Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC forward Dane Kelly became the first player to reach 100 regular season goals in the USL Championship on Saturday. | Photo courtesy Eric Glemser / Memphis 901 FC
The opening night of the 2022 USL Championship season warmed up as it went on, giving us history early and drama late in the 11-game slate. Here are three key takeaways from the night’s action.
On the precipice of history, you figured Dane Kelly wouldn’t want to be sitting on 99 regular season goals for too long as he joined Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC’s strong attacking lineup this season. That pressure was relieved in first-half stoppage time of his side’s 3-0 victory against Memphis 901 FC on Saturday night at AutoZone Park that gave the Jamaican a simple finish for his 100th regular season goal in the Championship and put Kelly into the league’s record book once again. Adding a second-half assist as well, Kelly delivered an excellent debut that saw the Hounds overcome an early bump in the road to deliver a strong result.
Detroit City FC and Monterey Bay F.C. joined the 10 teams prior to them over the past three seasons that entered the USL Championship without taking all three points, but there were positives and lessons for both sides in their defeats to San Antonio FC and Phoenix Rising FC, respectively. Detroit got a standout goalkeeping display from Nathan Steinwascher, whose penalty save on San Antonio’s PC in the first half kept the game scoreless as part of a five-save performance overall, but despite making their own presence felt, Detroit will also have gotten a feel for how difficult a Championship side can be to break down when trailing. San Antonio only allowed three blocked shots the rest of the way as DCFC ended with an Expected Goals mark of only 0.67xG.
Monterey Bay, meanwhile, got to see exactly how a top team like Phoenix Rising FC can punish mistakes as their hosts rolled to a four-goal halftime lead and a 4-2 victory at Wild Horse Pass. To the credit of the visitors, they rebounded with a solid second-half performance that included the first two official goals in club history by Seku Conneh and local product Adrian Rebollar. The comeback was never truly on, but MBFC should head on its next stop of a seven-game road trip in Colorado Springs with some more confidence.
The night’s early contests were relatively tame when it came to the potential for drama, but both Sacramento Republic FC and San Diego Loyal SC livened things up to close out the night on the way to important opening victories. For Republic FC – which welcomed a five-figure crowd to Heart Health Park once again – a 3-1 win against El Paso Locomotive FC was the reward for the fans and showed off both resilience after El Paso had much the better of the first half and the quality a new arrival like Douglas Martinez Jr. could bring this season as he bagged the winner in impressive fashion six minutes from full time.
SD Loyal then gave us the first stoppage-time winner of the campaign thanks in part to Thomas Amang, and to the misfortune of Jalen Neal. Acquired in a trade from Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC recently, Amang scored the opener for the hosts after coming on as a second-half substitute. In stoppage time, though, his clipped near-post finish off a cross by Charlie Adams hit the crossbar, hit Neal, and hit paydirt as Head Coach Landon Donovan’s side won its season-opener for the first time.