1. Black Dragons, AngusMid-Season Prediction: 1st
While the title race was pushed to the penultimate day, it rarely seemed like Black Dragons were ever at risk of falling off top spot, if at all. Having only spent four matchdays not in first place, and even then climbing in spots up from 4th on opening day, Black Dragons cruised to a second consecutive league title, with results in the second half of the season just going their way. They recorded drubbings against Scorpius Champs, Coma Fighters, Turquoise, Warriors, and Purple Colors, scoring 35 goals in just those 5 games alone. And, most notably, they went invincible in the league, and almost had a full season of victories with the exception of 0-0 draws against Mid Cities in Matchday 13 (Round 22) and Texas on Matchday 21 (Round 34). They could not have done this without a stellar defensive unit, who only conceded TWO goals in the entire league campaign. Up front, veteran forwards Vyntra and Fahad continued to score, recording 33 and 22, respectively. Though for the latter, this season will be his last for his retirement. Naseer earned the league Top Assister award, notching an impressive 37, meanwhile Holloway won Best Goalkeeper and Tapia took home Best Defender.
As of the time of writing, they are yet to contest the finals of the National Trophy and League Cup against Texas. If history is any indication, though, that may just mean two more wins to look forward to. The only thing considered a failure by Dragons fans at this stage would be their performance on a continental scale. They did get to the quarterfinals of the Champions Cup. There, however, they lost 5-1 on aggregate to Greek outfit Gemini Bullets. Perhaps the final step in manager Angus’ plan is to with the Cup with the Dragons, but can they do that while holding down the fort in domestic competition?2. Texas FC, AdamMid-Season Prediction: 2nd
One has to feel bad for Texas FC. To be within reach of the league crown for five straight seasons now, and not having won it once. Maybe the one upside of this season in particular is that the club didn’t necessarily bottle a huge lead at the top to squander their progress. Dragons simply beat them to the punch at every occasion. With all this being said, manager Adam can take some good points out of this season. The future of the club seems to be especially bright, with Matías Espina turning out exceptional performances which didn’t stop in the second half of the season. This earned Espina both the Best Attacker Award, and the league’s Best Young Player at only 21 years of age. He also won Best Young Player Award at the Global Player Awards Ceremony. With him seemingly quite happy in Houston, Espina will only become more of a complete forward as time goes on. Also potent is the talent of a Sayed Hasni in his prime, who was given the league Best Midfielder award as well for putting up both at least 20 goals and assists each. More broadly speaking, Texas are fairly set when it comes to age, with no players either retiring this season or that look to be retiring for at least the next three seasons. Contrast that with Dragons, First Boxers, and Mid-Cities, who are all seeing a key attacking player hang up their boots at the end of this term. They also have a spine of Adam, Ali, Hasni, and Danauskas that perform efficiently and are well under 30. This spine managed to put out massive wins against the bottom four and the likes of Orion Athletes and LAFC, with their best matches adding up to 44 goals in only 7 games.
As mentioned, they will play both the National Trophy and League Cup against title foes the Dragons, and Adam can hope to find more joy in the now one-off cup environments. After all, they drew against Dragons away with a slightly weaker side – who’s to say they can’t go on to win one or both of the competitions still left on offer? It is no doubt that their perennial league shortcomings are disappointing to fans, players, and the manager alike. But with things only looking up, and improvement guaranteed, we could very well see the Texans create the start of a dynasty all their own.3. First Boxers, Hanes FruitMid-Season Prediction: 4th
Everyone – including those at the club’s very top – knows of First Boxers’s fall from grace after achieving three league championships in a row. What is less noticeable, though, is how they have slowly gained ground on the top two, sneaking back up in the second half of the campaign. Having been 5th as late as Matchday 21 (Round 34), they overtook Mid-Cities in the next round, before finally passing Nike FC to go third in Matchday 25 (Round 42). Since then, though, they have been able to hang onto their spot in the table, weathering some advances by Nike in the meantime. Boxers had a player involved in league awards this season, with a 27-year-old Thierry Henry winning both the golden boot with 48 strikes to his name, and being the US Federation’s Most Valuable Player, being named man of the match on 12 occasions. Also in great scoring form was fellow 27-year-old Rafiq Freixa, scoring forty in thirty matches. This led them to have the second best goal tally, putting up 114 – only one goal shy of the Dragons at 115. At the back, Boxers’ defender Muneer Ihab also had a great season, coming second in the rating charts after playing all but two matches. Generally, along with wins against the bottom four, Boxers also turned the tide of their season with a victory against Nike. They also didn’t let a three game loss streak in the National Trophy, League Cup, and away leg of the Challengers Trophy quarterfinal affect them, as they continued their good form afterwards.
