Louisville City FC's Cameron Lancaster moved into third place in the USL Championship's regular season goals list on Saturday, scoring twice to move to 73 for his career. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
The final weekend of May delivered some expected results, and some surprises, as the USL Championship wrapped up Week 12 of the regular season over Friday and Saturday, including a return to the scoresheet from one of the league’s all-time finishers and a big derby victory on the road for the Western Conference leaders.
Here are 10 things we took away from the weekend’s action.
Cameron Lancaster’s return to the starting lineup for Louisville City FC went about the way you might expect on Saturday afternoon. A pair of goals – the 12th regular season two-goal outing in the USL Championship for his career – sent Lancaster into sole possession of third place in the Championship’s all-time scoring list, even if the penalty kick with which he leveled the score for the hosts wasn’t the greatest of his career.
“It was an emotional time there,” Lancaster said of his opening goal, which was almost saved by Tulsa’s Sean Lewis as it went to the bottom-right corner. “It wasn’t the greatest penalty. I was a bit pissed off with myself that it didn’t just fly into the net. But I was able to get off the mark, and the second one followed, so I was pleased.”
LouCity has had more than enough to get by in Lancaster’s absence – Wilson Harris notched his seventh goal of the season after replacing the English striker in the second half, continuing his own fine season – but now the Eastern Conference favorites have another centerpiece to their attacking arsenal back and ready. It’s likely onwards and upwards from here.
Given the understandable emotion surrounding Saturday night’s South Texas Derby from the tragic events of the week, San Antonio FC’s 3-2 victory against Rio Grande Valley FC was a lesser concern than the messages being sent on the field during the 21st-minute pause and calls to action from both clubs on social media throughout.
The victory, though, continued SAFC’s stellar start to the campaign and moved the side into sole possession of first place in the West with nine wins from its opening 11 games as Justin Dhillon struck twice against the Toros to make it two wins out of two against their rivals this season.
“I’m incredibly proud of how resilient the guys were,” said SAFC Head Coach Alen Marcina. “They battled hard for 90 minutes. You know, we weren’t at our best, but we found a way to win. That’s a true testament to their commitment to their resilience, to maintaining their cohesion, to maintain being the aggressors. We’ll learn from this game and move on, but it’s a well-earned three points”
It’s also the sort of win that lays the foundation for bigger things. As of now, San Antonio is projected to finish with the best record in the league according to fivethirtyeight.com with its projected 72 points on course to be the third-highest in a league season. Those are major heights, but one SAFC’s driven squad could set as the goal as the season goes on.
New Mexico United went from the sublime to the ridiculous in its road victory against Indy Eleven. The sublime was provided by Justin Portillo’s third goal in the past two games, an outstanding strike that opened the scoring from 20 yards while clipping the underside of the crossbar and in. The ridiculous came via unfortunate Indy defender Mechack Jerome, whose own goal provided when proved to be a necessary insurance goal in the 2-1 win.
“That definitely changed the game,” New Mexico Head Coach Zach Prince told The Albuquerque Journal’s Ken Sickenger. “I feel for Mechack, to be honest. He’s a good player and a really good guy. At the same time, I was really happy for us.”
It’s the sort of break that everyone can use, but with New Mexico now on a three-game winning streak it has moved into view of the top four in the Western Conference with games in hand on all three of the teams sitting above it in sixth place. With some challenging – but winnable – games coming up in June, Prince’s side will be looking to continue its upward ascent.
The early part of El Paso Locomotive FC’s season could be defined by mental mistakes and errors in games that proved costly. That could have been the case on Friday night, too, as Luis Solignac – already on a yellow card for dissent less than 10 minutes earlier – made a rash challenge to break up a counterattack for Las Vegas Lights FC late in the first half and received his marching orders, reducing the visitors to 10 men at Cashman Field.
This is an El Paso side that has cut back on its errors overall since its awful start to the season, though, and that part of the side shone through as despite playing down a man for the second half it still emerged with a 1-0 victory. Dylan Mares’ goal just past the hour-mark was a finely worked finish aided by Eder Borelli and Ricardo Zacarias, and while Lights FC got off 19 shots overall – a season high for the hosts – it wasn’t able to threaten with a man-advantage in the way it had before the break. Locomotive FC’s defensive discipline and a good display by Evan Newton carried the visitors, continuing to show how the side has turned the page from early this campaign.
The theory for most teams is a key part of roster and lineup building is the strength of the spine that runs through the center of the field for a squad. For Phoenix Rising FC, the absence of some of those key players, including defender James Musa and midfielders Aodhan Quinn and Kevon Lambert, in recent weeks could be directly linked to the challenges the side had faced on the field.
With Musa and Lambert both back in the lineup on Saturday, while the performance at Hartford Athletic wasn’t the cleanest for the visitors, it did prove enough to take an important 2-1 win on the road as Lambert and Greg Hurst struck three minutes apart to rally the side after Prince Saydee’s opener at Trinity Health Stadium.
