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The 18 – USL Championship Week 8

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 04/29/19, 10:54AM EDT

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Late goals cut both ways for expansion sides Legion FC, 901 FC

As stoppage time ticked away, it felt as though it was going to end up as another frustrating night for Birmingham Legion FC. Despite having the majority of play against Loudoun United FC at BBVA Compass Field on Saturday, the club’s first goal on home turf had failed to materialize.

But then, there was Prosper Kasim.

The scorer of the first goal in Legion FC’s history wrote his name into the club’s history book again with a perfectly-hit left-footed strike in the 94th minute that sent another packed house into wild celebrations. Kasim led the way, circling his celebratory run almost the length of the field to end up in front of the Magic City Brigade, his teammates in hot pursuit.

A moment that arrived and went in the blink of an eye for the goalscorer, but one that will live for a long time in the memory of everyone who was on hand.

“I don’t even know to be honest,” said Kasim when he was asked to walk through the goal. “I was so eager to score, not only me but each and every one of us wanted to score. All I realized was the ball was right in front of me, and I just have to finish.”

Here’s this week’s 18.

1. Prosper Kasim’s goal may have come as a last-gasp effort, but it also gave Legion FC 10 points from its last four outings (3-0-1) which has pushed the side into the Eastern Conference playoff positions. The side has a busy week coming up with visits to the New York Red Bulls II (Wednesday) and Memphis 901 FC (Saturday), but there’s clearly something good starting to come together for Head Coach Tom Soehn.

2. How did Soehn feel about his team coming through at the death? “I think it was a lot of things, but overall I think our players are really happy for our fans,” he said. “They’ve been out here, and there have been exciting games down to the wire and we finally have a little closure and let them celebrate. So, they were as happy for the fans as they were for themselves.”

3. While there was joy in Birmingham, it was the absolute opposite for Memphis 901 FC. The hosts gave the Charleston Battery absolutely everything they could handle, but instead of finding a late winner after twice hitting the woodwork and forcing Battery goalkeeper Joe Kuzminsky into four saves, it was instead Charleston that grabbed all three points thanks to Dante Marini’s stoppage-time goal. If you were looking for a game that exemplified the narrow margins that can sometimes separate victory and defeat, this was one of them.

4. “It’s tough,” said Memphis Head Coach Tim Mulqueen. “I think we all thought at worse it was going to end up 0-0, but credit to Charleston. That’s why they’ve gone to the playoffs 11 straight years. They know how to do it. They know how to win.”

5. For the late drama that those two contests provided, the clear game of the weekend was the top-of-the-Western Conference clash between New Mexico United and the Portland Timbers 2, which ended as a 3-3 draw after an incredible second half of action in front of a NMU-record crowd of 12,291 at Isotopes Park. All seemed lost for the hosts after they had surrendered a two-goal lead to three goals in 11 minutes by T2 – Eryk Williamson bagging two of them to continue his fine start to the season – but Kevaughn Frater’s stoppage-time equalizer that also gave the Jamaican his first hat trick brought the house down and meant honors ended even.

6. The game that might have the most long-term impact from this weekend, on the other hand, was the New York Red Bulls II’s comeback 2-1 victory against Indy Eleven on Sunday evening. Tom Barlow’s seventh goal of the season – moving him into a four-way tie for the league-lead – sent New York to all three points and into second place in the Eastern Conference ahead of its game on Wednesday night with Memphis 901 FC.

7. After slumping to a 3-1 loss to Loudoun United FC in their last home outing, the Red Bulls II got back to doing what they do best in making life uncomfortable for their visitors to MSU Soccer Park. Although Indy had a one-goal lead at halftime, Dane Kelly’s 13th-minute goal was the only shot the Eleven managed in the first half, while New York ended the game with a 28-8 advantage in total shots. When Barlow found space in the 69th minute after a clever-flicked pass and finished to the left corner to put the Red Bulls II ahead, the hosts didn’t give Indy much of a way back. The Eleven only registered two shots in the final 20 minutes, neither of which found the target.

8. After having its four-game winning streak ended, Indy is going to have to dust itself off quickly ahead of one of its most important stretches of the season. A five-game home stand that kicks off this week with visits from the Tampa Bay Rowdies and North Carolina FC could help Head Coach Martin Rennie’s side push toward the top of the Eastern Conference, or it could leave the side facing a sizeable gap to overcome in its pursuit of a high finish.

