First-placed Memphis 901 FC visits the third-placed Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday night in a marquee Eastern Conference matchup in the USL Championship's eight-game schedule. | Photo courtesy Eric Glemser / Memphis 901 FC
A pair of matchups featuring four of the top five current sides in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference highlight Saturday’s eight-game slate of game, which also sees a crucial contest out west between two perennial contenders who are now battling to get back into the playoff picture after challenging opening halves to the season.
Here’s a look ahead to all the action.
Venue: Fifth Third Bank Stadium
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: ATL 19%, ELP 60%, Draw 21%
The Lowdown: El Paso Locomotive FC will try to build on an eight-game undefeated streak as it heads to face an Atlanta United 2 side that rolled to a morale-boosting midweek victory on Wednesday night as the sides meet for the first time. Locomotive FC moved into sole possession of fourth place on Wednesday night after it played to a 0-0 draw against Copa Tejas rival Rio Grande Valley FC as goalkeeper Evan Newton moved into a tie for the league-lead with seven shutouts this season after a four-save performance. Newton now leads the Championship with 53 saves this season, extending his all-time lead in that category and shutouts, and has posted an 85.2 save percentage while over the club’s current eight-game undefeated run. Atlanta could challenge that, with the side having found its shooting boots once again on Wednesday in a 4-3 victory against the Charleston Battery that saw Tristan Trager and Jackson Conway each score a pair of goals. Trager has now scored three goals in the past two games and notched the fastest goal for Atlanta this season after 43 seconds against the Battery. El Paso has made easy work of MLS owned-and-operated teams this season, however, taking a 4-0 win against the LA Galaxy II and 5-0 win against the New York Red Bulls II so far.
Atlanta United 2 – Tristan Trager: The former Air Force standout has found his feet with Atlanta, bagging three goals in the past two games, and will be aiming to carry that form into a matchup against one of the league’s best current defenses.
El Paso Locomotive FC – Josue Aaron Gomez: The energetic forward has notched five goals and six assists so far this season and could cause problems for Atlanta’s defense, which has conceded the most goals in the league this season.
Venue: Michael A. Carroll Stadium
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: IND 35%, MIA 36%, Draw 28%
The Lowdown: Indy Eleven and Miami FC will square off in a big game in the Eastern Conference playoff race at Michael A. Carroll Stadium with the sides entering even on points as they battle for the final playoff spot in the standings. Both teams are aiming to rebound, with Indy having suffered a 5-0 defeat on the road against San Diego Loyal SC last Saturday night for a second consecutive defeat, while Miami fell 3-1 at home to the LA Galaxy II last Saturday at Riccardo Silva Stadium. The meeting is the second of the season between the sides after a 1-1 draw on May 8 in South Florida that saw Stefano Pinho score 10 minutes into the second half against his former club to level the game on a lightning-filled contest that included a lengthy delay after Christian Sorto had put Miami ahead. With Indy holding two games in hand on Miami, the Boys in Blue could create both separation, and the chance for a broader gap to be bridged if it can take victory on home turf for the first time since a 2-1 win against the New York Red Bulls II on May 21.
Indy Eleven – Manuel Arteaga: The Venezuelan scored five goals in four games during the month of June and will be hoping to sustain that performance as the Boys in Blue begin a key month for their playoff drive.
Miami FC – Joaquin Rivas: The El Salvador international made his debut for Miami against the Galaxy II, and has had prior success against Indy, scoring twice for FC Tulsa on an early-season trip to The Mike last season.
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
Venue: Al Lang Stadium
538.com Predictor: TBR 55%, MEM 21%, Draw 24%
The Lowdown: Two of the top three teams in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference will square off as the third-placed Tampa Bay Rowdies host conference leader Memphis 901 FC in the second meeting between the sides this season. Each side is coming off a solid victory last time out, with the Rowdies having romped to a 5-2 win against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC for its first win at Highmark Stadium in club history. Leo Fernandes scored twice in the win and has now scored five goals in the past four games overall to move into a tie for the club lead with forward Jake LaCava. Memphis, meanwhile, earned a 2-0 victory against Detroit City FC at AutoZone Park as Graham Smith scored for a second consecutive outing before Phillip Goodrum notched his ninth goal of the season late on to put the result away. 901 FC took a 3-1 victory against the Rowdies when they met at AutoZone Park earlier this season thanks to goals by Goodrum, Derek Dodson and Chris Allan, and currently hold a five-point lead over the Rowdies in the standings. Tampa Bay is undefeated in its last seven games (5-0-2) and will be eager to turn the tables on its visitors to try and close that gap.
