San Diego Loyal SC will host San Antonio FC in one of the biggest games in the USL Championship season so far on Saturday night. | Photo courtesy San Diego Loyal SC
The first meeting of the season between the current top two teams in the Western Conference highlights a 12-game slate of action on Saturday night in the USL Championship, with some key games elsewhere in both conferences that include a first meeting between the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Detroit City FC with the league’s longest active winning streak on the line at Al Lang Stadium.
Here’s a look ahead to the action.
Venue: Michael A. Carroll Stadium
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: IND 23%, PIT 51%, Draw 26%
The Lowdown: Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC will try to complete a season sweep of Indy Eleven as the sides square off at Michael A. Carroll Stadium with the Hounds looking to solidify their top-four position in the Eastern Conference. Pittsburgh claimed its fifth victory in the last six outings last Saturday night as it took a 1-0 win against FC Tulsa on home turf as Albert Dikwa scored the only goal of the game. Dikwa also provided the difference-maker when the Hounds earned a 1-0 win against Indy on July 9 in the first meeting of the season and now has seven goals this season to sit tied for second on the team behind Russell Cicerone on nine tallies. Indy, meanwhile, suffered a 3-1 defeat to the Tampa Bay Rowdies last Saturday in its most recent outing to extend the club’s winless streak to nine games. The Boys in Blue last claimed victory on June 4 against the Charleston Battery and sit nine points out of the playoff positions in the Eastern Conference with 13 games to go in the season. If there’s to be a path back to the playoffs, Indy is facing a must-win game against the Hounds, who are only six points off the Eastern Conference lead after their stellar recent run of form.
Indy Eleven – Solomon Asante: The two-time Championship MVP came on as a halftime substitute against the Hounds in their first meeting but didn’t make a major impact with only one shot. Finding a big performance is going to be big for the Ghanaian as he looks to boost Indy’s playoff chances.
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC – Robbie Mertz: The Pittsburgh native received his first start since his return from Atlanta United 2 last Saturday night and put in a solid display, something he’ll be looking to build on this time out.
Venue: Segra Field
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: LDN 27%, LA 50%, Draw 24%
The Lowdown: Loudoun United FC will try to take advantage of an LA Galaxy II side missing two of its key players as the sides meet for the first time with Los Dos looking to boost their playoff chances in the Western Conference. The Galaxy II narrowly missed out on a major road victory last Saturday night as they conceded in second-half stoppage time to be pegged back to a 1-1 draw against current Western Conference leader San Antonio FC after Josh Drack had given the side the lead. The visitors will be without both leading scorer Preston Judd and Panamanian midfielder Carlos Harvey for the next two games, however, with Judd set to serve a two-game suspension after his 11th caution of the season, and Harvey suspended for two games by the Independent Review Panel following an incident in the SAFC game. Los Dos have others who can step up, including winger Cameron Dunbar, who has looked lively with seven goals and three assists this campaign, and the visitors will be looking to continue Loudoun’s recent struggles that have seen the side lose its last four outings. United fell 1-0 against Monterey Bay F.C. last time out but has produced some good performances on home turf this season. A win for Loudoun would deliver another blow to Los Dos as it looks to move above the playoff line from eighth place in its trip East.
Loudoun United FC – Jalen Robinson: The experienced center back won’t have Judd to worry about but will be hoping to lead the back line to its first shutout since a 1-0 victory against the New York Red Bulls II on June 8.
LA Galaxy II – Josh Drack: The left-sided defender has been impressive both in open play and set pieces, notching his second goal directly from a free kick last week in San Antonio, and could have a key role to play on Saturday.
