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USL Championship Talking Points | Week 14

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 06/13/22, 9:51AM EDT


Locomotive FC’s Gomez earns redemption, Rowdies headed in right direction, and more from the past weekend

Photo courtesy Phoenix Rising FC

A trio of major road victories highlighted Saturday night’s slate of action in the USL Championship, led by a historic victory for El Paso Locomotive FC in Phoenix as its upward drive in the Western Conference continued, and for the Tampa Bay Rowdies in South Florida against their in-state rivals.

Here’s what we took away from the action.


There was a redemptive quality to Josue Aaron Gomez’s penalty kick on Saturday night, which earned El Paso Locomotive FC its first victory against Phoenix Rising FC in the first meeting between the two sides since the Western Conference Final of the 2020 USL Championship Playoffs. Two years ago, Gomez slipped as he shot in the fourth round of the shootout, sending his effort off target as Phoenix clinched its second conference title at Casino Arizona Field. This time, his footing and aim were true to find the bottom-left corner for the only goal in a 1-0 victory.

The win continued El Paso’s rise in the Western Conference standings this season, pushing the side into fourth place as it approaches the midway point of its campaign. For Gomez, Dylan Mares, Richie Ryan and others who were part of the disappointment of a couple of years ago, Saturday’s victory was likely just that little bit more satisfying.


On the other side, Phoenix’s defeat – a fourth in the past five league outings – has Rising FC going in the opposite direction. Shut out for a second consecutive occasion at home, the two-time conference-title holders are now placed in the final playoff spot in the West. Against El Paso, there were certainly chances, but some outstanding saves by Locomotive FC’s Evan Newton – most notably on a close-range chance for Joey Calistri in the first half that had the veteran midfielder wondering what he had to do to find the net – kept the hosts out and still looking for answers.

“We have to learn from it and change. We have to start winning games at home again. The fans deserve better,” said Rising FC defender Darnell King. “Obviously, we appreciate all their support. They come out and cheer us on week in and week out. We want to thank them so much for that and we’ll work hard and try and do better. We have injuries but we also have guys that can step up to the plate. The little things that happened, we were just a bit unlucky on that night. We just need to keep working hard, keep working on discipline. We’re just in a little bit of a lull and we need to keep working and moving forward.”


Even during their downturn in results in April, there were reasons to believe the Tampa Bay Rowdies were still in good shape in the big picture. After the side’s 2-1 victory against Miami FC on Saturday night at Riccardo Silva Stadium – the fourth in a five-game undefeated streak since the start of May, and revenge for Miami’s early-season win at Al Lang Stadium – that confidence has been borne out with Tampa Bay now up to third place in the Eastern Conference standings.

“People are always first to look at results,” said Collins. “I believe we’ve not been far off from having periods like this. The boys have just stayed true to the process that they’ve been doing all season long and they’ve begun getting the breaks here and there, but that’s largely due to the performances. We’re certainly moving in the right direction.”

That direction has the Rowdies only two points out of first place, with a game to circle on July 2 against Memphis 901 FC at Al Lang Stadium. The two-time defending Eastern Conference title holders never truly left, but their current run is certainly very welcome.


On one hand, Oakland Roots SC’s record of late-game success is remarkably impressive. The side has now scored 12 goals inside the final 15 minutes and stoppage time of contests after bagging another pair of goals to earn a 2-2 draw against Rio Grande Valley FC on Saturday night at Laney Stadium thanks to Juan Carlos Azocar and Charlie Dennis.

At the same time, the sentiment from Roots SC Head Coach Juan Guerra after the game was of someone who knows this method of earning results probably isn’t going to be sustainable for a full season.

“I'm not happy,” said Guerra. “Tonight was probably our worst game of the season. Games are 95 minutes, not 25 minutes. If we keep on thinking it's 25 minutes, it’s going to be a long season until November. I know what my boys are capable of – we just have to start putting together 90-minute performances. First 65 minutes were not good. We stepped to the field not ready and we're going to have to reflect tonight – I'll start with myself.”


There had been small signs of improvement for the Charleston Battery in recent weeks, but the outstanding first-half display against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC on Saturday that led to a 3-0 win at Patriots Point – the first for the club since the opening day of the regular season on March 12 – was still a major head-turner.

A second-minute goal by Augustine Williams, his third in the past two games, was backed up by tallies from Andrew Booth and Romario Piggott to secure a three-goal halftime lead the hosts were then able to sustain in a solid second half. Williams tweeted after the game that the side was continuing to “trust the process,” while Battery Head Coach Conor Casey added he believed the performance showed the strides the side had taken of late.

