The Tampa Bay Rowdies and Phoenix Rising FC will meet for the second time on Sunday after one of the most memorable interconference games of the 2021 season a year ago. | Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies
It will be exactly one year on from the first meeting between the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Phoenix Rising FC in the USL Championship when the two title contenders meet on Sunday in a nationally televised clash on ESPNews and ESPN+ at Wild Horse Pass for one of the most anticipated games of the 2022 season.
The game at Al Lang Stadium was the major launching point for interconference play, which after the league’s expansion to two conferences in the 2015 season became limited as regional rivalries and in-conference play dominated the regular season.
Seven years later and there are big interconference games seemingly every week. This weekend’s action in the USL Championship starting on Friday night has six interconference games scheduled, including first meetings between Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC and El Paso Locomotive FC at Highmark Stadium, and Miami FC and San Antonio FC at Riccardo Silva Stadium.
Ahead of that, here’s a look back at nine of the memorable interconference games we’ve see so far, starting with the first edition of Sunday’s showdown.
It was billed as Unfinished Business, bringing together the two teams that were set to compete in the Championship Final that never was the prior November. It ended up with the host Tampa Bay Rowdies coming out on top on the way to a season in which they tied the Championship record for home wins and set the winning percentage in league history with 23 wins in 32 regular season games (.719).
Miami FC looked to be cruising in its first contest against Rio Grande Valley FC, ahead by two goals inside the opening 20 minutes. Then the Toros turned the tables in the second half, and Miami’s Bolu Akinyode got his marching orders, as the visitors ran away with the game for a triumphant visit to South Florida.
The arrival of two-time league title winners Louisville City FC to face Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC at its new downtown home at Weidner Field was one of the highlights of the 8,000-seat venues inaugural slate. Thanks to a pair of late goals for either side, it provided a great night of entertainment that showed the Switchbacks were ready for primetime.
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC and Hartford Athletic not only delivered an avalanche of goals at Weidner Field but produced some which were right out of the top drawer. Current Hartford midfielder Andre Lewis grabbed a pair of goals for the hosts and current Switchbacks goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell made some big stops for the visitors in a back-and-forth battle that was always entertaining.
The momentum swung back and forth between Louisville City FC and New Mexico United as they met for the first time before a crowd of 10,349 fans at Lynn Family Stadium with Paolo DelPiccolo and Jimmy McLaughlin ensuring the hosts came out on top.
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC took its outstanding start to the season to South Florida and delivered an impressive victory, but not before Miami FC rallied back and almost grabbed a result late on in a contest that featured a combined 10 shots on goal between the sides.
When Louisville City FC arrived at Torero Stadium, both it and San Diego Loyal SC were on top of their respective Eastern and Western Conferences. LouCity bucked this season’s trend of Western success with a five-goal performance that saw five different players find the net for the hosts.
Miami FC gave Phoenix Rising FC plenty to deal with in the first half of its first visit to Wild Horse Pass, but a goal shortly before the halftime break by Kevon Lambert and a brilliant winner from Luis Seijas sent the hosts to victory after a dominant second half that saw Rising FC claim its 11th comeback win since the start of the 2019 season.
San Diego Loyal SC went on the road and stunned the Rowdies, who lost for the first time in 50 games after holding a lead at the halftime break. The five-goal thriller delivered some outstanding finishes, too, including Nick Moon’s Goal of the Week winner for SD Loyal and Evan Conway's late game-winner.