Venue: Al Lang Stadium
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: TBR 62%, DET 15%, Draw 23%
The Lowdown: The Tampa Bay Rowdies will try to continue their 12-game undefeated streak and maintain its challenge for top spot in the Eastern Conference as it hosts Detroit City FC for the first competitive meeting between the sides. The Rowdies rallied for a 3-1 victory against Indy Eleven last Saturday night at Michael A. Carroll Stadium as Steevan Dos Santos and Jordan Scarlett scored first-half goals before Leo Fernandes wrapped up the result late on. Fernandes has now scored in four consecutive games to move to a team-leading 12 goals this campaign, which has helped fuel the Rowdies 10-0-2 run that has seen them go more than three months without a defeat in the league. Le Rouge will be hoping to end that run after narrowly missing out on victory last Saturday in a 2-2 draw against New Mexico United. DCFC twice took the lead through Maxi Rodriguez and Deklan Wynne but conceded in second-half stoppage time as New Mexico earned a point at Keyworth Stadium in a highly entertaining contest. A familiar face should make his return to Al Lang Stadium on Saturday as well, with former Rowdies attacking midfielder Antoine Hoppenot having recorded five goals and four assists for Le Rouge this season.
Tampa Bay Rowdies - Laurence Wyke: The versatile English player is in a strong run of form currently and his ball-winning and ability to distribute through midfield will be important against a well-drilled DCFC lineup.
Detroit City FC – Deklan Wynne: The New Zealander leads DCFC with six assists this season and his battle on the left side, likely against Tampa Bay’s Sebastian Dalgaard, could be a key matchup for the direction of the contest.
Venue: Protective Stadium
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: BHM 69%, ATL 13%, Draw 18%
The Lowdown: Birmingham Legion FC will take aim at a third consecutive victory as it plays host to Atlanta United 2 in a rematch of a six-goal thriller when the sides met last month. Birmingham moved into fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings last Saturday night thanks to a stoppage-time winner by Enzo Martinez that lifted the visitors to a 1-0 victory against Hartford Athletic at Trinity Health Stadium. The Three Sparks got a six-save shutout from goalkeeper Matt VanOekel in the win, moving the veteran past 300 regular-season saves in the Championship for his career, and Legion FC now sits just two points behind Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC in fourth place. The hosts will be hoping to avoid a repeat of its last meeting with ATL UTD 2 at Fifth Third Bank Stadium on July 6 which saw the hosts rally twice for a 3-3 draw as Robbie Mertz notched a pair of assists and Nicolas Firmino scored a stoppage-time equalizer. Mertz has departed now, however, after his move back to Pittsburgh, and Atlanta is looking for its first win since June 29 against the Charleston Battery after playing to a 1-1 draw against Las Vegas Lights FC last Saturday night further dimmed its playoff chances.
Birmingham Legion FC – Bruno Lapa: The Brazilian midfielder will be hoping for a similar performance when he last stepped onto the field at Protective Stadium on July 26 when he scored the first hat trick in club history.
Atlanta United 2 – Nicolas Firmino: After scoring a dramatic equalizer last time these sides met, the 21-year-old will be aiming to put in a big display against a strong Legion FC lineup.
Venue: Lynn Family Stadium
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: LOU 72%, CHS 10%, Draw 18%
The Lowdown: Louisville City FC will try to maintain its hold on first place in the Eastern Conference as it plays host to the Charleston Battery, who arrive in Louisville having earned a point when the teams met earlier in the season. LouCity took a 1-0 win on the road against El Paso Locomotive FC last Saturday night as Jorge Gonzalez’s second-half goal proved the difference, keeping the perennial title contender one point ahead of the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the Eastern Conference. The hosts are currently on a seven-game undefeated streak and have won six of those outings while continuing to build one of the best defensive records in the league. LouCity is currently tied for the fewest goals conceded (15) and most shutouts (11) in the Championship with goalkeeper Kyle Morton leading the race for the Golden Glove, but the side could be tested by a Charleston side that features Augustine Williams, whose 11 goals are tied for seventh in the league this season. The Battery fell 4-2 last Saturday night against Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Finalists Sacramento Republic FC as Williams netted his 48th regular season goal in the league, with its defense unable to withstand the sharp finishing by the visitors. After holding LouCity to a draw in April, though, the Battery will be hoping to pick up a positive result again this time around.
