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ARLIA: Winners and Losers from Week 12

By JOHN ARLIA - john.arlia@uslsoccer.com, 05/27/19, 10:30AM EDT

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Rowdies are the clean sheet kings, while the Golden Boot is New Mexico’s to lose


The Tampa Bay Rowdies kept their eighth clean sheet of the season in Saturday's 1-0 victory over the Swope Park Rangers. | Photo courtesy Mark May / Tampa Bay Rowdies

From Jon Bakero scoring with his butt for Phoenix Rising FC to Frank Lopez’s stoppage-time equalizer for the LA Galaxy II, Week 12 of the 2019 USL Championship campaign had a little bit of everything. Here are my winners and losers from the last seven days:

Winner: Clean Sheets

It doesn’t seem to matter who the Tampa Bay Rowdies are playing or what lineup Head Coach Neill Collins trots out, there’s a more than likely chance the Championship leaders are going to keep a clean sheet. The Rowdies earned their eighth shutout in 12 matches with a 1-0 victory over the Swope Park Rangers at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday night and did so without stalwart center back Pape Diakite, who had played every minute of the season before serving a one-game suspension for an incident in the prior weekend’s win over the New York Red Bulls II. Tampa Bay more than persevered without him as it held the Rangers without a shot on target and moved another step closer to matching the Championship’s single-season shutout record of 17 held by the 2015 USL Cup-winning Rochester Rhinos.

While the Rowdies are clearly the defensive standard in the league, having conceded just four goals in 12 matches so far, Eastern Conference rival Indy Eleven is starting to give Tampa Bay a run for its money. The Eleven have kept clean sheets in four consecutive league outings – all of which have come against teams currently in playoff positions – and have six shutouts in their last seven games across all competitions. After conceding four goals in its opening two matches, Indy has shored up its back line and now holds the third-best defensive record in the league – trailing Tampa Bay and Saint Louis FC – at 0.70 goals conceded per contest.

Loser: Home Fortresses

Over the opening months of the season, no two teams have been more reliant on home wins to stay above the playoff line than Austin Bold FC and Las Vegas Lights FC. Austin entered Saturday’s contest against fellow expansion side New Mexico United with a 4-0-1 record at Bold Stadium and had conceded just two goals in those five games. That home-field advantage failed to hold up as the Western Conference table-topper cruised to a 3-1 road victory over 10-man Bold FC, compounding the team’s tough week after it had fallen late to Fresno FC on Wednesday night in a 1-0 loss at Chukchansi Park.

Things didn’t go as poorly for Lights FC in Sin City, but Head Coach Eric Wynalda’s side may be a little bit disappointed after seeing its four-game home winning streak come to an end with a scoreless draw against Tulsa Roughnecks FC. Las Vegas failed to capitalize on its 60 percent possession and a 14-7 advantage in shots, leaving Wynalda to praise the visitors’ resolve.

“Look I think the reason why Tulsa has many ties as they have is because they know how to shut down. They played for the counter, they almost got us on a couple of occasions but there's a lot of positives to take out of this game,” Wylanda said after the match. “We got a [clean sheet], we're coming off of a game where we let a bunch in on the road. We've got a very important week in front of us with the Wednesday game, so it was in my thinking. So, some of my substitutions were trying to save guys for that Wednesday night. But all in all, I think Tulsa is a team that with go far in this league because they play solid defense.”

Winner: Happy Hour

There’s nothing quite like a good happy hour special and for the second time in three weeks it was Phoenix Rising FC providing the discounts (See you again soon, $1 Beer Night) as Junior Flemmings struck in the Sonic Drive-In Happy Hour to win one lucky fan a $500 gift card to the fast-food chain. The Jamaican curled a right-footed shot around Real Monarchs SLC goalkeeper Andrew Putna 11 seconds into the game’s 60th minute, giving Phoenix a 3-2 lead and sending announcer Tyler Terens and Rising FC Twitter into a frenzy.

This was the first time this season that the promotion – which has just a 60-second window of success – has hit. To the lucky fan out there in the desert, enjoy those tots and slushes!

Loser: “C” Teams

This category, inspired by my love for “Jeopardy” and the excitement surrounding the show as sports bettor James Holzhauer continues to dominate – is simply teams that start with the letter C. Hello, Charleston Battery, Charlotte Independence and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC.

The Battery have the strongest case to be left off this list after striking back through Zeiko Lewis to earn a 1-1 draw against ATL UTD 2 at MUSC Health Stadium, but I would have expected Charleston to claim all three points at home. While it’s not a horrific result against an Atlanta side that has been hovering around the playoff line, the visitors entered the contest without a win in their last five games and had just managed the same result and scoreline at Bethlehem Steel FC and the Swope Park Rangers. The Battery are a class above those two and should be disappointed after missing out on a chance to climb up the table.

If you told me before Saturday night’s contest that the Independence would go into Highmark Stadium and hold Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC to a draw, I would have said that would be a good result for Charlotte and maybe not even a surprising one given Pittsburgh’s propensity for ties. But after Hounds defender Joe Greenspan was sent off for a second yellow card in the 36th minute, the opportunity for three points on the road was there for the taking. However, Charlotte managed just one shot on target from that point on – its only effort at goal on the night – and Pittsburgh looked the more likely side to break the deadlock. You have to say it’s an opportunity missed for Head Coach Jim McGuinness’ squad, which has plenty of work to do if it wants to get in the mix for a playoff place.

While those draws were disappointing on an individual basis, the Switchbacks’ 1-0 defeat at OKC Energy FC sums up what has been a rough stretch for Head Coach Steve Trittschuh’s side. Colorado Springs has lost five straight matches and is winless in its last nine (0-7-2). A visit from Fresno FC next weekend probably won’t help things either.

Winner: New Mexico United’s Golden Boot Chances

New Mexico United forward Kevaughn Frater entered Week 12 leading the pack in the race for the Golden Boot with 10 goals, two clear of New York Red Bulls II forward Tom Barlow. Over the past week, the Jamaican’s chances of claiming the accolade at season’s end probably took a slight hit, but the odds of the award heading back to New Mexico increased dramatically as Santi Moar moved into second place with a two-goal outing in United’s 3-1 win at Austin Bold FC. The Spaniard now has nine tallies on the season and New Mexico boasts the league’s top-two goalscorers. Not bad for an expansion side.

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