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Championship Return to Play Preview – Group B

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 06/25/20, 12:35PM EDT


Southern California trio joined by Phoenix, Las Vegas for five-team group

Phoenix Rising FC and Orange County SC have had high-profile battles over the past two seasons, and that will continue in Group B this summer. | Photo courtesy Michael Rincon / Phoenix Rising 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 continue with Group B, which sees defending Regular Season Title-holder Phoenix Rising FC and Las Vegas Lights FC set to compete against the Championship’s three Southern California clubs.

LA Galaxy II
Record: 1-0-0, 3pts | W @RGV 5-1 [3/8]
Head Coach: Junior Gonzalez
2019 Season: 12-10-12, 48pts - Eliminated in Western Conference Play-in Round
After returning to the postseason last fall, the Galaxy II got out to a blazing start to the new campaign with a 5-1 victory on the road against Rio Grande Valley FC that was highlighted by a stellar debut for Cameron Dunbar. There are going to be bigger tests to come for Los Dos in this group, but they might be the dark horse to make life difficult for everybody else over the next three months.
Player to Watch
Cameron Dunbar
The 17-year-old Dunbar was electric in his professional debut, playing a central role in Los Dos’ victory against the Toros. That should have got the attention of future opponents, and with the likes of Orange County and Phoenix to go up against we could learn a lot about how quickly the U.S. youth international’s ascent might progress.
Las Vegas Lights FC
Record: 0-0-1, 1pt | T @SD 1-1 [3/7]
Head Coach: Vacant
2019 Season: 11-15-8, 41pts
There was a real sense of optimism about where Lights FC might be headed after its strong showing on the road against San Diego Loyal SC. Then within the past week, it was announced that Head Coach Eric Wynalda had been relieved of his position. With the side looking to install a new manager before the resumption, how this season ends up for Lights FC is going to be fascinating to see play out.
Player to Watch
Junior Burgos
Burgos announced his return to the Championship with a superlative strike in San Diego, and if there’s a player that can lead Lights FC to success this year it’s the El Salvador international. Previously part of Reno 1868 FC’s successful inaugural season, the 31-year-old has the talent to help his teammates tick on the field.
Orange County SC
Record: 0-0-1, 1pts | T vELP 0-0 [3/6]
Head Coach: Braeden Cloutier
2019 Season: 15-10-9, 54pts; Eliminated in Western Conference Quarterfinals
Orange County was held to a scoreless draw by El Paso Locomotive FC in its season opener, but the quality up and down the roster will make this side once again a strong contender for the postseason, and potentially more. The combination of youth and experience within the group should also offer Head Coach Braeden Cloutier a chance to rotate lineups and make good use of the expanded substitutions to make sure the squad can stay fresh and healthy.
Player to Watch
Thomas Enevoldsen
There are few players that have been as prolific as Enevoldsen over the past two seasons. The Dane has notched a combined 51 goals and assists in 72 games across that span, and if he can maintain that pace over the three-month sprint we’re about to see, it’s going to make Orange County a serious threat.
Phoenix Rising FC
Record: 1-0-0, 3pts | W vPOR 6-1 [3/7]
Head Coach: Rick Shantz
2019 Season: 24-4-6, 78pts; Eliminated in Western Conference Semifinals
Phoenix put down a marker for its new season with a 6-1 drubbing of the Portland Timbers 2 in its season-opener, with newcomer Rufat Dadashov notching a hat trick as he filled the shoes of the departed Adam Jahn impressively. Now, Rising FC is 19 games from its ultimate goal of its first USL Championship Final. They say lightning doesn’t strike twice, but it’s easy for fans to dream of another memorable streak that would carry the team to glory.
Player to Watch
Solomon Asante
While Dadashov stole the headlines against Portland, Rising FC continued to be propelled by the Championship’s reigning Most Valuable Player, with Asante picking up a goal and two assists in the contest. Backed by a stellar supporting cast, it’s not difficult to envision a season where he notched double-digit goals and assists, even in just 16 regular season games.
San Diego Loyal SC
Record: 1-0-1, 4pts | T vSD 1-1 [3/7] -- W @TAC 2-1 [3/11]
Head Coach: Landon Donovan
2019 Season: N/A
SD Loyal bagged its first victory on the road in Tacoma before the season was suspended, meaning it will begin the resumption of play on top of Group B. With Orange County and Phoenix to deal with over the coming weeks, it might be a challenge to hold onto that position come October, but Head Coach Landon Donovan has enough experienced heads in his squad that you’d expect the side will be ready to go when the ball starts rolling again.
Player to Watch
Joe Greenspan
If there’s anyone the season suspension might have been a good break for, it was Greenspan. After an injury forced his substitution just over half-an-hour into SD Loyal’s inaugural game against Las Vegas, he might have been looking at a prolonged spell on the sideline. Now he’s had the chance to return to full fitness, which could be key to San Diego’s chances against some standout attackers within the group.

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