The 2022 USL Championship regular season kicks off this weekend with a 13-game slate that features a pair of new arrivals on the road at traditional Western Conference powers, a notable postseason rematch for the defending title holders, and the opening game of the USL on ESPN schedule on Sunday evening.
Here’s a look ahead to what you need to know, upcoming landmarks for the league’s players, and the weekly discipline report.
DETROIT CITY FC, MONTEREY BAY F.C. MAKE DEBUTS
Detroit City FC and Monterey Bay F.C. make their USL Championship regular season debuts on Saturday night with both assigned what appear to be tricky road assignments to begin the campaign. Detroit City FC will visit San Antonio FC at Toyota Field, while Monterey Bay F.C. will visit Phoenix Rising FC at Wild Horse Pass.
Phoenix will play host to a league newcomer making their debut for a second consecutive season, having defeated Oakland Roots SC 3-0 when the teams met at Wild Horse Pass last season in Oakland’s first game of the season. Overall, the opening game hasn’t been kind to Championship newcomers in the past three years – going back to the 2019 season, teams in their first season in the Championship have gone 0-7-3 with a minus-15 goal differential, with San Diego Loyal SC (2020), New Mexico United (2019) and Austin Bold FC (2019) the teams to earn a draw
BIRMINGHAM LEGION FC OPENS PROTECTIVE STADIUM ON ESPN2
Birmingham Legion FC will play its inaugural regular season contest at new home Protective Stadium on Sunday evening as it hosts defending Eastern Conference title holder the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the USL on ESPN season premiere on ESPN2 at 5 p.m. ET. The venue will have an operating capacity of 15,000 fans for Legion FC games this season.
Due to its expanded home capacity, Legion FC could set a new club attendance record at the game, having set a mark of 10,177 last season when it hosted a contest at Birmingham’s Legion Field against Memphis 901 FC. Having reached the postseason in each of its first three seasons, Birmingham will be hoping to turn the tables on the Rowdies in a rematch from last season’s USL Championship Playoffs. Tampa Bay took a 1-0 victory when the teams met in the Eastern Conference Semifinals at Al Lang Stadium in downtown St. Petersburg, Fla. on a second-half goal by Yann Ekra on the way to claiming the conference title for a second consecutive postseason.
NEWEST MEMBER OF THE FIRST-GOAL CLUB
Louisville City FC's Paolo DelPiccolo scored the first goal of the 2021 USL Championship season against Atlanta United 2 last April. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
Since Stanley Nyazamba scored the first goal in the USL Championship’s history in 2011 for the Richmond Kickers, there have been 10 more players join him in becoming the first goalscorer of the new season, with Louisville City FC’s Paolo DelPiccolo being most recent addition last year. As this campaign kicks off, the players from Loudoun United FC and Indy Eleven will get first crack at being the latest member of the group, with their game at 6 p.m. ET on Saturday night the first of the 2022 regular season.
USL Championship First Goalscorer of Season
2011 – Stanley Nyazamba, Richmond Kickers
2012 – Mike Seth, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
2013 – George Davis IV, Orange County SC
2014 – Jose Cuevas, Charleston Battery
2015 – Jordan Hamilton, Toronto FC II
2016 – Fabian Herbers, Bethlehem Steel FC
2017 – Florian Valot, New York Red Bulls II
2018 – Pablo Aguilar, Rio Grande Valley FC
2019 – Alec Diaz, Tacoma Defiance
2020 – Chris Hegardt, Tacoma Defiance
2021 – Paolo DelPiccolo, Louisville City FC
DANE KELLY READY FOR CENTURY MARK, MINUTES LANDMARK
The USL Championship’s all-time leading scorer has a new home for the 2022 season with Dane Kelly having joined Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC for his 12th season in the league. The Jamaican forward could hit two landmarks in his debut for the Hounds on Saturday night at Memphis 901 FC as he seeks to become the first player to record 100 regular season goals in the league while also having the chance to surpass 15,000 regular season minutes.
