Week 4 of the 2019 USL Championship season saw several firsts as Austin, Birmingham and El Paso picked up their first victories in club history, while some preseason favorites continued their early-season struggles.
With Week 5 already underway after the Tacoma Defiance took a 2-1 victory over Sacramento Republic FC on Monday night, I went back to answer the lingering questions that fans across social media have been asking since this past weekend.
Let’s get started.
@USL_Pony asks: More concerning: Independence early-game woes (0 GF, 7 GA in first 70’) or Reno late-game woes (1 GF, 5 GA in final 20’)?
This is a fascinating question and the short answer is that I’m not particularly concerned about either trend continuing over the long term. Interestingly, Reno 1868 FC conceded two stoppage-time winners in the first three weeks of the 2018 regular season against the Swope Park Rangers and Phoenix Rising FC. After that, Head Coach Ian Russell’s side didn’t drop points in the 75th minute or later until late July. It’s weird to see Reno concede late so often again this season (though you could argue giving up late goals for draws is an improvement) but I think 1868 FC will kick the habit soon.
I’m a little bit more concerned with Charlotte failing to score in the first 70 minutes of its opening three games – and joining Rio Grande Valley FC and Las Vegas Lights FC as the only teams not to score in the first half – but the Independence have netted five goals over the final 20 minutes of their games. It should only be a matter of time before Enzo Martinez and co. find the back of the net a little bit sooner and stop having to play from behind.
@ZBrugie asks: Energy FC had a great comeback against Reno but with season ending injury to Taravel and unknown status of Deshorn Brown… Do they have the depth to continue to push for top spot in the West?
On the other side of Reno’s three-goal collapse last weekend was an impressive fightback from OKC Energy FC, which was coming off a demoralizing 4-1 beating from Sacramento Republic FC the week before. That 3-3 draw will feel as good as a win and should help OKC get its confidence back ahead of Saturday’s home meeting with the Portland Timbers 2. The loss of center back Nicolas Taravel to an ACL injury is unfortunate – especially given the Frenchman’s strong start to his debut season – but the addition of former Phoenix Rising FC defender Mike da Fonte should help the side cope with that. Losing leading scorer Deshorn Brown (three goals, three games) for a long stretch would be a problem but Energy FC has enough quality depth in attack with Christian Eissele, Alexy Bosetti, Cordell Cato and Omar Gordon to continue to pick up points in Brown’s absence. I would like to see a little bit more consistency from the side as the season continues, but Energy FC is in a much stronger position now than a year ago. Top spot in the West may be a stretch, but I believe OKC is a top-4 contender.
Reddit user @durden423 asks: What are your thoughts on the Phoenix Rising so far this season? Is there still hope?
I love me some early-season overreactions. Yes, there is still hope for Phoenix Rising FC. In fact, I still see them claiming the regular-season title as I predicted back in March. Sure, it is a little bit concerning to see Rising FC pick up three straight draws to start the year and concede eight times over that span, but I felt the side was unlucky not to get three points last weekend against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC. After the game, Head Coach Rick Schantz said that his team should have been up 5-0 at halftime and he’s not wrong. An inspired performance from Abraham Rodriguez and a couple of crossbars kept Phoenix out of the win column for another week. While the defense needs to get sorted out, Schantz fixed a similar issue with the side last year after it conceded four goals in 3 of 5 games last summer. There’s too much talent on this squad for things not to get better from here.
@Vanislegend4L asks: How bad did the @k_lmbrt27 clapback hurt?
Speaking of Phoenix Rising FC, I guess I can revisit one of my 19 predictions for the 2019 season that I’ve already come to regret. But let’s get one thing straight, the odds of me accurately predicting the first red card of the season weren’t very good. That said, Kevon had every right to troll me for it, especially since he’s now gone three games and 195 minutes without even a yellow. How bad did it hurt? Honestly, not that bad. I expect it could only get worse from here though…
@HomeSweetSoccer asks: Still comforted by the 73 percent tackle rate from Lou City or is it time to start being concerned?
While I’m taking my L’s, I might as well take this one too. In the Week 2 edition of #AskArlia, I said I was “comforted a little bit” by Louisville City FC boasting a 73 percent tackle success rate and thought may be an indicator for defensive turnaround. Well, it turns out that doesn’t matter much when you aren’t close enough to the ball to put in a tackle. Check out Louisville’s marking on Brian Wright’s game-winner for Birmingham Legion FC on Sunday as an example.
No one picks up Wright at the back post from a free kick and by the time the ball gets there, it’s way too late. Louisville has now conceded eight goals in its opening four games and let in three last weekend against a Birmingham side that had failed to score previously. Head Coach John Hackworth’s side has been very susceptible to crosses and counterattacks and now faces two big tests in Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Time to see what the champs are made of.