Florida rivals Miami FC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies meet for the second time this season in June after Miami claimed its first victory in club history at Al Lang Stadium when the teams met for the first time this campaign. | Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa
The 2022 USL Championship regular season passed one-third complete at the end of May and then kicked off the new month with a bang on Wednesday night with late winners for both Rio Grande Valley FC and Oakland Roots SC that boosted both clubs up the Western Conference standings.
That late drama shouldn’t come as a surprise. So far this season, more goals have been scored in the Championship in the final 15 minutes and second-half stoppage time than in any other portion of the game. Expect to see more of that, potentially in the 15 games we think should be great games for all fans to be on hand for or to tune into over the next four weeks.
It’s fair to say Orange County SC’s USL Championship title defense hasn’t gone to plan so far. Sitting in 12th place in the Western Conference after Wednesday’s dramatic loss at Oakland Roots SC, the side is firing well enough in attack with Erick “Cubo” Torres and Milan Iloski forming a formidable tandem, but defensively the side hasn’t been as airtight as it was on the way to the title a season ago. There’s still time for OCSC to click into gear, though, but New Mexico United’s squad could provide another real test for the hosts as they square off on the national stage. New Mexico is coming off an undefeated month that saw it move back above the playoff line under new Head Coach Zach Prince, with veterans Chris Wehan and Justin Portillo both showing positive form. The player to watch here could be 18-year-old United Academy product Cristian Nava, though, who has become a regular in the starting lineup and recently notched his first professional goal for the side.
San Antonio FC began the month tied with Louisville City FC for the most points in the USL Championship, but with two fewer games played the side from the Alamo City is currently rated the favorite to lift the USL Championship trophy in November by fivethirtyeight.com. Those credentials will get tested as the side heads West to face Sacramento Republic FC, which has produced an up-and-down season depending on the location of its contests. On the road, Sacramento has had difficulties, winning only once in the league, and that at the New York Red Bulls II. At home, however, Republic FC is undefeated with three wins and two draws in the league and four consecutive victories that have propelled it to the Quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup for the first time. On paper, Sacramento has the lineup to be a threat to San Antonio. The first of their two meetings this regular season should show us whether that’s the case.
It will have been just over six months since these two teams last met in one of the most dramatic USL Championship Playoffs games of all-time at Al Lang Stadium when Lucky Mkosana’s stoppage-time equalizer paved the way to Steevan Dos Santos giving the Tampa Bay Rowdies victory in extra time before a sellout crowd and a second consecutive Eastern Conference title. The stakes aren’t quite as high this time, but Tampa Bay has been shakier than in recent seasons over its first third of the campaign while Louisville City FC sits on top of the Eastern Conference with a refreshed roster of young talent making a serious impact to the veteran heads in the squad. Could this be a prelude to a fourth consecutive year where these teams meet in the postseason? It certainly could.
The rivalry between Birmingham and Memphis’ soccer clubs predates Legion FC and 901 FC joining the USL Championship alongside each other in 2019, and the contests between the two sides since then have provided some memorable moments over the past three seasons as both have built themselves into postseason contenders. This season, it’s been Memphis that has taken the next step forward to challenge Louisville City FC for top spot in the Eastern Conference after posting a perfect 4-0-0 record in May. New arrivals like Jeremy Kelly, Aaron Molloy and Phillip Goodrum leading a strong attacking group. Things haven’t gone quite so smoothly for Legion FC’s new attacking pieces, leaving Birmingham below the playoff line as June begins, but on its home turf and with its rival in town there could be no better moment to start building a path toward a fourth consecutive postseason berth for the team from the Magic City.
Monterey Bay F.C. probably doesn’t need reminding what happened when it faced San Antonio FC for the first time. Heading to Texas for its final game in April with a below-strength squad, the first-year side absorbed a tough loss at Toyota Field that saw SAFC mark its place as one of the favorites to claim the Championship’s crown this season. Since then, though, Monterey Bay has opened its home at Cardinale Stadium and logged some impressive victories. MBFC took three wins from four last month as it defeated Louisville City FC on the road and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC at home, with Chase Boone, Christian Volesky and Sam Gleadle all coming to the fore. Now sitting only six points back of the playoff positions, the return fixture against a SAFC side that features an excellent attack led by Justin Dhillon and Elliot Collier as well as Mitchell Taintor and Jordan Farr defensively should offer an idea of how far Monterey Bay has progressed in its inaugural season.
