Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC will look make a statement this weekend with a road victory at Phoenix Rising FC. | Photo courtesy Michael Rincon / Phoenix Rising FC
After having four days off to catch our collective breath, USL Championship action returns on Friday night with three matches set to kick off this week’s 15-game slate.
Expansion side Memphis 901 FC will pay their first visit to the New York Red Bulls II on Friday night (7 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+) to kick off the weekend, before Saturday’s schedule sees 12 more games take place, starting in the afternoon when Saint Louis FC looks to stay unbeaten against the Charlotte Independence (2 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+).
With plenty of storylines to keep track of across the Championship in the coming days, here are a few games and players that I’ll be paying close attention to over the course of Week 4:
Indy Eleven will also host its 2019 home opener on Saturday when the side welcomes Hartford Athletic to Lucas Oil Stadium for the first time. Head Coach Martin Rennie’s side picked up its first win of the season last time out against the Charlotte Independence but will look for a more well-rounded display after a bye week. Hartford is still looking for its first point in club history, but Head Coach Jimmy Nielsen’s troops showed some promise last weekend in Louisville by outshooting their hosts 21-18. Getting more than one goal on the road could be key against a high-powered Eleven attack.
The first Southern Derby matchup of the season will see two unbeaten sides clash on Saturday at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park. Dave Sarachan’s North Carolina FC tenure has started with impressive victories against Louisville City FC and Bethlehem Steel FC and the former U.S. Men’s National Team Interim Head Coach will look to keep that 100 percent record going in his first game against a regional rival. The Battery, who managed a pair of road draws against NCFC last season, will look to build off their first win of 2019 against Hartford Athletic two weeks ago. With both teams coming off a bye week, expect both sides to ramp up the intensity for this one.
North Carolina FC claimed the 2018 Southern Derby over regional rivals the Charleston Battery and Charlotte Independence. | Photo courtesy Rob Kinnan / North Carolina FC
Professional soccer in Austin kicks off for real on Saturday when Bold FC opens its new stadium for a Copa Tejas showdown against San Antonio FC. While the rivalry between the two cities is already strong, the stakes are even higher now after both teams have compiled winless starts to the season. After picking up a point in Las Vegas on the opening weekend, Austin will look to mark its home debut with a first victory in club history as former SAFC players Diego Restrepo, Kris Tyrpak and Sonny Guadarrama face their former club. Meanwhile, SAFC will try to strike the right balance of attack and defense after unbalanced performances over the opening three weeks of the season. This one will be fun.
A bye week removed from its second 3-3 draw of the season, Phoenix Rising FC will go for its first victory of the 2019 campaign against a Colorado Springs side that has already picked up two wins from its first three games. Rising FC Head Coach Rick Schantz will certainly hope to see an improved defensive effort from his side after the 2018 Western Conference champs conceded early and often against New Mexico United and San Antonio FC. The Switchbacks, who earned a 1-0 home win against San Antonio FC last weekend, will look to make a statement of intent that they can compete for both the Western Conference crown and Four Corners Cup.
Raise your hand if you had Luca Lobo as your 2019 Golden Boot leader after three weeks. No one? That’s what I thought. The Roughnecks defender has been deadly from set pieces over the opening month of the season, converting five of his seven shots this into goals. Lobo is also doing his work on the defensive end and ranks third on the Roughnecks in clearances (11) and tackles won (seven). A home date with Rio Grande Valley FC on Friday night could be an opportunity for another stellar showing.
As one of the few Monarchs returning to Head Coach Martin Vasquez’s squad this season, a lot of pressure has been placed on the shoulders of Maikel Chang to produce. The crafty winger got off the mark for 2019 in grand fashion last weekend against the LA Galaxy II, scoring two goals and creating another to help his side earn its first win of the campaign. Let’s see what he can do for an encore when the Monarchs travel to Las Vegas Lights FC on Saturday night.
Chandler Hoffman returns to Slugger Field for the first time as a visiting player on Saturday night when he leads expansion side Birmingham Legion FC to face the two-time defending USL Cup champions. Hoffman scored 14 goals in 28 games for Louisville in 2016, his only season with the club. After managing just one shot on target in the first two games of this campaign, the 28-year-old forward will look to find the back of the net against his former club and help his hometown team earn a famous first victory.
Pittsburgh’s midfield maestro has been a key to Head Coach Bob Lilley’s success dating back to his days with the Rochester Rhinos and he proved his worth once again in last weekend’s 2-2 draw with the Swope Park Rangers. Forbes, the side’s captain for the day, led by example as he notched an assist and made six key passes over 90 minutes to help his side pick up its first point of the season. His upcoming midfield matchup with Bethlehem Steel FC captain James Chambers will be one to watch.
- Tulsa Roughnecks FC holds the all-time series lead over Rio Grande Valley FC (3-2-2) but picked up just one point from two matches against the Texas side in 2018.
- Memphis 901 FC midfielder Dan Metzger goes into Friday night’s matchup against the New York Red Bulls II as the all-time leader in appearances and games started for the New York side.
- Saturday night’s clash between Las Vegas Lights FC and Real Monarchs SLC at Cashman Field is one that will see former U.S. Men’s National Team teammates on opposing sidelines. Las Vegas’ Eric Wynalda and Real’s Martin Vasquez played side-by-side for the USMNT when it took on China in a pair of exhibitions in early 1997.
- “I think it is a very important game for us. We were finally able to score some goals and hopefully that will loosen up the team, unlock some more and [we are] excited to play. We still haven’t gotten our first win of the season yet so obviously that is our goal and hopefully we can accomplish that this Friday.” – Rio Grande Valley FC midfielder Romilio Hernandez
- “I think it’s more demanding, more pressure, faster-paced. It’s a different aspect of the game and it’s a big difference from college. It’s been a good adjustment, and I’ve been adjusting well, so hopefully it keeps getting better and better from here.” - Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC midfielder Anthony Velarde