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THE MORNING TEA – Las Vegas Resumes with Ground to Make Up

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 07/25/20, 7:30AM EDT

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Will Howard return for Memphis vs. Independence? Phoenix ready for Orange County return

We’ve got a 10-game schedule over the next two days, including some intriguing contests in both conferences. One of the most intriguing? What Las Vegas Lights FC’s debut under new Head Coach Frank Yallop will look like. Here’s your final Morning Tea of the week.

 

THE BIG STORY

On paper, it looks a big ask for Las Vegas Lights FC to find its way into the USL Championship Playoffs from Group B, which has seen not only Phoenix Rising FC get out to a strong start, but San Diego Loyal SC and the LA Galaxy do the same.

But in a format where almost every game is a six-pointer, Lights FC does still believe it has a chance to see postseason action for the first time in its history this year.

“We’ve got some good players; it’s about being a team, though,” new Head Coach Frank Yallop told the Las Vegas Register-Journal’s Le-Andre Fox this week. “My job is to get them on the same page.”

Certainly, Yallop’s arrival in place of Eric Wynalda cast some doubt on whether Lights FC was going to come out of the season suspension ready to hit the ground running. The opening-night performance that saw Las Vegas go into San Diego Loyal SC’s inaugural home opener and hold the upper hand for much of the contest in a 1-1 draw at Torero Stadium gave a sense of optimism things might have clicked into place.

Now the club’s players are adapting to the way Yallop is looking to set up, giving them another potential new identity to work on in limited build-up time.

“Time is everything,” Yallop told Fox. “For me as a coach, you need a number of weeks to really get to know the players. Slowly but surely, we’re getting there.

The good news for Yallop is his side will get the exact same task it faces in its season opener when it returns for its second game of the season with a trip to SD Loyal on Saturday night. If Lights FC puts up a similar performance than it did four-and-a-half months ago – and maybe even comes away with victory this time – then continued optimism certainly could be well founded.

If it falls short, however, Las Vegas would be looking at a deficit of nine points on its group leader with 14 games to go in its season, and a far steeper mountain to climb to reach the club’s aspirations.

 

THIS WEEKEND'S ACTION

SATURDAY, JULY 25


Hartford Athletic vs. Philadelphia Union II

(2-0-0)
Group F

7:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: Dillon Stadium

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: HFD Wins 60% | Draw 21% | PHI Wins 19%
(0-2-1)
Group F
The Gist: The Athletic will look to earn their third consecutive victory to start the season as they host a Union II side that has slumped out of the restart to the season at Dillon Stadium. Hartford produced a strong performance in their home opener on Monday night with a 3-1 victory against Loudoun United FC that was capped by an excellent first goal for the club by Southampton loanee Tyreke Johnson. They’ll be hopeful of more goals in front of their fans against Philadelphia, which has conceded 11 goals in its past two games. The Union II made a strong start to the second half to pull level with the New York Red Bulls II last Wednesday night, but then conceded three goals in quick succession to fall to a 5-1 loss at Subaru Park.

Birmingham Legion FC vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies

(2-0-0)
Group G

7:30 p.m. ET |
Venue: BBVA Field

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: BHM Wins 30% | Draw 27% | TBR Wins 43%
(2-0-1)
Group H
The Gist: Legion FC will look to continue its perfect start to the season when it hosts the undefeated Rowdies in one of the weekend’s big games. Birmingham made it two wins out of two to start its second season with a 2-1 win on the road against the Charleston Battery last Sunday, with Bruno Lapa and Brian Wright scoring the goals. Lapa (3 goals) and Wright (2 goals) have accounted for all of Legion FC’s scoring this season, and will try to break down a Rowdies defense that gave up two second-half goals in a 2-2 draw against North Carolina FC last Saturday. With Tampa Bay looking to get back in the win column, this should be an intriguing interdivision clash between the Group G and Group H leaders.

Louisville City FC vs. Sporting Kansas City II

(1-2-0)
Group E

8:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: Lynn Family Stadium

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor:LOU Wins 69% | Draw 19% | SKC Wins 12%
(0-2-0)
Group E
The Gist: LouCity will try to avoid the first three-game losing streak since the club’s inaugural season in 2015 when it hosts SKC II at Lynn Family Stadium. Last Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Saint Louis FC marked the third time the side has suffered back-to-back defeats in the past two seasons, but you’d have to go back to the final three games of the 2015 regular season to find the sole instance of LouCity falling in three consecutive league games. SKC II, meanwhile, might be winless, but Head Coach Paulo Nagamura’s side has put in solid performances in its two games so far this season. Led by forward Wilson Harris, the visitors will be hoping to continue LouCity’s search for a first win at its new home.

