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Championship Return to Play Preview – Group A

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 06/25/20, 12:05PM EDT

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Reno, Sacramento set for epic season series as Portland, Tacoma look for breakthrough


The rivalry between Reno 1868 FC and Sacramento Republic FC will be at the forefront of the action in Group A. | Photo courtesy David Calvert / Reno 1868 FC

The group assignments for Groups A through D ahead of the USL Championship’s resumption of the 2020 season are being made on Thursday, giving us a chance to take a first look at each of the teams as they get ready to return to action.

We’ll start with Group A, where Reno 1868 FC and Sacramento Republic FC will renew their rivalry alongside the two sides from the Pacific Northwest in the Portland Timbers 2 and Tacoma Defiance.

Portland Timbers 2
Record: 0-1-0, 0pts | L @PHX 6-1 [3/7]
Head Coach: Cameron Knowles
2019 Season: 10-16-8, 38pts
OVERVIEW
T2 made an inauspicious start to the 2020 campaign, but visiting Phoenix Rising FC in the defending Regular Season Title-holder’s home opener was a pretty tough ask for Cameron Knowles’ squad. There is some quality young talent here to pay attention to, and after reaching the playoffs two years ago, the question will be whether it can find a way past two teams that will be considered title contenders in Reno and Sacramento.
Player to Watch
Carlos Anguiano
The 20-year-old had five assists and 22 key passes a season ago in the center of Portland’s midfield, and with almost a full season under his belt will be aiming to take the next step in his career over this abridged season. If Anguiano shines, T2 should be entertaining as well as potentially successful against its more experienced opponents.
Reno 1868 FC
Record: 1-0-0, 3pts | W @TAC 1-3 [3/6]
Head Coach: Ian Russell
2019 Season: 18-10-6, 60pts; Eliminated in Western Conference Quarterfinals
OVERVIEW
Reno posted its best record in its short history in the 2019 season, taking the No. 2 seed in the postseason behind a high-flying attack that was led by Corey Hertzog’s 19 goals. Reno’s newcomers – including winger Christiano Francois – showed what they’ll bring to the table in a 3-1 road victory against Tacoma to open the new season, but the big focus will be on the four contests against Sacramento Republic FC, especially given Sacramento’s upset of Reno in last year’s postseason.
Player to Watch
Christiano Francois
Francois’ offseason arrival was a welcome addition to 1868 FC’s attacking group, and his goal and assist on his official debut showed off the skills and speed he brings to the side. The Haiti international is going to be a handful for opposing defenses to contain, which could mean 1868 FC makes a serious run at the title at the end of the season.
Sacramento Republic FC
Record: 0-0-1, 1pt | T vTUL 1-1 [3/7]
Head Coach: Mark Briggs
2019 Season: 14-14-6, 48pts; Eliminated in Western Conference Semifinals
OVERVIEW
Mark Briggs’ tenure as Head Coach began with a 1-1 draw against FC Tulsa on the opening weekend of the season, but the past three months will likely have added the opportunity for the former Real Monarchs boss to put his imprint on the side. Certainly, Sacramento should be favored to advance out of this group, but its secondary aim should be to reverse the way things have gone against Reno in prior regular seasons, with 1868 FC holding a 5-1-1 record all-time in the series between the clubs.
Player to Watch
Cameron Iwasa
A Sacramento native, Iwasa has become the best-known player in Republic FC’s roster and is nearing 50 regular-season goals for his career in the Championship. If he’s on form, the 26-year-old can roll up goals in a hurry, having scored 17 goals in each of the past two seasons.
Tacoma Defiance
Record: 0-2-0, 0pts | L vRNO 1-3 [3/6] -- L vSD 1-2 [3/11]
Head Coach: Chris Little
2019 Season: 8-19-7, 31pts
OVERVIEW
With two defeats from two games before the season was suspended, Tacoma is looking at a bit of a hole to dig itself out of again. The difference this season, however, is the experience within the squad that could lend itself to an overall improvement. If there’s another thing that could feed some optimism, it’s that the Defiance have typically been strong closers, going on an undefeated run of five games to end the 2019 regular season.
Player to Watch
Collin Fernandez
Tacoma acquired Fernandez for his experience on high-level Championship sides, and alongside veteran center back Taylor Mueller he’s going to be essential to the Defiance coming back to the field and finding success. If he can find an ally to control the center of midfield, the former Phoenix Rising FC player’s qualities can match up with others in the group.

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