“[Lambert] told me before the game he thought he could do 45,” said Phoenix Head Coach Rick Schantz after the game of his Jamaican midfielder. “I begged him for 60, and then I prayed for a little bit more.”
Lambert ended up playing 73 minutes for the visitors and was his typically strong self, winning 8 of 11 duels and 5 of 7 aerial duels in addition to a well-taken header to pull Phoenix level. Recalled to the Jamaica Men’s National Team for its upcoming games in the Concacaf Nations League, Lambert’s value to Phoenix and its success can’t be underestimated when he’s at the top of his game.
As Saturday night’s game entered stoppage time, San Diego Loyal SC was cruising with a two-goal lead against the LA Galaxy II on the way to a much-needed victory. By the time the final whistle blew, you could have been forgiven for thinking the side was experiencing déjà vu all over again.
Goals by Preston Judd in the third minute of stoppage time and then a penalty kick by Taylor Davila in the eighth minute of stoppage time managed to somehow grab Los Dos a point from proceedings in a tale that’s becoming too familiar for SD Loyal fans. San Diego has now conceded late goals in each of its past three games to miss out on victories on the road. In New Mexico on May 7 it was Harry Swartz’s 94th-minute equalizer that secured a point for the hosts at Isotopes Park, while last weekend two goals in five minutes by Emilio Ycaza for Rio Grande Valley FC turned a one-goal lead into a 2-1 defeat at H-E-B Park.
SD Loyal has now dropped nine points from winning positions this season overall, tied for the most in the Championship alongside FC Tulsa and Oakland Roots SC. All nine dropped points have come on the road, providing a margin between its current position in third in the West and holding top spot ahead of San Antonio FC. That’s a habit that’s got to change for SD Loyal to be a contender at the end of the season.
There was a bit of the idea that on any given day, one side can defeat another to Monterey Bay F.C.’s win against Louisville City FC last weekend. After MBFC backed up that performance with a 4-2 win against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC on its home turf this past Saturday at Cardinale Stadium, it’s emerging that the first-year side is finding its level and is ready to compete against anything the Championship can throw at it.
Getting a run of games at Cardinale Stadium should help that, too. With upcoming home contests against NorCal rivals Oakland Roots SC and Sacramento Republic FC coming next month, the impact of playing in front of the club’s emerging fanbase is something Sam Gleadle – who now has two goals in as many games after Saturday’s contest – is looking forward to.
“It’s huge,” said Gleadle. “We have a lot of home games coming up now, so we’re very excited about that. Every game is a big game, but we have some really big ones coming up. San Antonio, Oakland here – big rivalry. I’m expecting the crowd to be here again and be loud. I think it helped us get through it today.”
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC took a point from its visit to Miami FC on Saturday night after an entertaining 2-2 draw at Riccardo Silva Stadium, but with a missed penalty kick and impressive second-half performance there was a sense the Hounds could have delivered a road victory in the aftermath of one of the weekend’s high-profile contests.
“Miami's a good team, and they're explosive in transition,” said Hounds Head Coach Bob Lilley. “I think we were the better team in the second half and deserved to get something from the game. It was one of our better second halves all year, but if we had a more complete performance in the first half, three points were there to be taken.”
Pittsburgh’s second half was certainly impressive. In addition to a fine goal by Alex Dixon to level the game for a second time, the visitors outshot their hosts 8-1 and if not for an off day in front of goal by usually prolific goalscorer Dane Kelly would have had something to show for it. Ahead of another big game next week at home to Detroit City FC, though, there’s a lot to build on here for the Hounds.
There was probably a sense of relief for Birmingham Legion FC when Enzo Martinez broke the side’s scoreless streak at 300 minutes on Friday night to open the scoring against the New York Red Bulls II. Some of the other chances that went astray before Marlon delivered a key late winner in a 2-1 win at MSU Soccer Park should still leave cause for concern, however, for a side that is still struggling overall in the final third.
At the center of that is former United States international Juan Agudelo, who had golden opportunities to regain the lead for Legion FC after Jordan Adebayo-Smith found the net for the hosts in the 25th minute to pull the hosts level after Martinez’s opener. Agudelo hit the crossbar with his best chance of the game and had four shots overall that totaled 0.80xG, leaving him still with only one goal from a penalty kick since arriving in Birmingham. The goals should start to come soon for the 29-year-old, but Legion FC has a difficult schedule coming up in June and can’t afford to drop too far off the playoff pace.
You could excuse Sacramento Republic FC for having a little bit of a hangover from its outstanding midweek victory against the San Jose Earthquakes in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, but Saturday’s trip to Oakland Roots SC proved the same story as much of the season on the road at Laney Stadium. A 1-1 draw after Luis Felipe Fernandes’ first-half goal was cancelled out by Ottar Magnus Karlsson’s eighth goal of the season on a late penalty kick left Sacramento above the playoff line in the West, but continuing to struggle for results on the road.
Sacramento’s lone away win this season has come against the New York Red Bulls II, with the side sitting 1-3-2 overall on its travels this campaign. As good as Republic FC has been on its home turf, it’s going to need to find improvement here to solidify its place in the playoff picture moving forward.