Memphis 901 FC vs. Charlotte Independence

(0-2-1)
Group G

7:30 p.m. ET |
Venue: AutoZone Park

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: MEM Wins 32% | Draw 27% | CLT Wins 41%
(1-0-0)
Group G
The Gist: The Independence return to action for the first time since the season resumption looking to pick up where they left off in their opening game, a 2-1 win on the road against Sporting Kansas City II. Led by defender Hugh Roberts and goalkeeper Brandon Miller, Charlotte has done stellar off-field work since we last saw the side in action. Now they’ll get the chance to visit Memphis, which has taken one point from three games so far after a 2-2 draw with Atlanta United 2 that was secured by Cal Jennings’ late goal. With more games played than all of its Group G counterparts, this is a game 901 FC really needs to win to keep the gap between itself and the frontrunners from getting too wide.

San Antonio FC vs. Rio Grande Valley FC

(1-0-1)
Group D

9:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: Toyota Stadium

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: SA Wins 67% | Draw 20% | RGV Wins 13%
(0-2-2)
Group D
The Gist: San Antonio was minutes away from its second win of the season against Rio Grande Valley FC last Sunday night only for the Toros to grab a late equalizer through Taiberson for its opening point of the season. Since then, RGVFC experience its own late disappointment, settling for a 1-1 draw with OKC Energy FC on Wednesday night, which leaves both teams looking to shake off their last result as they meet in San Antonio. SAFC is still well-positioned early in Group D, but picking up a victory against its South Texas Derby rivals this time would push Head Coach Alen Marcina’s side into first place while still holding a game in hand on Energy FC. With four games complete already for the Toros, on the other hand, finding a win would be a major boost to their postseason hopes.

LA Galaxy II vs. Sacramento Republic FC

(2-1-0)
Group B

10:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: Dignity Health Sports Park

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: LA Wins 30% | Draw 25% | SAC Wins 45%
(1-0-2)
Group A
The Gist: Sacramento got back on track last Sunday evening as it grabbed a late 1-0 victory against Reno 1868 FC for its first win of the season, and it heads to face longtime rival Los Dos with a potentially historic moment at hand. Standout forward Cameron Iwasa reached 49 regular season goals for his career against 1868 FC and would become the ninth player to reach 50 in the Championship with a tally on Saturday night. Los Dos, however, is coming off its own solid victory on the road against San Diego Loyal SC as Jesus Vazquez scored the only goal last Sunday night, and could solidify its claim as a playoff contender if it can pick up victory in its first home game of the season.

Orange County SC vs. Phoenix Rising FC

(0-0-2)
Group B

10:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: Championship Soccer Stadium

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: OC Wins 27% | Draw 25% | PHX Wins 48%
(2-0-1)
Group B
The Gist: Rising FC saw its perfect start to the season end when it last squared off with Orange County, with the 1-1 draw between the sides on July 16 the last outing for both as well. Jamaican international Junior Flemmings has made a strong start to the season for Phoenix, scoring in each of the club’s first three games to join Solomon Asante and Rufat Dadashov in a tie for the team-lead in goals, and he could join Indy Eleven’s Tyler Pasher in becoming the second player this season to record goals in their respective club’s first four games of the campaign. Orange County will be hoping it can produce a sharper performance than in its return to play, which saw it earn a creditable point, but still sees it sitting five points back of Rising FC and San Diego Loyal SC early in the sprint to the playoffs.
Discipline: Phoenix - Suspended: Owusu-Ansah Kontoh

San Diego Loyal SC vs. Las Vegas Lights FC

(2-1-1)
Group B

10:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: Torero Stadium

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: SD Wins 51% | Draw 27% | LV Wins 23%
(0-0-1)
Group B
The Gist: A rematch from the opening weekend of the 2020 season sees SD Loyal looking to rebound from its first loss of the season and Las Vegas making its return to action since the campaign resumed. Lights FC will have a recently familiar face to San Diego fans in its squad with Raul Mendiola having re-joined the side for which he scored 10 goals in the 2018 season after being released by mutual agreement by SD Loyal. With plenty of ground to gain on the rest of Group B, Las Vegas and new Head Coach Frank Yallop will be hoping it can replicate the sort of performance that saw it outshoot its hosts 21-3 in while earning a 1-1 draw.

