The Tampa Bay Rowdies celebrate Sebastián Guenzatti's 92nd-minute goal that gave the side a 2-1 victory over Ottawa Fury FC on Saturday at Al Lang Stadium. | Photo courtesy Mark May / Tampa Bay Rowdies
From Paolo DelPiccolo’s fantastic free kick for Louisville City FC to Christian Sorto’s dream debut for Loudoun United FC, Week 17 of the 2019 USL Championship campaign had a little bit of everything. Here are my winners and losers from the last seven days:
The Tampa Bay Rowdies regained the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings on Saturday night with a dramatic 2-1 victory over Ottawa Fury FC at Al Lang Stadium. It certainly wasn’t the sturdiest performance from the home side, as Pape Diakite’s error in the 22nd minute gifted possession to Christiano François and the forward made no mistake with a left-footed finish past goalkeeper John McCarthy to give Fury FC an early lead. McCarthy made a mistake that nearly cost Tampa Bay another goal just five minutes later, getting beat by François to a 50-50 ball way outside his box but Diakite bailed him out by heading the forward’s cross behind for a corner. Juan Tejada’s 36th-minute equalizer seemed to stabilize the Rowdies a little bit but as the game wore on, they looked likely to settle for a point against an Ottawa side riding a 10-game unbeaten run. That wouldn’t have been the end of the world for Tampa Bay, but Head Coach Neill Collins will be surely be thrilled to head into the holiday with three more points after Sebastián Guenzatti brilliantly backheeled home the game-winner in the 92nd minute.
The Rowdies weren’t the only team celebrating a stoppage-time game-winner on Saturday night as Western Conference leader Phoenix Rising FC extended its league-best winning streak to eight games in dramatic fashion with a 4-2 victory over the Portland Timbers 2 at Casino Arizona Field. The hosts probably should have been two or three goals clear in the opening 20 minutes as they applied plenty of pressure to their visitors but failed to open the scoring until the 32nd minute, when Solomon Asante converted from the penalty spot to extend his personal scoring streak to seven games. Portland, as it has for most of the season, responded to the adversity well and scored on either side of halftime to take the lead and put Phoenix’s winning run in serious jeopardy. Amadou Dia’s stunning solo goal levelled the contest just after the hour mark, but second-half stoppage time arrived with the teams still tied at two. But Rising FC wouldn’t be denied as Dia headed home Asante’s cross at the back post in the 94th minute to send the home fans into a frenzy and keep Phoenix’s chance of matching (or surpassing) the Championship’s record 10-game winning streak – set by FC Cincinnati in 2018 – alive.
Apparently being nominated for Defender of the Year in the Championship’s Midseason Awards put the hex on Rebellón as the El Paso Locomotive FC fullback joined Pape Diakite in making a costly error for his side. With El Paso trailing 1-0 in the second half of its visit to Fresno FC, Rebellón underhit a backpass to his goalkeeper Logan Ketterer, allowing Fresno forward Qudus Lawal to swoop in and collect the ball before finishing the first of his two goals into an empty net.
That mistake summed up a lackluster performance from Rebellón – who lost 7 of 12 duels and 2 of 3 aerials on his way to a team-low 4.5/10 rating from FotMob – and Locomotive FC. El Paso’s 3-0 defeat at Chukchansi Park was the largest league defeat of its inaugural season and matched the most goals Head Coach Mark Lowry’s side has conceded this year.
After its loss, Locomotive FC enters this week in fifth place in the Western Conference standings, which is exactly where Nashville SC sits in the East after its 1-0 loss to North Carolina FC on Saturday at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park. The defeat was NSC’s first since May 8 but proved to be a fitting end to a disappointing week that also saw the side take a 2-1 lead over the New York Red Bulls II on Wednesday night, only for the match to be abandoned at halftime because of thunderstorms in the Nashville area. Head Coach Gary Smith’s side outshot North Carolina 16-10 on the night but wasted most of those attempts as it only managed a 5-4 edge in shots on target. Nashville is now just 1-4-4 against the top-10 teams in the Eastern Conference but will have a chance to improve that mark next weekend against Louisville City FC in Cameron Lancaster’s highly-anticipated return to Slugger Field.
While Nashville still sits in a strong position in the Eastern Conference, its in-state rival Memphis 901 FC has slipped to 17th place after losing 1-0 to the Charlotte Independence on Saturday at Sportsplex at Matthews. The defeat marked the third consecutive game that 901 FC has failed to score, extending its goal drought to 287 minutes dating back to Tristan Hodge’s equalizer against the Swope Park Rangers on May 22. Head Coach Tim Mulqueen’s side didn’t do much to ease those concerns as it ceded nearly 60 percent of possession to the Independence and was outshot 18-9 (4-3 on target). Midweek acquisition Brandon Allen started and played 73 minutes, attempting two of those shots (one on target) but wasn’t much of a threat in his first game leading the 901 FC attack. Memphis still ranks last in the league with 12 goals in its first 15 games and is in the bottom five in chances created per game (7.93). That will have to get better in the second half of the season if 901 FC wants to start climbing the table.
One player that Memphis 901 FC could use? That would be Deshorn Brown, who notched his ninth goal of the season to help OKC Energy FC hand Las Vegas Lights FC its first home loss of the season on Saturday at Cashman Field. The 28-year-old Jamaican forward had failed to find the back of the net in his past two games – including seeing a penalty saved in a 1-1 draw against San Antonio FC – and early on against Las Vegas it looked as though that goal drought could be set to continue. Brown blazed over the target after being played clean through early in the first half and then shot tamely at Lights FC goalkeeper Thomas Olsen early in the second half after quickly cutting inside his defender to create a yard of space. Like all good goalscorers do, Brown quickly put those misses behind him and delivered when it mattered most, expertly controlling Jonathan Brown’s long ball before slipping it past Olsen with 89 minutes on the clock to give Energy FC a much-needed win. Brown now sits in a tie for fifth in the Championship’s Golden Boot race, while OKC occupies eighth place in the West heading into an important two-game home stretch against El Paso Locomotive FC and Reno 1868 FC.
Saint Louis FC could seemingly use a stretch of games against top competition as the side seemingly has played up and down to the level of its opponents over the past month and a half. Head Coach Anthony Pulis’ squad has defeated a pair of Major League Soccer clubs on its memorable run to the Quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup – where it will play 2018 MLS Cup champion Atlanta United FC a week from Wednesday – but has lost three of its last four league games to teams below it in the standings. That streak continued on Sunday afternoon as STLFC stumbled to a 2-1 defeat against the Swope Park Rangers, which had previously been the last team in the Championship to reach two wins on the season. After falling behind in the first half to Felipe Hernandez’s strike, the visitors to Children’s Mercy Park worked hard to find their equalizer through Kadeem Dacres in the 78th minute but conceded the lead again just four minutes later as Ethan Vanacore-Decker delivered all three points for the home side. Saint Louis has now won four Open Cup matches since its last league victory – a 3-1 home win against these same Rangers on April 27 – and is in danger of slipping out of the playoff places if it doesn’t turn around its league form in short order.