Reno 1868 FC will host Las Vegas Lights FC in the first Silver State Cup clash of 2019 on Saturday at Greater Nevada Field. | Photo courtesy David Calvert / Reno 1868 FC
After the Portland Timbers 2 battled back for a win on Wednesday night and 10 Championship clubs advanced to the Fourth Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in midweek, USL Championship action returns on Friday to kick off a weekend slate of 14 games.
The first of those contests will take place on Friday night when Bethlehem Steel FC heads north to take on Eastern Conference rival the New York Red Bulls II at MSU Soccer Park (7 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+).
Twelve matches will follow on Saturday night with a trio of games getting things underway when North Carolina FC looks to continue its climb up the table against Hartford Athletic at Rentschler Field (7 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+), Indy Eleven tries to keep its shutout streak going against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC at Lucas Oil Stadium (7 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+) and Louisville City FC hosts the Charleston Battery at Slugger Field (7 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+). The night will wrap up late in California’s capital when Sacramento Republic FC looks to get back on track against San Antonio FC at Papa Murphy’s Park (11 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+).
With plenty of storylines to keep track of across the Championship this weekend, here are a few games and players that I’ll be paying close attention to as well as some bold predictions I expect to play out over the course of Week 13:
The Eleven won’t have to wait long for a chance to avenge their 1-0 Open Cup defeat from Wednesday night as Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC heads to Lucas Oil Stadium for a rematch on Saturday. Hounds captain Kenardo Forbes carried his side into the Fourth Round with the game’s only goal in the 85th minute and will hope to have a similar impact this weekend as Pittsburgh tries to climb above the playoff line in the Eastern Conference. In order to do so, Head Coach Bob Lilley’s side will have to break down an Indy defense that has kept clean sheets in all five of its home games this season. Expect this to be another tight-knit affair, especially given the recent familiarity between the two sides and some potentially heavy legs after Wednesday’s exertions.
Indy Eleven will get a chance at revenge just three days after Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC knocked them out of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup with a 1-0 victory at Highmark Stadium. | Photo courtesy Chris Cowger / Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
Speaking of heavy legs, the Battery could be at a slight disadvantage heading into its trip to Louisville on Saturday after going to a penalty shootout with Nashville SC in Open Cup action on Wednesday night. Charleston came out on top to earn a home date in the Fourth Round with 2018 MLS Cup champion Atlanta United FC but Head Coach Mike Anhaeuser’s squad will need to recover quickly if it wants to end its run of four games without a win in league play. Louisville, which also advanced to the Fourth Round with a narrow victory over Birmingham Legion FC on Wednesday, enters the contest a point above Charleston in the standings and will look to distance itself from its opponent as both sides pursue top-six positions. The potential return of Brian Ownby and Paolo DelPiccolo to the Louisville lineup would certainly be a boost after Head Coach John Hackworth’s squad has navigated some early-season injury issues.
It will take some effort to match the excitement of the inaugural edition of the Silver State Cup, but I wouldn’t put it past 1868 FC and Lights FC to renew their rivalry in some style this weekend at Greater Nevada Field. Reno claimed the inaugural edition with a 1-0-2 record and lifted the trophy after a thrilling 3-3 draw last September. Since then, 1868 FC has signed former Lights FC playmaker Raul Mendiola and Las Vegas has undergone a total transformation in the early days of the Eric Wynalda era. Those moves, which included the addition of former LA Galaxy forward Jose Villarreal on Wednesday, as well as the fact the two sides are separated by just two points in the Western Conference standings, should only add to Saturday’s spectacle.
Two teams that you would have expected to be amongst the contenders in the Western Conference will meet on Saturday sitting outside of the playoff places. Both sides have picked up just one victory from their last five league outings, though Republic FC will surely be buoyed by its dramatic Open Cup victory over Highway 99 rival Fresno FC on Wednesday night as Stefano Bonomo’s first goal for the club gave it a 1-0 victory with the final touch of extra time. Meanwhile, San Antonio’s road woes continued in Open Cup play during its 4-2 loss to Austin Bold FC. Head Coach Darren Powell’s side has lost all five of its trips away from Toyota Field in league play this season and will have to start getting results if it wants to stay within touching distance of the playoff line.
