The Tampa Bay Rowdies's 13-game unbeaten streak could be challenged this weekend when North Carolina FC visits Al Lang Stadium. | Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies
After Loudoun United FC earned new Head Coach Ryan Martin a win on Wednesday night, USL Championship action returns on Friday to kick off an 18-game weekend.
The first two of those contests will take place on Friday night when the New York Red Bulls II visit Eastern Conference rival ATL UTD 2 at Fifth Third Bank Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+), before Phoenix Rising FC looks to extend its perfect record on $1 Beer Night against Tulsa Roughnecks FC at Casino Arizona Field (10:30 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+).
Fifteen matches will follow on Saturday starting in the early evening when the Charlotte Independence look to halt their seven-game winless run when they visit the Swope Park Rangers at Children’s Mercy Park (5 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+). The night will wrap up late on the West Coast with Fresno FC looking to bounce back from a loss when it hosts OKC Energy FC at Chukchansi Park (10:30 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+) while Las Vegas Lights FC looks to continue its home dominance in the league against Orange County SC at Cashman Field (10:30 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+).
The weekend will wrap up on Sunday when Nashville SC puts its four-game unbeaten streak on the line against Bethlehem Steel FC at McCarthy Stadium at La Salle University (6 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 14:
If I had told you before the season that this matchup featured a team that was in 14th place in the East and a team that was in fourth, you probably would have picked Pittsburgh as the side in the top half of the table. Yet, through 10 games, the Hounds sit below the playoff line and enter Saturday’s contest at Highmark Stadium winless in their last five league outings (0-1-4). Head Coach Bob Lilley’s side has been uncharacteristically average at the defensive end, conceding two or more goals in more than half of their games so far. Meanwhile, Fury FC heads south of the border with a six-game unbeaten streak (4-0-2) and having seemingly solved the attacking woes that doomed the side last season. Ottawa has outscored its opponents 13-4 over this current run of form and is one of the hottest teams in the league. This will be a great test to see where Head Coach Nikola Popovic’s team truly stands.
Former Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC forward Christiano Francois (right) will return to Highmark Stadium on Saturday for the first time since joining Ottawa Fury FC this offseason. | Photo courtesy Chris Cowger / Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
The Rowdies should also be expecting a tough test on Saturday when they try to extend their unbeaten start to the season to 14 games against North Carolina FC. Tampa Bay, which has allowed just four goals this season, has not conceded in its past five league outings and will look to continue its shutout streak as well as extend its lead atop the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile NCFC is unbeaten in its last three games, but Head Coach Dave Sarachan’s side will surely be disappointed it didn’t carry the momentum from its away win against the New York Red Bulls II into last Saturday’s 1-1 draw in Hartford. That result against the Red Bulls II should give North Carolina the confidence it needs to know that it can take a road result against a top side though, especially after holding on in the second half with 10 men. Expect this to be a tightly-contested affair.
New Mexico United will have an opportunity to move past its disappointing draw against OKC Energy FC on Wednesday Night Soccer when it hosts Republic FC at Isotopes Park. The hosts held 65 percent of possession and outshot Energy FC 16-10 (6-4 on target), but OKC goalkeeper Cody Laurendi came up big to keep his side in the game until Deshorn Brown’s 73rd-minute equalizer. For now, New Mexico still sits atop the Western Conference standings, though with teams chasing it having games in hand, a win against Sacramento would go a long way to maintaining its lead. Head Coach Simon Elliott’s side has lost three of its last five games but picked up a much-needed 2-1 home victory over San Antonio FC last weekend. Still sitting below the playoff line, Republic FC is also in need of three points to jumpstart its campaign. This should be a good litmus test.
Over the past two weeks, the ‘Bold Predictions’ portion of this piece has gone back and forth on whether or not Locomotive FC forward Jerome Kiesewetter will find the back of the net. So far, I’m happy to report that I’ve been correct every time. Although I’m probably pushing my luck, I think the former U.S. international scores again this weekend as Head Coach Mark Lowry’s side continues to round into form. On the other side, the Galaxy II have drawn four straight games with three of those coming by a 2-2 scoreline. I wouldn’t be surprised to see something similar this weekend, as there are usually goals whenever LA is involved. With the two sides separated by just two points in the standings, this is a big game for positioning in the bottom-half of the West.
Last week, I predicted that Saint Louis would score four goals against Memphis 901 FC but I never got to find out whether I was right or not (based on the other predictions, I probably wasn’t) because the game got postponed. With an extra bit of rest and finishing practice ahead of Saturday’s trip to Hartford, why can’t STLFC score four or more against the Athletic?
The most successful promotion in Championship history returns to the desert on Friday night as Phoenix Rising FC puts its perfect 10-0-0 record on $1 Beer Night on the line against Tulsa Roughnecks FC at Casino Arizona Field. While the record is truly the one thing that matters, Rising FC has also been advertising the fact that it has kept six clean sheets over that span and allowed less than a goal per game.
