From some key first wins of the season, to a notable first in the rivalry between the USL Championship’s two Florida-based sides, there was a lot to dig into over the past weekend’s slate of 11 games. Here’s what we took away from the action in Week 5 of the regular season.
In terms of accomplishments to mark a good start to his tenure as Head Coach at Miami FC, Anthony Pulis couldn’t have asked for better than leading the side to its first victory away to the Tampa Bay Rowdies in club history on Saturday night. Pierre Da Silva’s second-half goal proved the difference for the visitors at Al Lang Stadium with a nicely taken finish after Joshua Perez’s initial shot was only parried by Rowdies goalkeeper CJ Cochran.
The core of Miami’s performance, though, was its defensive work. The visitors limited Tampa Bay to only two shots on target over the 90 minutes. How did they manage that? Well, they gave the Rowdies the flanks and then beat them to the punch on deliveries into the penalty area. At the same time Tampa Bay was unable to threaten near the top of the penalty area. Miami recorded 29 clearances as the Rowdies completed only 6 of 27 crosses for the game to earn Connor Sparrow the 20th regular season shutout of his career.
The Rowdies’ first home loss all-time against Miami FC will sting a little bit, but there’s an argument that the hosts at Al Lang Stadium provided the foundation for their own downfall. Certainly, the starting lineup was one that seemed to outthink itself unnecessarily, leaving both leading scorer Jake LaCava and captain Sebastian Guenzatti on the bench. For Guenzatti in particular, this could have been the game to break through. The 2021 Championship All-League selection hasn’t found the net yet in the league this season, but his individual 2.0xG mark was highest on the team, showing he was at least getting into the positions to find the net.
Instead, the Rowdies got a largely ineffective performance from Steevan Dos Santos, who didn’t record a shot or chance created before being removed for Guenzatti with 16 minutes to go. Of the attacking trio, only Juan Tejada seemed to bring the required energy to break down a strong Miami back line, and while Tampa Bay had chances late on as it registered 10 shots in the final half-hour compared to five in the opening 60 minutes – brought on in part as Miami sat back to defend its lead – there needed to be more effectiveness earlier in the game to tilt the game Tampa Bay’s way.
After the returning core of attacking talent Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC possessed last season added the USL Championship’s leading scorer Dane Kelly this offseason, the only question was how it would all fit together.
With 12 goals in five games – and both Kelly and Albert Dikwa on four goals apiece after Saturday’s 4-3 victory on the road against FC Tulsa – the Hounds have delivered on their promise to field one of the most productive attacks in the league. Pittsburgh is tied for third in the Championship in goals and sits fourth in the league with an Expected Goals mark of 8.75xG, giving opponents fits as they try to cover all the options.
“They've been playing the best in combination,” said Hounds Head Coach Bob Lilley of Dikwa and Kelly. “Dikwa always brings energy, and Dane made some runs that helped get other guys open. He's such a good goalscorer that he can be static at times, because he wants to watch and see where the ball is going. But he made some good runs, and I thought they played well as a pair.”
For players USL Championship from overseas, the season can often mean separation from family and friends back home. That had been the case for Phoenix Rising FC midfielder Luis Seijas until this Saturday, when his family was among the 8,019 fans at Wild Horse Pass that saw the Venezuelan record a pair of goals as part of a big overall performance to send Rising FC to a 3-1 victory against the LA Galaxy II, its third in the past eight days across all competitions.
“We needed this win for the people, for the fans, for ourselves,” said Seijas. “We train. We put in a lot of effort. The game against San Diego didn’t go well, but after that, it was a good week for us – [three wins]. I gained a lot of confidence this week. Personally, I had my whole family here from Venezuela. My daughters were here so it was an emotional night for me.”
Seijas grabbed the headline with his performance, but don’t overlook Arturo Rodriguez’s contribution to a hard-working midfield display overall by Rising FC’s central trio. The 2019 USL League One MVP didn’t record a goal or assist, but he won 8 of 10 duels, completed 30 of 36 passes and won 3 of 5 tackles as Phoenix conceded more possession but was more effective than its visitors when they were on the ball to take victory.
There have been a few fan-favorites come to the fore for Birmingham Legion FC across its first three seasons, and midfielder Anderson Asiedu is right up there when it comes to the affections of the Magic City Brigade. Sunday’s all-around display showed why that’s the case as Asiedu capped off a tremendous midfield performance by bagging a stoppage-time winner against Hartford Athletic at Protective Stadium to earn the hosts their first league win of the season.
