Rio Grande Valley FC turned up the attacking pressure in the second half against Real Monarchs SLC to earn a 1-0 win, the club's fourth consecutive home victory this season. | Photo courtesy Christian Inoferio / Rio Grande Valley FC
After a weekend that produced stalemates for most of the Mountain Division and some thrilling goals and saves in the Pacific, here’s a look at five key talking points to come out of the Western Conference at the end of Week 8.
Returning home to defend its position at the top of the Mountain Division, Rio Grande Valley FC’s opening half on Saturday night against Real Monarchs SLC was peculiarly subdued. Yes, the hosts had plenty of the ball and seemed in control of the game, but the lack of incisiveness in the final third that led to the side’s first shot coming in the 36th minute, and then from well outside the penalty area by James Murphy, made for a curious spectacle.
The second half proved a different story, however. Within five minutes of kickoff the Toros had recorded more shots than in the opening 45 minutes, three of which were on target. A piece of quick-thinking by Wan Kuzain, who adeptly picked the pocked of Monarchs midfielder Justin Portillo has he received a short goal kick before finishing, might have led to the only goal of the game, but the willingness to try more and break down the Real defense in the second half made the hosts good value for their fourth consecutive home win to start the season.
“The first half was a little bit… we didn’t create many things, we had a lot of possession and a lot of movement of the ball, but we didn’t penetrate enough, and we weren’t enough with our offensive mentality to cause problems,” said Toros Head Coach Wilmer Cabrera. “But, at the second half it was total opposite. We created a lot of chances. Created many chances, sadly we only scored one. But definitely it proved that the team went from less to more and that is important.”
The Toros are going to need to be more consistently aggressive in the attacking third, especially on Wednesday night against an Austin Bold FC side that has recorded back-to-back shutouts as it arrives at H-E-B Park, but the side continues to show it has enough to be a match for its rivals in the Mountain Division seven games into the season.
With SD Loyal trailing by a goal at home against the LA Galaxy II on Saturday night when he entered with 22 minutes to go, Alejandro Guido knew he needed to be aggressive. After producing a highlight-reel finish from 30 yards and the assist on Miguel Berry’s game-winning header with six minutes to go, the San Diego native provided exactly what his team needed in what could prove a key 2-1 victory further down the line.
“At the beginning of the game I was telling myself I have to shoot more and when it went in, I just couldn’t believe it, but I went nuts,” said Guido. “I’m so stoked. It was beautiful and awesome. It was fun.”
Guido was one of the catalysts for his hometown club’s late resurgence in the 2020 season, recording two goals and two assists in five appearances on loan from Los Angeles FC. Now signed to a permanent deal with SD Loyal, Guido’s start to the new season had matched that of the side, which suffered four consecutive defeats before picking up its first points of the campaign. The side is now undefeated in its last four games, though, with Guido now sitting with two goals after his thunderbolt on Saturday, and has edged into the Pacific Division’s playoff positions for the first time.
There’s more needed, certainly, but SD Loyal has at least started building some momentum in its results that bode well as it enters the second quarter of its campaign.
“This is continuing process for us and it’s hard to describe progress when you lose the first four. It’s hard to see that,” said SD Loyal manager Landon Donovan. “Results matter but equally what’s important to me is how we progress. This is a long season.”
Solomon Asante's pair of goals on Saturday night took him to 46 in the USL Championship's regular season since the start of the 2018 season. | Photo courtesy Ashley Orellana / Phoenix Rising FC
If defenses in the USL Championship had forgotten in the wake of Santi Moar’s scoring flurry for Phoenix Rising FC, Saturday night offered a reminder that even when he’s 30 yards from goal, you can’t afford to leave Solomon Asante with time and space to shoot.
The Ghanaian’s pair of goals – both from beyond the penalty area – provided two of the key moments in a thrilling contest that saw Tacoma Defiance give their hosts a fair share of challenges before Rising FC came away with a 3-0 victory at Wild Horse Pass, with Asante’s performance putting him back in the spotlight again.
“Well for me, I'm kind of used to it,” said Rising FC Head Coach Rick Schantz. “But listen, I've been so fortunate to coach Didier Drogba. I was able to coach Shaun Wright-Phillips. Now I get to coach Solo Asante. He's that class of a player.”
Asante has now scored 10 goals of his 46 regular-season goals in the Championship from outside the penalty area. Since his arrival in the league before the 2018 season, that total is matched by only Louisville City FC’s Cameron Lancaster, the sort of illustrious company you’d expect Asante to be keeping. What the 30-year-old brings to Phoenix isn’t only on the field, though, with Rising FC newcomer Tate Schmitt paying tribute to Asante’s off-field influence after scoring on his debut on loan from Real Salt Lake.
“His qualities as a leader and a captain are superior to what I've honestly seen,” said Schmitt. “The little things in the locker room before the game, getting guys, not even on the field, but on the bench involved. Telling us to think positive, just bring good energy.
“It was really good to hear that from the captain. I feel like there's a good energy from the bench that was very involved in the game. I feel like that kind of carried into him getting those two goals early, as well as the bench coming in and making an impact.”
Life as Head Coach of Las Vegas Lights FC did not get off to an ideal start for recently-elected National Soccer Hall of Fame member Steve Cherundolo, but the side’s arrival at Cashman Field has shown signs that the side is starting to coalesce into a team that could cause some problems for other teams in the Pacific Division, and elsewhere. Friday night’s 1-1 draw with Mountain Division contender San Antonio FC was illustrative of that as the hosts rallied to earn a draw thanks to Cal Jennings’ penalty kick that was the least the side deserved in front of another solid home crowd.
Jennings may have provided the goal, but it was the play of Bryce Duke in the center of midfield that caught the eye the most, with the 20-year-old Los Angeles FC loanee providing the fulcrum in the middle of the field for Lights FC as it held a 70-30 possession advantage in a great clash of styles between the two sides that resulted in Las Vegas holding a narrow 17-16 edge in total shots. Duke completed 52 passes alongside midfield counterpart Daniel Crisostomo – who served as an excellent foil in the middle while completing a game-high 69 passes at a 95 percent accuracy rate – as the youngster’s incisiveness to find Jennings and other Lights FC players that got into threatening areas was on display. His five key passes led all players, making him potentially the piece that Las Vegas can build around as this season continues to progress.
There have been times this season when New Mexico United has found ways to produce the incisiveness it has needed in the final third to produce victories, but against Austin Bold FC’s strong defensive set-up that looked to control space and find chances on the counterattack, the magic didn’t quite arrive in a 0-0 draw at Isotopes Park on Saturday night.
Certainly, some of that result was down to Austin’s approach. In two consecutive games now Bold FC has held less than 27 percent of possession, but it has recorded two consecutive shutouts in the process. New Mexico’s best chances on Saturday night, though, came from set pieces as Kalen Ryden had one chance blocked behind and another go just wide of the post. Outside of those moments, New Mexico only recorded one key pass into the Bold FC penalty area, and through a combination of blocked shots and missing the target didn’t register an official shot on goal.
“Clearly on the night we lacked dangerous chances – clear-cut chances,” said United Head Coach Troy Lesesne. “Some of that is predicated on how Austin played. But then, we have to look at ourselves and say ‘Did we really ask questions of them on the night? Did we have individual moments that could have been better? Did we attack in numbers and in groups enough?’ And I think we were close. But we have to be a little bit tighter in order to get some better shots on goal. And we're going to do that. There's no doubt about that.”