Louisville City FC – Niall McCabe: The Irish veteran has recorded four assists in the past five games to move into the team lead after providing the helper on Gonzalez’s goal last week, and his midfield presence should be key again.
Charleston Battery – Leland Archer: The Trinidad and Tobago international is having a solid individual campaign despite the Battery’s defensive challenges, but will need to help the back line put together a cohesive performance if the visitors are to take something from this contest.
Venue: AutoZone Park
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: MEM 57%, HFD 19%, Draw 24%
The Lowdown: Memphis 901 FC will take aim at its second win this week as it plays host to Hartford Athletic, with the visitors in need of a turnaround after a gut-wrenching loss last time out. 901 FC earned a 2-1 win against the New York Red Bulls II on Wednesday night as Patrick Kelly and Phillip Goodrum each found the net at MSU Soccer Park to move the club back into third place in the Eastern Conference. Goodrum’s goal was his 13th of the season and moved him into third place in the league’s Golden Boot race, but the standout striker will be unavailable on Saturday after his eighth caution of the season resulted in a one-game suspension. Goodrum’s absence could open the door for a debut for new Memphis signing Nighte Pickering, with the United States U-19 international becoming the youngest professional signing in club history on Thursday. Hartford, meanwhile, is in desperate need of a victory after suffering a 1-0 loss to Birmingham Legion FC last Saturday night. A turnover in second-half stoppage time resulted in Legion FC’s Enzo Martinez deciding the game, moving Hartford to six games without a victory. With a 14-point gap to make up to the playoff places and only 12 games remaining, this is now must-win territory for the visitors.
Memphis 901 FC – Laurent Kissiedou: The midfielder made his first appearance since June 4 on Wednesday night as a substitute and could see more minutes on Saturday after having recorded five goals and four assists in 13 games so far this campaign.
Hartford Athletic – Yannik Oettl: The Athletic’s goalkeeper has been in blistering shot-stopping form of late, notching 15 saves across two games last week before Martinez’s late winner. Another big display would be useful against a strong 901 FC attack.
Venue: Isotopes Park
Kickoff: 9 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: NM 46%, MIA 26%, Draw 28%
The Lowdown: New Mexico United will try to rebound from a midweek setback as it plays host to Miami FC in the first meeting between the two clubs in their histories. New Mexico took a second-half lead against Sacramento Republic FC on Wednesday night as Tabort Etaka Preston found the net but Sacramento rallied to take a 2-1 victory with a pair of goals around the hour-mark despite the hosts having chances to level in the final 25 minutes. The game marked the first time in almost a year that New Mexico had lost after scoring first in a league contest, but United remains within reach of third place in the standings trailing Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC by only two points in the standings. Miami is coming off a 2-1 victory in its last outing on July 23 that saw Paco Craig score a stoppage-time winner against Loudoun United FC at Segra Field, and after a bye last weekend remains in solid control of its playoff path with a six-point lead over eighth-placed FC Tulsa in the Eastern Conference. The visitors will look to build on that result and brings with it a former United player in Romeo Parkes, who currently leads Miami with four goals this season.
New Mexico United – Chris Wehan: United’s playmaker will be aiming for a big performance against a strong Miami defensive midfield duo of Bolu Akinyode and Speedy Williams and get the hosts back on a winning track.
Miami FC – Florian Valot: The French playmaker leads Miami with five assists this season and helped drive the club’s comeback victory against Loudoun last time out with one goal and five chances created.