Asiedu remains a diligent box-to-box midfielder, but on Sunday he also showed a flair and imagination you’d expect from a player who makes his living further up the field. His chipped effort in the first half that rang the crossbar would have been one of the best goals of the season so far. If we can expect more of this moving forward, we’re here for it.
There might have been moments in Saturday’s afternoon clash between Las Vegas Lights FC and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC at Cashman Field where it might have felt like it wouldn’t be the Switchbacks’ day. A score of missed chances early in the contest before Elvis Amoh’s opening goal, an unfortunate own goal late in the first half, and then more missed chances – notably by Hadji Barry – before Lights FC took the lead on an excellent goal by Cal Jennings put Colorado Springs’ perfect start at risk.
After the disappointment of their midweek defeat in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, however, the Switchbacks’ resolve delivered to keep their run alive. The two goals that earned a 3-2 win by Zach Zandi and Cam Lindley, each their first of the season, were sharply taken and from there the visitors were able to see out the victory. Colorado Springs is now only one win shy of equaling its longest winning streak in club history, and as it returns home to face Memphis 901 FC on Saturday night it could feel that mark is within its grasp.
Erick “Cubo” Torres’ arrival at Orange County SC might have been the splashiest move of the Championship’s offseason, but with only one assist in his first three games the former Mexico international was still adapting to his new side. While OCSC suffered a 1-0 defeat to San Antonio FC on Saturday night in a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Final at Championship Soccer Stadium, though, Torres seemed to be getting closer to the breakthrough in front of goal that could set things up for the rest of the season with the defending title holders.
Torres had a season-high five shots overall and three shots on target, forcing a pair of good saves out of San Antonio’s Jordan Farr, including a game-saving stop to deny Torres in second-half stoppage time. If Torres can dig in and replicate Saturday’s performance consistently – starting next Saturday at home to Sacramento Republic FC – then good times should be just around the corner.
Another attacking newcomer to the league that went through the same teething problems as Torres was San Diego Loyal SC’s Kyle Vassell, who went without a goal in his first three outings for the side while recording only one shot on target. The past three games, though, the former Northern Ireland international has clicked into gear with four goals, including a brace on Saturday night in SD Loyal’s 4-1 win against the Charleston Battery.
Vassell’s second goal of the night, a sharply taken finish from outside the penalty area to the bottom-right corner, showed a renewed confidence and the reason why San Diego brought him on board this offseason. With five wins out of six to start the campaign overall as well as a league-leading 14 goals, SD Loyal is shifting through the gears in attack with the third-highest Expected Goals mark in the league (8.80xG).
There was plenty expected from Detroit City FC when it came to what the club would bring off the field to the USL Championship, but through five games in the league on the field the way Head Coach Trevor James wants his side to play has been a massive positive for the league’s quality and attractiveness. That was epitomized by the side’s third goal in a 4-0 romp past Atlanta United 2 on Saturday night, a six-player move that featured sharp first-time passing and a brilliant backheeled pass by Antoine Hoppenot to put Pato Botello Faz in on goal with all the time in the world to pick out his finish.
Speed from @PatoBotello_19 makes it!#ATLvDET | @DetroitCityFC pic.twitter.com/7hCIINeV03— USL Championship (@USLChampionship) April 10, 2022
This hasn’t always manifested itself consistently – the club’s first half performance against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC a couple of weeks ago wasn’t one to write home about – but when it clicks, it delivers. Detroit returns to action on Friday night against Birmingham Legion FC in its national television debut on ESPN Deportes at Keyworth Stadium. If you haven’t caught one of their games yet, do yourself a favor and tune in to watch one of the more entertaining sides in the league so far this campaign.
There’s still going to be a lot of work to do before Indy Eleven join the Eastern Conference’s elite, but Saturday’s 2-1 win on the road against Rio Grande Valley FC on the back of two Stefano Pinho goals was a major step in the right direction. Indy needed to be efficient against a Toros side that will walk away from a contest once again wondering how they didn’t take a point – Pinho’s goals came on the only two shots on goal the side produced, a rate that in the long run is unlikely to be sustainable – but a small weight will get lifted this week with the pressure of finding that first win under Head Coach Mark Lowry now relieved.
More help could be on the way soon for Pinho in attack. Saturday saw Manuel Arteaga make his 2022 debut for the side as a late substitute, and the club’s leading scorer from a season ago would be a welcome addition to the front line as Indy tries to move forward.