Week 1 of the 2019 USL Championship season is officially in the books.
But before we move on to Week 2, I’d like to take a minute to address a few lingering questions that fans across social media have sent my way since the action concluded on Sunday night in Birmingham.
Welcome to the Mailbag, let’s do this…
@Sportsblogfc asks: Will the good attendance in Birmingham, El Paso and New Mexico be sustained throughout the season?
Of course they will! A slight drop-off after a record-breaking opening weekend would be normal, but I think all four expansion cities that hosted their inaugural games this weekend (including Memphis) will continue to see crowds similar to Week 1. The atmosphere at each of the venues was electric and having that level of energy from the get-go will keep everyone engaged locally.
I was really impressed with the fans in Birmingham, who turned up the heat at BBVA Compass Field despite having the match postponed a day because of weather. When the UAB students return to campus after Spring Break, that place is going to be rockin’.
Reddit user @20goillini05 asks: The expansion clubs went winless this weekend, but which of those clubs showed the most promise and have the best shot at making the playoffs?
Before the regular season began, I picked New Mexico United as the expansion team that I thought could compete for the USL Cup in 2019. I also said that NMU would be the only one of the seven new clubs to reach the USL Cup Playoffs in its inaugural season. So far, I haven’t seen anything to change my mind on that.
I thought New Mexico turned in a solid performance against Fresno FC on Saturday, and while I’m sure it was disappointing to settle for a draw, it was still a good first step. I believe the pieces are in place for Head Coach Troy Lesesne and his squad to have success right away, but we’ll see just how ready they are when they visit Phoenix Rising FC this weekend. In the long term, though, the incredible crowds at Isotopes Park will help the home side turn draws into wins.
A sellout crowd of 12,896 fans packed Isotopes Park on Saturday night to see New Mexico United play to a 1-1 draw in its inaugural match against Fresno FC. | Photo courtesy New Mexico United
@copatejas asks: Who do you think will win the first year of Copa Tejas?
Can I start out by saying how excited I am for this? It’s so cool to see supporters’ groups continue to come together and create new competitions across the Championship. The newest of the bunch is Copa Tejas, which will see Austin Bold FC, El Paso Locomotive FC, Rio Grande Valley FC and San Antonio FC battle for Lonestar State supremacy in 2019.
I think the favorite to claim the cup in its inaugural year is San Antonio FC. I was very impressed with San Antonio’s performance on the opening weekend in a thrilling 3-3 draw against Phoenix Rising FC and think Head Coach Darren Powell has the club heading towards a return to the USL Cup Playoffs.
Reddit user @Cascadianranger asks: What is the plan for stadiums? MLS making soccer-specific stadiums a norm was huge for the league, could USL see a push in this new era to get all clubs having their own 5,000ish-seat soccer-specific stadiums?
Don’t get me wrong, soccer-specific stadiums are great, but I don’t think they’re necessarily the be-all-end-all. The thing that stood out to me the most while watching the opening weekend unfold was the increased level of support in the stands. And while record numbers are great for the league, the awesome thing to me was hearing a continued soundtrack to the action on the field. From my couch, I could feel the energy and the excitement. El Paso Locomotive FC doesn’t play in a soccer-specific stadium, but that didn’t seem to stop any of the 8,000+ fans in attendance from having a good time. I’m here for that.
Reddit user @aaoeeao asks: What did we ever do to you for you to put such a curse on us?
Let’s get one thing straight, I’m not Lil B or Ja Rule. I don’t put curses on players, teams or fanbases. I did write that Louisville City FC won’t claim a third consecutive USL Cup in 2019, but nothing I do has any bearing on whether that comes to fruition or not. Sure, the defending champs didn’t get off to the best start in North Carolina on Saturday, but I fully expect captain Paolo DelPiccolo and co. to take out some of their frustration on ATL UTD 2 on Friday night.
Thanks for all of your questions, see you next week!
John Arlia is the USL’s National Writer and covers the league extensively for USLChampionship.com. If you’d like to take part in next week’s mailbag, follow @johnarlia on Twitter and ask him a question using #AskArlia.