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USL Championship Talking Points | Week 8

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 05/02/22, 11:01AM EDT

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LouCity produces a statement performance, SD Loyal gets notable comeback, Detroit City’s second half delivers again


Louisville City FC's Wilson Harris led his side to a statement victory against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC on Saturday night at Lynn Family Stadium. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

A captivating weekend of action delivered some major storylines and results across both conferences, with Louisville City FC continuing its undefeated start to the season and the front-running trio of Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, San Antonio FC and San Diego Loyal SC all producing impressive victories.

Here are 10 takeaways we got from the weekend’s action.

LOUISVILLE MAKES STATEMENT, OPENS GAP

We were looking forward to a meeting of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference on Saturday night when Louisville City FC hosted Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC. Instead, we got a game between the best team in the Eastern Conference, and one of the teams that is trying to close that gap.

LouCity’s 2-0 victory might not have been the most emphatic scoreline of the weekend, but it felt close to the most comprehensive in relation to the competition. Wilson Harris notched a goal and assist, continuing his impressive start to the season, but what left the biggest impression was how LouCity closed down the attacking lanes for the Hounds, who had entered with 16 goals in seven games this campaign. Pittsburgh was held to only 0.36xG for the game and one shot on target, a clear measure of the hosts superiority.

Head Coach Danny Cruz’s side is now undefeated nine games into the regular season, its longest undefeated run since it went 13 games during the abbreviated 2020 campaign. We’ll wait and see who can emerge as a potential challenger.  

HOUNDS LICK WOUNDS, WILL RETURN

From Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC’s side of things, there were some big lessons to be learned from Head Coach Bob Lilley’s perspective – particularly to provide a more robust physical challenge to LouCity when the teams next square off at Highmark Stadium in September.

“Now we know what a good team looks like, and we have it on film, so we know the areas where we need to improve,” said Lilley. “I think we gave them a little too much respect. We definitely needed to get up in their face a bit more.”

The Hounds by no means are a bad team, but they did put out an underwhelming performance in their biggest test of the season so far. With games up next against Birmingham Legion FC, Tampa Bay Rowdies and Miami FC in the coming month, we’ll see where they stand as the next-best-thing to the conference leader.

SECOND HALF PROVING DCFC’S FRIEND

Strange but true – Detroit City FC fans have still yet to see their side score in the first half at Keyworth Stadium in the USL Championship this season. That hasn’t kept the newcomers from making a big impression, however, with the second-half squad racking up another pair of late goals to overcome the New York Red Bulls II on Saturday evening to run their winning streak in the league to four games and their overall streak to six with a 2-0 win that moved the side to second place in the Eastern Conference.

Nine of DCFC’s 12 goals in the league this campaign have come in the second half, with the three first-half goals all having come in the side’s 4-0 win on the road against Atlanta United 2 on April 9. Detroit City’s 9-1 ratio of second-half goals is only matched by the lone team they’re now chasing – and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup rival next week – Louisville City FC.

SD LOYAL SHOWS DETERMINATION IN COMEBACK

Having suffered a pair of defeats in three games against Eastern Conference opposition already this season, there was something to prove for San Diego Loyal SC as it visited the Tampa Bay Rowdies for a side that had won only once outside the Pacific Time Zone in its short history previously. Coming back to defeat the defending Eastern Conference title holders 3-2 at Al Lang Stadium, then, was a major feather in the club’s cap as Evan Conway’s late goal provided the difference in a tremendous contest.

As limited chances were for both teams overall, what might have impressed most was the finishing SD Loyal delivered. Nick Moon’s opening goal was a brilliant strike, while the precision of both Jack Blake and Conway’s goals delivered more quality for a side that has now racked up a league-high 21 tallies so far this season on an Expected Goals mark of 12.5xG.

ROWDIES RUN OUT OF GAS

By contrast, the Tampa Bay Rowdies seemed to run out of gas as they completed a month in which they played eight games across the league and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and in turn befell a fate they hadn’t in almost four years.

For the first time since June 22, 2018, the Tampa Bay Rowdies lost a game in which they held a halftime lead in their 3-2 defeat to San Diego Loyal SC, a span of 50 games in which they had led at the break and not ended up on the losing side. The last time it occurred was against the Harrisburg City Islanders when current Rowdies forward Lucky Mkosana scored both goals for the visitors at Al Lang Stadium.

