Phoenix Rising FC and New Mexico United will renew their rivalry on the final Saturday in August at Wild Horse Pass in a must-see game for all fans. | Photo courtesy Ashley Orellana / Phoenix Rising FC
We’ve almost reached the official midway point of the regular season – that’s on course to arrive this Sunday when the Tacoma Defiance host Oakland Roots SC for Game No. 248 of the campaign – and the new month is loaded with some top-notch contests that feature not only some big rivalries but also some games that could help shape the playoff picture as it comes into sharper focus.
Here are 10 games we’ve got circled for the upcoming month, make sure to tune in on ESPN2, ESPN Deportes or ESPN+ over the next few weeks.
El Paso Locomotive FC took Round 1 of this tilt late last month in San Antonio, handing SAFC just its second home loss of the season. The player to score the game-winner? 17-year-old Diego Luna, whose star is continuing to rise as this season goes on with four goals and two assists this season. That could make him one of the frontrunners for the Championship’s Young Player of the Year award, an honor that San Antonio FC’s 19-year-old Jose Gallegos was a finalist for last year. With two goals and two assists in July, Gallegos was starting to heat up as the month concluded, which should mean another spotlight showdown between the two young prodigious talents at Southwest University Park.
The Charleston Battery had their recent hot streak brought to an end in Miami on Sunday night, but this matchup between two of the Championship’s historic clubs has plenty going for it after the teams ended all square when they first met at Patriots Point this season. For one, the Battery’s new reinforcements led by Claudio Repetto have helped lift the side back into the playoff picture once again, and his four goals have also seemed to lift a bit of weight off Nicque Daley’s shoulders as well, with the Jamaican now having five goals this season. The Hounds, though, appear to be hitting their stride at the top of the Atlantic Division with five with four wins in their last five games and with Russell Cicerone, Alex Dixon and Kenardo Forbes linking well in the attacking third this game could have plenty of entertainment value.
There was a sense of wait-and-see when it came to the new regimes and new lineups that were being built by Memphis 901 FC and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC at the start of this season. Halfway into the campaign, though, there’s no doubt that both of these teams are playoff contenders, which adds to the intrigue behind this interconference matchup at AutoZone Park. Memphis has been a team of grinders this year, representative of its city under Head Coach Ben Pirmann, but there’s also some top-quality talent in defender Mark Segbers, midfielder Laurent Kissiedou and forward Kyle Murphy to keep an eye on. The Switchbacks have maybe the marquee player in the Championship this season, though, with Hadji Barry putting in a serious assault on the league’s single-season goals record with 14 tallies in 14 games this season. Backed by Michee Ngalina, Deshane Beckford and former U.S. international Jose Francisco Torres, Colorado Springs begins the month third in the league with 27 goals trailing only Phoenix Rising FC and Louisville City FC.
The first time the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Hartford Athletic met at Al Lang Stadium this season, it proved to be one of the most remarkable games of the season, and not in a good way for the hosts. The Rowdies racked up 21 shots – 20 of which came from inside the penalty area – and a 3.98xG mark – second highest in a single game this season by a team – and came up blank thanks to the heroics of Hartford goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell and his defense, who escaped with a shutout and a 1-0 win. The rematch between the two Atlantic Division contenders should be a must-see as the Rowdies look to set the record straight from that night. Just don’t mention the fact that the game is on Friday the 13th. (Whoops).
Louisville City FC and FC Tulsa have produced two five-goal thrillers so far this season with each team claiming a 3-2 result in the two games at Tulsa’s ONEOK Field. With the scene shifting to Lynn Family Stadium for the third game of the series, it might be too much to ask for another game with that many goals and that much goalmouth entertainment, but with the amount of talent on each side – including LouCity’s veteran forwards Cameron Lancaster and Kyle Greig and winger Brian Ownby, now tied for second in the league with six assists after a sizzling July, or Tulsa’s Rodrigo da Costa and Joaquin Rivas, himself fresh off scoring three goals in the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup for El Salvador – we can hope that there’s another classic brewing between these Central Division rivals.
The all-time series between New Mexico United and El Paso Locomotive FC saw its 10th meeting all-time last month, and let’s be honest… it wasn’t what we were necessarily expecting. Thirty-seven fouls wasn’t the most we’ve seen in a game this season – it ranks tied for 10th, if you were curious – but combined with the infrequent scoring opportunities for both sides I think everyone was hoping for better. They’ll get that chance when United and Locomotive FC wrap up their regular season series at Isotopes Park, and there could be plenty on the line besides the regular-season series with New Mexico in the middle of a battle to end up in the playoff positions as the pack chases El Paso at the top.
San Diego Loyal SC and Orange County SC have both made no secret of their aspirations to be a title contender this season, and while inconsistencies in form have allowed Phoenix Rising FC to create some separation at the top of the Pacific Division, these two sides are clearly in the battle for second place, which with it comes a home playoff game at the end of the season. San Diego could certainly use that edge – the side is 6-1-1 at Torero Stadium this season, compared to 1-5-2 away from home – and with a consistently evolving lineup the talent was there for SD Loyal to take a 2-1 win when Orange County last visited. If OCSC can turn the tables this time around, though, it could create an inside track to that coveted second place and lead San Diego under pressure to keep up.
Louisville City FC ended July on a tear, winning four of its final five games in the month to move seven points clear of Birmingham Legion FC in the Central Division. That makes Legion FC’s first opportunity to host Louisville this season after LouCity claimed a win and a draw at Lynn Family Stadium an important one with Birmingham seemingly the only team to have the potential squad and consistency to challenge the perennial title contenders for first place. Legion FC has two games in hand on LouCity at the start of this month and a squad that includes players like leading scorer Neco Brett and Jamaican international Junior Flemmings. That should make for a must-see matchup in the final weekend of the month.
If there’s one thing that has been promised when Phoenix Rising FC and New Mexico United square off, it’s been goals. The two teams have only played four times in their histories – including their 2019 tilt in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup – but have combined for 21 goals across those games. With the firepower at both team’s disposals, we could be in for another game in that fashion as Phoenix’s Solomon Asante and former United player Santi Moar welcome New Mexico’s Brian Brown and Amando Moreno to Wild Horse Pass. The expectations for both sets of supporters will be raised after the previous encounters, hopefully we’ll get a game to match.
The Black Gold Derby is first and foremost when it comes to rivalries for OKC Energy FC, but it had also had its fair share of memorable games with Rio Grande Valley FC over the past six seasons, with the teams meeting 13 times in that span – including OKC’s memorable late comeback to end the Toros’ outstanding first campaign behind Colin Bonner’s two-goal performance to earn a 3-2 victory in the USL Championship Playoffs. Some of those memories might be rekindled as the Toros head to Taft Stadium for what is now an interconference matchup, but there will be pressure on both teams to deliver with each side in contention for the postseason in the Central and Mountain Division respectively as they renew this longstanding series.
Tag(s): Features San Antonio FC CO Spring Switchbacks Orange County SC Phoenix Rising FC FC Tulsa Charleston Battery Louisville City FC Pittsburgh Riverhounds Tampa Bay Rowdies Birmingham Legion FC Indy Eleven Memphis 901 FC El Paso Locomotive FC New Mexico United Hartford Athletic San Diego Loyal SC