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THE MORNING TEA – Tulsa’s Late Drive Providing Morale Boost

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 10/03/20, 7:30AM EDT

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Rowdies still looking for win despite reduced stakes; New Mexico charts potential path to first

There are four places left to be claimed in the USL Championship Playoffs going into the final weekend of the season. As some look to return, though, one club is making a decisive late run to return to the postseason after a two-year absence and growing on and off the field in the process. Here’s your Morning Tea for Saturday.

 

THE BIG STORY

In the final count, wins all count equally in the league standings. You take your three points, and you get closer to your goal.

In some ways, though, the way you earn those victories can have an important impact for a team. For FC Tulsa over the past week, finding a way to win late has reaffirmed the belief the squad feels that it has turned a corner.

From last Saturday’s dramatic 1-0 win off the stoppage-time goal by Eric Bird to Wednesday’s 3-2 victory against Black Gold Derby that saw Tobenna Uzo and Cristhian Altaminano come off the bench to turn a one-goal deficit into three points in the space of nine minutes, the ability to dig out a win when the team needed it most provided a major lift.

“For the morale, I think it is fantastic,” said defender Bradley Bourgeois after the game. “It’s what we have talked about: in moments where we need to come up big, can we? It doesn’t matter who it is. Look at Toby [Uzo] tonight. That is a guy you have to give credit to. All season long, he hasn’t really been called upon a lot and tonight when he was called upon, he came up huge. It’s a huge credit to every single one in the locker room.”

The victory against Energy FC was Tulsa’s first in just over a year, with the club’s 4-3 win against San Antonio FC on September 25, 2019 the last time the club had won a game in which it trailed. Tulsa had showed an ability to rebound from a deficit early in the year – it gained points on the road against Sacramento Republic FC to start the season and then against Energy FC in its first game after the resumption in July – but more regularly it had let leads slip.

Those eight points that were left by the wayside – including twice when the side had the upper hand against Group D rivals Austin Bold FC – could have come back to haunt Tulsa in the race for second place. Instead, it’s Head Coach Michael Nsien that has found a way to finish the season strongly while Austin has faltered to leave Tulsa needing only a point from its game on Saturday night against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC to clinch its postseason spot.

“We were that team early in the season,” Nsien said on Wednesday night. “We were the comeback kids and then we started finding our rhythm and started slipping with leads also. I feel like we can be resilient either way, but it’s important that if we want to be a playoff team and a contender and make a deep run in the playoffs. We know we have to execute better.”

Nsien appears to have found the right combination of players and potential moves to make an impact on the game. He’s been able to roll out the same starting lineup in three consecutive games going into Saturday’s game at the Switchbacks, and Uzo has made an impact in the last two games. He was almost the hero against San Antonio before Bird, hitting the crossbar late in the game after coming off the bench.

With the Black Gold Derby’s wrench in hand, and one point to go for a playoff berth, Tulsa is ready to take the next step not only this season, but into the club’s future.

“Hopefully going into the playoffs with this momentum, we can build camaraderie,” said Nsien. “I want players to love our city. This is big for them to know that you have a group of people, supporters behind you that try to help you get over those moments. It draws a good connection and makes us better.”

 

THIS WEEKEND'S ACTION

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 3


Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC vs. Philadelphia Union II

(10-4-1)
Group F

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

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: PIT Wins 87% | Draw 10% | PHI Wins 3%
(2-10-3)
Group F
The Gist: Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC will try to claim victory against the Philadelphia Union II and then wait for the outcome of Sunday’s game between Hartford Athletic and the New York Red Bulls II to determine whether it will finish in first or second place in Group F to close the regular season. The Hounds slipped into second place on Wednesday night as Hartford backed up its victory against Pittsburgh last Saturday at Highmark Stadium with a 3-2 victory against the Union II that moved the Athletic one point ahead of the Hounds. Pittsburgh now needs to earn a better result than Harford does this weekend to regain the lead, or else face an Eastern Conference Quarterfinal on the road against Louisville City FC next Saturday night at Lynn Family Stadium.
Discipline: None

