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ARLIA: Winners and Losers from Week 15

By JOHN ARLIA -, 06/17/19, 1:15PM EDT


Las Vegas downs tequila and New Mexico; Hounds arise from season-long slumber

Las Vegas Lights FC turned $2 Tequila Night into a full-on party at Cashman Field with a 5-1 victory over conference-leading New Mexico United on Saturday night. | Photo courtesy Las Vegas Lights FC

From Solomon Asante’s stunning long-range lob for Phoenix Rising FC to Darnell King’s goal-saving clearance for Nashville SC, Week 15 of the 2019 USL Championship campaign had a little bit of everything. Here are my winners and losers from the last seven days:

Winner: Drink Specials

After watching Phoenix Rising FC extend its winning streak to 10 games on $1 Beer Night last month, Las Vegas Lights FC Head Coach Eric Wynalda pitched a spinoff idea to management: $2 Tequila Night. Naturally, Lights FC came through for its first-year manager and announced last Tuesday that all home games during its “Summer of Soccer” would be $2 Tequila Nights, starting with Saturday’s visit of Western Conference leader New Mexico United. After a resounding 5-1 victory at Cashman Field, it’s hard to argue with the results.

Las Vegas bounced back from its underwhelming 1-1 draw with Orange County SC last weekend with a devastating attacking display – which saw five different players find the back of the net – and a resolute effort on the defensive end to limit a high-flying New Mexico attack to just three shots on goal. To cap off a perfect night, Wynalda even had a drink in his hand during his post-game interview.

With drink specials seemingly guaranteeing success on the field, it’s no surprise that Reno 1868 FC is bringing $1 Beer Night to Greater Nevada Field on Tuesday night when it hosts a red-hot Rising FC. With Phoenix now boasting a perfect 11-0-0 record on $1 Beer Night at Casino Arizona Field though, it’ll be interesting to see if this promotion continues to benefit home teams or backfires on Reno for messing with Rising FC’s $1 Beer juju. Either way, we may have to soon stop asking what’s in the water out west and start asking what’s in the booze?

Loser: Open Cup Survivors

New Mexico United made headlines in midweek as it was just one of two Championship clubs to advance to the Round of 16 in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup after edging Major League Soccer’s Colorado Rapids in a penalty shootout. However, the energy expanded over 120 minutes and its busy schedule of late forced NMU Head Coach Troy Lesesne into some squad rotations for its visit to Las Vegas. Open Cup hero Kevaughn Frater and fellow regular starter Chris Wehan were second-half substitutes but had little chance to make an impact after coming on with the visitors trailing 3-0 by halftime. To make matters worse, New Mexico’s second straight league defeat saw it fall to third in the Western Conference standings behind Phoenix Rising FC and El Paso Locomotive FC. The road ahead doesn’t get easier with its Open Cup Round of 16 tie against FC Dallas on Wednesday and a visit to the LA Galaxy II on Saturday.

The other side joining New Mexico United in Open Cup action this coming week will be Saint Louis FC, which extinguished the Chicago Fire 2-1 in the Fourth Round for its first ever victory over MLS opposition in the historic tournament. But just like New Mexico, STLFC failed to recover for its league outing on Saturday as it fell 3-1 to Bethlehem Steel FC at McCarthy Stadium. The home side jumped out to a quick start with goals from James Chambers and Faris inside the opening 25 minutes, but when the latter was sent off before the half-hour mark you would’ve thought the visitors had an avenue back into the game. Instead, Steel FC got the next goal before halftime and held onto its clean sheet until the 85th minute, when Kadeem Dacres netted four minutes after Oscar Umar’s red card had made the contest 10-on-10. Saint Louis, which remains in ninth place, is now winless in its last four league outings and only three points clear of Steel FC and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC.

Winner: Pennsylvania

Speaking of the Keystone State rivals, it was a pretty good weekend for both of them. I outlined how Bethlehem Steel FC showed off its resolve against Saint Louis FC above, but that organized defensive display is even more important given the team’s recent struggles. Head Coach Brendan Burke’s side had conceded four goals in each of its past two league outings – losses to the New York Red Bulls II and Nashville SC – and 22 goals total over an eight-game winless run. A result like this should give Steel FC some momentum heading into another tough test next weekend when the conference-leading Tampa Bay Rowdies come to town.

While it wasn’t a good weekend for Fourth-Round Open Cup participants in general, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC was the Championship’s lone exception as it moved past its 1-0 defeat to Columbus Crew SC on Wednesday with a 5-0 thumping of ATL UTD 2 at Fifth Third Bank Stadium. Robbie Mertz, Steevan Dos Santos and Neco Brett scored found the back of the net in the opening 13 minutes and the Hounds never looked back on their way to their third victory and fourth clean sheet of the season. If Head Coach Bob Lilley’s side, which still sits outside of the playoff places, can use this game as a launchpad to its campaign then it will surely be the front-runner to separate itself from the chasing pack and claim a playoff spot.

Loser: Jim McGuinness

It’s been a tough week to be former Charlotte Independence Head Coach Jim McGuinness. The Independence parted ways with the Irishman on Wednesday and responded on Saturday with their best performance of the season in a 4-1 victory over Birmingham Legion FC. After Andrew Gutman and Prosper Kasim traded goals in the first half at Sportsplex at Matthews, Charlotte scored three straight times in the opening 20 minutes of the second half to secure victory for General Manager Mike Jefferies in his return to the touchline. The Independence, who earned their first victory since April 16, still have a long way to go to compete for a postseason spot but will take some momentum into next weekend’s trip to Louisville.

Winner: Crazy Train

I’ve written a lot about El Paso Locomotive FC forward Jerome Kiesewetter recently – and yes, I did accurately predict he would score again this weekend – but I think it’s time to start looking at the bigger picture here. Locomotive FC’s 2-0 victory at Tulsa Roughnecks FC sees it end the week on a nine-game unbeaten run in league play and in second place in the Western Conference standings, having leapfrogged fellow expansion side New Mexico United in the process. And while I’ve complimented New Mexico’s attack throughout its strong start to the season, El Paso has shown off an impressive ability to not only take its chances but defend its leads – something that New Mexico has occasionally struggled with. Locomotive FC has dropped just four points from winning positions so far this season – compared to New Mexico’s 10 – and has conceded a conference-fewest 12 goals in 14 games. That defense paired with Kiesewetter – who is up to 10 goals in 10 appearances this season – is a recipe for success, not just now but come playoff time as well.

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