Venue: Cardinale Stadium
Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: MB 31%, ELP 41%, Draw 28%
The Lowdown: Monterey Bay F.C. will try to continue its recent improvement in form as it plays host to an El Paso Locomotive FC side that is still in the playoff positions in the Western Conference but has lost three in a row as it heads to Northern California for the second meeting between the clubs. Monterey Bay grabbed a dramatic victory last Saturday night as Seku Conneh’s goal in second-half stoppage time earned a 1-0 win against Loudoun United FC at Segra Field. The performance saw MBFC record a fourth consecutive shutout, with the club’s current streak sitting at 430 minutes, and moved the first-year club off the bottom of the Western standings. El Paso claimed an emphatic 5-0 victory when the teams played in April at Southwest University Park but has gone without a goal in the past three games after a 1-0 loss to Louisville City FC last Saturday night. Now in sixth place in the West, Locomotive FC will be hoping its attack can spark to life to solidify its place in the postseason field with only 10 games to go in its regular season.
Monterey Bay F.C. – Hugh Roberts: The veteran center back has been in fine form during the club’s current shutout streak and will be aiming to continue that against an El Paso attack that has proven potent before its recent downturn.
El Paso Locomotive FC – Josue Aaron Gomez: The Mexican forward scored the last goal for Locomotive FC in its 1-0 win against Colorado Springs on July 9, getting back to the form that has seen him notch six goals and six assists this season would be big for the visitors.
Venue: Championship Soccer Stadium
Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: OC 40%, COS 33%, Draw 27%
The Lowdown: Orange County SC and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC will try to rebound from setbacks last time out as they square off for the first time since the opening weekend of the season. Colorado Springs took a 2-1 victory at Weidner Field on that occasion to gain a little revenge for OCSC’s playoff victory last fall when the teams met in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, but of the two the Switchbacks are currently the side looking on course of the postseason this year despite a recent downturn in form. Colorado Springs fell 4-0 on the road against Phoenix Rising FC last Saturday night and has won only once in its last five games to drop to third place in the West. Orange County, however, is trying to climb its way up from the bottom of the standings after a 3-2 defeat to second-placed San Diego Loyal SC last Saturday saw another two-goal performance by Milan Iloski fall by the wayside. Iloski currently leads the race for the Championship Golden Boot on 16 goals, with the Switchbacks’ Hadji Barry tied for fourth with 12 this season, and the presence of the two standouts could lend itself to another entertaining contest at Championship Soccer Stadium.
Orange County SC – Albi Skendi: The Albanian center back has scored three goals this season but will be aiming to lead a better defensive display than the defending title holders produced against SD Loyal on Saturday night.
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC – Michee Ngalina: The Congolese winger scored the opening goal of the season for the Switchbacks against Orange County in March and will look for another dynamic display in the attacking third.
Venue: Torero Stadium
Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: SD 33%, SA 41%, Draw 26%
The Lowdown: The highest-scoring team in the Championship plays host to the team tied for the best defensive record in the league this season as second-placed San Diego Loyal SC and first-placed San Antonio FC square off for the first time this campaign. San Diego claimed a third consecutive victory last Saturday night as Evan Conway scored the winner in a 3-2 victory on the road against Orange County SC, moving the side to 49 goals this season and eight in the past three outings. Conway’s goal followed those by Thomas Amang and Grant Stoneman as the visitors rallied for victory after twice falling behind. That sort of resilience could be essential against San Antonio, which produced a late equalizer against the LA Galaxy II last Saturday night to earn a 1-1 draw at home despite being reduced to 10 men in the second half. Forward Santiago Patiño was sent off in the contest, and will be unavailable for selection on Saturday night, but the visitors will still be able to lean on forwards Justin Dhillon and Samuel Adeniran while bringing with them a defense that has conceded only 15 times and recorded 11 shutouts this campaign. SAFC has also generated impressive success on the road, winning 10 of 12 away games so far this season. With a seven-point lead on SD Loyal entering the game, a victory for the visitors would put San Antonio on a clear path to the best record in the Western Conference, and potentially the league overall over the final third of the season.
San Diego Loyal SC – Alejandro Guido: The local standout has been San Diego’s most consistent player this season and will be essential to breaking San Antonio’s defensive pressure and finding attacking possibilities for the hosts.