The rivalry between Miami FC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies had been a solid, but maybe not yet a spectacular one going into this campaign. When Miami took a 1-0 win against the Rowdies at Al Lang Stadium when the teams met for the first time this season on April 9, however, it marked the first time the South Florida side had claimed victory on Tampa Bay’s home turf. Pierre da Silva’s goal made the difference that night as Miami’s defense recorded one of only two shutouts against Tampa Bay this season, but with the up-and-down nature of both club’s seasons so far there should be playoff positioning as well as in-state bragging rights on the line. Miami won both of the meetings at Riccardo Silva Stadium a season ago, giving the Rowdies a chance to turn the tables from the setback earlier this season this time around.
Welcome to the big stage, Detroit City FC and El Paso Locomotive FC. For the first time in USL Championship history, a regular season game will air on ESPN, bringing the legendary atmosphere at Keyworth Stadium to a national audience for an interconference game that should offer plenty of entertainment from both sides. Le Rouge have been one of the biggest stories in the Championship this season after their move up to the second tier, vying for the Eastern Conference lead through a combination of DCFC veterans like standout goalkeeper Nathan Steinwascher and midfielder Maxi Rodriguez and newcomers such as Championship stalwart Antoine Hoppenot, who recently surpassed 35 goals and 35 assists in the league’s regular season. The hosts will face a Locomotive FC side that has picked up steam after a slow start to the campaign and currently leads the Championship with 28 goals this regular season. Argentine forward Luis Solignac has been at the center of that production with six tallies, while Josue Aaron Gomez, Dylan Mares and the recently departed Diego Luna provided an able supporting cast. Both teams look ready for the spotlight and could deliver some serious entertainment.
On another day, this could have been the matchup for the 2021 USL Championship Final before Louisville City FC was denied the Eastern Conference crown in such dramatic fashion last November. As Orange County SC visits for its first meeting with Louisville City FC, though, there’s plenty to look forward to as the current Eastern leaders take on an Orange County side that will look to rise to the occasion on the road. Maybe the most intriguing aspect of the contest could be the two potential attacking duos on display, with LouCity’s Cameron Lancaster and Wilson Harris and Orange County’s Milan Iloski and Erick “Cubo” Torres bringing some serious firepower to their respective lineups. With some bright young talent on both sides as well – with LouCity’s Joshua Wynder and Orange County SC’s Kobi Henry and Korede Osundina teaming up currently for the United States U-19 Men’s National Team in Spain – there will be plenty of storylines to watch in this one.
New Mexico United and Rio Grande Valley FC battled to the final day of the 2021 regular season for the final spot in the USL Championship Playoffs, with the Toros’ victory against El Paso Locomotive FC sealing a playoff berth by a single point over United. The sides are currently separated by the same margin in the Western Conference standings, where they sit in the final two postseason positions at present, and while both clubs will have obstacles to overcome earlier in the month before this meeting it's not too hard to imagine this being a game that looms large in the playoff race later in the year. The changes to both rosters – including Isidro Martinez making a return to the Rio Grande Valley after competing for New Mexico a season ago – should offer some new storylines this year, as could the Toros’ penchant for dramatic endings. After their victory on Wednesday night, RGVFC has still yet to record a draw this season, scoring 10 goals in the final 15 minutes or stoppage time which has helped the side gain a league-best nine points from losing positions this campaign.
After the postponement of the scheduled meeting between San Antonio and the Switchbacks on May 21 – now rescheduled for September 20 at Toyota Field, mark your calendars accordingly – this matchup is now set to bring together the top two teams in the Western Conference so far this season, with Colorado Springs the side maybe in more need of making a statement of the two. The Switchbacks are winless in their last five regular season meetings with SAFC, including suffering three defeats in four meetings last season that ended up proving the difference in a two-point gap in the standings between the two sides. Both teams have made great starts to the season, with the Switchbacks adding another piece this week in El Salvador Men’s National Team midfielder Jairo Henriquez to add to their squad. With a big home crowd backing them, this should provide a compelling Friday night clash under the lights at Weidner Field.