North Carolina FC vs. Charlotte Independence

(6-7-1)
Group G

7:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: WakeMed Soccer Park

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: NC Wins 44% | Draw 26% | CTL Wins 30%
(7-4-4)
Group G
The Gist: North Carolina FC will try to continue its late run at the postseason but must take victory against the Charlotte Independence on Saturday night to remain in contention. NCFC earned a 3-0 victory on Wednesday night against the New York Red Bulls II as Dre Fortune and Ben Speas both struck in the first half, a result that moved the side within six points of both the Independence and first-placed Birmingham Legion FC. Should North Carolina defeat Charlotte, it would then go on to a final game of the season against Memphis 901 FC that was originally postponed earlier in September next Tuesday night. The Independence, however, have taken victory in all three meetings with NCFC this season, including a 1-0 win that saw Aaron Maund score the only goal despite Charlotte being down a man after Dane Kelly was sent off. If Charlotte earns at least a draw, it guarantees both itself and Birmingham a slot in the postseason.
Discipline: None

Louisville City FC vs. Sporting Kansas City II

(10-3-2)
Group E

7:30 p.m. ET |
Venue: Lynn Family Stadium

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: LOU Wins 77% | Draw 15% | SKC Wins 7%
(5-9-1)
Group E
The Gist: Louisville City FC will look to continue its outstanding end to the season as it plays host to Sporting Kansas City II with a chance to repeat a little history from two seasons ago in the process. In 2018 LouCity ended the regular season on a six-game winning streak before claiming its second USL Championship Final victory, a run it can match on Saturday night in addition to extending its current 10-game undefeated streak. Part of the club’s current undefeated run included a 4-1 victory against SKC II when the sides last met on August 19 when Corben Bone scored twice for the hosts. Sporting is coming off a 2-1 victory against Indy Eleven on Wednesday night, however, and has already taken victory once before this season at Lynn Family Stadium as it looks to end its season on a high note.
Discipline: None

Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Charleston Battery

(10-2-3)
Group H

7:30 p.m. ET |
Venue: Al Lang Stadium

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: TBR Wins 54% | Draw 27% | CHS Wins 18%
(8-3-3)
Group H
The Gist:The Tampa Bay Rowdies will try to clinch at least the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference as it plays host to the Charleston Battery. The Rowdies were confirmed as Group H winners on Friday morning, with their post-per-game average set to finish above Charleston’s even in the event of a Battery win on the road. Should Tampa Bay take victory on Saturday it would ensure the Rowdies finish ahead of both Louisville City FC and Hartford Athletic on 36 points, and there remains a chance the side could finish with the No. 1 overall seed should both Reno 1868 FC and San Antonio FC falter in their final contests. The Battery are looking to rebound from a deflating 4-3 loss to Miami FC on Wednesday where they appeared to be in control with a two-goal lead in the second half, only for the hosts to fight back at Riccardo Silva Stadium. Having taken victory against the Rowdies in their two most recent meetings, though, the Battery will be looking to end the season on a high note and potentially make the playoff road more difficult for the Rowdies moving forward.
Discipline: None

Saint Louis FC vs. Indy Eleven

(6-5-4)
Group E

7:30 p.m. ET |
Venue: West Community Stadium

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: STL Wins 37% | Draw 30% | IND Wins 34%
(7-6-2)
Group E
The Gist: Saint Louis FC and Indy Eleven will square off for the second playoff place in Group E in the final game of the regular season with STLFC needing victory to jump past the Boys in Blue and cap its final season with a second postseason trip. Saint Louis and Indy played to a 1-1 draw on September 23 in their last meeting at Lucas Oil Stadium, but subsequently both suffered defeats – STLFC last Saturday to Louisville City FC, and then Indy to Sporting Kansas City II on Wednesday night. The Indy loss kept Saint Louis alive in the playoff race, and the hosts will be hoping to maintain their 2-0-0 record against Indy at West Community Stadium. Earlier this year, Tyler Blackwood scored the only goal as the sides met in Missouri, the question now is who might be the hero on Saturday night?
Discipline: – None

