We’ve got 15 games on tap this weekend in the USL Championship, including some intriguing contests on both days ahead. Get all of your previews further down, but first lets dig into a story of former teammates who now get to be rivals on opposing sidelines. Here’s your Morning Tea for Saturday.
When their teams met for the first time it was in the final game of preparation before the start of the 2020 Championship season.
On Saturday night, when former San Jose Earthquakes teammates Landon Donovan and Ian Russell lead their San Diego Loyal SC and Reno 1868 FC sides into action at Torero Stadium there will be much more on the line, but still the same mutual regard between the former MLS Cup winners.
“It’s always interesting, I played with Landon for a long time in San Jose,” Russell said this week. “I think he’s still finding himself out as a coach, there’s a lot to learn that first year. I’m sure he’s enjoying it. It’s always good to compete against friends he’s a good guy and I’m sure he’ll do well.”
Russell and Donovan won a pair of MLS Cups with the Earthquakes during their playing days in 2001 and 2003. Their careers diverted following that, with Donovan going on to more success on the field with the LA Galaxy and the U.S. Men’s National Team and Russell beginning to learn the ropes as a coach in the Quakes set-up.
Nowadays, it’s Russell who has built quite the resume in Reno, reaching 50 USL Championship victories in his first three seasons at the helm and positioning 1868 FC in line for a fourth consecutive playoff berth in Group A of the Championship’s reconfigured alignment this year.
Donovan is also bringing his SD Loyal side along nicely in its first season, although it now faces a much more uphill battle to make the playoffs following defeats to the two sides now sitting above it in Group B – Orange County SC and Phoenix Rising FC – after its last two outings.
And that’s maybe where the biggest intrigue lies for Saturday night’s meeting. Unlike the February 29 clash that saw San Diego take a 4-2 victory at Greater Nevada Field, now there are points on the line. If SD Loyal can replicate its victory, it would provide a major boost to those playoff aspirations. If Reno wins, it’s another step toward the postseason for the visitors, and another serious blow to the hosts.
After their time spent as teammates, though, it could be the start of a fascinating new chapter between two friends and former teammates as they forge their own paths in the coaching ranks.
- The start of Tyler Pasher’s professional career was a winding road until he got a chance to shine and grow with Sporting Kansas City II. Now he’s become one of the leading strikers in the Championship for Indy Eleven, and isn’t ready to slow down any time soon. Beautiful Game Network’s Carson Merk caught up with the Canadian Golden Boot contender.
- Group D leader San Antonio FC wraps up a grueling schedule of five games in 15 days on Saturday night with a visit from second-place FC Tulsa at Toyota Field. The San Antonio News-Express’ Greg Luca found out how the side has been able to maintain its undefeated record this season despite the challenging schedule.
- Saint Louis FC goalkeeper Kyle Morton is set to face his former club on Saturday night as STLFC visits Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC in a key intergroup matchup at Highmark Stadium. The 2019 Championship Goalkeeper of the Year Finalist spoke to Joshua McGehee from The Fan 590 about heading back to the Steel City with his new squad.
- The Hounds, meanwhile, are coming off a solid midweek victory as they return home to face Saint Louis. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Greg MacAfee has five things to watch in the matchup on Saturday night.
- As teams across the Championship prepared to return to play, the protocols in place to ensure safety made for a very different experience at practice for players. In a first-person piece for Global Sports Matters, Phoenix Rising FC’s Joey Calistri wrote about the experience of going through a daily routine designed to mitigate risk among every player in the squad.
- With a deep roster of attacking options, the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ Lucky Mkosana hasn’t been a regular starter this season. But, as the Tampa Bay Times’ Darek Sharp writes, the veteran forward has shown an ability to come through when the team needs him, and trusts the vision of the club’s coaching staff as it looks to push the right buttons to lead Tampa Bay to success.
- Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC midfielder George Lebese said the club isn’t deterred by the lack of results that have arrived since the Championship season resumed. The South African believes a home result against El Paso Locomotive FC on Saturday evening would provide a big confidence boost as the Switchbacks look to get back into the playoff race in Group C.
- Rio Grande Valley FC is one of three teams still looking for their first win this season as they return home to host Austin Bold FC on Saturday night. The Monitor’s Bryan Ramos writes the Toros are hoping to be more clinical in front of goal after struggling to find the net consistently so far this season.
- New Mexico United has been active in promoting some of the key figures in its organization throughout August, taking the opportunity to feature the women who have helped the club achieve its remarkable success on and off the field. KOB’s Brandon Ortega spoke with Chanel Wiese, who runs United's Somos Unidos Foundation, about the online initiative.
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