Indeed, at the time of writing, the Boxers are still in the Challengers Trophy, playing the away leg of the semifinal against Daugava Riga in Germany – this making them the only US team left in continental play. In other news, First Boxers will say goodbye to 35-year-old defensive midfielder Sajid Salam at the conclusion of this season, who was with the club back in their glory days a couple seasons ago. Indeed, after declining following their best players retiring in the past few seasons, they will face similar problems in the near future as their best goalkeeper, center back, full back, and wide midfielder are all north of 30. However, they have some good players waiting in the wings, and Manager Hanes Fruit will look to make their way back to the top next season.4. Nike FC, Cr7 Fan Mid-Season Prediction: 3rd
Nike Football Club and boss Cr7 Fan did fall off ever so slightly in the tail end of the campaign, but it can still be taken as a big leap for a club who now set their aspirations to the top. After all, this was the first season that they managed to break their streak of 6th place finishes, and 4th is no small feat either. Couple this with the fact that, looking at the rating charts, they had no real standout players in comparison to the rest of the league – their best player who played a majority of matches was attacking lynchpin Sam Fox. The second half of the campaign was generally positive, though the aforementioned loss to the Boxers, defeats to Mid-Cities both in the National Trophy and the league, and a shock draw at home to struggling a Warriors side put a dent in things. They did spend a total of 15 matchdays, or in other words, half the season, in that third spot, though a dip in form in Matchday 24 saw them slump to 5th. With all these said, though, they fought back in the final hour of the campaign, raising morale with a 21 goal haul across their last three games. This resulted in them rising back to 4th, ending the campaign with 99 goals scored and only 12 conceded, the latter being better than the 16 let in by Boxers above them.
Getting knocked out early in both domestic cups and the Challengers Trophy will be something that Nike fans will want to see improvement in next time out. One reason for this may simply be a slowly aging squad. Positions in wide areas seem to be the current concern for the Nike boss, with many full-backs, wide midfielders, and wingers entering the twilight of their career. However, with no players retiring this season, Fan should try to rejuvenate those positions before it is too late and they inevitably slip down to 6th place again otherwise. On the whole, though, the season for Nike has been a good one, maybe, given the right improvements, we could see Nike push for the title soon.5. Mid-Cities SC, EnvicanMid-Season Prediction: 5th
For Mid-Cities, the second half of the season will perhaps have been less fruitful than hoped. Facing both First Boxers and Nike FC, two clubs experiencing upticks in form, something had to give. On the bright side, though, they did not drop below 5th for the rest of the campaign. Much of this was down to their backline and goalkeeper, John Joseph, who across the season only let in 11 goals. This was actually the 3rd best defense in the league, better than the Boxers, Nike, and Baltic Lynx below them. However, their goals scored was a relatively small tally of 78, almost 20 less than the next highest, which was actually closer to Giant Hawks in 8th than any other team in the top six. Impressively, they beat Nike FC at home in Round 45 (Matchday 27), though they also fell to Baltic Lynx back in Round 35 (Matchday 22). Across the season, they spent most of the campaign moving up and down between 4th and 5th place, finally falling down in Matchday 28 where they would finish. It was interestingly around the halfway point of their season that they came into their best form, going 13 matches unbeaten across all competitions, and recording a draw against Black Dragons and First Boxers in that time.
