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USL Championship Weekend Guide – Week 5

By JOHN ARLIA -, 04/05/19, 8:45PM EDT


What are the games and players to watch as the Championship moves into April?

A Southern Derby Clash between the Charleston Battery and the Charlotte Independence takes center stage this Sunday at MUSC Health Stadium. | Photo courtesy Zach Bland / Charleston Battery

After the Tacoma Defiance kicked off Week 5 action with a 2-1 victory over Sacramento Republic FC on Monday night, USL Championship action returns this weekend with a jam-packed slate of 16 games.

Fifteen of those matches will be played on Saturday, with Ottawa Fury FC getting things underway when it hosts Nashville SC in its home opener at TD Place Stadium (2 p.m. ET | Matchcenter | ESPN+). The weekend will wrap up on Sunday when the Charleston Battery and Charlotte Independence take center stage in a Southern Derby clash at MUSC Health Stadium (3:30 p.m. ET | Matchcenter | 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 5:

Games to Watch

Real Monarchs SLC vs. Reno 1868 FC (April 6, 3 PM ET, MATCHCENTERESPN+)

Two of the more unpredictable teams in the Western Conference clash on Saturday afternoon in one of my preseason top 10 games to watch in 2019. Reno 1868 FC forward Brian Brown returns to Zions Bank Stadium for the first time since scoring a dramatic late winner to sink the Monarchs in the opening round of the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs. The Jamaican has been on top form so far this season with four goals, but Reno has made a habit of letting leads slip late, including last weekend’s three-goal advantage that turned into a 3-3 draw with OKC Energy FC. The Monarchs lost for the first time this season last weekend in Las Vegas, so both sides will be looking to respond in what should be a fiery contest.

Louisville City FC vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (April 6, 7 PM ET, MATCHCENTERESPN+)

Two of the preseason favorites in the Eastern Conference, Louisville City FC and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC haven’t lived up to their expectations over the opening month of the season. Louisville is coming off a 3-2 home defeat to Birmingham Legion FC and will look to avoid losing back-to-back games at Slugger Field for the first time in its history. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh will be looking to an improve on an uncharacteristic start that has seen Head Coach Bob Lilley’s side allow two goals in each of its three games. After picking up just two points from those contests, a result will go a long way towards keeping pace with the East frontrunners.

Louisville's Shaun Francis and Pittsburgh's Jordan Dover battle for the ball in the Hounds' 1-0 victory at Slugger Field last season. | Photo courtesy EM Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

Phoenix Rising FC vs. Fresno FC (April 6, 10:30 PM ET, MATCHCENTERESPN+)

Speaking of preseason favorites off to a slow start, Phoenix Rising FC will look to pick up its first win of the season at Casino Arizona Field when it hosts unbeaten Frenso FC. Rising FC has been dynamic in attack, scoring eight goals in three games, but equally poor in defense. If Head Coach Rick Schantz can get his guys organized at the back, Phoenix should rise in the standings in short order. Of the undefeated teams in the league, though, Fresno might be the one that has most flown under the radar. Will the Foxes make a splash on the road or is the moment Rising FC finally gets on its way?

Charleston Battery vs. Charlotte Independence (April 7, 3:30 PM ET, MATCHCENTERESPN+)

The Charleston Battery face Southern Derby opposition for the second straight weekend as they host the Charlotte Independence at MUSC Health Stadium. After Tommy McCabe’s stoppage-time wonder-strike left Charleston with just a point against North Carolina FC, the Battery will be looking for victory against an Independence side that hasn’t quite hit the heights yet under new Head Coach Jim McGuinness. Charlotte has struggled early in matches so far this season – scoring all five of its goals over the final 20 minutes – and will need a better start if it wants to get a result in McGuinness’ first rivalry game.

Players to Watch

 Daniel Rios – Nashville SC

One of Nashville’s big offseason signings, Rios has scored two of the team’s three goals thus far in what has been an underwhelming attack given the talent at Head Coach Gary Smith’s disposal. Rios has featured more centrally up top over the first few games and will look to spark NSC’s firepower against familiar opposition. Rios found the back of the net in both meetings against Ottawa Fury FC last season as a member of North Carolina FC and will have a good chance of keeping that run going at TD Place.

 Omar Gordon – OKC Energy FC

I have given a lot of attention to Deshorn Brown throughout the preseason and opening weeks of the 2019 campaign, but his fellow Jamaican has impressed as well. In the absence of Brown last weekend, Gordon notched a goal and an assist in stoppage time to help Energy FC rally to a 3-3 draw against Reno 1868 FC. The 27-year-old is up to two goals and two assists in his side’s opening four games and will look to lead OKC’s attack against the Portland Timbers 2, especially if Brown is absent again.

 Abraham Rodriguez – Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC

Could you have a more impressive professional debut than Abraham Rodriguez did last weekend against Phoenix Rising FC? The 16-year-old made 11 saves – including a penalty stop on Solomon Asante – to earn a 2-2 draw and USL Championship Player of the Week honors. Now the question is: What Rodriguez produce for an encore at Orange County SC?

 Pape Diakite – Tampa Bay Rowdies

The 6-foot-4 center back has been a pillar at the back for a Rowdies side that has kept three clean sheets in four games. Diakite played a key role in helping goalkeeper John McCarthy face just four shots over that span, leading the league with 37 clearances and winning 28 of 37 duels. With expansion Hartford Athletic, which has managed just two goals in its opening four games, coming to Al Lang Stadium on Saturday, there’s a good chance for Diakite and the Rowdies to keep their strong defensive start to the season going.

Notes and Quotes

- The Tampa Bay Rowdies will welcome two familiar faces to Al Lang Stadium on Saturday when the side hosts Hartford Athletic. Hartford defender Kyle Curinga spent the 2018 season with the club, while forward Alex Dixon made three appearances for the Rowdies on loan from the Houston Dynamo in 2013.

- "We respect our opponent. We know they've had a good history. They've always been a strong team. We’re going to go in with respect, but we’re also going to go in fighting, leaving everything on the table.” – Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC defender Tobi Adewole on Louisville City FC

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