The Rowdies get two weeks off before they return to action in the hyped visit to Phoenix Rising FC on Sunday, May 15 on ESPN2. A mental and physical break is likely the best thing that could happen for Head Coach Neill Collins’ side right now.

CALDWELL DELIVERS IMPRESSIVELY FOR SWITCHBACKS

We’ve already talked about the impact that Louisville City FC goalkeeper Kyle Morton has had on his new squad this year, but on Saturday it was the turn of Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC’s Jeff Caldwell to grab the spotlight and show why he was one of Head Coach Brendan Burke’s early-offseason acquisitions in a sparking performance against Oakland Roots SC that set up a 3-0 win at Laney Stadium.

Just as with LouCity and Morton, Caldwell – a finalist for the 2021 Championship Goalkeeper of the Year award at Hartford Athletic – was acquired to upgrade a position that had been a weak point for Colorado Springs a season ago. After Saturday’s five-save shutout that registered a -1.96 Goals minus Expected Goals mark, one of the best single-game performances this season, Caldwell showed his mettle and allowed the Switchbacks to remain on top of the Western Conference at the end of the weekend.

SAN ANTONIO POSTS ATTACKING BREAKOUT

San Antonio FC had clearly heard all the chatter about their record being good, but their performances not quite being convincing enough. Just check this out from midfielder Nicky Hernandez after the side’s club-record performance with six goals against Monterey Bay F.C. on Saturday night.

“We want to prove everyone wrong but most importantly prove ourselves right. That we deserve to be up here,” said Hernandez.

Point made, even if it was at the expense of an MBFC side that can’t wait to get off the road. San Antonio’s scoring outburst – fueled in part by Hernandez, who made his first start on loan from FC Dallas – arrives at a great time for the club. With a road trip and chance at revenge against Phoenix Rising FC next weekend followed by its Open Cup Round of 32 game against Houston Dynamo FC, there’s the potential for the next few weeks to be extremely exciting around Toyota Field.

CUBO GETTING ORANGE COUNTY ON TRACK

Former Mexico international Erick “Cubo” Torres took a little while to get warmed up, but with his first two-goal game for Orange County SC on Saturday night against Rio Grande Valley FC he showed what a dangerous presence he can be for the defending title-holders this season. Torres eluded the attention of Toros defenders twice to put home headed finishes from a pair of excellent crosses by Daniel Pedersen and Tony Rocha to earn OCSC just its second league win of the season.

Slow starts aren’t necessarily a new thing for Orange County – last year the side lost two of its opening three games before settling into a positive groove – and there’s likely better to come with the reintroduction of center back Rob Kiernan to the back line. Getting Torres into a scoring groove in the same way Ronaldo Damus was able to last campaign is going to be a major plus to keep the side in the playoff picture.

LUNA STEALS SPOTLIGHT IN El Paso RETURN

The El Paso Locomotive FC trio of Luis Solignac, Dylan Mares and Diego Luna could all have made their own cases for being the Player of the Match in their side’s 3-1 comeback victory against Loudoun United FC on Saturday evening at Segra Field, but the return of United States U-20 international Luna might have been the most eye-catching of the three as he notched a highlight-reel goal to put the side ahead to cap a display in which his footwork and quality was on full display.

Solignac is back to providing the goals, and Mares the passing know-how for El Paso, but it’s Luna who you just can’t take your eyes off when he gets on the ball. With 7 of 12 completed dribbles, including a mazy first-half run that almost resulted in a goal and the pull-back that ended up providing the angle for his 81st-minute finish, the 18-year-old is one to get out to see in person soon.

INDY CONTINUES TO MAKE MOVES

Playing in games that are start-and-stop is never an easy proposition for players or coaches – let alone the hardy fans that stay until the end – but that might be a measure for the growth Indy Eleven has shown over the past month in which it has gone undefeated in league play after a 1-0 win against Hartford Athletic on Saturday night at Michael A. Carroll Stadium.

Ayoze’s first-half goal – before the lightning arrived again and delayed the second half kickoff, pushing the final whistle past 11 p.m. local time – was a thing of beauty and the Indy defense itself is starting to shore up with goalkeeper Elliot Panicco making the saves the side needed to keep the side rolling up the standings.

“So much appreciation for the [Brickyard Battalion] and other fans who stuck it out last night,” tweeted Indy Head Coach Mark Lowry. “Two big delays, game finishing around 11pm, you guys are the real heroes. It’s not easy for the players in those circumstances, but your presence alongside us helped.”

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