Group Stage Preview - Xbox Premier Division

by Joe Meyer

This week, we’re breaking down all five divisions of the 2021 Lower League eCup presented by Offside Marketing! Today, we’re breaking down the Xbox Premier Division! For yesterday’s recap, check out the PC Division Preview here. The tournament will begin on Tuesday, January 12th.

The thirty-six competitors in the Xbox Premier Division have been divided into nine groups of four. The top two clubs from each group, along with the top six third-place finishers will advance to a twenty-four club knockout stage.

Group A

In what should be one of the most entertaining groups of the Xbox tournament, it’s not hard to see any of these four clubs taking home the group title. The two returners in Group A,  Jacksonville Armada FC and Florida Tropics SC supporter’s group the Swan City Syndicate, are joined by newcomers AFC Columbia and Delaware Rising FC.

The Jacksonville Armada will be represented by supporter Louis Llerandi, who also represented the club during the 2020 Lower League eCup. Barring the unexpected, Llerandi will make history as the first player to play the entire eCup on both the PlayStation and Xbox tournament in the same year. Jacksonville struggled in last year’s eCup, losing all six of its matches during the 2020 tournament. However, Llerandi showed tremendous improvement during the 2020 Summer Series and is likely to rebound from a disappointing showing in 2021.

Florida Tropics supporter and the Swan City Syndicate representative Colin Murray is the only returning player in Group A that qualified for last year’s Knockout Stage. The seventeen-year-old qualified for the knockout stage on the final day of the group stage in 2020, before falling 7-3 in the first round. Despite his early exit, Swan City rebounded during the Summer Series, defeating Jacksonville in the only previous matchup between two competitors in Group A, 2-1 during the first Xbox Summer Series event. 

The remaining two clubs in Group A are newcomers to both the Lower League eCup and the lower league soccer scene. Little is known about either side’s ability on the sticks, however, both can be expected to compete in a wide-open Group A. Delaware Rising FC of the Northern Ohio Soccer League will be represented by co-founder Nathan Chwalik and looks to embrace the “Ohio vs. The World” mentality. The group is rounded out by AFC Columbia was the final club to join the Lower League eCup, and will take the field for the first time in 2021. AFC Columbia is represented by Prince Meentemeyer, a member of the club’s indoor team, which is playing this winter in preparation for their inaugural outdoor season in the summer.

Pre-Tournament Power Rankings

  1. Jacksonville Armada
  2. Swan City Syndicate SG
  3. AFC Columbia
  4. Delaware Rising FC

Click here for the Group A Schedule 

Group B

What does Group B not have? A massive rivalry between two amateur clubs in the Midwest on the rise, the eCup’s only UK club, and the participation of one of the oldest clubs in the country are just some of the headlines going into Group B of the 2021 tournament. Throw in the fact that Group B is one of the toughest groups in the Xbox tournament, and Group B was a recipe to be a thriller.

Group B is headlined by the pairing of Midwest Premier League rivals Dekalb County United and Union Dubuque FC. The two clubs are scheduled to meet on the final matchday of the group stage, setting up the potential for a battle for not only bragging rights but potentially a berth in the knockout stage. This isn’t the first time these two rivals have met in the eCup, as Dubuque defeated Dekalb 8-5, in a wild match in last year’s knockout stage.

Dekalb County’s Andrew Mathys has switched over to Xbox after representing the club on PlayStation in 2020. As mentioned above, his run in the 2020 tournament came to a close with a loss against Dubuque, and revenge will surely be on his mind entering 2021. Mathys finished last year’s tournament with a record of two wins, one draw, and three losses, but can be expected to improve on last year’s appearance in the 2021 tournament.

On the other hand, Dubuque’s Josh Kutzke will be taking part in his first eShowdown with Dekalb County and looks to build off of a 5-2 showing in 2020. Last year, Kutzke finished tied for first in his group and came the closest of any competitor to knocking off the eventual champions, the Oly Town Artesians. In the second round of the knockout stage, Kutzke led the Artesians 6-3 on aggregate in the second half of the final leg of the series but surrendered four second-half goals to a nine-man Oly Town side. There’s no doubt that Kutzke will be fueled by the memories of his heartbreaking result in 2020, and could be a dark horse to compete for the Lower League eCup title.