Unfortunately, their luck ran out in both cups, seeing defeat at the hands of cross-state rivals Texas FC at the semifinal round in both instances. However, five wins from their final six in the league meant they were able to hold onto the first Challengers Trophy spot for next season. Sadly, they will bid club legend and top attacking midfielder Alejandro Aguilar goodbye at the end of this campaign. On the positive side, though, the squad otherwise is mostly comprised of players yet to come into or reaching their prime. Envican will hope that these players will come good and push them back up the table next time around.6. Baltic Lynx, Samtis Mid-Season Prediction: 6th
Similarly to Mid-Cities, Baltic Lynx have also experienced a slight downward progression compared to last season, but unlike the club above them, once they got into their current position, they never deviated from their position in the league after Matchday 9. Despite the chaotic shuffling going on above and below them, they were able to stand firm, still never seeming like they would drop out of the continental places. A nine-game unbeaten run in the league at the tail end of the season definitely helped this, including a draw to First Boxers and win against Mid-Cities above them. In terms of players, the Lynx boasted two of the top five league goalscorers come the end of the season, with Falcao ending with 45 and Eriksen with 37. Meanwhile, Valverde recorded 31 assists, the third best in the league, and Tino Kadewere put up double figures in both categories with 10 goals and 26 assists. Veteran Sargsyan also put up double figures with 21 and 11 respectively.
Their finish means they are back in the Challengers Trophy, and will hope to get past their furthest second round exit in the season to come. They have no retiring players, though, with only four players being aged 30 or more next season, barring any transfers. Of note, their center back Pepe Trevino looks to have a bright future, having kept 20 clean sheets out of 20 matches played in the Romania second-tier, and recording two assists en route to becoming champions. Manager Samtis will look to the old, more experienced core to fire them forward in Season 28.7. Wonder Peppers FC, Nick RomeroMid-Season Prediction: 7th
For a club whose only goal was survival by any means necessary, a seventh place finish was a pleasant surprise for Peppers fans and their boss Nick Romero. Of course, they (and the rest of the league) are miles behind the quality of the top six, but this will no doubt be an incredible inaugural season for the club in the top flight. While the first half of the season featured jumps between 8th and 12th, the second half of the season saw a slow and somewhat steady rise to 8th, then beating Giant Hawks in the dying moments of the game to go 7th. After Matchday 26, they would draw, almost winning against Texas FC to cement their spot. It wasn’t an entirely smooth road, with the Peppers never able to string more than 2 wins together – though they also prevented more than 2 defeats in a row too. Their stars lay mainly in attack, with young forward loanee Carver being their biggest goalscoring threat with 18 goals in 26, and veteran van Aanholt with 16 in 27. Behind them, though, Jezzard was a key creator, finishing 8th in the table for assists with 25, havingt started every match. He also scored six times as well. Their defense was also surprisingly solid, with less than a goal conceded per game on average.
The downside of their strong entrance to the league will be matching their finish next term. With the quality of opposition in promoted teams being higher than those relegated, it may be tough for the Peppers to get those must needed wins against lower-rated sides that kept them afloat. Captain Vinson is also retiring come the end of the season, and despite links to some similar replacements in the first team, they may underperform as a whole. Romero will look to his younger players to step up as the club reaches a crucial crossroads in their history.8. Giant Hawks, RobotMid-Season Prediction: 9th
Giant Hawks continue to overachieve, sticking in the top half and recording a second successive 8th place finish. This is despite being four seasons deep without a full time manager. In an era where chemistry and tactical familiarity are key, Giant Hawks’ extreme disregard for continuity is perhaps what makes them such a difficult squad to deal with on the pitch. This being said, their path to mid-table stability in the long term was filled with lots of short-term chaos, never spending more than two matchdays in a row in the same position. Partially, this can be attributed to the mid-table pack that 7th to 9th and even down to 11th place was a part of, jostling for position to stay in the top half and as far from relegation as possible. There were some constants, for example the performances of shotstopper Saint-Fleur, who earned fourth in the goalkeeper ranking charts while starting over half the season’s matches. Another was da Sacramento’s reliability at the back: while the backline as a whole wasn’t the best, his work in 20 matches including two goals earned him sixth place in the best defender rankings.