Tampa Bay Rowdies – Aaron Guillen: The center back will likely be a key figure in trying to limit Memphis’ attack from striking as well as it did against Tampa Bay when the teams last met.
Memphis 901 FC – Phillip Goodrum: The young forward has scored six goals and two assists in the past seven games to move into a tie for third in the race for the USL Championship’s Golden Boot, and will be hoping to maintain that form.
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET
Venue: Lynn Family Stadium
538.com Predictor: LOU 53%, BHM 21%, Draw 27%
The Lowdown: Second-placed Louisville City FC will square off with fifth-placed Birmingham Legion FC in the Eastern Conference’s other top-five matchup on Saturday, with Legion FC arriving at Lynn Family Stadium tied for the longest current winning streak in the league as the weekend begins. Birmingham ran its winning run to four consecutive games last Saturday night as Juan Agudelo and Enzo Martinez each found the net in a 2-0 win at New Mexico United. Legion FC has now recorded shutouts in three consecutive games, with its shutout streak sitting at 335 minutes after a perfect month of June. That run has moved the Three Sparks five points out of a top-three position as it nears the midway point of its regular season, but the visitors will likely get a strong test from a LouCity side coming off back-to-back wins after a 2-0 victory on the road against Hartford Athletic last Saturday afternoon. Goals from veterans Sean Totsch – his fourth of the season, an individual single-season high – and Paolo DelPiccolo earned Louisville victory at Trinity Health Stadium and kept the side within two points of Memphis 901 FC for first place. If LouCity takes victory on Saturday, it could reclaim first place by the end of the night.
Louisville City FC – Sean Totsch: The veteran center back has been a notable contributor off set pieces this season, but his defensive play will likely matter more as LouCity tries to put the brakes on former United States international Juan Agudelo.
Birmingham Legion FC – Jonny Dean: The stalwart right back has continued to be an excellent two-way performer this season and his potential matchup against LouCity winger Enoch Mushagalusa could be one to watch.
Kickoff: 9 p.m. ET
Venue: Toyota Field
538.com Predictor: SA 72%, CHS 10%, Draw 18%
The Lowdown: San Antonio FC will aim to build on a comeback victory in midweek as it reaches the midway point of its regular season as it plays host to the Charleston Battery for the first meeting between the two clubs. SAFC earned its first victory after trailing at halftime since the 2019 season in a 2-1 victory against FC Tulsa last Tuesday night as goals by Ignacio Bailone and Samuel Adeniran lifted the side to a four-point lead in the Western Conference. Adeniran’s goal was his second for SAFC since arriving on a season-long loan from Seattle Sounders FC as the hosts stifled the visitors after the halftime break, not allowing a shot on target. The Battery, meanwhile, will be trying to rebound after suffering a 4-3 defeat at home to Atlanta United 2 on Wednesday night in which they were unable to rally after conceding two goals in the opening three minutes at Patriots Point. Charleston got goals from Augustine Williams, Mauro Cichero and Geobel Perez as they fought to remain in the game, and Williams could be the biggest threat to SAFC’s defense after scoring five goals and notching one assist in five appearances in June. The Battery have yet to win away from home this season, however, and it could be a tall task against the current favorite to claim the USL Championship title.
San Antonio FC – Connor Maloney: The versatile midfielder has played every minute of the season so far for SAFC, notching three assists and 30 interceptions while serving as one of the side’s most consistent performers.
Charleston Battery – Leland Archer: The Trinidad and Tobago international has been a notable bright spot for the Battery this season and his experience could be key as the visitors try to contain SAFC’s attacking corps.
Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET
Venue: Cardinale Stadium
538.com Predictor: MB 26%, NM 49%, Draw 26%
The Lowdown: New Mexico United will try to rebound from the end of a five-game winning streak as it heads to face Monterey Bay F.C. in the first meeting between the two sides. New Mexico suffered a 2-0 defeat to Birmingham Legion FC last Saturday at Isotopes Park to bring its longest winning streak in club history to a close but remains with the potential for upward mobility in the Western Conference. Sitting in sixth place in the standings, New Mexico currently holds games in hand on all the teams above it in the standings, and the visitors will be hoping to get back on a winning track against a Monterey Bay side that has had a difficult recent run in its inaugural season. MBFC has lost four games in a row entering Saturday after letting a halftime lead slip against Sacramento Republic FC last Saturday night after Walmer Martinez had put the hosts ahead. Each of the past three defeats have come by a single goal, leaving the side and Head Coach Frank Yallop aiming for a turnaround in front of their home fans this weekend.