Joining Dekalb County and Union Dubuque is the tournament’s first and only English side to participate in the eCup, 1874 Northwich FC. The supporter-owned club is making its eCup debut in 2021 and will be represented by supporter Ben Davies. Although it remains exactly how well Davies will stack up against his American counterparts, he’s an experienced competitive FIFA player and could give the American teams in the group a run for their money. 

Group B is rounded out by Hoboken FC 1912, an amateur club from the Cosmopolitan Soccer League whose history speaks for itself. The club returns for the 2021 tournament after finishing seventeenth in the 2020 Xbox Tournament. Represented by first-team player Bryan Da Silva, the club will look to improve upon its showing in 2020, which included three wins, three losses, and one tie. Hoboken would crash out of the 2020 tournament after falling to Forward Madison FC in the second round of the tournament, 7-4 on aggregate after allowing three goals in the final ten minutes of the matchup. Whether or not Hoboken’s experience will be enough to get the club through a very difficult Group B remains to be seen.

Pre-Tournament Power Rankings

  1. Dekalb County United
  2. 1874 Northwich FC
  3. Union Dubuque FC
  4. Hoboken FC 1912

Click here for the Group B Schedule 

Group C

Ricardo Romero. His name is all you need to know about Group C. The representative for Metro Louisville FC was most explosive and arguably the most dominant player of the 2020 tournament, and returns with revenge on his mind after a disappointing exit in last year’s Quarterfinals. During last year’s Group Stage, Metro Louisville averaged an astonishing 10.2 goals per match, outscoring their opponents 51-0 in the group stage. Romero’s stretch of dominance for Metro Louisville of the NPSL would continue into the knockout stage, outsourcing his opponents 69-1 entering the Quarterfinals. In the Quarterfinals, Metro Louisville would suffer a shock defeat to Lone Star Republic but is sure to contend for the title again in 2021.

Joining Metro Louisville in Group C will be three newcomers. Danubia Men’s Elite (USL of PA), Rebels FC (UPSL), and United Serbians SC (UPSL) will be thrown into the fire with Metro Louisville in their group. All three clubs will be represented by first-team players with Tyler Dewey (Danubia), Giuseppe Palazzolo (Rebels FC), and Luka Prpa (United Serbians) set to represent their clubs in the 2021 eCup. With Romero and Metro Louisville standing in their way, each of the newcomers will likely need to count on earning results against each other to finish in the top two of the group to advance to the knockout stage. Whether or not any can prove to be a sizable challenge to Romero remains to be seen, but if any of three can pull a major upset over Metro Louisville, it would certainly establish them not only as contenders for the group title but also as contenders for the eCup title.

Pre-Tournament Power Rankings

  1. Metro Louisville FC
  2. Rebels FC
  3. Danubia Men’s Elite
  4. United Serbians SC

Click here for the Group C Schedule 

Group D

Group D is headlined by 2020 runner-up Minneapolis City (NPSL) and tournament newcomers Lansing Common FC (Midwest PL), who will both compete for not only the group title but the eCup title. The two championship contenders are joined by returners Tallahassee SC and Oakland County FC, who both failed to qualify for last year’s knockout stage. For the underdogs, there are few, if any groups that will be more difficult to finish in the top two and qualify for the knockout stage.

After coming up just short in the final in 2020, Minneapolis City returns for its second straight eCup, and this time they’ll be represented by club captain Max Steigwardt. While most clubs would consider having to get a new player after losing the gaming talents of the defending runner-up to be a disappointment, Steigwardt is just as good, if not better on the sticks than City center-back Jonah Garcia who guided the Crows to a second-place finish in 2020. Last year, Garcia finished the tournament with a record of nine wins, no draws, and one loss, while allowing a tournament-best 1.1 goals per game. Considering that Steigwardt will bring a similar level of play to this year’s eCup, expect the Crows to make another deep run in the 2021 eCup.