SUNDAY, JULY 26


Saint Louis FC vs. Indy Eleven

(2-1-0)
Group E

5:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: West Community Stadium

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: STL Wins 31% | Draw 29% | IND Wins 40%
(4-0-0)
Group E
The Gist: The second meeting between STLFC and the Eleven this season sees both sides coming off important road victories last time out, with Saint Louis having earned a 1-0 win against Kings’ Cup rival Louisville City FC last Saturday and Indy taking a 1-0 win against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC on Wednesday night. Indy’s victory came in dramatic fashion as Tyler Pasher scored in the seventh minute of stoppage time to lift his side to victory. The goal was Pasher’s fifth this season, with the Canadian forward having scored in all four of the Eleven’s games this season. That’s a feat that has only been accomplished once before, by Raheem Edwards for Toronto FC II at the start of the 2016 season. STLFC will be hoping to end that streak, and the Eleven’s four-game winning streak to start the season as it looks to close the gap on the Group E leaders in its second home game of the season. The first ended in a 4-1 win for Saint Louis against the Miami FC, but this matchup figures to be a tighter affair.

New York Red Bulls II vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

(1-2-0)
Group F

5:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: Red Bull Arena

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: NY Wins 24% | Draw 25% | PIT Wins 51%
(2-1-0)
Group F
The Gist:The Red Bulls II will look to build on their first win of the season on Wednesday night as they host the Hounds, who will be looking to put their late loss to Indy Eleven behind it. New York broke out with a 5-1 victory against the Philadelphia Union II as five different players found the net at Subaru Park, and now have a chance to pull even with the Hounds in Group F with victory at home. The Hounds have shown the ability to rebound strongly under the leadership of Head Coach Bob Lilley over the past two years – the last time Pittsburgh lost back-to-back games was midway through the 2018 campaign – and if the visitors can get back in the win column it will put them in a very strong position moving forward.
 

SOCIAL CIRCLE

 

THE USL LOWDOWN

- New Mexico United came out on top of another classic contest against El Paso Locomotive FC on Friday night, holding off a late rally by the hosts in a 2-1 victory. New Mexico remains undefeated in four league contests between the two sides all time, and has scored two goals each time it has visited Southwest University Park.

- The Charleston Battery claimed their first victory at new home Patriot's Point Soccer Complex - and boosted their position in Group H - with a 3-0 win against Atlanta United 2 on Friday night. Nicque Daley and Nico Rittemeyer were among the scorers as the Battery rebounded from a setback in their prior outing in solid fashion.

- Phoenix Rising FC was unimpressed with the condition of the pitch in its first meeting with Orange County SC earlier this month, which was in part a result of the lack of maintenance at Championship Soccer Stadium during California’s shelter-in-place order at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The teams meet again at the same venue on Saturday night.

- As the club returns to AutoZone Park for the first time since March, Memphis 901 FC will have a select number of fans in the stands and is aiming to provide an element of normalcy for local sports fans as they host the Charlotte Independence on Saturday night.

- U.S. Soccer legend Tim Howard was in the lineup for Memphis 901 FC’s opening two games of the 2020 season but got the night off last Saturday when Jimmy Hague started against Atlanta United 2. Now there’s a decision to be made as to who’ll be between the sticks when Memphis hosts the Charlotte Independence.

- The Tampa Bay Rowdies have 24 staff – including 18 players, four coaches, one trainer and one team administrator – across two buses that made the nine-hour journey to Birmingham, Ala. for one of this weekend’s big games on the schedule.

- The Rowdies will face a big test from Birmingham Legion FC, which has claimed victory in both of its contests so far this season to jump out to an early lead in Group G and will be looking for more on home turf at BBVA Field on Saturday night.

- As the club returns to AutoZone Park for the first time since March, Memphis 901 FC will have a select number of fans in the stands and is aiming to provide an element of normalcy for local sports fans as they host the Charlotte Independence on Saturday night.

- U.S. Soccer legend Tim Howard was in the lineup for Memphis 901 FC’s opening two games of the 2020 season but got the night off last Saturday when Jimmy Hague started against Atlanta United 2. Now there’s a decision to be made as to who’ll be between the sticks when Memphis hosts the Charlotte Independence.

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