This weekend will see the 2022 USL Championship regular season be one-quarter complete, with the playoff races starting to take shape as a result. While there are some familiar teams near the top of both conferences, the shifting landscape has given us some potentially intriguing contests over the course of the upcoming month both for teams looking to maintain their current course or to make inroads to the top.
Here are 13 games that for those reasons and others, such as some compelling perennial rivalries, we think you should have circled to watch over the four weeks.
New Mexico United got out to a good start under new Head Coach Zach Prince in March, going undefeated through its first four games. The April arrived, and with a scarce schedule United dropped three consecutive games, including getting knocked out of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. With only six games played so far – fewest of any team in the Western Conference – there’s ground to be made up if NMU and its attacking pieces led by Neco Brett and Chris Wehan can deliver. Finding a way to take victory against a San Diego Loyal SC side that has already conquered Phoenix Rising FC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies away from home this season would be a major boost for United as it tries to get back on track.
It’s been a hard two months on the road for Monterey Bay F.C., but the scene for its inaugural home opener at Cardinale Stadium against Las Vegas Lights FC should be one to behold. The intimate setting we’ve seen images of on social media throughout the reconstruction of the historic venue on the campus of Cal State University Monterey Bay looks like it will be an absolute gem, and the passionate local support should turn out in force to see a local product like Walmer Martinez lead the side into action. Getting to face one of Head Coach Frank Yallop’s former clubs in Las Vegas Lights FC – which has written its own positive start to its fifth season in the league – should give the hosts a chance to rise to the occasion and begin a new chapter for Northern Californian soccer.
San Antonio FC enters the month tied for the most points in the Western Conference and as the favorite to claim the USL Championship title at the end of the season, according to fivethirtyeight.com. Its visit to Phoenix Rising FC, though, provides the motivation to rewrite the script from the one game so far this campaign in which it fell flat. Phoenix Rising FC has been up and down so far this campaign, but one of its most impressive displays came at San Antonio on April 2 when it took a 2-0 victory at Toyota Field and held the hosts to just 0.12xG and only one shot on goal. With Rising FC in need of closing the gap to the teams at the top of the standings, this should be an enthralling contest before the great crowd at Wild Horse Pass.
Miami FC has had some ups and downs over the first couple of months of the season, but Head Coach Anthony Pulis’ side has shown it can compete with the best the USL Championship has to offer with some notable wins, including road victories at in-state rival the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Memphis 901 FC in the past month. San Antonio’s trip to South Florida should make for a compelling clash, then, as the visitors continue a gauntlet of a month that sees the side play three of four league contests away from home. With former SAFC man Kyle Murphy waiting now in Miami’s colors as he approaches 50 regular season goals for his career, San Antonio’s defense and goalkeeper Jordan Farr could get a serious challenge three days after their Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup clash with Houston Dynamo FC.
Memphis 901 FC and Indy Eleven both sit above the playoff line in the Eastern Conference to start May, a reasonably impressive feat for both considering the turnover at 2021 playoff side 901 FC from last season and the changes that Head Coach Mark Lowry has endeavored to deliver for the Boys in Blue. The attacking intent both teams look to bring should be on display at AutoZone Park in what could be a duel for a top-four place by the time it arrives with former Indy Eleven players Patrick Seagrist and Rece Buckmaster likely to play a key role for the hosts.
San Diego Loyal SC and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC have been among the contenders in the Western Conference since the opening weekend of the season, and both have reached the start of the month thanks to their impressive attacking pieces. San Diego’s six wins in nine contests have come on the back of the highest-scoring attack in the league so far with Kyle Vassell sitting with five of their 21 league goals, while the Switchbacks and the dynamic duo of Hadji Barry and Michee Ngalina sit with seven wins out of eight to start the campaign along with 16 goals as a side. That could produce some real fireworks at Torero Stadium in a clash between two teams with designs on firing their way to the first silverware in their respective histories.
The nationally televised clash between Phoenix Rising FC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies – a rematch of their first meeting a season ago that saw the Rowdies take a 2-1 win at Al Lang Stadium – has the potential to be one of the most compelling games of the season, but for different reasons than we might have expected at the start of March. Both Rising FC and the Rowdies have had ups and downs compared to their recent campaigns with both teams already sitting with three defeats in the first two months of the season as they both sit off the pace from the top of their respective conferences. The quality in both squads, though, is unquestionable, and if they each deliver the performances they’re capable of it should lead to a high stakes duel in the desert and the chance to push up the standings.