Kelly is 83 minutes shy of the 15,000-minute mark going into Saturday’s game. He would become the 12th player in the Championship’s history to reach the landmark. There are five active players among the 11 to have already surpassed that mark going into the new season, including Kelly’s new Pittsburgh teammate Kenardo Forbes.
Currently Active USL Championship Players with 15,000 Regular Season Minutes
Josh Suggs, New Mexico United – 18,584
Hugh Roberts, Monterey Bay F.C. – 15,937
Aodhan Quinn, Phoenix Rising FC – 15,730
Kenardo Forbes, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC – 15,660
Paolo DelPiccolo, Louisville City FC – 15,123
FROM THE FIELD TO THE TECHNICAL AREA
New Mexico United Head Coach Zach Prince (right) made 140 regular-season appearances in the USL Championship before moving into the coaching ranks after the 2016 season. | Photo courtesy New York Red Bulls II
This season there will be seven Head Coaches in the USL Championship that have previously competed in the league since its inception in 2011. Two of the seven are first-time Head Coaches in Zach Prince at New Mexico United and Juan Guerra at Oakland Roots SC, with the overall group of seven having made a combined 332 regular season appearances in the league during their playing careers.
2022 USL Championship Head Coaches as Players in the League
Mark Briggs (Sacramento Republic FC) – 27 appearances, 1,550 minutes, 1 goal
Richard Chaplow (Orange County SC) – 49 appearances, 3,023 minutes, 4 goals, 4 assists
Neill Collins (Tampa Bay Rowdies) – 39 appearances, 3,510 minutes, 2 goals, 1 assist
Danny Cruz (Louisville City FC) – 8 appearances, 497 minutes
Juan Guerra (Oakland Roots SC) – 25 appearances, 1,427 minutes, 1 goal, 2 assists
Zach Prince (New Mexico United) – 140 appearances, 7,224 minutes, 9 goals, 8 assists*
Anthony Pulis (Miami FC) – 44 appearances, 3,225 minutes, 4 goals*
* - Won USL Championship Final as a player during career
Prince: 2012, Charleston Battery
Pulis: 2013, Orlando City SC
OPENING GAME HAT TRICKS
San Antonio FC's Santiago Patino scored a hat trick in his debut for the club last season against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC. | Photo courtesy Darren Abate / San Antonio FC
Each of the past three seasons have seen a player record a hat trick in the opening game of his side’s season, with Santiago Patino of San Antonio FC the most recent player to accomplish the feat in his debut for the club on May 1, 2021 against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC in a 3-0 win at Toyota Field.
Overall, the feat has been accomplished four times in league history. The next hat trick recorded in the Championship’s regular season will also be the 100th in the league’s history. The individual all-time leader in regular-season hat tricks is – as you might have guessed – Dane Kelly, who has recorded four in his career. He’s followed by 2015 Golden Boot winner and Most Valuable Player Matt Fondy with three.
Hat Tricks in a Club's Opening Game of the USL Championship Season
Kevin Kerr, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC – 3/28/15 vs. Harrisburg City Islanders
Shane Malcolm, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC – 3/9/19 vs. LA Galaxy II
Rufat Dadashov, Phoenix Rising FC – 3/7/20 vs. Portland Timbers 2
Santiago Patino, San Antonio FC – 5/1/21 vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
HOME UNDEFEATED STREAKS
Having gone undefeated at home during the 2021 USL Championship regular season, both El Paso Locomotive FC and Phoenix Rising FC enter the new campaign on lengthy undefeated runs in the regular season at their home venues. Locomotive FC is undefeated in it last 23 regular season home games at Southwest University Park, while Rising FC is undefeated in its last 18 games across former home Casino Arizona Field and current home Wild Horse Pass. Third in the current list is New Mexico United at 14 games.
El Paso’s mark is currently 10 games behind the Championship’s all-time mark for home undefeated streaks, which sits at 33 games achieved by the Richmond Kickers between the 2012 and 2014 seasons.
Longest Home Undefeated Streaks in USL Championship History
1. Richmond Kickers – 33 games, 2012-14
T-2. Charleston Battery – 28 games, 2014-16
T-2. Indy Eleven – 28 games, 2018-20
T-4. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC – 25 games, 2018-20
T-4. Orlando City SC – 25 games, 2011-13
WEST IS BEST?
