Memphis 901 FC blocked out some of its critics to earn its first home win of the season on Saturday, defeating Hartford Athletic 4-1 at AutoZone Park. | Photo courtesy Matthew Smith / Memphis 901 FC
From Kenardo Forbes’ fizzing Fourth of July free kick for Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC to Reno 1868 FC’s surprise sale of forward Brian Brown, Week 18 of the 2019 USL Championship campaign had a little bit of everything. Here are my winners and losers from the last seven days:
Nearly four months after bringing professional soccer to the Bluff City, Memphis 901 FC finally got to celebrate a win with its supporters on Saturday night after defeating Hartford Athletic 4-1 in front of 6,726 fans at AutoZone Park. Memphis had failed to score in each of its past three league outings entering the contest, but forward Elliot Collier eased any attacking concerns with a pair of goals inside the opening 11 minutes. Mads Jorgensen’s long-range strike for Hartford on the half-hour mark might have sprung some nerves amongst the Bluff City Mafia, but Memphis persevered through the middle of the match before Collier completed the first hat trick in 901 FC club history with 15 minutes remaining to essentially secure the three points. Lagos Kunga added a fourth goal late on for good measure as Memphis matched its goalscoring output from its previous five league matches combined and claimed its biggest win in club history on a record-setting night for the club.
Collier and 901 FC weren’t the only ones making history over this past week, as the Championship produced a couple of other landmark moments. Two of those perhaps fittingly arrived within a six-minute span of Saturday night’s 2-2 draw between Loudoun United FC and Saint Louis FC at World Wide Technology Soccer Park. With the visitors leading 1-0 early in the second half, United midfielder Nelson Martinez made the most of a short corner routine by curling a right-footed shot beyond STLFC goalkeeper Jake Fenlason for his first professional goal.
First professional goal by @nelson_ma10 pic.twitter.com/xwBaRTtEyG— Loudoun United FC (@LoudounUnitedFC) July 7, 2019
The 18-year-old former DC United Academy product barely had time to finish celebrating his big moment as Saint Louis responded to cut the deficit in half six minutes later with a historic goal of its own. Last season’s leading scorer Kyle Greig, who hadn’t found the back of the net since April 27, headed home Russell Cicerone’s cross to not only end his goal drought but bring his career tally to 50 regular-season goals in Championship play. The goal, which I may have forecasted in last Thursday’s Weekend Guide, proved to be a spark as Cicerone found an equalizer with 17 minutes remaining to earn a hard-fought point ahead of Wednesday’s Quarterfinal visit to Atlanta United FC in the 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Here's to , @RageKage22!#STLvLDN | #BeChampions pic.twitter.com/3wzBOO4Csj— USL Championship (@USLChampionship) July 7, 2019
While Loudoun couldn’t make Martinez’s first goal stand up as a game-winner, Fresno FC had no such problems on Wednesday night after Diego Casillas opened his professional account in the 77th minute of the Foxes’ 1-0 victory over Highway 99 Derby rival Sacramento Republic FC. Four minutes after coming off the bench as a substitute, the 24-year-old rookie snuck between a pair of Sacramento defenders to head Elijah Martin’s cross into the top-left corner, leaving goalkeeper Josh Cohen with no chance. The Foxes held on from there for a massive road victory, extending their winning streak to three games and avenging their Third-Round Open Cup defeat in the process.
Super-sub Diego Casillas to the rescue!#USLonESPN | #SACvFRS pic.twitter.com/RTEkKPihGg— USL Championship (@USLChampionship) July 4, 2019
While Casillas’ goal was something for the Foxes to celebrate, it also heaped more concern on a Republic FC side that suffered a shutout defeat to a rival for the second straight week. Sacramento maintained the majority of possession and outshot Fresno 15-7 (4-1 on target) but failed to make the most of its chances as it slipped into 10th place in the Western Conference standings. After looking like it had found a groove in early June with a three-game winning streak where it outscored its opponents 11-1, Republic FC has returned to the inconsistent form that has us wondering whether it can compete for the Western Conference crown. The club has now matched the same number of losses that it amassed last campaign (7) in half of the games. While Sacramento still sits in the playoff places for now, it will have to improve in the second half of the campaign if it wants to climb the table and challenge the likes of Phoenix Rising FC and others at the top of the standings.
Another team that continued its slide down the standings on Saturday was New Mexico United, which now sits in seventh place in the Western Conference standings after falling to a 1-0 defeat against Real Monarchs SLC at Zions Bank Stadium. United, which sat atop the West for the majority of the first few months of the campaign, is now winless in its last five league games (0-3-2) and has scored just three goals over that span. That is concerning given that New Mexico’s high-flying forward duo of Kevaughn Frater and Santi Moar spearheaded the expansion club’s early-season success. Some of the lack of scoring can surely be blamed on injuries – notably to Chris Wehan – and a busy schedule, which has seen the side have to balance league play with a run to the Open Cup Quarterfinals. That said, New Mexico faces another tough stretch with trips to Minnesota United FC in the Open Cup on Wednesday before visiting aforementioned Fresno FC and Sacramento Republic FC in league play. Navigating that won’t be easy, but if this column is any sort of predictive measure – it’s probably not – it seems to be a good omen (or maybe motivation?) to be a loser before a midweek Open Cup tie. Just ask Saint Louis FC.
Speaking of motivation, one team that had plenty of that heading into its contest on Saturday night was Louisville City FC as it hosted rival Nashville SC at Slugger Field. The major talking point heading into the match was the return of NSC forward Cameron Lancaster, who faced his former club for the first time in league play since leaving this past offseason after four years in Louisville. The 2018 Golden Boot winner, who notched a league-record 25 regular-season goals, played provider on Saturday as he set up teammate Daniel Rios to open the scoring in the 11th minute with a right-footed shot past LouCity goalkeeper Chris Hubbard. That was the only highlight of the day for Lancaster, who added another chapter to this injury-riddled campaign when he had to be withdrawn before the half-hour mark. Louisville trailed at the break after Magnus Rasmussen’s penalty miss but responded in the second half with goals from Paco Craig and Antoine Hoppenot to seal a feel-good win over its rival. While Head Coach John Hackworth’s side may still sit below NSC on goal difference in sixth place in the East, it is well positioned to make a run in the second half of the season.
Tag(s): Nashville SC Real Monarchs SLC Sacramento Republic FC Louisville City FC Saint Louis FC Kevaughn Frater Cameron Lancaster Paco Craig Santi Moar Antoine Hoppenot Chris Wehan Kyle Greig Lagos Kunga Fresno FC Memphis 901 FC Magnus Rasmussen Daniel Ríos Loudoun United FC Hartford Athletic Elliot Collier Arlia Editorial Diego Casillas Nelson Martinez