After a classic playoff encounter in 2019's Eastern Conference Final, Indy Eleven will play host to Louisville City FC in its home opener for the 2020 Championship campaign on April 4. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
We got our first look at the schedule for the USL Championship’s 10th anniversary season on Monday with the announcements of the home openers for all 35 teams that will feature in the league this season.
And, thanks to the schedule-makers, we’ve got some treats coming down the line for the start of the 2020 season that include a sideline matchup between two former U.S. Men’s National Team standouts, rematches of two of the biggest games in the past postseason, and the arrival of the newest soccer-specific venue in the league.
Here are 10 home openers to keep a close eye on when the season kicks off.
There’s nothing like getting the season off to a roaring start, and the matchup between two of last season’s top six teams in the Western Conference is a great way to kick off the year. Orange County finished four points ahead of El Paso in the standings and will be welcoming back Thomas Enevoldsen – a finalist for the 2018 Championship Most Valuable Player award in the club’s colors – as he reunites with Aodhan Quinn for the hosts. Locomotive FC will have its own familiar faces back to lead the way including forward Omar Salgado and Haitian international Mechak Jerome, who should return to the lineup to complete his comeback from injury sustained early last season.
Austin Bold FC's Andre Lima and New Mexico United's Justin Schmidt could renew acquaintances when Bold FC plays host to New Mexico in its home opener in 2020. | Photo courtesy Austin Bold FC
Speaking of 2019 playoff contenders, two of the sides to reach the postseason in their inaugural seasons will square off to open the new season when Austin Bold FC plays host to New Mexico United. Austin had the more successful league campaign of the two, narrowly losing in a penalty shootout in the Western Conference Quarterfinals against Phoenix Rising FC and has a good contingent of players returning including midfielder Xavier Baez, forward Andre Lima and goalkeeper Diego Restrepo. Some faces will also be familiar for New Mexico with Chris Wehan and Devon Sandoval back to lead the attack, but the big spotlight may fall on a retooled defense that added Kalen Ryden from defending champion Real Monarchs SLC and will be looking to get the year off to a good start.
Two men who held the record for the most goals for the U.S. Men’s National Team in the team’s history will be on opposing sidelines when San Diego Loyal SC and Head Coach Landon Donovan square off with Las Vegas Lights FC and Head Coach Eric Wynalda in Loyal SC’s inaugural home opener at Torero Stadium. That storyline aside, it should also be an intriguing matchup on the field, not least because it will see San Diego signing Irvin Parra suit up against a Las Vegas side he led with 15 goals last season. Lights FC has brought in its own attacking reinforcements for 2020, though, including former Bethlehem Steel FC forward Seku Conneh, and will be aiming to spoil the party for SD Loyal supporters group The Locals as the club makes its Championship debut.
The Miami FC will open its inaugural Championship campaign on the road against Saint Louis FC on the opening Saturday of the season, but its home opener against Florida rival the Tampa Bay Rowdies at Riccardo Silva Stadium is a great chance for the club and its fans to announce its arrival in the league and renew a strong pre-existing rivalry between the two clubs. MFC has already made an offseason splash with the signing of Jamaican forward Romario Williams, but it will get a serious test from a Rowdies side that has made numerous significant additions of its own, including 2018 Championship Defender of the Year Forrest Lasso as well as returning standouts Sebastian Guenzatti and Leo Fernandes. How Miami fares on a Friday night under the lights against one of the teams expected to be at the top of the Eastern Conference this season is going to be fascinating to watch for fans and squads around the rest of the league.
The 2019 campaign didn’t end the way San Antonio FC had hoped with its regular-season finale seeing it allow a two-goal comeback by a Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC side that was down to 10 men that eliminated SAFC from playoff contention. That led to an offseason change on the sideline with Alen Marcina appointed the new Head Coach as it enters its fifth campaign. Colorado Springs’ comeback in San Antonio was aided by its Head Coach Alan Koch, who took control of the Switchbacks with two games remaining in 2019 and is now looking to return the club to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. This early-season clash will give San Antonio a chance at revenge for its crushing elimination last year, and a chance to see whether either side might be a contender in the 2020 campaign.
It’s a new era in the city once known as the Oil Capital of the World, with FC Tulsa ringing in the changes under the leadership of the Craft family. A new name and brand have been supplemented by some exciting new faces joining Head Coach Michael Nsien’s squad, including defender Bradley Bourgeois and midfielder Lebo Moloto from Nashville SC, Eric Bird from the Houston Dynamo and Ariel Martinez from The Miami FC. The new-look side should get a warm welcome from the city’s fans as it takes on a New Mexico United side it will be looking to supplant in the postseason field this season when they meet at ONEOK Field.
Real Monarchs SLC’s road to lifting the trophy at the 2019 USL Championship Final was marked by memorable victories, and while becoming the first road team in the title game’s history to claim victory, its win on the road against Phoenix Rising FC might have been the defining victory of the run. Now returning captain Jack Blake and his teammates will get to take on their Western Conference rival to kick off their third season at Zions Bank Stadium in one of the marquee games of the opening month of the season. With Rising FC returning a strong core of players led by 2019 Championship Most Valuable Player Solomon Asante, the chance to turn the tables and spoil the Monarchs’ home debut this season should make for a highly entertaining contest.
The atmosphere at New Mexico United’s home contests in its inaugural season was electric as it averaged a league-high 12,693 fans at Isotopes Park, and that should continue to be the case as The Curse and the rest of the club’s passionate fans welcome home their players for their home opener. Add in the visitor is El Paso Locomotive FC – which means a road trip of just over 250 miles for 8th Notch and Locomotive FC’s fans – and it should provide an electric backdrop for two teams that want to play attacking soccer and will be looking for early-season bragging rights over their regional rival.
The Louisville Indianapolis Proximity Association Football Contest may have begun in 2015 in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, but the past two seasons have seen it become among the best rivalries in the Championship with two tops squads and coaches squaring off to provide consistently compelling contests. The rivalry provided arguably the best game of the 2019 USL Championship Playoffs as LouCity’s stoppage-time equalizer by Antoine Hoppenot led to the visitors ending Indy’s title dreams in extra time to advance to win a third consecutive Eastern Conference title. After welcoming more than 20,000 fans to Lucas Oil Stadium last season for its home opener, there should be another bumper crowd on hand for a contest that certainly could be a preview of this year’s Eastern Conference Final.
It’s the day that Louisville City FC fans have been waiting for since the original renderings of the club’s Butchertown venue were unveiled as the club moves into the 11,700-seat Lynn Family Stadium to begin its new era. With a large contingent of familiar faces returning to the club – and some notable new additions to the side’s defense (Jimmy Ockford) and midfield (Corben Bone) – Louisville will enter its new season with a chance at claiming a fourth consecutive Eastern Conference title. Birmingham Legion FC and an attack boosted by the arrival of Neco Brett and a permanent signing of Brian Wright will be the guests, and should expect a memorable welcome from The Coopers, Scouse’s House and the rest of LouCity’s fans.