I’ve written plenty about Deshorn Brown being the main man for OKC Energy FC, but Gordon has been giving his fellow Jamaican a run for his money in front of goal in recent weeks. The 27-year-old’s sweet strike led Energy FC to a much-needed 1-0 victory over Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC in its last league outing and Gordon doubled down in the Open Cup on Tuesday night with another fantastic effort in his side’s 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rowdies. I’m backing Gordon to find the net again in style when OKC visits the LA Galaxy II in what could be his final game before heading out on Gold Cup duty for Jamaica.
Last week, I correctly predicted that El Paso Locomotive FC forward Jerome Kiesewetter would see his impressive scoring streak (two goals in each of his past three games) come to a halt against the Portland Timbers 2. Now, I’m getting back on the wagon and backing the former U.S. international to find the back of the net this weekend against the Tacoma Defiance. Since that doesn’t seem to feel like much of a prediction given the Defiance’s defensive record, let’s say Kiesewetter bags a brace for the fourth time in five games.
Memphis 901 FC had the joy of putting four goals past Hartford Athletic in the Open Cup on Wednesday night, but it might not enjoy that number for long after Saint Louis FC does the same thing to Head Coach Tim Mulqueen’s squad this weekend. STLFC hasn’t scored in its last two league games but did seem to turn a bit of a corner in attack during its 3-1 Open Cup win over League One side Forward Madison FC. I think Saint Louis keeps that momentum going in a big way at home this weekend.
It’s been a tough start to life in Charlotte for Independence Head Coach Jim McGuinness, but the side is still only five points behind ATL UTD 2 for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. As we head into June, there’s still plenty of time to turn things around and I think the Independence have a decent chance to do that this weekend in Ottawa. Charlotte is due for a breakout offensive performance from Enzo Martinez and Dominic Oduro and could be able to exploit any potential mental doubt from Fury FC after its 1-1 draw with Hartford Athletic last weekend.
The New York Red Bulls II have lost two straight games and scored just two goals in its past three contests. That’s almost unheard of for Head Coach John Wolyniec’s side, which plays with as much attacking intent as any of its peers in the Championship. The absence of New York’s leading scorer Tom Barlow hasn’t helped, but Stroud has plenty of quality to get things back on track. Having netted both of his team’s goals over this recent stretch, Stroud should have some confidence heading into a home date with Bethlehem Steel FC.
After allowing four goals in their first 12 league games of the season, the Tampa Bay Rowdies went out and conceded four times against OKC Energy FC in their 4-3 Open Cup defeat on Tuesday night. McCarthy, who already boasts eight shutouts on the season, played no part in the defeat but must have watched from the bench in confusion as the Championship’s best defense didn’t do much to help backup Chris Konopka. That performance may have been a one-off, but it also could have signified just how important McCarthy is to Tampa Bay’s title chances.
Tampa Bay's John McCarthy has been far and away the best goalkeeper in the Championship so far this season, but we may have learned more about his importance to the Rowdies from his absence this week. | Photo courtesy Mark May / Tampa Bay Rowdies
I guess you can call it the Arlia curse, but I spotlighted Da Costa last week before Tulsa’s contest with Las Vegas Lights FC and the Roughnecks midfielder coincidentally had arguably as small of an impact as he’s had on any game this season. The Brazilian still made three key passes and attempted three shots (one on target) in the scoreless draw, but he completed just 52 percent of his passes overall over 90 minutes. That will have to improve on Saturday to get a result against a defensively strong Austin Bold FC side, but I’m backing Da Costa to find his form and make an impact.
Maybe it’s because Orange County currently sits in 13th place in the Western Conference standings, but Quinn is quietly having another solid season for Head Coach Braeden Cloutier’s squad. The Championship veteran is tied for the team lead with five goals and ranks second among OCSC players in assists (2) and chances created (18). I still don’t think we’ve seen the best of Quinn yet this campaign, but that could change as soon as this weekend’s home date with Rio Grande Valley FC.
Tag(s): Game Previews Weekend Previews San Antonio FC OKC Energy FC Orange County SC Reno 1868 FC Sacramento Republic FC FC Tulsa Charleston Battery Charlotte Independence Louisville City FC New York Red Bulls II Pittsburgh Riverhounds Saint Louis FC Tampa Bay Rowdies Aodhan Quinn John McCarthy Las Vegas Lights FC Omar Gordon Indy Eleven El Paso Locomotive FC Jared Stroud Rodrigo Da Costa Jerome Kiesewetter