Photo courtesy Orovio Photography / Miami FC
The final undefeated start in the USL Championship came to an end on Friday night, setting up a dramatic weekend of action that included late winners, penalty saves as Week 10 came to its conclusion.
Here’s a look at some of the key storylines coming out of the weekend.
Going from Phoenix to Houston to Miami in the span of eight days and having suffered two deflating defeats over the opening two legs of the journey, it could have been understandable if San Antonio FC hadn’t been at its best on Saturday night against Miami FC at Riccardo Silva Stadium. Instead, the visitors delivered an impressive display to take its eighth victory in its opening 10 games of the regular season with a 2-0 result that saw Deshane Beckford open the scoring before Mitchell Taintor’s late penalty kick put the final touch on a dominant display.
“It was an incredibly challenging road trip. Three games, eight days. With all that travel, to play an MLS opponent, just so proud of the mentality monsters,” said San Antonio Head Coach Alen Marcina, borrowing a line from Liverpool FC’s Jurgen Klopp. “They continued to show up, and show up big. Great mindset. We continue to display our identity which is impressive because it’s very, very demanding, being the aggressors with and without the ball and they got rewarded with the win tonight.”
While SAFC’s journey in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup came to an end last week, the desire the side showed in responding to that setback was one that’s hard to match. It might be the biggest reason for the likelihood for title contention at the end of the season.
For a second consecutive week, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC put in a dominant display. For a second consecutive week, it came away with only a 1-0 victory at Highmark Stadium, this time against El Paso Locomotive FC, as goalkeeper Kevin Silva was needed to make a key late penalty save to preserve all three points for the Hounds in a game Head Coach Bob Lilley should have been put away long before the conclusion.
“We’ve been very wasteful for a stretch here,” said Lilley. “The reality is, the game should've been decided. I think we got the goal and maybe played for another 5-10 minutes, but we were sitting back, and I thought we let them dictate once we got the lead. It’s disappointing. I thought we closed the game better last week. You can’t jog around the field and let teams have the ball and time. We have an experienced team that should be able to close games out better than tonight.”
As the Hounds head to face the Tampa Bay Rowdies in one of Week 11’s marquee games this Saturday night, regaining the sharpness in front of goal the side displayed early in the season will likely be required.
A season ago, Chris Wehan almost single-handedly carried New Mexico United’s attack over the finish line to a place in the USL Championship Playoffs. That effort came up just short on the final weekend of the season, but the importance of the former league Assists Champion still can’t be understated, which is why his breakthrough on Saturday night for the first goal of the 2022 campaign in New Mexico’s 2-0 victory against the Charleston Battery could be key for United’s direction in the coming weeks.
Wehan was joined on the scoresheet by Neco Brett for his first goal since April 30, giving the visitors and Head Coach Zach Prince a winning return against the club with which he spent his entire playing career. With Phoenix Rising FC coming to Isotopes Park next weekend, United will be hoping for a similar display against one of their biggest rivals to build positive momentum.
Last week in the Quarterly Report, we noted the difference between the LA Galaxy II at home and on the road. On Friday night they put up another display showing the danger they pose to visiting sides at Dignity Health Sports Park with a 4-3 win against Louisville City FC that handed the Eastern Conference leaders their first loss in all competitions this season.
A pair of goals by Cameron Dunbar – both assisted by Preston Judd – added another notable name to the list of teams that have suffered defeat in LA in the past two seasons. After last year’s late-season victory against El Paso Locomotive FC and this campaign’s 3-0 win against Phoenix Rising FC, visitors should continue to be wary of Los Dos on their home turf.
As impressive as the Galaxy II proved in the attacking half, Louisville City FC’s Niall McCabe voiced his displeasure with the side’s performance that provided a down-note after its midweek penalty shootout victory against Detroit City FC in the Open Cup.
“Very poor in all phases from us,” McCabe said. “I don’t care that we made seven changes. I don’t care about travel. I don’t care about any of that stuff. We have standards here, and tonight fell way short of that. I think everyone who played tonight needs to have a look at their performance and address it, because that’s not Louisville City’s standard. That’s well below par.”
