dead last in the West in scoring last season, and it's no secret that teams like Arizona and Vancouver had a hard time keeping opposing teams out of their net. The biggest factor will be getting away from the two defensive juggernauts of the East: Rochester and Charleston.
San Antonio FC - San Antonio will have the second highest average attendance in the USL.
I see this race coming down to San Antonio, Louisville and Cincinnati. While attendance has been slipping for San Antonio Scorpions in NASL play, dropping from 9,176 in 2012 to 6,736 in 2015, I have faith in the SAFC marketing department. They have been pushing strong for MLS and putting the team brand out there. If the team actually has enough success to keep people who are on the fence about going to games coming, they should take the second place crown from Louisville.
Seattle Sounders 2 - Seattle will suffer the greatest drop in total points in the USL West in 2016.
For the first half of the 2015 USL season, Seattle was a team to be feared, especially at home where they won 9 of 10 to open the season. Then starting in Week 21, the wheels fell off and their season went down in flames, only making the playoffs due to the season ending when it did. Another few games and Tulsa likely would have taken the six seed. I see no reason to think this trend was fixed in the offseason, and Seattle may be in for a long 2016.
Swope Park Rangers - Swope Park leads the USL in total goals scored.
If nothing else, this season Swope Park will be hard to keep out of the net. They have signed the all-time USL leading scorer in Dane Kelly from Charleston, and picked up Kris Trypek from Austin Aztex. Those two players alone combined for 20 goals in 2015, and will be a potent front line.
Tulsa Roughnecks FC - Tulsa hosts a playoff game in 2016 after finishing one spot out of playoffs in 2015.
This will not come as a shock to anyone who has seen me talk about Tulsa, but they are poised to shock the USL with a strong run in 2016. Tulsa has built a very cohesive and strong core of players in Ballew, Mata, and Ochoa, who will take this team as far as the defense allows them to go.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 - Vancouver will be the most improved team by points gained in the USL West in 2016.
Much like Orange County, Vancouver has been quietly building in the offseason. While I still have major doubts about defense, they may be turning into a team that is going to be fun to watch. With the signing of Kyle Greig from Oklahoma City, every game has potential to be a shootout. Coupling Greig (7 goals in 2015) with Victor Blasco, Vancouver if they can repeat as a sneaky dangerous home team, should be able to come together better and earn the most improved award.
Those are my bold predictions for 2016. Let's hear some of yours in the comments below