Memphis 901 FC vs. Birmingham Legion FC

(3-7-4)
Group G

8:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: AutoZone Park

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: MEM Wins 32% | Draw 25% | BHM Wins 43%
(7-4-4)
Group G
The Gist: Birmingham Legion FC will almost certainly clinch a playoff place on Saturday night due to the matchup between North Carolina FC and the Charlotte Independence, but Legion FC is looking to end its season on a positive note against its rival Memphis 901 FC. Victory for Legion FC will guarantee it finishes first in Group G as it enters the season finale tied on points and wins with the Independence by holding a sizeable advantage in goal differential. After suffering a 2-1 defeat to North Carolina a weekend ago, the side is also looking to rebound and gain some positive momentum before the playoffs against a Memphis side that appeared to have a breakthrough moment of its own. Already out of playoff contention, Memphis got a pair of goals from Cal Jennings in a 3-1 victory against the Independence last weekend and after drawing in each of its last two meetings with Birmingham will be hoping to grab its first win against Legion FC of 2020 as it wraps up its second campaign.
Discipline: None

FC Tulsa vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC

(5-2-7)
Group D

8:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: ONEOK Field

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: TUL Wins 47% | Draw 26% | COS Wins 26%
(2-6-7)
Group C
The Gist: FC Tulsa will look to seal its place in the 2020 USL Championship Playoffs by securing at least a draw against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC. Tulsa earned its second run of back-to-back victories this season on Wednesday night as a late comeback led by Tobenna Uzo (two goals) and Cristhian Altamirano (two assists) rallied the hosts past Black Gold Derby rival OKC Energy FC to a 3-2 victory. That victory, coupled with the defeat of Austin Bold FC by Rio Grande Valley FC on the same night, left Tulsa with a three-point edge in the race for second in Group D. Tulsa has only lost twice this season, its first under its new brand, and will be hopeful of earning the point it needs. The Switchbacks, meanwhile, will try to play spoiler on the final day of the regular season once more as they close out their campaign after playing to a 0-0 draw with El Paso Locomotive FC on Wednesday night in the final game at Weidner Field.
Discipline: None

Rio Grande Valley FC vs. OKC Energy FC

(1-9-3)
Group D

9:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: H-E-B Park

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: RGV Wins 37% | Draw 29% | OKC Wins 35%
(1-7-7)
Group D
The Gist: Rio Grande Valley FC will look to build on its first win of the regular season as it plays host to OKC Energy FC on Saturday night as both teams wind down their regular seasons. The Toros notched a 2-0 victory on Wednesday night against Austin Bold FC that had a major impact in the Group D playoff race as Kyle Edwards and Juan Carlos Obregon Jr. scored late in either half, dropping Bold FC three points back of FC Tulsa for second place in the group. Tulsa earned that position by claiming the Black Gold Derby against Energy FC on Wednesday night that saw OKC let a late lead slip away in a 3-2 defeat at ONEOK Field. After a frustrating first season at the helm for Head Coach John Pascarella, Energy FC will head to South Texas looking to end on a positive note.
Discipline: None

Tacoma Defiance vs. Reno 1868 FC

(4-9-2)
Group A

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

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: TAC Wins 22% | Draw 21% | RNO Wins 57%
(10-2-1)
Group A
The Gist: Reno 1868 FC will try to seal the best record in the Championship as it visits Tacoma Defiance for its final game of the regular season. Reno currently sits level on both 33 points and 10 wins with San Antonio FC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies going to the final weekend of the regular season but has an advantage over both with a +21-goal differential. A victory against Tacoma would likely seal the best record in the league – and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs – should Reno match its three prior victories this season. Reno has outscored Tacoma 8-4 in those meetings, but the Defiance will enter hopeful of springing a surprise after back-to-back victories of their own including a 1-0 win against Sacramento Republic FC on Wednesday night that clinched first place in Group A for 1868 FC.
Discipline: None