“I do think this has been a culmination of that progress,” said Casey. “Tonight, we were able to put in a really full performance, especially in the first half. Then, to be able to have zero on the scoreboard and not get scored against, after being under some pressure, it’s the mentality of this group. Their grit and determination were unbelievable.”

Patiño Delivers in Return for San Antonio

There’s never any question about the joy that comes to Santiago Patiño when he finds the back of the net. As he returned to the field for San Antonio FC on Saturday afternoon against Monterey Bay F.C. for the first time since April and recorded the game-winner with nine minutes to go in a 3-2 victory for the visitors at Cardinale Stadium, it certainly felt like a major release for the talented forward who was making just his second appearance this season after injury problems.

“The team … does a great job on the mental side,” said Patino. “We have a great mentality and attitude. One of the things we do is we never give up. The game was tied, and I had the opportunity to come on the field and left everything I had. I was grateful that ball came in from PC and I was able to score.”

The Colombian recorded eight goals a season ago for SAFC, averaging a goal every 127.4 minutes as injuries limited him to only 14 appearances across the regular season and playoffs. If Patiño can stay on the field, he’s going to be a very valuable weapon moving forward for the Western Conference contender.

Switchbacks avoid trap against Los Dos

As the LA Galaxy II streamed forward to take the lead in the 14th minute at Dignity Health Sports Park on Saturday night against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, Remi Cabral providing a sharp finish to cap a move that effectively turned into a 3-on-1 for the hosts on the counterattack, you couldn’t help but get the feeling that the Switchbacks were going to fall into the same trap as has snared other teams in LA this season.

Instead, the Switchbacks stayed the course and kept aggressively creating chances to turn things around on the way to a 3-1 victory that kept them on top of the Western Conference on goal differential ahead of San Antonio FC. A sterling performance by Hadji Barry – who this outing found the net off a beautifully-worked move with Matt Mahoney – and debutant goalkeeper Christian Herrera – who delivered a seven-save performance – sent the Switchbacks to their 10th win out of 12 league games this season. As anticipation builds for Colorado Springs’ first clash with San Antonio on June 24, the Switchbacks appear to be in the right place for what will be a must-see game.


Prior to Saturday night’s game for Sacramento Republic FC at Detroit City FC, there was one point of emphasis Head Coach Mark Briggs and his staff wanted to make sure they addressed with midfielder Damia Viader, among his other responsibilities for the night.

“It's funny because we said to him before the game, you can score from this area,” said Briggs. “Now we weren’t spot on with the area, but we're in the right position.”

When Viader picked up possession in Detroit’s half early in the contest on Saturday night with space to advance, he delivered exactly what his coaches had asked. The 30-yard strike to the bottom-right corner of the net set up a 2-0 victory for Republic FC that earned only its second away win of the season and handed Le Rouge its first loss at Keyworth Stadium this year.

“I thought Dami was brilliant to be honest with you,” said Briggs. “I thought his use of the ball, his defending, his aggression and his quality in the final third [was excellent]. I thought he was fantastic and I'm over the moon for him because he's had to wait for his opportunity. And he certainly took his opportunity when it’s come, so [I’m] over the moon for Dami.”


As hot as Danny Trejo was at the start of the season for Las Vegas Lights FC – claiming the Championship’s Player of the Month award for March and leading the league in goals and assists early in the campaign – the past couple of months saw the forward have difficulty keeping pace. That was partly due to injury, beginning with an early exit against Monterey Bay F.C. on April 30, that limited his minutes, but the lack of goals from Trejo and fellow front-runner Cal Jennings played a key role in Lights FC’s downturn in form over the past month.

On Saturday, both returned to the scoresheet, and Lights FC returned to the win column. Trejo’s seventh goal of the season provided the second tally of the night for the hosts at Cashman Field in a 3-0 victory against Orange County SC that broke a seven-game winless streak and kept Las Vegas in the playoff picture in the Western Conference. With that breakthrough made, Lights FC will be hoping Trejo can deliver another strong run of form to carry the side back above the playoff line in the next few weeks.


There’s still a long way to go in Orange County SC’s season – and we can still all remember the run the side put in last season late in the year to not only reach the playoffs but then claim a first league title – but Saturday’s loss in Las Vegas through a combination of bad fortune and sub-par finishing is starting to leave cause for concern.

With three consecutive defeats, Orange County is now seven points out of the playoff positions as it failed to register a shot on target in its visit to Cashman Field. There’s a lot of talent in this squad, to be sure, but the results are going to need to start arriving soon. A trip to face Louisville City FC next Saturday night is going to be one of the biggest tests this side faces in its defense of its title, and a game in which we might find out whether that defense is going to stretch to the postseason this year.

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