Lansing’s Binh Le enters the tournament as one of the eCup’s most promising newcomers. The recent MIT grad and former Kalamazoo FC star cruised through the Lansing Common FIFA Qualifier, winning all five of his matches comfortably. Le is poised to make a deep run in the 2021 tournament and could challenge Minneapolis City SC’s Steigwardt for the group. Lansing will square off against Minneapolis City on the final matchday of the group, in an intriguing match that will likely determine the group winner and which club receives the coveted first-round bye in the knockout stage.

Joining Minneapolis City and Lansing Common FC will be returners Oakland County FC and Dynamo FC - St. Cloud. After a winless performance in 2020, Dynamo FC - St. Cloud will be represented by first-team player Kevin Argueta. While the club participated in last year’s tournament, this is Argueta’s first eCup, and the outcome of the group hinges on whether or not Argueta will be able to hang with the likes of Stiegwardt (Minneapolis City) and Le (Lansing). Oakland County’s Peter Trout represented his club’s supporters group, the Elmwood Elite, in 2020, finishing fifth in a difficult group. Despite the disappointing result, nearly all of his matches were competitive throughout the tournament, and Trout is more than capable of qualifying for the knockout stage in 2021.

Pre-Tournament Power Rankings

  1. Minneapolis City SC
  2. Lansing Common FC
  3. Dynamo FC - St. Cloud
  4. Oakland County FC

Click here for the Group D Schedule

Group E

A group that has been singled out as one of two “Groups of Death”, Group E will be one of the most competitive groups of the tournament. The group features Forward Madison (USL1) and Lane United FC (USL2) who finished in the top ten of last year’s tournament, as well as Tallahassee SC (NPSL) newcomers Hartford Athletic (USLC).

Forward Madison supporter Evan Warwick stormed out to an impressive start in 2020, going undefeated through his first six matches while averaging over six goals per match. Warwick’s undefeated run would come to a close in the Round of 16, but his performance throughout the tournament earned him All-Tournament Best XI honors. While he’ll enter the group as a slight favorite, Group E will be a battle to the end, and Warwick could just as easily find himself on the outside looking in if he’s unable to match his level of play from last year.

Lane United FC finished tenth in last year’s tournament, and will again be represented by head coach Conner Cappelletti. Despite a slow start to last year’s tournament, Cappelletti stormed back to finish third in his group and qualify for the knockout stage. Cappelletti would win his first two matches in the knockout stage, including a 13-4 aggregate victory over the Florida Tropics, who were considered a contender for the title before their second-round matchup. Lane United would fall in the Round of 16 to eventual runner-ups Minneapolis City SC, despite a slim victory in the second leg of the two-leg series.

Madison and Lane United are joined by newcomers Hartford Athletic. Hartford supporter Arti Murtishi is a highly ranked FIFA player in his own right and put on a dominating performance in last year’s inaugural season of the eUSL Supporters League. Although it remains to be seen how Murtishi will stack up against eCup competition, it’s not hard to envision Hartford making a run deep into the tournament. Murtishi’s matchup with Warwick and Forward Madison on January 22nd will likely decide the group winner.

Group E is rounded out by returner Tallahassee SC, who will be represented by supporter Cameron Ocampo. Ocampo represented the club’s supporter group, the Olde Field Battalion, in the 2020 tournament, finishing one point short of knockout stage qualification. Despite his struggles in the group stage, Ocampo was competitive in nearly every match and showed great improvement throughout the tournament and the Summer Series. In nearly any other group, Tallahassee would have had a fantastic chance to qualify for the knockout stage, but faces an uphill battle in the Group of Death.

Pre-Tournament Power Rankings

  1. Forward Madison FC
  2. Hartford Athletic
  3. Lane United FC
  4. Tallahassee SC

Click here for the Group E Schedule

Group F

With only one returner from the 2020 tournament, Group F is wide-open and will be a four-way dogfight to the top. Featuring Louisiana Krewe FC of the GCPL, Elitists FC, and WPASL rivals Bateaux FC and Hayward United, it’s not hard to see any of these four clubs qualifying for the knockout stage.