Da Sacramento and attacking midfielder Feijão are hanging up their boots at the end of this season, with Chepkemoi, Dibba, and Al-Jaafari not far behind. If this core are not made younger, Hawks results may suffer. For now, though, we can keep expecting the unexpected, and maybe Giant Hawks will shock us all and break into the top six next season.9. Orion Athletes, RobotMid-Season Prediction: 10th
Another club led by an interim manager Robot, their first season without a full time boss in some time hasn’t gone all that badly, all things considered. They only slipped two spots from last season, and spent much of the season not necessarily improving, but not really declining that much either. They spent 7 matchdays in 7th around the halfway mark, spent some time in 9th, then back up to 7th, and then spent most of the last quarter of the season in 9th again. They did finish the campaign winless in four games, including a draw to Manchester City, but they did finish above them. Despite their relatively low finish, the Hunters also had a standout defender, with 36-year-old Naumov looking to be about the third best performing defender in his 26 league matches. Without him and Sidibe at the back, the side would certainly have conceded (and lost) much more than they did.
The worrying thing for the Athletes is their small squad combined with many players with advanced age: 6 of the 16 players left in the squad next season will be 30 years of age or older. While the players retiring, Bert Laporte and Yasser, aren’t necessarily top players in their respective positions, the lack of depth will leave much to be desired, and may cause threats to their survival in the top flight in Season 28. 10. Manchester City, Harrison RubinMid-Season Prediction: 11th
Manchester City have overachieved, it must also be said. Although they had the weakest team in the division by overall, the chemistry and tactics implemented by City boss Harrison Rubin have allowed them to stay up over stronger clubs. It will also be a relief for fans, who finally see their club survive in the top flight for the first time. The one thing that hasn’t changed at all is the Cityzen’s main man up top, Jack Grealish. Scoring 47 goals across the entire league season (out of 57 total scored by the club), Grealish was a painful second in the golden boot race, finishing only one behind winner Thierry Henry. More broadly, Man City’s league position chart throughout the season indicated an strange pattern: they would spend a long stretch of time in a position, spend one matchday jumping up much higher, and then come back down, albeit slightly higher than the first long span, to spend another period in that new position. Specifically, they spend matchdays 9-13 in 12th, 15-20 in 11th, and 22-30 in 10th.
With the quality of opposition on the rise next season, Man City will need someone to step up alongside Grealish to ensure the club remains in the first division after next season. To have a talisman of this quality is one thing, and it definitely helps, but to have a squad that can push up and create distance between them and relegation is another.11. Los Angeles FC, AncelotiMid-Season Prediction: 8th
From a team that overperformed to one that fell off after our mid-season review, it seemed like LAFC were going to kick on and claim the spot just outside the continental places. To their credit, they did put themselves in that situation as early as Matchday 19 (Round 31), having climbed there from 10th in Matchday 15 (Round 25). However, a streak of seven losses in a row caused a slide that proved unassailable for the Falcons. They also lost the last two games of the season. Combined, this meant LAFC were stuck in 11th for the entire last third of the campaign. In turn, this meant that no players from their squad made it into the top 50.
