Lexington SC looks poised to make USL1 history in 2024

It has been one long offseason coming down from the emotional high of finally seeing Lexington SC play after they announced in October 2021 that Lexington would be joining USL1 (529 days). While the inaugural season was not perfect, with the team finishing towards the bottom of the league table with no playoffs, it was an important stepping block into getting them to where they are now – as favorites to win USL1 and possibly complete a domestic treble, maybe even quadruple. However, the 4th trophy is likely a very long shot .

Now, I know that sounds a little ridiculous, and I’ll admit they have a long season ahead of them, but the roster that sporting director Sam Stockely and head coach Darren Powell have constructed around the core from last season has made me bold enough to stake the claim. I am going to be breaking down all 4 competitions that Lexington has a legitimate shot at winning to both help those coming into this season understand the changes that have happened within USL1 and US Soccer as a whole but also present the case of why I see Lexington coming away with the trophy from them. 

For the sake of organization, I will address each trophy from the easiest to win to the hardest in my eyes. In any sport, trophies are not easy to win, that’s why winning just 1 of these will be significant for Lexington, but given that the club has a genuine shot at least 3 and a dark horse (said with some slight bias) shot at one of the most prestigious trophies in the country means that 1 will be easier than the rest and 1 will be harder.

Player’s Shield

If you listened to our recent interview with Coach Powell, you will know he has his eyes firmly set on this. The shield is the traditional league champion trophy in terms of how leagues are structured around the world, given to the club on top of the table at the end of the year, and Lexington is currently among the favorites (if not the favorite) to take home the shield this year.

USL1 has made some big changes in the league schedule structure for 2024. League play is going from 32 matches last season to 22 this season, with 8 matches being shifted to the inaugural in-season cup group play (more on that later). The 22 matches mean that USL1 will be playing a fully balanced schedule, just like they do in the top flight of Europe, with each club playing all others 1 time at home and 1 time on the road. Last season, Lexington faced every club 3 times, except for Omaha, whom they only played 2 times. Lexington has some tough stretches throughout the 2024 league season, but Powell’s team looks prime and ready to lift the shield come the end of October as the kings of the table and the #1 seed heading into the USL1 playoffs.

In-Season Cup

I am nervous about Lexington’s chance with this one, mainly due to LSC’s group draw. For the inaugural USL1 In-Season Cup (name rumored to change once a title sponsor is found), the league has been divided into 3 geographical groups – East, Central, and West. Lexington is in the central group with One Knoxville, Forward Madison, and Chattanooga Red Wolves. Each group will all play each other in a UEFA Champions League style group play (the league described it as a World Cup style group play, but each club is playing the others in their group home+away instead of just 1 time) + an additional 2 games against random opponents; for Lexington, those 2 extra games will be against Central Valley Fuego (home) and the Greenville Triumph (away). Points from matches will be the same as in the World Cup and league play, but if a game ends in a draw, it will immediately go to a penalty shootout. The shootout winner will receive an additional 1 point towards the group standings.

Graphic created by USL1

The winner of each group will move on to the semifinals, while the wildcard will be based on what club scored the most goals in cup play – and this is where I get a little nervous. The Central group is by far and away the most competitive group of the 3, with, by my predictions, 4 playoff teams within it, and one could even argue that the 4 teams within the group are top 5/6 teams in the league. 

Getting out of the group will be challenging; Knoxville has upgraded what was already the best defense in the league, Chattanooga has retooled with a bunch of USL1 veterans, and Madison has built a roster that rivals only Powell’s but Lexington has the roster to win the central or at the very least, score the most goals. If they make the cup semifinals, it becomes a test of winning 2 winner-take-all matches to win the first trophy in club history, with the final being played on September 28th or 29th. 

USL1 Cup

USL1 does have a history of the league’s shield winner being the club that lifts the cup at the end of the playoffs, with the first 3 shield winners in league history also being the first 3 cup winners (well, the 2020 Greenville cup win has been heavily marked with an *, especially by Omaha fans), which is the same amount of times as the USL Championship with USL1 having 8 fewer seasons. However, the last 2 seasons have seen the shield winner lose in the playoff semifinals to the eventual runners-up. 

The 2024 USL1 playoffs, like much of the schedule, are different. For the first time, 8 teams will make the playoffs, 2/3rds of the league, which means that the top 2 teams, including the shield winner, will not get a first-round bye anymore, something they have had since 2021. This means that Lexington (a top 8 team in the league) will have to win 3 matches to take home what could be their 3rd trophy of the season, which will lead to a star being placed above the crest. However, as any American sports fan knows, anything is possible come playoff time. So, to me, this will be the hardest of the 3 league trophies for Lexington to win because Coach Powell’s squad will have to be healthy and have some momentum to win 3-winner-take-all matches in some cold November weather in Kentucky if they are hosting as a top 4 team. 

Lamar Hunt US Open Cup

Ok, this one is a long shot (a very long shot if I am being fully honest). Even with MLS not fully participating in this year’s competition, there are still 8 MLS teams + the entirety of the USL Championship that Lexington may have to get through to lift the most prestigious trophy in US soccer. Add in that Lexington will have to win a total of 8 games to get their hands on that trophy, and it looks like a tough hill to climb for the Boys in Green. 

The first step on the hill climb will be against one of the most popular USL2 teams in the country, Vermont Green FC. On Tuesday, March 19th, Lexington will travel to Burlington, Vermont, to be the first-ever professional soccer team to play a competitive match in Vermont in the Green Mountain state’s first-ever US Open Cup game. Lexington will have to win that match + another to get a chance to face Louisville City in the 3rd round when the first 16 USL Championship teams enter the competition.

All of this is easy to say when looking at teams on paper and being filled with that preseason hope, but the games still need to be played. Powell’s squad still has to go out and win games to accomplish this historic feat, which they can do. Given his comments throughout the preseason and in our interview with him, Powell’s squad will have the mentality of approaching every match as a must-win.

We will see it come Saturday when Lexington will host the Northern Colorado Hailstorm at home in the USL1 season kickoff. For our preview of that matchup and more, stick to Bluegrass Soccer Cast (@BGSoccerCast on all social media platforms) for full coverage of Lexington Sporting Club and everything soccer in our beautiful Commonwealth. 


  • Jon Hunt

    Jon Hunt is an avid and enthusiastic soccer podcast host. Originally from the Detroit area, he now resides in central Kentucky. Jon brings passion and his love of soccer history to the Bluegrass Soccer Cast community. His ultimate goal is to continue the growth of soccer in America with a focus of the thriving soccer scene in Kentucky. #ProRelForUSA

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Lexington SC looks poised to make USL1 history in 2024

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