The Louisiana Krewe return for their second straight eCup and will look to build off of a ninth-place finish in the 2020 tournament. Last year, the Krewe finished with six wins and two losses, before losing in extra time to eventual semifinalists Inland Empire FC in the semifinals. As the only returner in Group F, the Krewe will enter the tournament as the early favorite to win the group, and potentially make a run deep into the eCup.

Joining the Louisiana Krewe will be Eastside Elitists FC, who will be represented by founder Spencer Clark. Although it remains to be seen how the club will stack up against eCup competition, Clark has extensive experience competing in the eUSL supporters league. In such an evenly matched group, it’s not hard to see Elitists finishing anywhere in the table, and only time will tell if the Elitists can live up to their “elite” name.

Group F is rounded out of Wisconsin Primary Amateur Soccer League (WPASL) rivals Bateaux FC and Hayward United, who will square off in the virtual “Connect Four Derby” (yes, you’re reading that right) on January 29th. Both teams are represented by first-team players, with eCup rookies Lukas Olson and Jacob Johnson taking the control of the sticks for Bateaux FC and Hayward United, respectively. How both competitors will stack up in the competition remains to be seen, and with the two sides scheduled to face off on the final matchday of the group stage, the virtual Connect Four Derby will likely see both bragging rights and a berth in the knockout stage on the line.

Pre-Tournament Power Rankings

  1. Louisiana Krewe FC
  2. Eastside Elitists FC
  3. Hayward United
  4. Bateaux FC

Click here for the Group F Schedule

Group G

Another wide-open group featuring three newcomers, Group G will be another competitive group with four competitors capable of qualifying for the knockout stage. 2020 eCup Quarterfinalist Northshore United of the GCPL will be joined by Cultures United FC, Kirkland FC, and The Soccer Plug in Group G.

The group is headlined by returners Northshore United, who finished 5th in the 2020 tournament. Northshore opened the tournament with seven consecutive wins before falling in the quarterfinals to Inland Empire FC, 9-3 on aggregate. Supporter Chad Creger will represent the club for a second straight year and is capable of not only contending for the group title but also the tournament title.

eCup rookie Gustavo Portillo Jr. will look to lead his organization, The Soccer Plug, to eCup glory in 2021, and is the only newcomer in Group G who participated in the Summer Series. Portillo has experienced past success competing in the eUSL Supporters League and finished fifth in the first Summer Series event. It remains to be seen how well Portillo can stack up in the eCup proper, but given his previous success in the eUSL, Portillo is an early favorite to make it out of Group G.

Northshore United and The Soccer Plug are joined in Group G by Seattle area clubs Cultures United FC and Kirkland FC. Both clubs are newcomers to the eCup and look to make an immediate impact on the Lower League eCup. Cultures United FC will be represented by first-team player Aymen Hussen, while Kirkland FC will be represented by first-team player Elijah Gordon. Time will tell if these two players have what it takes to compete for a knockout stage berth.

Pre-Tournament Power Rankings

  1. Northshore United
  2. The Soccer Plug
  3. Cultures United FC
  4. Kirkland FC

Click here for the Group G Schedule

Group H

In one of the toughest groups of the 2020 tournament, Group H features two semifinalists from the 2020 tournament. 2020 semifinalists Lone Star Republic and Inland Empire FC of the UPSL will be joined by the Lacey Pocket Gophers and Vacaville Elite in Group H.

Lone Star Republic will be represented for a second straight year by supporter Ivan Calderon, who dominated the competition during the 2020 event. Calderon finished last year’s event with an 8-1 record and a +52 goal differential. Only an extra-time loss to the eventual champion, the Oly Town Artesians, would end Lone Star’s 2020 eCup run. Lone Star is a serious contender for the tournament championship, and anything less than a deep tournament run would be considered a disappointment for the young club from Richardson, Texas.