Las Vegas Lights FC vs. Orange County SC

(2-8-5)
Group B

10:30 p.m. ET |
Venue: Cashman Field

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: LV Wins 33% | Draw 27% | OC Wins 40%
(6-6-3)
Group B
The Gist: Las Vegas Lights FC and Orange County SC will close out their final games of the season at Cashman Field after OCSC was eliminated from playoff contention on Wednesday night. A 3-1 defeat by the LA Galaxy II saw Orange County’s postseason chances come to an end as Los Dos took a five-point lead in second place in Group B to clinch its place in the postseason. Las Vegas meanwhile took a 2-2 draw against Silver State Cup rival Reno 1868 FC on Wednesday as Yamikani Chester and Junior Burgos found the net to put the visitors up twice. Chester may be unavailable for selection on Saturday, however, following his selection to the Malawi National Team’s upcoming international games.
Discipline: None

Phoenix Rising FC vs. LA Galaxy II

(10-3-2)
Group B

10:30 p.m. ET |
Venue: Casino Arizona Field

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: PHX Wins 75% | Draw 15% | LA Wins 10%
(8-5-2)
Group B
The Gist: Phoenix Rising FC and the LA Galaxy II will meet in the final game of the regular season with both sides locked into their respective positions in Group B ahead of the start of the postseason. Los Dos clinched its place in the playoffs for a second consecutive campaign and fifth time overall thanks to a 3-1 victory against Orange County SC on Wednesday night that saw Augustine Williams score twice to move into second place in the race for the Championship’s Golden Boot with 12 goals. They head to Phoenix to face a Rising FC side which will finish first in the group and face Sacramento Republic FC in the Western Conference Quarterfinals next week.
Discipline: None

Sacramento Republic FC vs. Portland Timbers 2

(7-2-6)
Group A

10:30 p.m. ET |
Venue: Papa Murphy’s Park

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: SAC Wins 59% | Draw 21% | POR Wins 20%
(3-12-0)
Group A
The Gist: Sacramento Republic FC will try to end the season on a positive note as it looks ahead to the postseason with a final home game against the Timbers 2. Sacramento was cemented into second place on Wednesday night as it suffered a 1-0 defeat to the Tacoma Defiance, and will face Phoenix Rising FC in the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2020 USL Championship Playoffs as a result. Sacramento has taken victory in its three previous matchups with T2 this season, though, including a memorable contest when the sides last met on September 2 when Mario Penagos and Julian Chavez scored late goals to lift the side to a 2-1 win at Providence Park. Portland is also coming off a defeat to Tacoma in its last outing, but has shown improvement since that last meeting, having won three of its last five outings overall.
Discipline: None

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 4


Real Monarchs SLC vs. El Paso Locomotive FC

(3-10-2)
Group C

4:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: Zions Bank Stadium

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: SLC Wins 33% | Draw 30% | ELP Wins 37%
(8-2-5)
Group C
The Gist: El Paso Locomotive FC will look to seal first place in Group C with a victory against Real Monarchs SLC as it closes out its regular season on the road. Locomotive FC had a chance to clinch top spot in the group on Wednesday night but was held to a 0-0 draw by Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC at Weidner Field. El Paso has fared well against the Monarchs so far this season, winning two of three meetings including a 1-0 win when the sides met last at Zions Bank Stadium when Nick Ross scored the only goal of the game. The Monarchs’ struggles this season continued on Wednesday night, meanwhile, as they fell 1-0 to New Mexico United, a result that moved New Mexico within two points of El Paso for first place in the group. Should Locomotive FC fail to take victory, it could result in New Mexico playing a final game on Tuesday to decide which of the two playoff-bound teams will finish on top of the standings.
Discipline: None