9. After moving to the top of the Eastern Conference in midweek, the Rowdies saw that position slide back to Saint Louis FC as Tampa Bay was held to a 1-1 draw by an improving Charlotte Independence at Al Lang Stadium. The Rowdies still have their undefeated record (4-0-4, 16pts), but their next three games are going to be very interesting to say the least with their visit to Indy on Wednesday night followed by a national television game against Nashville SC and a home clash with the New York Red Bulls II.

10. One of the best moments from this weekend? The post-game jersey swap between the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Charlotte Independence. We knew it had to happen, right?

11. One of the others? The delight on Saint Louis FC Head Coach Anthony Pulis’ face after Audi Jepson’s first professional goal on Saturday night against the Swope Park Rangers.

The goal itself was a beauty, and set STLFC on its way to a 3-1 win against the still-winless Rangers, but the sense of excitement you can feel from Pulis seeing one of his young charges break through was wonderful to see, and an indicator of the mood around World Wide Technology Soccer Park right now.

12. The mood at Hartford Athletic wasn’t great before Saturday night, but to suffer another heavy 4-1 defeat and then have North Carolina FC play “Brass Bonanza” – the old Hartford Whalers’ goal song – after each one rubbed salt into a wound that is wide open right now.

“We’ve got a problem,” said Hartford Head Coach Jimmy Nielsen. “We have to wake up now as a group and as a team. We’ve got a big problem in the leadership of this team.”

13. Hartford finally gets to play in front of its home fans this weekend at Rentschler Field as the Charlotte Independence come to visit. With the side having far surpassed the worst start to an expansion season in the Championship’s history – FC Montreal lost its first five games in 2015 – it seems like there can be only one way the Athletic can go as of now, but after conceding 15 goals in the past four games the light at the end of the tunnel must seem a long way away.

14. We made note of Birmingham Legion FC in the East, so it’s only fair that we note the rise of Austin Bold FC in the Western Conference after a three-game homestand that concluded on Friday night with a 3-2 win against Real Monarchs SLC and left the side in seventh place at the end of the weekend’s action. Austin has been getting it done defensively for most of this season but seeing Andre Lima get on the scoreboard twice with Kleber absent from the lineup will have been a nice boost for Bold FC as it heads to LA this weekend.

15. Every week, it feels like the Western Conference is throwing out a result that doesn’t appear to make much sense. This time it was El Paso Locomotive FC’s 1-0 win against fourth-place Reno 1868 FC but make no mistake the hosts were decent value for their victory in front of another big crowd at Southwest University Park. Yes, they had to ride their luck a little bit – Brian Brown’s free kick off the crossbar could have been a decisive moment for the visitors in the 64th minute – but the overall tempo and shape of the game was of a style that felt like what Locomotive FC Head Coach Mark Lowry is looking for his side to produce.

16. Reno got to hold onto fourth place despite its defeat thanks to the continued competitiveness that seems to be running through the Western Conference. The top six teams currently in the standings missed out on victory in their most recent outings as draws in the Black Gold Derby between Tulsa Roughnecks FC and OKC Energy FC and the high-profile west-coast clash between Sacramento Republic FC and Phoenix Rising FC kept things tight in the middle of the standings.

17. The team that might have benefited most from the parity running through the West this weekend was Fresno FC, but the Foxes are going to have to turn their undefeated record into something more substantial in the win column if it’s to maximize its current opportunity. The comeback draw against Orange County SC on Friday night was nice as the club paid tribute to Fresno Fuego FC, with former Fuego forward Christian Chaney among the scorers, but it’s already starting to feel a little bit like a season ago when the Foxes finished with more draws than wins, which dented their playoff hopes. 

18. Best gamble of the weekend goes to Ryan James, who earned Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC a point against his former club Nashville SC in a remarkable 2-2 draw on Saturday night. The stoppage-time equalizer might have officially gone down as an own goal by Kosuke Kimura, but James made it happen with his adventurous run and attempt to grab something for his side.

“I think everyone just knows at home … you’re down a goal or down two goals, you just have to gamble sometimes and try to get the goal and try to salvage some points,” said James, a point firmly in his pocket.

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