The second of June’s regular season slate set to air on ESPN, Louisville City FC’s visit to Hartford Athletic brings together two teams that have seen contrasting fortunes so far this season. A perennial title contender throughout its history, LouCity has taken up the position of the team to beat in the Eastern Conference this season with a well-rounded squad that has replaced its departures smartly while also bringing in some young new faces like Wilson Harris, Manny Perez, Enoch Mushagalusa and Ray Serrano to bolster its ranks. Hartford, meanwhile, has looked for veteran experience to bolster its ranks after a slow start to the campaign, which could lead to the two players currently sitting in second and third place in the league’s all-time regular season goalscoring chart squaring off here. Hartford’s Corey Hertzog (74 goals) and LouCity’s Cameron Lancaster (73 goals) have become two of the league’s best-known strikers over the years and will headline this clash on national television.
There have been ups and downs for both Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies this campaign, but the two sides remain among the leading contenders in the Eastern Conference presently with the experience both sides bring on the field and the sidelines remaining key to that potential. Pittsburgh’s Bob Lilley and Tampa Bay’s Neill Collins currently stand as the two longest-tenured Head Coaches currently in the Championship with both having accumulated more than 60 regular-season wins at their current clubs. The Rowdies claimed a 3-1 victory when the teams met for the first time this season in May at Al Lang Stadium as the Rowdies’ attack fired back after Alex Dixon had given the Hounds the lead, with Jake LaCava continuing to impress in attack for Tampa Bay alongside veterans Sebastian Guenzatti, Steevan Dos Santos and Kyle Greig. Dos Santos will be one of two familiar faces for the Rowdies returning to Highmark Stadium with recent Tampa Bay acquisition Thomas Vancaeyezeele having twice earned Championship All-League honors with the Hounds earlier in his career, and that duo will be hoping to turn over their former club in what should be an entertaining contest.
If Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies were among the established contenders in the Eastern Conference, Memphis 901 FC and Detroit City FC have come to the fore this season as clubs that could make wakes come the postseason. The teams played to a 1-1 draw at Keyworth Stadium earlier this season as 901 FC Head Coach Ben Pirmann returned to his former stomping grounds as Le Rouge’s Head Coach, while current DCFC Head Coach Trevor James has already claimed April’s Coach of the Month award after leading the side into strong playoff contention. That first meeting showed off the attractive attacking ideas both teams have looked to bring this season, and in Memphis’ Jeremy Kelly and Detroit’s Antoine Hoppenot both teams possess an all-around playmaker that can deliver in the final third. With a top-two place potentially up for grabs, this should provide a compelling contest in downtown Memphis.
The second meeting between NorCal clubs Monterey Bay F.C. and Sacramento Republic FC offers a few reasons for intrigue, with Republic FC having claimed a late 2-1 victory at Heart Health Park in April thanks to a pair of penalty kicks by Rodrigo Lopez and Luther Archimede. The most notable may be the location of the rematch between the potential rivals, with Sacramento having had its struggles on the road so far this season. Monterey Bay has won two of its first three games at Cardinale Stadium and has grown as a squad with Christian Volesky and Chase Boone both looking sharp in attack and local products Walmer Martinez and Adrian Rebollar providing solid support. Sacramento, meanwhile, has won just once away from home, and with the playoff race starting to heat up the visitors will be looking to spoil the party for its new neighbors down the California coast.
There’s no real getting around the fact that San Diego Loyal SC and Orange County SC didn’t have the best go of it over the past few weeks. SD Loyal went winless across its three games in May, conceding late goals to drop points on the road, while Orange County won only once, and while that 5-1 victory against FC Tulsa on May 13 showed what the side can be capable of the defending title holders are still outside the playoff positions as of now. That makes the upcoming month big for both clubs as SD Loyal gets a solid run of home contests at Torero Stadium capped by this matchup that could have a lot at stake when it arrives. In contrast to its road form, San Diego has been stellar in front of its home fans with its only defeat coming against current Eastern Conference leader Louisville City FC. With Kyle Vassell in the running for the Championship’s Golden Boot, the hosts will be eager to deliver another victory for The Locals and Chavos de Loyal and continue OCSC’s challenges this season.
Tag(s): Features San Antonio FC CO Spring Switchbacks Orange County SC Rio Grande Valley FC Sacramento Republic FC Louisville City FC Pittsburgh Riverhounds Tampa Bay Rowdies Birmingham Legion FC Memphis 901 FC El Paso Locomotive FC New Mexico United Hartford Athletic San Diego Loyal SC The Miami FC Detroit City FC Monterey Bay F.C.