San Antonio FC – PC: The Brazilian central midfielder plays a key role in SAFC’s pressing game, closing down opponents quickly in the middle of the park and further up the field, and has been one of the essential parts of the side’s success this year.
Venue: Wild Horse Pass
Kickoff: 10:30 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: PHX 59%, LV 18%, Draw 23%
The Lowdown: Phoenix Rising FC will aim to build on emphatic victory last time out as it tries to chase down Las Vegas Lights FC, which arrives at Wild Horse Pass in the seventh and final playoff place in the Western Conference after rallying for a draw on the road last time out. Phoenix took a 4-0 victory against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC last Saturday at Wild Horse Pass as Aodhan Quinn notched a goal and assist and JJ Williams scored on his debut for the club after his transfer from FC Tulsa. The win broke an eight-game winless streak for Phoenix, but also served as a fourth consecutive shutout for goalkeeper Ben Lundt after three consecutive scoreless draws preceding it. The win moved Phoenix up to 10th place in the Western Conference, but only four points back of Las Vegas with 12 games to go in the regular season for both teams. Lights FC earned a 1-1 draw against Atlanta United 2 last Saturday as Cal Jennings scored his seventh goal of the season in the second half, but Las Vegas will be aiming to take some inspiration from the first meeting between the sides this year when Jennings and Danny Trejo each found the net in a 3-2 victory at Cashman Field. The visitors have never won at Phoenix in their history, however, losing all five prior visits, a streak Rising FC will be aiming to continue this time around.
Phoenix Rising FC – JJ Williams: The center forward made his presence felt in his Phoenix debut with a goal and now sits in double-digits overall for the season. At 6-foot-4, Williams will pose a big test for Las Vegas’ back line.
Las Vegas Lights FC – Danny Crisostomo: The experienced midfielder has been one of Lights FC’s most consistent performers this season. His ability to protect the back line and win possession could be crucial for the hosts as they try to earn a result.
Venue: Heart Health Park
Kickoff: 11 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: SAC 40%, RGV 30%, Draw 30%
The Lowdown: Sacramento Republic FC returns home looking for a third consecutive league victory as it plays host to Rio Grande Valley FC, which is hoping for a turnaround in its fortunes after attacking struggles in its current winless run. Sacramento rallied to take a 2-1 victory on Wednesday night against New Mexico United as Rodrigo Lopez notched a pair of assists on goals by Keko and Douglas Martinez Jr. to send the side to victory at Isotopes Park. With the assists, Lopez regained his place as the club’s all-time assists leader and moved into fifth place all-time in the Championship with 39 helpers in the league’s regular season for his career. The 2022 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Finalists will hope to continue that momentum against the Toros, who return to action after being held to a scoreless draw against Hartford Athletic on July 26 at H-E-B Park. RGVFC recorded eight shots on target and outshot the Athletic 32-2 overall – recording the most shots in a single game this season in the process – but were held off the scoreboard. The Toros have scored only two goals in their past five games to drop to 11th place in the Western Conference, and now need a breakout performance to get the side back into the playoff conversation on Saturday night.
Sacramento Republic FC – Maalique Foster: The Open Cup hero could get a chance to start if Sacramento elects to rotate its lineup from New Mexico, and if he does he’ll look to add to his four goals so far this season.
Rio Grande Valley FC – Frank Lopez: The Cuban forward leads the Toros with 28 shots this season and could be their best chance to find a breakthrough as he returns to face one of his former clubs.
Tag(s): News Game Previews San Antonio FC CO Spring Switchbacks LA Galaxy II Orange County SC Phoenix Rising FC Rio Grande Valley FC Sacramento Republic FC Charleston Battery Louisville City FC Pittsburgh Riverhounds 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 Loudoun United FC Hartford Athletic San Diego Loyal SC The Miami FC Detroit City FC Monterey Bay F.C.