The Tampa Bay Rowdies and midfielder Zach Steinberger will be looking for the same energy but a different result from Tuesday night as it heads to face Florida rival Miami FC on Saturday night at FIU Stadium. | Photo courtesy Orovio Photography / Miami FC
There’s a busy Saturday night of action in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference this weekend, including both high-profile rivalry contests and matchups that will continue to shape the playoff pictures in the Atlantic and Central Divisions. Here are four storylines to watch as the action unfolds.
It was impossible to fault the effort of the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Tuesday night in their 1-0 defeat at home to Hartford Athletic, but the missed opportunities that on another night would have been taken left the team frustrated at the final whistle.
What Tampa Bay will need to try and do now is find that same level of energy again – or at least as close as it can with three days to recuperate – as it heads to face Miami FC on Saturday night at FIU Stadium for a game that will have significant ramifications for the top four positions in the Championship’s Atlantic Division.
“We just need to try and stay levelheaded and get on to Miami, quickly,” Collins on Tuesday night. “It’s a sore [loss] for the players. They’ve put in so much effort; they’ve given everything. And I think that’s one of the things that, aside from winning, that the fans have to look at. So, it’ll come back around for us, I’m sure.”
In a quirk of the schedule, Saturday’s game will be the second between the Florida rivals in 11 days after Miami took its first victory against Tampa Bay on July 7 in a 2-1 result that saw the visitors seem flatter than had been their standard. With Miami coming in on a four-game undefeated streak and now only four points back of the Rowdies in the standings, the visitors will be eager to put their last result behind them and keep their rivals at arm’s length.
Indy Eleven has edged into the playoff positions in the Championship’s Central Division over the past two weeks, but its own form has kept it from bridging the gap to the top three teams in the division with the Boys in Blue winless in their last three official outings. That – and improving performances elsewhere in the division, have led to the intriguing scenario that sees fourth place through eighth place separated by only three points as this weekend begins, with eighth-placed Memphis 901 FC the visitor to Michael A. Carroll on Saturday night with a chance to pull level with Indy on points.
Memphis could feel confident about its chances. Not only is it coming off a road victory against its biggest rival in Birmingham Legion FC last Saturday night – marking the first time it had won in Birmingham in its history – 901 FC also claimed victory when it visited Carroll Stadium for the first time this campaign back on June 5. Goals by Michael Salazar and Kyle Murphy provided the impetus for that 2-1 result as the visitors held off a late flurry of chances by Indy, and the result was also indicative of the way things have gone for the Boys in Blue since its return to its original home from Lucas Oil Stadium.
Indy has won only once at Carroll Stadium this season – a 2-0 result against Sporting Kansas City II on May 22 – and is 1-4-1 overall. That’s been tempered by a 3-1-2 record on the road, but interim Head Coach Max Rogers and his squad need to make an improvement if its current spot in the standings is going to last.
FC Tulsa's Rodrigo da Costa will be one of the key players in Saturday night's Black Gold Derby as the hosts look to clinch the Victory Wrench for a second consecutive season with a win against OKC Energy FC at ONEOK Field. | Photo courtesy Steven Christy
The season may be only one-third complete, but FC Tulsa can clinch the regular-season series – and with it the Victory Wrench – against Black Gold Derby rival OKC Energy FC on Saturday night when the teams square off at ONEOK Field. There’s a good chance that may happen, too: Head Coach Michael Nsien’s side has won three of four games at home this campaign after last Saturday’s 3-2 victory against Louisville City FC, and the hosts have also built a seven-game undefeated streak since the start of the 2019 season that will span 1,074 days when kickoff arrives.
On top of all that facing Energy FC, the visitors are both coming off short rest and could be without two key players after Wednesday night’s 3-1 defeat against Louisville City FC at Lynn Family Stadium. Both Robert Coronado – who has arguably been the most consistent performer for the side this season – and Zach Ellis-Hayden – who was coming into form after a positive 2020 season – were forced off against LouCity with injuries, meaning OKC’s back line could be below full strength as it looks to contain an attack led by Tulsa’s Rodrigo da Costa, who has recorded five goals and three assists in seven games since the start of June.
The Charleston Battery have recovered from middling starts to a season before – there’s a reason why the club is the only one to have reached the USL Championship Playoffs in every season since the league was launched in 2011. But with a gap emerging between the top four teams in the Atlantic Division and the Battery – which enters the weekend in seventh place, eight points back of the top four – this Saturday night’s game against Hartford Athletic would be an ideal place to start in bridging that divide.
Charleston hasn’t exactly been poor so far this season, but it’s one of the clubs in the Championship’s whose underlying numbers pretty closely mirror its actual position in terms of goals score and conceded, and points total for the season. With the Athletic coming off a hard-fought Tuesday night victory against the Tampa Bay Rowdies that sat in juxtaposition with Charleston’s 2-1 loss against New Mexico United last Monday night, the Battery are going to hope for a little more sharpness in the final third to gain ground on one of the teams it appears it will need to chase down to continue its postseason streak this season.