It is the youth that have had to pick up the slack for Anceloti’s side, with Kouri (19) scoring 11, Mudryk (20) with 7, and Parvez (18) with 4. It is possible that these young players will continue to improve and put the team’s performances on their back, but it is equally likely that they will either jump ship, or the club as a whole will get outpaced by the up and coming teams below them in the near future. That is, if they manage to survive their relegation playoff final, with those teams from below looking much stronger and well drilled than this lackluster LAFC side.12. Warriors FC, Patrick WhitakerMid-Season Prediction: 13th
Patrick Whitaker has led Warriors to an improbable great escape of sorts, or at least one that avoids the direct relegation spots. Having sat in 13th for two-thirds of the season, it took a win against Purple Colors on the final day to see them go a point above Scorpius Champs, and clinch the final relegation playoff spot. Obviously, this is no walk in the park either, and both human sides predicted to make it to the playoff finals have a squad overall greater than the Warriors, but it does give Whitaker one last chance to keep his side afloat in the top flight this season. After going 9/9 with losses in the very beginning of the season, and also experiencing another run of 8 matches without a draw or win. Their last push for survival was only jumpstarted by a series of 3 games undefeated, including probably the highlight of the season in terms of points: a 1-1 draw against powerhouses Nike FC in Matchday 26 (Round 43). They were even winning for almost half of the 90 minutes, with a 27’ Gross goal only cancelled out by a 66th minute strike from Rees Richardson.
At the time of writing, the playoff final is still yet to be played. But, with Warriors in this position, we could see one more twist in the tale of Warriors in Division 1 yet.13. Scorpius Champs, James KeMid-Season Prediction: 12th
Manager James Ke will definitely feel hard done, having been in the relegation playoff spots instead of the direct relegation spots since Matchday 14 (Round 23). It was only on the last two days of the season that losses to First Boxers and Giant Hawks condemned them to the drop. Although, the clubs decline had been fairly apparent, with a nine-game streak of losses, with only two wins coming in the last 19 matches of the campaign. Perhaps the one good game the club saw in the latter stages of the term was a 9-0 performance away at Coma Fighters, their last win before the aforementioned nine game streak. It wasn’t as though Ke had to deal with a super weak squad – Man City definitely got by with less – with their overall rating seeing five teams have a worse rating than the Scorpions, but it was perhaps Ke’s lack of tactical innovation that sent them down. Alternatively, it could’ve been that their quality was simply concentrated in too many positions that underperformed.
The acquisition of goalkeeping legend Justin was a smart one, but in this last season before he hangs up his gloves, he was unable to keep the club afloat. Nor was his deputy, who at the equal age of 35 is also retiring at the end of the season. With a handful of players seeming like they will retire soon, a rebuild is necessary for the Champs in the second tier. It may be a few seasons before we see the likes of the Scorpions back in the top flight, but we hope that it will be a rejuvenated Ke that will still be leading his side to victory when it does happen.14. Purple Colors, RobotMid-Season Prediction: 14th
As for the final three, there isn’t a huge amount to talk about. Not yet a yoyo club, but becoming champions of Division 2.3 last season, only to go back down this season is the start of a bad cycle. With this being said, there is also the chance that this begins a fall back to Division 3, where they were three seasons ago. This season, they never put up more than two wins in a row under interim manager Robot, their only wins in any competition coming against the two teams below them. 15. Turquoise Shadows, RobotMid-Season Prediction: 15th
Turquoise Shadows had sat 15th since Matchday 10, and were officially relegated on Matchday 26, on 6 points. That is also the number of points they ended the season with, and two less than the number of players that will be 30 or over in their already small squad next term. Good luck to them, unless they get a human manager this may also be the last we see of Turquoise Shadows for some time.16. Terrific Professors, RobotMid-Season Prediction: 16th
Out of the bottom three, Coma Fighters may be the saddest story of the lot. After being away from the public eye, and eventually from his managerial roles altogether, former boss Adrian Aycock was released by mutual consent in Round 37 of the season. Ironically, things didn’t change much for the Coma Fighters (besides their name, rebranding to Terrific Professors, almost ironically), as there was nowhere further left to descend. Finishing bottom of the table with one singular goal scored and two hundred ten conceded, this will be a season that Coma Fighters – or Professors – fans will want to forget quickly. Perhaps they can pretend they never finished as champions of Division 2.1 at all, and maybe then they can be comfortable with being a top side in the second tier. Or maybe this is the start of worse things to come. We will have to wait and see.Note: We here at USDN strive for both accuracy and timeliness in our reporting. If you notice an error in our publication, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. We will aim to correct our mistake as soon as possible. Thank you for your understanding and for your loyal readership.