As with San Antonio, some could excuse a below-par performance on two days rest on the west coast. That’s not the way it works at LouCity, which goes a long way to explain the extensive success the club has earned over the years.
One of the more intriguing contests on Saturday night saw Memphis 901 FC play host to an Indy Eleven side that had won four games in a row and was coming off a week of rest as it arrived at AutoZone Park. If this was a litmus test for both sides, Memphis came out impressively on top. 901 FC’s 2-1 victory saw the hosts dominate the big chances, and if not for a goal that goalkeeper Trey Muse will want back could have looked more impressive in the box score.
“We moved the ball well, we were very selfless on and off the ball,” said 901 FC Head Coach Ben Pirmann. “I think maybe in the first half we tried to get too cute on a couple things instead of just shooting hard and low. [Indy] was an excellent team we played against, and it was a great performance from our men, I'm very proud of the group.”
Memphis win was notable beyond its performance. With a fourth win in its past five games, 901 FC cemented itself into a top-four position in the Eastern Conference, creating a five-point gap to some teams led by Indy below it in the standings.
Rio Grande Valley FC has been the team so far this season sitting on the edge of being a strong squad, and one that can come up dishearteningly short when the moment presents itself. In American Soccer Analysis’ Expected Points metric, the Toros sit eighth in the league at 15.65xP, ahead of teams like Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, the current Western Conference leader.
That made Saturday’s 2-1 win against Monterey Bay F.C. at Cardinale Stadium a notable one, as beyond handing the hosts their first loss at their new home venue, the Toros found a way to come out on top of a tightly-fought game that certainly could have gone either way. It takes the right amount of good fortune and good timing to deliver in those types of games, but if the Toros can continue to deliver against more established teams moving forward they could be a dangerous opponent for anyone in the Western Conference.
As it let Oakland Roots SC rally to earn a draw the prior weekend, Orange County SC Head Coach Richard Chaplow believed his side lost control of the game in the second half, resulting in two points being dropped on home turf. On Friday night, the defending Championship title holders ensured there would be no repeat of that performance, putting up the second five-goal half in the league this season before the halftime break in a 5-1 victory against FC Tulsa that could provide a springboard to bigger and better things.
“We worked on possession all week,” said OCSC Head Coach Richard Chaplow. “We worked on keeping the ball trying to make the pitch as big as we possibly could keeping it simple. And we saw that a bunch of times in the first half tonight, creating spaces and then we did a great job of finding those spaces and obviously capitalizing and finding them.”
A hat trick by Milan Iloski highlighted the night for the hosts, who are now back within two points of the playoff positions as they pass the quarter-pole for their campaign.
Detroit City FC’s returning core of players including goalkeeper Nathan Steinwascher, defenders Stephen Carroll and Devon Amoo-Mensah, midfielder Maxi Rodriguez and winger Rhys Williams have all played a big role in the club’s success in its first USL Championship campaign, but on Saturday night against Loudoun United FC the play of offseason arrival Antoine Hoppenot took center stage in a 4-2 win that belied a game that tilted back-and-forth between the sides at Keyworth Stadium.
Hoppenot’s dynamism on either flank proved a key difference as he notched a pair of assists and also delivered a low cross that turned into an own goal as the hosts grabbed control of the game either side of halftime. Le Rouge’s run of four goals in under 20 minutes staked them to a lead Loudoun couldn’t recover from, and solidified DCFC’s place in the top three of the Eastern Conference standings after last week’s setback.
Hartford Athletic had done more than enough to be ahead against the New York Red Bulls II as the game ticked into second-half stoppage time on Saturday night at Trinity Health Stadium but were instead looking at having to settle for a point with the game still level. Enter Corey Hertzog, whose first goal in the club’s colors after his arrival last month – and 74th regular season goal of his career in the Championship – delivered a deserved 3-2 win that sent the sellout crowd on hand into wild celebrations.
Hertzog’s arrival has helped spark the Athletic, with the veteran having added a pair of assists in addition to Saturday’s goal. There will be bigger challenges for Hartford to come, starting next Saturday in a visit to FC Tulsa, but the presence of the 31-year-old and his ability to finish chances consistently should continue to pay dividends for Head Coach Harry Watling’s side.