Group Stage: Top Ten Matchups!

by Joe Meyer

After today's release of the group stage schedule for the 2021 Lower League eCup Presented by Offside Marketing, we're breaking down the Top Ten matchups of the group stage! Below, we take a look at eCup rematches, real-life rivalries, and more!

Lansing Common FC vs. Oakland County FC (Doubleheader)

  • Xbox & PlayStation Premier Division
  • Monday, January 18th @ 9:00 p.m. ET

By luck of the draw, these two Michigan clubs located just over an hour apart were drawn against each other on Xbox and PlayStation. Both notable non-league sides in their own right, the battle for Michigan eSupremacy is scheduled for Monday the 18th, and could very well be a tale of two matches.

On Xbox, Lansing’s Binh Le enters the tournament as one of the eCup’s most promising newcomers.  The MIT grad and former Kalamazoo FC star cruised through the Lansing Common FIFA Qualifier, and is poised to make a deep run in the 2021 eCup. Oakland County’s Peter Trout failed to qualify for the knockout stage in 2021, but was competitive in all five of his matches. With 2021 Runner-Up Minneapolis City SC also in Group D, this matchup could determine who claims the second knockout stage berth out of Group D, unless someone in the group can take down the mighty crows.

Although Lansing enters as the favorite on Xbox, the opposite can be said for PlayStation. Oakland County FC supporter Will Wardle finished last year’s eCup with a record of 6-1, averaging nearly 5 goals per game on his way to a +31 goal differential. Wardle squares off against eCup rookie & Lansing Common supporter Chris Reynolds, the Champion of LCFC’s PlayStation Qualifier. Despite Reynold’s Qualifier title, Oakland County will enter the PlayStation matchup as a heavy favorite, and could very well find themselves as one of the last teams standing.

Minneapolis City SC vs. Lansing Common FC (Xbox)

  • Premier Division - Group D
  • Monday, January 25th @ 9:30 p.m. ET

These two non-profit, member-owned clubs will square off on January 25th, likely with the group title and a first-round bye on the line. Combine that with the fact that both clubs will produce full broadcasts with commentary from their respective club podcasts, and it’s hard to ask for a more entertaining matchup on the final day of Xbox Group D. 

An intriguing matchup based on the competing clubs alone, Minneapolis City and Lansing Common’s eCup representatives are two of the top players in the Xbox tournament. City captain Max Steigwardt is a sorcerer on the sticks, and sources within the club state that he’s better than Jonah Garcia, the Minneapolis City center back who guided the eCrows to a second-place finish in 2020. On the other hand, recent MIT grad and former Kalamazoo FC star Binh Le is quite possibly your future boss and appears to be the Xbox tournament’s top newcomer. If both players can live up to expectations and get past Oakland County FC and Dynamo FC - St. Cloud in the opening two weeks of the group stage, the showdown between the Crows and Robins promises to be one of the best of the group stage.

Hartford Athletic vs. Forward Madison (Xbox)

  • Premier Division - Group E
  • Friday, January 22nd @ 8:00 p.m. ET

The battle between the representatives of Forward Madison and Hartford Athletic is a pivotal matchup that will likely decide the fate of Group E.

Madison’s Evan Warwick stormed out to an impressive start in 2020, going undefeated through his first six matches while averaging over six goals per match. Although Warwick would fall victim to an upset in extra time in the Round of 16, Warwick made both the Group Stage and All-Tournament Best XI’s cementing his position as one of the Top Ten players during the 2020 tournament. For Hartford, eCup newcomer 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. 

While the two enter as favorites to top the group, a Lane United side that finished in the Top 15 of last year’s tournament awaits both sides as another opponent in Group E, meaning that Hartford Athletic or Forward Madison’s representatives could be in danger of an early exit if they fail to come away with a win from the January 22nd showdown.

Greenville Triumph SC vs. South Bend Lions (PlayStation)

  • Premier Division - Group G
  • Sunday, January 24th @ 4:00 p.m. ET

In what should be a three-way dogfight to the top of Group G, the battle between the representatives from the Greenville Triumph and South Bend Lions is the most intriguing match in the group. The winner of the Greenville/South Bend matchup will be the favorite to take home the group title, but Louis Llerandi and the Jacksonville Armada are sure to challenge for the group as well.

Greenville’s Giovanny Canas raced out to a 7-0 start in 2020, amassing an astonishing +44 goal differential while averaging nearly eight goals per game through his opening seven matches. A shocking defeat against Asheville City, who Canas had previously defeated in the group stage, ended his 2021 campaign in the Round of 16. He’ll square off against newcomer Colton Vincent, a new member of the South Bend Lions Esports program, and a South Bend supporter with experience in the eUSL supporters league, among other competitions.

Hayward United vs. Bateaux FC (Xbox)

  • Premier Division - Group G
  • Friday, January 29th @ 10:00 p.m. ET

The virtual “Connect Four Derby” (yes you’re reading that right) will take center stage on January 29th, and could have massive knockout stage implications. The match between local amateur sides, both of the Wisconsin Primary Amateur Soccer League (WPASL), is on the final matchday of Group G and could very well be a battle for the final knockout stage berth from Group G. Each club is a newcomer to the tournament and all signs point towards an even battle on the pitch.

AFC Mobile vs. Lone Star Republic (PlayStation)

  • Premier Division - Group J
  • Wednesday, January 13th @ 10:00 p.m. ET

The group stage clash between AFC Mobile and Lone Star Republic could decide Group J, which has been singled out as one of two “Groups of Death” on PlayStation. Both clubs are represented by players who dominated the group stage of the 2021 tournament but suffered disappointing exits in the early rounds of the knockout stage.