The Roughnecks aren’t on the best run of form – they’re winless in their last five league games (0-1-4) – but they’ve found the back of the net in all but one of those matches. I expect Rodrigo da Costa and company to put one on the scoreboard at some point to slightly quiet the crowd.
After speaking with Colorado Springs Head Coach Steve Trittschuh last week about how he hoped to ease the pressure on his side and job security, the Switchbacks ended their nine-game winless run with a 1-0 home victory over Fresno FC. Jordan Burt’s game-winner got his side out of the cellar in the West and now I’ve got them moving up to 15th place by the end of the weekend. Colorado Springs will leapfrog both San Antonio FC and Real Monarchs SLC with a win against the Tacoma Defiance and a loss or draw for both SAFC against Reno 1868 FC and for the Monarchs against Rio Grande Valley FC. Yeah, that was probably the most complicated prediction I’ve ever made, but hopefully you’re still with me.
Let’s make this last one a little bit simpler and say that Louisville City FC fails to follow up its resounding 4-1 victory over the Charleston Battery with three points against Loudoun United FC. The visitors to Slugger Field on Saturday will carry the momentum of Wednesday’s 3-2 victory over the Swope Park Rangers and still have the pressure to perform and earn a spot in the lineup for new Head Coach Ryan Martin. Add in the fact that Martin is a former FC Cincinnati assistant and that could see him rile up his players just that little bit more. Of course, Louisville is always a tough out at home but has already lost twice on its own turf to teams below the playoff line in the East (Birmingham and Pittsburgh). With Brian Ownby and Paco Craig set to miss out through suspension, Loudoun could be catching Louisville at just the right time.
Expectations were understandably high coming into this season for Chandler Hoffman, but it’s fair to say that the Birmingham native just isn’t up to scratch so far for Legion FC. The 28-year-old, who ranks third on the Championship’s all-time regular-season scoring list with 62 career goals, has netted just twice in 10 appearances for the expansion side in 2019. With Birmingham stuck in a six-game winless run and having failed to score in any of its past four league outings, there’d be no better time than Saturday’s visit to the Charleston Battery for Hoffman and Legion FC to start turning things around.
Speaking of forwards that haven’t quite lived up to the billing, Enevoldsen has scored just two goals in 11 league appearances for Indy so far this season after netting 20 for Orange County SC last year in his debut Championship campaign. The Dane did head home the game-winner in Indy’s Second Round Open Cup victory against Lansing Ignite FC last month but hasn’t been on target in the league since a 3-1 win over the Swope Park Rangers on April 15. In one of the weirder statistical oddities of the season, Enevoldsen has in fact scored his three goals on March 15, April 15 and May 15. While getting back on track this Saturday against Memphis 901 FC would be ideal, the more than likely scenario is Enevoldsen finds the back of the net the following weekend when the Eleven take on Loudoun United FC on June 15. In fact, you might want to start getting your money down on that now.
With 1868 FC leading scorer Brian Brown (eight goals, five assists) suiting up for Jamaica in a Gold Cup tuneup against the United States on Wednesday night, Reno will to lean on Hertzog to lead the line when it visits San Antonio FC on Saturday. That shouldn’t be a problem for the 28-year-old, who ranks two spots below Hoffman on the Championship’s all-time leading scorer list with 51 tallies and has been a lot more productive this season, scoring five goals and providing four assists in 12 appearances. While playing without Brown is certainly not ideal for Head Coach Ian Russell’s side, but Hertzog is more than capable of helping Reno keep its momentum going.
Lights FC has hit a bit of a rough patch in recent weeks, suffering a pair of 4-0 defeats at Phoenix Rising FC and Silver State Cup rival Reno 1868 FC while also going out in the Open Cup on home turf to Orange County FC. Despite that, Head Coach Eric Wynalda’s squad sits just three points out of a playoff spot but will need to get things back on track this Saturday against an Orange County SC side that sits three points ahead of it in the West. Parra has been the main man for Las Vegas this season, recording seven goals and three assists in 13 appearances, and will be charged with carrying the attack once again as his squad looks return to its stellar form at Cashman Field.
Tag(s): Game Previews Weekend Previews San Antonio FC CO Spring Switchbacks LA Galaxy II Orange County SC Phoenix Rising FC Real Monarchs SLC Reno 1868 FC Rio Grande Valley FC Sacramento Republic FC Swope Park Rangers Tulsa Roughnecks FC Louisville City FC Ottawa Fury FC Pittsburgh Riverhounds Saint Louis FC Tampa Bay Rowdies Corey Hertzog Irvin Parra Chandler Hoffman Las Vegas Lights FC Birmingham Legion FC North Carolina FC Indy Eleven El Paso Locomotive FC Thomas Enevoldsen New Mexico United Loudoun United FC Hartford Athletic Tacoma Defiance