By JOHN BOSCHINI
When the NASL and USL split back in 2009, the USL decided to focus more on fostering regional rivalries between clubs. That philosophy is on full display in the first full weekend of play.
The league officially kicked off last weekend with the Richmond Kickers scoring a 2-0 win at Orlando City and Sevilla Puerto Rico and River Plate Puerto Rico playing to a 2-2 draw.
This Saturday, the Charlotte Eagles, Charleston Battery, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and FC New York make their season debuts.
Here is SBI’s preview of the action taking place in the USL:
Orlando City vs. FC New York (Saturday, 7:35)
Orlando got its 2011 season off to a poor start with a thoroughly disappointing performance against Richmond. The Florida club showed well in preseason and got some vital experience with friendlies against MLS sides. Newcomers Demar Stewart and Devorn Jorsling will need to get acclimated quickly to get a positive result.
FC New York, an expansion team, is led by English Championship veteran Paul Shaw. The rest of the team is made up of recent college graduates and newcomers who might have trouble in their debut games.
Prediction: Orlando City 1, FC New York 0
Charleston Battery vs. Charlotte Eagles (Saturday, 7:30)
This is a budding rivalry between two southeastern sides. The Battery is coming off a USL-2 Championship season and will look to get off to a quick start. The loss of MVP Lamar Neagle and striker Tom Heinemann severely cripples Charleston’s attack now relies on 20-year-old Dane Kelly.
Charlotte dipped in 2010, missing the playoffs but the lack of any major departures keeps a talented team intact. Former Carolina Railhawks captain Eric Reed joins as keeper.
Prediction: Charleston Battery 1, Charlotte Eagles 1
Richmond Kickers vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds (Saturday, 5:00)
The Kickers are off to a perfect start with a solid victory last weekend and they will look to continue that form against a Pittsburgh side improved dramatically in 2010. Richmond’s defense is its strength this season and Pittsburgh new strikers will have a difficult time breaking down a stubborn back line.
Pittsburgh added some offensive attack in the form of Thabiso Khumalo while 2010 Rookie of the Year Jeremey Deighton has a promising future. A healthy Pittsburgh will be no pushover, even away from home
Prediction: Richmond Kickers 2, Pittsburgh Riverhounds 1
Puerto Rico United vs. Sevilla FC Puerto Rico (Sunday, 3:00)
Sevilla FC faces off against another Puerto Rican opponent for the second-straight week against Puerto Rico United. Sevilla conceded the lead twice last weekend in a 2-2 draw. Expect a fair number of goals from Sevilla but a failure to stop conceding goals might cost it again.
Puerto Rico United added a number of new faces in order to reinvent a squad that struggled in 2010. Andres Cabrero comes in to shore of the midfield but United need to score goals this season and a prolific striker has yet to emerge.
Prediction: Sevilla FC Puerto Rico 2, Puerto Rico United 0
What do you think of this weekend's action? Excited to see FC New York make its debut? Who do you see winning the title this season?
Share your thoughts below.