AFC Mobile’s Iba Ndaw finished ninth in the 2020 eCup with a final record of 6-1 while averaging just over six goals per match. Mobile’s run came to a close in 2020 when Ndaw dropped a group stage rematch with a strong representative from Tulsa Athletic in the Round of 16. He’ll face Arauz Suriel, who guided UPSL club FF Premier to a 5-1 record and group title in last year’s tournament and moves on to represent Lone Star Republic after the two rivals merged during the summer. In one of two “Groups of Death”, this matchup could have implications ranging from group titles to knockout stage berths. It’s a matchup worth keeping an eye on and takes place on just the second night of the tournament.

Inland Empire FC vs. Lone Star Republic (Xbox)

  • Premier Division - Group H
  • Wednesday, January 27th @ 10:30 p.m. ET

From a competitive standpoint, this match could be THE MATCH of the group stage. Lone Star Republic’s Ivan Calderon and Inland Empire FC’s Favian Svaddera both made semifinal appearances in 2021, and are serious contenders to take home the championship in 2021. Both Lone Star and Inland Empire are heavy favorites to be the two teams that progress from Group G, and pending any major upsets, this battle on the group’s final matchday will determine the group champion and recipient of a first-round bye. Both of these clubs will need to come into this match 2-0 or face the potential for a brutal win-or-go-home scenario on the final matchday of the group stage.

SmallWorld Soccer vs. TriSocPod (PlayStation)

  • Premier Division - Group B
  • Wednesday, January 27th @ 9:00 p.m. ET

It’s the Podcast Derby! Media organizations SmallWorld Soccer and TriSocPod have a tremendous relationship off the ePitch and provide great content and coverage of lower league soccer both across the country and in their local soccer communities. With a matchup scheduled for the final matchday, the showdown could have massive implications on the knockout stage.

SmallWorld Soccer is the pre-tournament favorite in the group and will be represented by Austin Robillard, a soccer writer, and Miami FC (USL) supporter. Although Robillard didn’t participate in the 2020 eCup, he was successful during the eCup Summer Series, taking home the title at the first event. In addition to representing SmallWorld in the 2021 eCup, Robillard has experience representing USL Championship side Miami FC in the eUSL Cup, a virtual competition between USL Championship and USL League One clubs held in May. For TriSocPod, it’s podcast host Zack Leischner that will represent the media outlet in the eCup. Making his first appearance in the eCup, Leischner is an experienced FIFA player who looks to turn heads during the tournament but will have to take care of business in a competitive Group B to advance to the knockout stage.

Oakland County FC vs. Union Dubuque FC (PC)

  • Premier Division - Group A
  • Sunday, January 31st @ 2:00 p.m. ET

In a rematch of the 2020 semifinals, Oakland County FC and Union Dubuque FC will go head to head on the final matchday of Group A, the “Group of Death” in the PC Division. With defending champions Metro Louisville FC unable to defend their title on PC, Oakland County enters as the tournament favorite to take home the PC Division title. 

In 2020, Oakland County FC co-owner Theo Foutris took down Union Dubuque FC co-founder Cliff Conrad in the semifinals, just one week after Conrad won a group stage matchup between the two. With only eight players in the PC Division, Group Winners bypass the opening two rounds of the Knockout Stage and advance directly to the semifinals. As the only two returning clubs in Group A, the showdown between Oakland County and Union Dubuque on the final matchday could be for the group title and an ensuing berth in the semifinals.

Tulsa Athletic vs. Union Dubuque FC (PlayStation)

  • Premier Division - Group I
  • Wednesday, January 13th @ 2:00 p.m. ET

In another rematch of a 2020 knockout stage clash, Tulsa Athletic and Union Dubuque FC will go head to head once again, this time likely with the Group I title on the line. Both players are projected to finish as the top two in the group, and this showdown on the second night of the tournament will set the tone for the rest of the group stage. Tulsa won last year's matchup 6-3 on a two-leg aggregate.

Tulsa Athletic’s Whitney Gonsalves was dominant in last year’s tournament, reaching the quarterfinals before losing on a last-second goal against eventual runner-up Providence City FC. Gonsalves averaged nearly six goals per match during the tournament with a goal differential of +42. On the other hand, Union Dubuque’s Tahiri Hamza started out the tournament on fire, winning his first four matches, before dropping two of his final three to exit the tournament. For a match that is taking place on just the second night of the tournament, this showdown will have massive implications on the Group G table and should be the most competitive match of the group.

Dekalb County United vs. Union Dubuque FC (Xbox)

  • Premier Division Group B
  • Wednesday, January 27th @ 8:30 p.m. ET
  • Iowa vs. Illinois. For Union Dubuque and Dekalb County United, this is the only match that matters. The two Midwest Rivals squared off in the PS4 division of last year's tournament, but this year the battle will shift over to 

Iowa vs. Illinois. For Union Dubuque and Dekalb County United, this may be the only match that matters. The two Midwest Rivals squared off in the PS4 division of last year's tournament. In a first round match, Dubuque defeated Dekalb 8-5 to eliminate the Illinois club from the 2020 eCup. With the match taking place on the last matchday of Group B, it may not only be bragging rights on the line, but also a berth in the knockout stage.

This year, Andrew Mathys of Dekalb County United has switched over to Xbox, and looks to avenge his defeat to Dubuque in last year's tournament. Last year, Mathys finished with two wins, one draw, and three losses. On the other hand, Josh Kutzke of Union Dubuque will be participating in his first eShowdown with Dekalb, and looks to build off a 5-2 showing in 2020. Kutzke came the closest of any competitor to knocking off the eventual champions Oly Town Artesians, when he led a nine-man Artesians squad 6-3 at halftime of the second leg of the two-leg series. The nine-man Artesians would rally to win the match with four second-half goals, with two coming in stoppage time en route to the title.