The season is upon us. Game week is finally here. What started for many fans as a petition nearly two years ago is coming to fruition in mere days.
But if we push the excitement aside, what do we as fans actually expect in this first season? How will the team perform? What will game days look like? Here are five, somewhat, bold predictions for the Triumph’s first season.
1. Dallas Jaye, and the Triumph back line, will be responsible for at least 10 clean sheets this season
Dallas is a veteran with plenty of USL Championship experience. He also has a history with Coach Harkes and knows what to expect out of this system. Pair that with the quality defenders on the roster and I think this team will be strong on defense.
Ten clean sheets in 28 matches is a big goal. There will be plenty of potent offenses in the league and keeping them from scoring will not be easy. But the Triumph seem focused on competing from day one. While some teams in the league are built for developing young players or providing quality minutes to veterans and up-and-comers, Greenville has built their team to win.
2. Jake Keegan will be the team’s leading scorer with at least 17 goals
Like the ten clean sheet goal, 17 goals is a big mark for Keegan to hit this season, but it is one he is well capable of hitting. Watching Jake’s highlight reel from his time in Ireland, it is abundantly clear that he has an eye for the back of the goal. The biggest question regarding Keegan’s scoring is how he will score the majority of his goals.
While he is certain to score his share of self-created chances and bangers, and I assume he may be the go-to penalty taker, I think he will score a ton of goals off of crosses into the box. This man has a head made to redirect crosses into the net!
3. The Triumph will make at least one big acquisition via loan or signing by July
The Triumph’s official roster sits at 18 currently. The league allows up to 30 active roster slots, and even more if you sign academy contracts. I do not think the team is done signing players. While I expect some players that are sure to be added will serve as critical depth pieces, I do think there will be at least one signing who will see significant playing time this year.
I think the team may be waiting for the USL Championship and Major League Soccer seasons to ramp up a bit more before potentially looking to acquire a loan or outright sign a player who may get cut from one of the higher leagues. While several League One teams have MLS/USLC affiliations, the Triumph do not.
This has its advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, they don’t have a built-in pipeline to acquire these kinds of deals. On the other hand, they are not tied to any particular team and could seek out deals with any team they chose; even multiple such deals.
4. The Triumph will average 2,000+ in average attendance
This is a big ask. This is a brand new team in a brand new league in a city with so much to do. So why do I think this can, and will, happen? First, I believe the Triumph organization has proven themselves to be a marketing juggernaut. This should come as no surprise given the background of the ownership. The organization has made strategic partnerships throughout the city that will help them in this endeavor.
Second, I believe they are halfway there in season tickets alone. There is no definitive numbers out there officially, but based on the seat availability offered for the pre-season match, it seems the team have sold about 1,000 season tickets. As the season revs up, and word begins to spread, I expect that number to rise even more.
Third, Greenville is a city without major professional sports competition. The two other professional sports teams in Greenville have been immensely successful. The Swamp Rabbits will be in their off-season and the Drive will not conflict too much with the Triumph. Soccer is the fastest growing sport in the US and the second most popular sport to watch for folks 34 and under. Combine that with Greenville’s rapid growth, especially with the influx of young professionals, and I think the team will attract a big crowd throughout the season.
5. The Triumph will make the inaugural USL League One playoffs, but ultimately fall short of the title
Coach Harkes has built a team for success from day one in Cincinnati and has taken a similar approach to this new team in this new league. He has even gone so far as to bring in several familiar faces from that team that launched their inaugural USL Championship campaign in 2016. This team is built to win. That is why I think they are a near lock to make the playoffs in their first year.
But at the end of the day, this is a brand new team. It will take them awhile to gel. There are many teams in the league who are moving up or down from other leagues. They have been around and have some continuity. This is why I think it will be very hard for the Triumph to win it all in year one.
Don’t get me wrong. I want them to win it. But I would rather be surprised than disappointed. I think making the playoffs should be the goal for this team. Hosting a playoff game (by finishing top two) would be a huge win. Winning the title would make them legends.