Just like their group counterparts, Inland Empire FC returns to the Lower League eCup after a semifinal appearance in 2020. Favian Savadera, a young player for the club and the son of the club’s owner bounced back after an early tournament loss to reach last year’s semifinals. Inland Empire FC would be eliminated on a late winner by Minneapolis City SC but went on to dominate the Summer Series, taking home two of the three events. Another serious contender for the title, expectations will be high for Inland Empire, and the club has already been chosen by SmallWorld Soccer as their pre-tournament favorites to take home the title.

The two title contenders are joined in Group H by Vacaville Elite and newcomer Lacey Pocket Gophers FC. Vacaville participated in the 2020 tournament and reached the knockout stage of the tournament, but was eliminated in the first round of the knockout stage. On the other hand, eCup rookie Edgard Bautista will take control of the sticks for the Pocket Gophers, and opens his eCup account with an uphill battle. A brutal draw for Vacaville and Lacey, either side could send shockwaves through the eCup with an upset in the group stage, and immediately establish themselves as contenders for the title.

Pre-Tournament Power Rankings

  1. Lone Star Republic
  2. Inland Empire FC
  3. Vacaville Elite
  4. Lacey Pocket Gophers

Click here for the Group H Schedule

Group I

One of the most evenly matched groups of the tournament, Group I of the Lower League eCup features UPSL powerhouses LA Wolves FC, the Oxnard Guerreros, and Sporting Arizona FC. The three UPSL sides will be joined by a former UPSL side and current NSL club, the San Antonio Runners. In what should be a tough group with four competitive clubs, Group I will be a four-way battle for knockout stage berths and a chance at a coveted first-round bye.

Group I is headlined by LA Wolves FC, who will be represented by club Esports ambassador Darren Sims Jr. represented the  LA Wolves affiliate team, Inland Wolves FC in 2020, and led the club to a quarterfinals appearance. Sims Jr. started the 2020 tournament with seven consecutive wins, amassing a +39 goal differential for the tournament. He would fall in the quarterfinals to the eventual champions, the Oly Town Artesians, 6-3 on aggregate. Given Sims Jr.’s proven track record in the eCup, expect Sims to contend for not only the group title but the tournament title.

Joining LA Wolves FC in Group I will be Sporting Arizona FC, a UPSL club from Phoenix, Arizona. eCup veteran and Sporting Arizona Esports player Jeremiah Ramos will represent Sporting Arizona FC in the 2021 eCup after representing FC Tucson in the 2020 tournament. In 2020, Ramos finished with a 6-2 record, good enough to top his group and advance to the quarterfinals. Both of Ramos’s losses in 2020 came against eventual runner-up Minneapolis City SC. Ramos can be expected to lead Sporting Arizona to a similar, if not better finish in 2021.

While Sporting Arizona and LA Wolves FC come into Group I as the favorites to finish in the top two and claim the two guaranteed knockout stage berths, the Oxnard Guerreros could be a sleeper pick to finish in the top two. Represented for a second straight year by eCup veteran Chris Miranda, Oxnard will look to build off of a 17th place finish in 2020. Miranda and the Guerreros finished the 2020 tournament with a record of three wins, one draw, and three losses, and were eliminated after a 7-4 aggregate loss to Amish Country United in the second round of the 2020 Knockout Stage. Facing a difficult group draw, Oxnard will have to pull an upset to finish in the top 10 of the group. Even if the club fails to finish in the top two, they’re a likely candidate to go through to the knockout stage as one of the top third-place finishers.

The group is rounded out by the San Antonio Runners, who return for the second edition of the eCup. The club is participating in the Xbox Division for the first time after finishing 17th in the PlayStation Division in 2021. It remains to be seen how eCup rookie Eric Schipperijn will stack up against the competition, but the Runners will have to survive a difficult group to reach the knockout stage.

Pre-Tournament Power Rankings

  1. LA Wolves FC
  2. Sporting Arizona FC
  3. Oxnard Guerreros
  4. San Antonio Runners SC

Click here for the Group I Schedule

That will do it for today's MASSIVE Xbox Premier Division Preview! Check back tomorrow for the PlayStation Premier Divison Preview!