When USL’s expansion into Reno was announced in 2015, the club’s first match in 2017 seemed lifetimes away. Given the time between the club’s formation and when it would begin play, many experts thought the Nevada side would avoid the expansion woes of clubs like Minnesota United. A two year partnership with MLS neighbors San Jose Earthquakes, whose previous USL affiliate Sacramento Republic saw great success in their first season, and the addition of USL’s all-time leading goal scorer Dane Kelly set the club up for success from the gate.
Four matches into the USL season Reno 1868 has earned a single point and sit second to last on the USL Western Conference table. What the hell happened?
One of the obvious issues stems from their schedule. While it is early in the season, Reno had the unlucky draw of playing four top-8 teams to start the season including the current top two teams in the West, San Antonio FC and Real Monarchs SLC. Reno took a 4-0 beating in San Antonio, but gave the Salt Lake City club a scare in a 5-3 contest that included two goals from Dane Kelly in the last 10 minutes of regulation.
The issue that is most surprising is how poor the defense has been through the first few matches. Reno has scored in three of their four matches, but sports the worst goal differential in all of USL at -8. To few people’s surprise Dane Kelly leads the team with two goals, but the other two goals the club has earned came from the heads of two USL-contract players.
Affiliation is not working for Reno. The partnership with San Jose has resulted in four San Jose Earthquakes players getting significant time with the Nevada club, but with little results to show for it. San Jose goalkeeper Matt Bersano has conceded 10 goals in his three appearances. While the goals are not solely the fault of the keeper, the stat doesn’t reflect well on the MLS contract player.
It is still very early in the USL season and anything can happen in a league where half of the conference makes the playoffs. But the stuttering start to the state’s only professional soccer squad is not going to fill seats or sell scarves. For the sake of competitiveness in the land of MLS2 sides, Reno needs to find a path to success.