Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC's Hadji Barry and San Antonio FC's Jose Gallegos will be two players in the spotlight when their sides meet on Saturday afternoon on ESPN2 at Weidner Field. | Photo courtesy Isaiah J. Downing / Colorado Springs Switchbacks
The Western Conference slate in the USL Championship this weekend is more limited than usual, but includes a must-see game on national television on Saturday afternoon and some other important storylines. Here are five things to keep an eye on.
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC and its new 8,000-seat downtown stadium will be in the national spotlight on Saturday afternoon as it plays host to San Antonio FC on ESPN2 at 2 p.m. ET, giving the Championship’s leading scorer and June Player of the Month Hadji Barry and a talented supporting cast a chance to show what’s made them one of the most exciting teams in the league this season.
While the Switchbacks are firmly in the middle of the playoff race even after its loss last Friday night to New Mexico United at Isotopes Park, San Antonio has been off the pace recently as it arrives for its second visit to Weidner Field on a seven-game winless streak. Despite that, though, the Switchbacks are very aware of the talent San Antonio is bringing having gone winless in their two prior meetings this season, including a 1-1 draw after a late equalizer by SAFC when they last met on June 5 in Colorado Springs.
“San Antonio are a very good team and they’re a deep, talented roster just like New Mexico, so they have a lot of answers and a lot they can throw at you,” said Switchbacks Head Coach Brendan Burke. “They generate a ton of chances even though they don’t have much of the ball – they’re very purposeful when they do have possession – and they have a couple very high-end forwards. We know we’re in for a really difficult game this weekend, especially playing at midday.”
Orange County SC looked to be well on its way to first place in the Pacific Division on Wednesday night after Eero Markannen’s goal put the side ahead against a San Diego Loyal SC side that had been reduced to 10 men with just over 20 minutes to go. Instead, the hosts produced an impressive rally for a 2-1 victory as OCSC was unable to extend its shutout streak to four games and saw its eight-game undefeated streak come to an end.
Now the big question facing the side is what sort of response it will produce on Saturday night. Orange County returns home for what was already an intriguing inter-division matchup against Rio Grande Valley FC at Championship Soccer Stadium with a quick turnaround to deal with. By comparison, the Toros are going to be well-rested, having most recently seen action last Wednesday night in a 1-1 draw against Austin Bold FC, something that could play into their favor as they head for a second meeting with Pacific Division opposition this season. After defeating San Diego themselves early in the season, the Toros should pose a challenge as OCSC looks to respond.
Southwest University Park has proven to be one of the toughest places to visit in the Championship since El Paso Locomotive FC's arrival, and on Saturday the club can clinch a calendar year without a defeat at home as it hosts Las Vegas Lights FC. | Photo
While El Paso Locomotive FC suffered its first loss of the 2021 regular-season to wrap up the month of June, back-to-back victories in the past two weekends have quickly moved the side to the top of the Mountain Division with only 10 games gone in its campaign. The side gets back to action on Saturday night at Southwest University Park against Las Vegas Lights FC aiming to maintain that spot, but also looking to continue a home undefeated streak that is closing in on a calendar year.
Locomotive FC last fell on home turf on July 24, 2020 against New Mexico United, and since then has going 9-0-3 in the regular season and 9-0-5 including the postseason, establishing its home venue as one of the more difficult to visit in the Championship. The club’s success has been matched by its support, with a sellout crowd of 8,138 fans on hand for its 2-1 victory against New Mexico on July 3 in its most recent home outing. With consecutive road games against New Mexico and San Antonio up next, should Head Coach Mark Lowry’s side earn a result on Saturday, it would be guaranteed of its streak extending beyond a full year as it looks to build a lead on its rivals.
The hype train surrounding San Antonio FC’s Jose Gallegos picked up steam throughout last season on the way to the talented 18-year-old being voted as a finalist for the Championship’s Young Player of the Year award and continued on into the offseason as he was invited for a training stint at reigning Club World Cup holders Bayern Munich.
This season hasn’t quite gone to plan so far, however, with some injury absences stalling Gallegos’ start to the 2021 campaign, which has been a factor in the side’s current winless run. The playmaker has yet to record a goal or assist so far this season and has notched seven key passes in 538 minutes of action. There shouldn’t be major cause for concern yet – Gallegos is still willingly attacking defenses when he gets the chance and sits tied for fifth in the league with 26 completed dribbles at a 50 percent success rate, an average of 4.3 successful dribbles per 90 minutes – but a breakout performance in Colorado Springs on Saturday afternoon in the national spotlight could be just what both he and San Antonio need to get their seasons moving in the right direction.
It’s certainly the sort of stat that makes you double-take, but while Austin Bold FC has played almost twice as many games away from home this season than at home (seven to four) it has currently lost more times at Bold Stadium than on its travels in 2021 (two to one).
Bold FC’s six-game road undefeated streak is certainly the form of a team that is going to be in the playoff mix at the end of the season, but it’s going to need to start picking up wins at home to balance that ambition, starting in the final game of Week 13 on Sunday night against Real Monarchs SLC. The contest is the first of three home games in the next four outings for Head Coach Marcello Serrano’s side, and with games against Copa Tejas rivals Rio Grande Valley FC and San Antonio FC to follow in the next two weeks, a repeat of the 2-0 win the side took against the Mountain Division’s cellar-dweller when they first met in Texas for the club’s lone home victory so far this season on May 26 is a must.