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WESTERN TALKING POINTS: San Antonio Heads Coast-To-Coast

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 09/17/21, 12:31PM EDT


Oakland powering up standings with strong run of form; Orange County gets chance to close in Phoenix

San Antonio FC will make the trip from New Jersey to California for the final leg of a four-game road trip that has proven successful but challenging so far for the side. | Photo courtesy New York Red Bulls II

After a compelling collection of midweek action on Wednesday, the battle for playoff position in the USL Championship’s Western Conference shifts to a busy weekend slate over the next two nights, including key divisional, inter-divisional and inter-conference matchups. Here are five storylines to watch for.


San Antonio FC reaches the final leg of a four-game road trip on Saturday night that has seen it play games in Texas, Utah, New Jersey and now California within a two-week span in what might be the trickiest stretch of games a side faces in the USL Championship this season. Certainly, after Wednesday night’s 2-1 win against the New York Red Bulls II that saw the side hold onto a one-goal lead for more than 30 minutes down a man after Mohammed Abu’s red card early in the second half, the immediate focus was to be ready for a meeting with Sacramento Republic FC that was only 72 hours away.

“We take it one game at a time,” said San Antonio Head Coach Alen Marcina. “We have six points from these two games and now the focus is our recovery and recovery process. Now we prepare for Sacramento and going there to compete to earn three points.”

San Antonio’s busy schedule came about due to a postponement of its game with New York earlier this season and its rescheduling to this week. The side has moved up to second place in the Mountain Division standings ahead of Saturday’s visit to Sacramento, where SAFC has not taken victory in four prior visits. With Republic FC also battling for a playoff place itself, it could result in a slightly different gameplan from San Antonio’s typical pressing style as the visitors reach the end of a grueling trip.


When Oakland Roots SC was sitting with one win on the season after August 11’s 0-0 draw against rival Sacramento Republic FC, its playoff odds according to were sitting at only three percent. Fast forward just over a month, and Roots SC isn’t yet the favorite to claim the fourth and final playoff place in the Pacific Division, but it has moved into the frame after a 3-1 win against Tacoma Defiance that extended its recent run of form to 6-1-2 in the past nine games, moving the side into contention in a way few might have expected not long ago.

The numbers, though, have been in Oakland’s favor as well as the momentum the side has generated. Roots SC has played nine games since August 14 – a 2-1 win against the LA Galaxy II that began its current run of form – a number only matched by Las Vegas Lights FC and two more than any other side in that span. Even with that consideration, Roots SC has registered the fourth-highest Expected Goals mark of any team in the Championship at 11.78xG, with players like Wal Fall, Jeremy Bokila and Max Ornstil producing highlight-reel finishes among the 16 goals the side has scored. With a three-point gap now separating Oakland from Tacoma in the Pacific Division, the side has a chance to convert its recent success into at least a night above the playoff line as it hosts Los Dos on Saturday night before the Defiance’s visit to San Diego on Sunday.

“For us to win those games and climb the ladder it really matters,” said Roots SC Head Coach Jordan Ferrell after the side’s win against Tacoma. “We did a good job getting the start that we wanted. We fell asleep a little or took our foot off the gas in the middle 15 minutes of the first half but then got the second before the half. We didn’t play our football towards the end, but we defended well and that’s really what matters to come away with the three points.”


Orange County SC earned a 1-1 draw in its prior visit to Phoenix Rising FC this season as it heads back to Wild Horse Pass this Saturday night. | Photo courtesy Ashley Orellana / Phoenix Rising FC

Phoenix Rising FC is one of two remaining teams in the Championship this season yet to lose on home turf this season alongside Mountain Division leader El Paso Locomotive FC, but one of the sides that came closest to breaking that streak in Orange County SC returns to Wild Horse Pass this Saturday looking to finish the job after earning a 1-1 draw when the sides last met on August 14.

The visitors will know what to expect from not just their last visit to Phoenix, but many prior times including those that saw OCSC find success. Orange County last took victory on the road against Rising FC during the 2018 season when Thomas Enevoldsen and Aodhan Quinn were both on the scoresheet for the visitors, a win that helped the side finish top of the Western Conference that season. Quinn has now switched sides, part of Rising FC’s strong lineup after an offseason move, but Enevoldsen is back with Orange County and returning to fitness after a knee injury earlier in the season. The Dane notched a goal and assist as a substitute last week against Las Vegas Lights FC and could be in line for more action on Saturday night.

After seeing its chances at victory dashed last time around by Prince Saydee’s goal in the seventh minute of second-half stoppage time, OCSC could be the side to challenge Phoenix’s record as it looks to continue its current four-game undefeated streak under interim Head Coach Richard Chaplow.


New Mexico United’s playoff bid suffered a blow last Friday night as it fell to rival Austin Bold FC in Texas, sending Austin above the playoff line and keeping United in sixth place in the Mountain Division standings. That will put added pressure on New Mexico’s final stretch of the season, where the side has six home games in its last 10 outings overall starting on Saturday night as it hosts last-placed Real Monarchs SLC.

United has lost only once on home turf so far this season while taking five wins out of 10 games overall, but the side’s two recent draws at Isotopes Park to rival El Paso Locomotive FC and Oakland Roots SC that saw New Mexico let a lead slip away are now looming large with a four-point gap to make up on Austin and the postseason places. Lost points have been a recurring theme for New Mexico this season, in fact, with the side having dropped 20 points from winning positions overall.

One of those games was United’s last meeting with the Monarchs on June 30 at Zions Bank Stadium where early goals by Daniel Bruce and Andrew Tinari saw the visitors take an early lead before surrendering three consecutive goals in a 3-2 defeat. New Mexico can’t afford such a result on Saturday night in front of its home fans as it tries to shift back into gear on its drive to the playoffs.


Rio Grande Valley FC found itself in an unfamiliar position this week as for the first time since its win to start the season on May 1 it sat below the playoff line in the Championship’s Mountain Division, passed by Austin Bold FC after letting a late lead slip away against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC at Weidner Field last Saturday night. Those two sides meet again at H-E-B Park this Saturday with the Toros’ winless streak having reached seven games, putting the hosts in serious need of a turnaround.

What Rio Grande Valley might be in need of most right now, though, is a change in fortune. While the side has absorbed this tough stretch of four defeats and three draws, its underlying numbers have been relatively balanced. The Toros have posted an Expected Goals mark of 9.46xG and an Expected Goals Against mark of 9.99xGA but have only scored eight times and conceded 15 over that span. Finding a way to sharpen up in the final third is going to be the fastest route back into the top four as they face a Switchbacks side who while potent in attack are coming off a quick turnaround after a 0-0 draw on Wednesday night against El Paso Locomotive FC.


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