Detroit City FC has been one of the best stories in American soccer this campaign after its arrival in the USL Championship, with a first contest and victory against Major League Soccer opposition in the Columbus Crew in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup being added to by a superb start to their league season. DCFC enters the month undefeated since its opening day of the campaign with its impressive second-half form earning it a top-two spot behind Louisville City FC at the top of the Eastern Conference. A midweek trip to Miami FC – where current DCFC winger Billy Forbes most recently plied his trade – should offer a great test for DCFC and Head Coach Trevor James on the road.
Going into May, the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC still sit in the fivethirtyeight.com rankings as the two closest rivals to current Eastern Conference leader Louisville City FC. This meeting at Al Lang Stadium, though, could be a prove-it game for both teams as they look to stay in touch with the top spot. After going undefeated at home in the regular season a season ago, the Rowdies have already suffered two defeats on home turf this season through the first two months. The Hounds, meanwhile, have fared better over the opening two months but got an eye-opening defeat to Louisville to close April. We know what the numbers say, but the performances both Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh put forward here will say a lot about their candidacy as a contender moving toward the halfway point of the regular season.
While Louisville City FC is the lone remaining undefeated side in the USL Championship at the start of May, it’s San Antonio FC and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC who sit tied for the most wins with each side having won seven of eight outings to kick off their campaigns. For the Switchbacks – who have continued their upward ascent this season under second-year coach Brendan Burke – Toyota Field has been a house of horror throughout their history with Colorado Springs having failed to take victory in six prior visits, including a pair of 3-0 defeats a season ago that saw SAFC outduel Colorado Springs for second place in the Mountain Division. If the Switchbacks can find a way to get a result this time – and with the firepower they boast, there’s a chance – then it could mark a notable moment in the race for first place in the West.
For the first time in the rivalry between New Mexico United and Phoenix Rising FC last month, both teams didn’t find the back of the net. It wasn’t for a lack of trying on New Mexico’s part, but a remarkable performance by Phoenix goalkeeper Ben Lundt kept the door shut for the hosts at Wild Horse Pass in a 1-0 result that handed United its first loss of the season. The scene switches to Isotopes Park for the rematch with New Mexico still looking for its first official win in the all-time series. If Head Coach Zach Prince’s side can pull that off in front of what will be a raucous home crowd, it could be as cathartic as joyful for the hosts.
The South Texas Derby between Rio Grande Valley FC and San Antonio FC has had its swings back and forth but has always found a way to remain competitive over the years. SAFC’s 2-1 win at H-E-B Park at the end of March gave the visitors a 9-6-7 record across the regular season and playoffs when the teams meet, and the game was as tight as it seemed with SAFC edging the Expected Goals battle 1.57xG to 1.50xG with David Loera’s goal right before halftime proving the difference. The Toros have built their way back into the playoff race currently and will be hoping to turn the tables this time around as they face a visitor that will wrap up an arduous month against its biggest rival.
The arrival of Monterey Bay F.C. has given both Oakland Roots SC and Sacramento Republic FC a new arrival in the NorCal scene in the USL Championship, but after Roots SC took the season series a year ago on the way to advancing to the playoffs while Republic FC missed out for the first time in their history this series should continue to ramp up this campaign. Oakland hasn’t quite hit its stride fully yet under new Head Coach Juan Guerra, although it has shown the sort of promise that indicates that’s not too far away. Republic FC will be hoping to close the month on a high note and earn its first competitive win in the series, meanwhile, as it looks to continue its bid for a postseason return.
Tag(s): Features San Antonio FC CO Spring Switchbacks Phoenix Rising FC Rio Grande Valley FC Sacramento Republic FC Pittsburgh Riverhounds Tampa Bay Rowdies Las Vegas Lights FC Indy Eleven Memphis 901 FC New Mexico United San Diego Loyal SC The Miami FC Oakland Roots SC Detroit City FC Monterey Bay F.C.