Monterey Bay F.C. – Morey Doner: The Canadian defender has notched one goal and two assists this season and could be a key figure in trying to contain a good attacking group including Sergio Rivas and Chris Wehan.
New Mexico United – Justin Portillo: The veteran central midfielder has been a key influence for United’s success this season and his experience should held guide a bounce-back display on the road in Northern California.
Kickoff: 10:30 p.m. ET
Venue: Cashman Field
538.com Predictor: LV 38%, DET 34%, Draw 28%
The Lowdown: Las Vegas Lights FC will try to extend its longest winning streak in club history of three games when it plays host to Detroit City FC, which arrives out west aiming to snap out of a recent downturn in form. Le Rouge are winless in their past four outings as they head to Las Vegas after suffering a 2-0 defeat against Memphis 901 FC last Saturday night. Detroit remains in fourth place in the Eastern Conference after a strong first half of its first campaign in the USL Championship, and should have in its party Antoine Hoppenot, who recorded two goals and one assist in three prior games against Las Vegas when he was a member of Reno 1868 FC. Las Vegas has its own key attackers nowadays, though, with Danny Trejo and Cal Jennings each having scored in the past three games to send Las Vegas in its best form in club history, and into the playoff positions as the weekend’s action begins. Another win for the hosts on home turf – where they’re currently 4-3-2 this season – and the goal of a first playoff berth in Lights FC could come more sharply into focus.
Las Vegas Lights FC – Danny Trejo: The Mexico native has scored nine goals this season to sit tied for fourth in the Championship going into the weekend, and his goals have been a catalyst for Lights FC’s success this year.
Detroit City FC – Maxi Rodriguez: The central midfielder will likely face a major battle with Las Vegas’ Danny Crisostomo, and who comes out on top may dictate the direction of the game and the potential for Le Rouge to earn victory.
Kickoff: 10:30 p.m. ET
Venue: Wild Horse Pass
538.com Predictor: PHX 45%, OC 31%, Draw 24%
The Lowdown: Phoenix Rising FC and Orange County SC meet for the first time this season with both clubs in serious need of a victory to boost their postseason chances in October. Rising FC enters on a four-game losing streak, its longest since the 2016 season, after falling 3-2 against Las Vegas Lights FC last Friday night. The night was a landmark one for Aodhan Quinn, who recorded his 40th regular season goal to join former teammate Solomon Asante as the two players to have reached 40 goals and 40 assists in the Championship’s regular season, but the visitors were unable to fix their defensive struggles as Lights FC took their second victory in the season series this year to leave Phoenix four points out of the playoff positions. Orange County, though, sits eight points out after suffering a 2-1 defeat against San Diego Loyal SC on Wednesday night for its fifth loss in the last six games overall. OSCS saw Milan Iloski score his 10th goal of the season to level the score in the first half at Torero Stadium, but a penalty kick converted by SD Loyal’s Alejandro Guido shortly before halftime proved the difference for the hosts. Orange County will be without recent loan arrival Ahmed Longmire following his red card after a scuffle with SD Loyal’s Kyle Vassell, leaving the visitors in need of finding the right defensive chemistry as it tries to make its way back to playoff contention.
Phoenix Rising FC – Santi Moar: The Spanish winger scored his first goal of the season in Las Vegas after notching 16 tallies a season ago and will try to build on that performance against an OCSC side he’s scored twice against previously in his career.
Orange County SC – Erick “Cubo” Torres: After coming on as a second-half substitute on Wednesday night, the former Mexico international could return to the starting lineup and provide the attacking firepower to lift his side to victory.
Tag(s): News Game Previews San Antonio FC Orange County SC Phoenix Rising FC Charleston Battery Louisville City FC Tampa Bay Rowdies Las Vegas Lights FC Birmingham Legion FC Atlanta United 2 Indy Eleven Memphis 901 FC El Paso Locomotive FC New Mexico United The Miami FC Detroit City FC Monterey Bay F.C.