Las Vegas Lights FC and El Paso Locomotive FC will square off for the second time this season after a nine-goal thriller in their March meeting at Southwest University Park. | Photo courtesy Ivan Pierre Aguirre / El Paso Locomotive FC
A rematch of one of the most memorable games of the 2022 USL Championship season so far and an East-coast road trip for the defending title holders kicks off the weekend’s action in the league on Friday night.
Here’s a look ahead to the three-game slate of action.
Venue: MSU Soccer Park
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: NY 23%, BHM 51%, Draw 26%
The Lowdown: Birmingham Legion FC will try to get back on a winning track – and get its attack into gear – as it faces a New York Red Bulls II side that enters on a four-game losing streak and is winless at home this season. The Red Bulls II suffered a 2-0 defeat on the road against Indy Eleven last Saturday night in their most recent outing, continuing the attacking struggles the side has faced so far this season. New York is the lone side in the Championship yet to win at home this campaign and has scored only once in five outings to sit tied for the fewest points in the league. Legion FC’s attack hasn’t had quite the same level of difficulties, but with only eight goals this season the side is currently below the playoff line in the Eastern Conference with a four-point gap to seventh-placed Indy going into the weekend. Birmingham played to a 0-0 draw against Las Vegas Lights FC in its last outing on May 18 as goalkeeper Matt VanOekel recorded his 30th regular season shutout in the Championship, but the side has been held scoreless in each of its past three outings overall, a run it will be eager to change.
New York Red Bulls II – Adam Najem: The former Red Bulls Academy product made his debut for the side last Saturday against Indy as a halftime substitute and could be called on for a first start as the side looks to his experience and playmaking ability in the final third.
Birmingham Legion FC – Prosper Kasim: The Ghanaian attacking midfielder has led Legion FC with three goals this season and found the net when these teams last met during the 2019 season in a 2-1 win at BBVA Field for Legion FC.
Venue: Fifth Third Bank Stadium
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: ATL 21%, OC 56%, Draw 23%
The Lowdown: Atlanta United 2 and Orange County SC will meet for the first time in their histories as the defending USL Championship title holders make the trip East looking to put pressure on the teams in the Western Conference playoff positions. Orange County played to a 2-2 draw with El Paso Locomotive FC last Saturday night in its most recent outing as the attacking duo of Milan Iloski and Erick “Cubo” Torres each found the net, with Torres’ goal in the 81st minute securing the hosts a point in a back-and-forth contest. OCSC is now undefeated in its last four games but sits three points out of the playoff positions in the West with only three wins in 10 outings so far this campaign. The visitors will be aiming to add another victory as it faces an Atlanta side that is looking for its first win since April 2 after a 3-1 defeat on the road against Detroit City FC last Saturday. Orji Nelson found the net for Atlanta late in the first half, but the visitors to Keyworth Stadium were unable to mount a comeback after Efrain Morales was sent off in the second half as the side fell for a fifth consecutive outing.
Atlanta United 2 – Nicolas Firmino: The attacking midfielder has notched a pair of goals this season, both in the side’s last victory against Hartford Athletic at the start of April, and will be needed to find a spark for the hosts against a solid OCSC defense.
Orange County SC – Erick Torres: The former Mexican international returns to face his former organization – where he made 33 appearances in MLS over the past two seasons – in good form with five goals and one assist so far this campaign.
Venue: Cashman Field
Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: LV 23%, ELP 53%, Draw 24%
The Lowdown: Las Vegas Lights FC plays host to El Paso Locomotive FC in a rematch of one of the most dramatic games of the 2022 season so far at Cashman Field with the teams separated by a point above the playoff line in the Western Conference as they enter Friday’s contest. Las Vegas claimed a 5-4 victory against Locomotive FC when the sides met for the first time this campaign on March 23 as forward Danny Trejo recorded two goals and two assists at Southwest University Park. All nine goals were scored in the second half of the contest as Cal Jennings also notched a pair of goals for Lights FC as the side evened the all-time series between the clubs at two wins apiece. Las Vegas’ form has cooled somewhat since its early-season success, however, with the side having gone winless in its last five games, drawing four times in that span after a 0-0 draw against Birmingham Legion FC on May 18 in its last outing. El Paso, meanwhile, has righted its ship to move a point ahead of Lights FC after a 2-2 draw against Orange County SC last time out in which both Luis Solignac and Diego Luna found the net at Championship Soccer Stadium. Locomotive FC has won three of its last five outings overall, and after taking victory in its lone prior trip to Cashman Field in 2019 will be hoping for a similar result this time around to further solidify its place in the top seven of the Western standings.
Las Vegas Lights FC – Roberto Molina: The 21-year-old El Salvador international has notched one goal this season while recording three chances created and will hope to have a bright performance before the upcoming international window.
El Paso Locomotive FC – Dylan Mares: The experienced playmaker was a major catalyst for El Paso’s attack in its prior meeting with Las Vegas this season and with four goals and four assists overall has been a key component alongside Solignac and Luna in the attacking third.