Austin Bold FC vs. San Antonio FC

(4-4-7)
Group D

6:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: Bold Stadium

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: ATX Wins 32%| Draw 24% | SA Wins 44%
(10-2-3)
Group D
The Gist: Austin Bold FC will know whether a playoff place is still within its reach, while San Antonio FC will know what it needs to claim the top seed in the USL Championship Playoffs when they square off on Sunday evening. Austin was pushed to the brink of elimination on Wednesday night as it suffered a 2-0 defeat to Rio Grande Valley FC, which combined with FC Tulsa’s 3-2 win against OKC Energy FC moved Tulsa within a point of clinching a playoff spot when it hosts Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC on Saturday night. San Antonio, meanwhile, is already playoff-bound, but will know what it has to do to potentially overtake Reno 1868 FC, the Tampa Bay Rowdies, or both for the best record in the league, which will come down to goal differential should all three sides win this weekend and finish on 36 points and 11 wins. After its late defeat against Tulsa last Saturday night, SAFC will be hoping to rebound for its third win in four games against Austin this campaign.
Discipline: None

New York Red Bulls II vs. Hartford Athletic

(5-10-0)
Group F

7:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: Red Bull Arena

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: NY Wins 37% | Draw 22% | HFD Wins 40%
(10-3-2)
Group F
The Gist:Hartford Athletic will be guaranteed first place in Group F with a win in its final game of the regular season as it visits the New York Red Bulls II, but will know what result it needs officially on Saturday night as Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC – which sits one point back in second place going into the final round of games – faces the Philadelphia Union II. The Athletic moved into first place with a 3-2 win against Philadelphia on Wednesday night that saw Danny Barrera’s ninja kick finish grab all three points and international attention. Hartford has also found success against the Red Bulls II this season, winning their three prior meetings. With the Red Bulls II long out of playoff contention, they will return home looking to end the season on a positive note after falling to a 3-0 loss to North Carolina FC on Wednesday in their last outing.
Discipline: None

Miami FC vs. Atlanta United 2

(3-8-4)
Group H

7:30 p.m. ET |
Venue: Riccardo Silva Stadium

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: MIA Wins 48% | Draw 23% | ATL Wins 29%
(3-9-3)
Group H
The Gist: Both Miami FC and Atlanta United 2 will be aiming to end their seasons on a positive note as Miami looks to build off a big home win in its last outing to wrap up its first Championship campaign. Miami rallied from a two-goal deficit against the Charleston Battery on Wednesday night as Sebastian Velasquez had a goal and assist and Miguel Gonzalez scored a late winner in a 4-3 victory on home turf. Atlanta is also coming off a win last time out having picked up a 5-3 victory against the New York Red Bulls II that saw Jackson Conway scored twice and Amir Bashti record a goal and assist.
Discipline: Hartford Athletic Mattheus Silva - Suspended
 

THE SOCIAL CIRCLE

 

THE USL LOWDOWN

- There won’t be as much at stake when the Tampa Bay Rowdies host the Charleston Battery on Saturday night, but the big prize of finishing with the best record in the Eastern Conference is still out there for the Rowdies at Al Lang Stadium. The Tampa Bay Times’ Darek Sharp has more on one of the big matchups of the weekend.

- New Mexico United still needs help on Sunday afternoon from Real Monarchs SLC as it hosts current Group C leader El Paso Locomotive FC, but it’s not completely out of contention for first place. The Albuquerque Journal’s Ken Sickenger has more on what United would need to happen to finish ahead of its rival in the coming days.

- Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC is ready to go about its business against the Philadelphia Union II on Saturday night and then wait and see what happens to Hartford Athletic on Sunday against the New York Red Bulls II. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Craig Meyer writes the Hounds believe they can bounce back and will be ready to make a run at the postseason, whether their run begins at home or on the road.

- Memphis 901 FC goes into its 2020 finale with an eye on the future but is looking to build on one of its best performances of the season last time out as it hosts Birmingham Legion FC at AutoZone Park. The Memphis Flyer’s Samuel Cicci has more on what lies ahead for the club as it enters the offseason.

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