Across 44 interconference games during the 2021 USL Championship Regular Season, the league’s Western Conference sides held a narrow edge with 17 wins to the Eastern Conference’s 12, with 15 games ending all square. This year will see an extended interconference schedule throughout the regular season – starting with San Antonio FC vs. Detroit City FC at Toyota Field on Saturday – which could provide additional insights into the strengths of the two conferences as they compete head-to-head.
Approaching 200 regular-season appearances
Paolo DelPiccolo (LOU) - 196
Kenardo Forbes (PIT) - 195
Approaching 150 regular-season appearances
Mitchell Taintor (SA) - 148
Phanuel Kavita (BHM) - 148
Approaching 100 regular-season appearances
Amadou Dia (LOU) - 98
Jimmy Ockford (COS) - 97
Tobi Adewole (IND) - 97
CJ Cochran (TBR) - 97
Sean McFarlane (MIA) - 97
Jose Hernandez (OAK) - 97
Approaching 15,000 regular-season minutes
Dane Kelly (PIT) – 14,917
Approaching 10,000 regular-season minutes
Christian Volesky (MB) – 9,859
Andre Lewis (HFD) – 9,853
Approaching 100 regular-season goals
Dane Kelly (PIT) – 99
Approaching 75 regular-season goals
Cameron Lancaster (LOU) – 71
Approaching 30 regular-season assists
Chris Wehan (NM) – 29
Santi Moar (PHX) – 28
Oscar Jimenez (LOU) – 28
Approaching 250 regular-season saves
Joe Kuzminsky (CHS) – 248
Matt VanOekel (BHM – 244
Approaching 200 regular-season saves
Jeff Caldwell (COS) – 188
Approaching 30 regular-season shutouts
Joe Kuzminsky (CHS) – 28
Matt VanOekel (BHM) – 27
Approaching 20 regular-season shutouts
Connor Sparrow (MIA) – 18
TAMPA, Fla. – The following is the USL Championship’s discipline report for Week 1 of the 2022 USL Championship season:
FC Tulsa’s Eric Bird has been suspended for one game following his red card for two cautionable offenses during his side’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinal against the Tampa Bay Rowdies on November 6, 2021. Bird will be unavailable for Tulsa’s contest against the Charleston Battery on Saturday.
Loudoun United FC’s Joe Rice has been suspended for one game following his red card for denial of a goalscoring opportunity while competing for the New England Revolution II against Toronto FC II in USL League One on October 29, 2021. Rice will be unavailable for Loudoun’s contest against Indy Eleven on Saturday.
San Diego Loyal SC’s Evan Conway has been suspended for one game following his red card for two cautionable offenses while competing for Union Omaha against Greenville Triumph SC in the 2021 USL League One Final on November 20, 2021. Conway will be unavailable for San Diego’s contest against the LA Galaxy II on Saturday night.
New Mexico United assistant coach Nate Walzer has been suspended for one game following his dismissal from the technical area while on the staff at the Charlotte Independence during the club’s Eastern Conference Semifinal against Louisville City FC on November 13, 2011. Walzer will be unavailable for New Mexico’s contest against Las Vegas Lights FC on Sunday.
Tag(s): Features San Antonio FC CO Spring Switchbacks LA Galaxy II Orange County SC Phoenix Rising FC Rio Grande Valley FC Sacramento Republic FC FC Tulsa Charleston Battery Louisville City FC New York Red Bulls II Pittsburgh Riverhounds Tampa Bay Rowdies Josh Suggs Paolo Del Piccolo Aodhan Quinn Billy Forbes Hugh Roberts Dane Kelly Las Vegas Lights FC Birmingham Legion FC Atlanta United 2 Indy Eleven Memphis 901 FC El Paso Locomotive FC New Mexico United Loudoun United FC Hartford Athletic San Diego Loyal SC The Miami FC Oakland Roots SC Santiago Patiño Detroit City FC Monterey Bay F.C.