The 2023-24 Championship season begins on Friday with five USMNT players involved in England’s second tier. The Championship rightly earns its reputation as a tough league for all 24 clubs involved, playing 46 games across a schedule that includes the promotion playoffs for those teams finishing in 3rd to 6th-place. Last season, that was partially a USMNT story, with Ethan Horvath’s 3rd-place Luton Town, Zack Steffen’s 4th-place Middlesbrough, and Lynden Gooch’s 6th-place Sunderland involved. Horvath was in goal for Luton Town who won promotion at Wembley. For both Horvath and Steffen those were seasons spent on loan with both returning to their Premier League clubs.
Matthew Hoppe – Middlesbrough
While Matthew Hoppe missed Middlesbrough’s promotion push going on loan to Hibernian for the second-half of last season, he is now back with the club that had one of the stronger offenses in last season’s Championship. That’s helped by having the league’s leading scorer Chuba Akpom and his 28 goals, with Boro finishing last season with the third-highest goal difference at +28 and the best of any team that didn’t win automatic promotion. They also scored the second-highest number of goals of any team in the league, 84 to 1st-place finisher Burnley’s 87. Like any club looking to push into the top two, it’s going to take more from the defense to get that goal difference even higher. ED: Hoppe joined San Jose on loan for the rest of the 2023 MLS season
Lynden Gooch – Sunderland
Gooch is a mainstay at Sunderland, a team that is once again looking for a path back to the Premier League. While it’s easy to say that about a lot of teams in the Championship, Sunderland came close to a second consecutive promotion. They carried a 2-1 lead into the deciding leg of their playoff semifinal series with Luton Town, losing 3-2 on aggregate. Last season’s offense centered around Amad Diallo, on loan from Manchester United. Sunderland has reworked its attack out of necessity, but it also adds to a strong squad that at full strength should once again be competitive. ED: Gooch moved to Stoke City on September 1.
Daryl Dike – West Bromwich Albion
Dike is recovering from the ankle injury that kept him out since mid-April, but he has the potential to be an elite striker for a club that also has the potential to once again push for the top six. West Brom showed last season that it can recover, dropping into the relegation zone last fall, changing managers in October, and working itself back into contention for the promotion playoffs. Winning ten out of 12 games from November 1 through January 14 had them up to 6th, and a few weeks later they would be briefly in 5th-place before staying between 7th and 11th for the rest of the season.
Duane Holmes – Preston North End
Holmes spent last season with Huddersfield Town, playing in 27 games for a team that finished 18th. PNE was higher up the table, finishing in 12th-place and six points out of the playoffs. Of concern was their -14 goal differential, the only team in the top 14 with a double-digit negative difference. That was more of an offensive issue than defensive, with Preston only scoring 45 goals, the fourth lowest in the Championship and lower than two of the teams that ended up relegated. Preston had nine 0-0 results last season, including five out of their opening six games. One point out of their final five games dropped them from 7th-place in matchday 41 to that 12th-place finish.
Josh Sargent – Norwich City
Sargent played in 40 games last season, scoring 13 of Norwich’s 57 goals en route to a 13th-place finish. Following a managerial change at the end of December with former USMNT player David Wagner taking over in January, Norwich went on a five-game undefeated run, winning four from February 14 though March 4. They only won once over their final 11 games, drawing four, and losing their last three. Underlining how close the margins really are in the Championship, three more points would’ve had Norwich in 11th, while three points less would have kept them 13th with a point to spare. That four-point gap also existed between 10th and 11th-place in a season where only three points separated 10th from 6th and a playoff spot.
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