El Paso Locomotive FC and Phoenix Rising FC will square off for the first time at Southwest University Park since 2019 in a key game in the playoff race in the Western Conference. | Photo courtesy Ashley Orellana / Phoenix Rising FC
A rematch of the 2021 USL Championship Final is one of the big games this Saturday night in the USL Championship, and the 11-game slate also includes some crucial games in the Western Conference playoff race as well as the opportunity for the first two postseason berths to be sealed at the top of each conference’s standings.
Here’s a look ahead to all the action.
Venue: Michael A. Carroll Stadium
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: IND 20%, SA 54%, Draw 26%
The Lowdown: San Antonio FC can book its place in the USL Championship Playoffs as it heads to face Indy Eleven for the first league meeting between the clubs. San Antonio is guaranteed to earn a playoff place with a victory as it looks to build on a second-half comeback against South Texas Derby rival Rio Grande Valley FC last Saturday night that saw Mitchell Taintor score a stoppage-time equalizer in a 2-2 draw. The visitors could also earn a playoff place with a draw, or a defeat, pending results elsewhere, but SAFC will be hopeful of taking victory against an Indy side that has struggled over the middle third of the season and enters on a 12-game winless streak. The Boys in Blue fell 1-0 to FC Tulsa last Saturday night despite matching their single-game season high with seven shots on target and will be hoping for better fortune in the final third against one of the best defensive units in the league.
Indy Eleven – Solomon Asante: The two-time Championship MVP had prior success against San Antonio while at Phoenix Rising FC, recording two goals and two assists in four games across the regular season and playoffs.
San Antonio FC – Justin Dhillon: Putting together a strong individual season with six goals and seven assists, Dhillon has been a versatile element of SAFC’s attack and will be a player Indy has to keep tabs on.
Venue: Riccardo Silva Stadium
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: MIA 28%, LOU 42%, Draw 29%
The Lowdown: Louisville City FC can continue its streak of reaching the USL Championship Playoffs in every season of its history on Saturday night as it visits a Miami FC side closing in on a playoff berth in sixth place in the standings as the weekend begins. Miami moved closer to a second consecutive playoff berth last Saturday night as it took a 2-0 victory against Hartford Athletic behind goals from Kyle Murphy and Florian Valot, and was then boosted further by Hartford’s victory against eighth-placed FC Tulsa this past Wednesday night. Miami is looking for its first positive result against Louisville since joining the Championship having fallen twice in their prior meetings in the 2021 postseason and earlier this year, but that could be a challenge with LouCity arriving on a 10-game undefeated streak that has seen the side win nine times to build a four-point lead at the top of the Eastern Conference. The two-time title winner picked up a 1-0 victory against Detroit City FC last Saturday night behind a second-half penalty kick by Sean Totsch, but the side will be without forward Wilson Harris as he serves a one-game suspension following a red card against Le Rouge. LouCity will have Wes Charpie available for selection, however, following a successful appeal of his red card for denial of a goalscoring opportunity to the Independent Review Panel.
Miami FC – Paco Craig: The former Louisville City FC center back has had another impressive season for Miami and will need to try and keep some familiar faces in check if the hosts are to earn a result.
Louisville City FC – Brian Ownby: The veteran forward was absent from LouCity’s contest against Detroit but would make his 200th regular season appearance on Saturday night should he return to the lineup in Harris’ absence.
Venue: Fifth Third Bank Field
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: ATL 15%, PIT 62%, Draw 19%
The Lowdown: Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC will look to renew their pursuit of a top-four finish in the Eastern Conference as they head to face an Atlanta United 2 side that became the first side to be officially eliminated from playoff contention a weekend ago. The Hounds begin the weekend in fifth place in the East after dropping points at home last Saturday night in a 2-2 draw with the New York Red Bulls II. Pittsburgh took a two-goal lead on goals by Robbie Mertz and Mekeil Williams but were pegged back by the visitors at Highmark Stadium, who scored either side of halftime to take a point. Head Coach Bob Lilley’s side is now three points behind Birmingham Legion FC with a game in hand, with a showdown between the side on September 14 currently looming large, but the Hounds will be aiming for three points against an Atlanta side that fell 3-1 to Loudoun United FC last Saturday night despite a spectacular finish by Jackson Conway at Segra Field. After earning a 4-0 win when the teams met at Highmark Stadium in April, a repeat performance will be what’s expected from the Hounds this time.
Atlanta United – Jackson Conway: The 20-year-old has seven goals this season, already good for an individual single-season high in the Championship and will try to threaten Pittsburgh’s defensive group.
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC – Robbie Mertz: The attacking midfielder will return to face his former club after a midseason move back to Pittsburgh looking to add to his impressive finish last weekend against New York.
Venue: Al Lang Stadium
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: TBR 62%, OC 15%, 23%
The Lowdown: The Tampa Bay Rowdies and Orange County SC will meet for the first time since the 2021 USL Championship Final – and the first time in the regular season – as both teams look for a morale-boosting victory while facing very different situations in this year’s postseason race. The Rowdies return home after falling in consecutive contests for the first time since April after a 1-0 loss to Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC last Saturday night at Weidner Field. The result also marked a second consecutive game in which Tampa Bay had been held scoreless after scoring in 17 consecutive games prior, but the hosts will be hopeful of a rebound with an attack that has seen both Leo Fernandes and Jake LaCava notch double-digit goals this season as the side looks to move level on points with Memphis 901 FC in second place in the Eastern standings. Orange County, meanwhile, is fighting for its playoff life after a 1-1 draw against Las Vegas Lights FC kept it in 12th place in the Western Conference with nine games to go in the regular season. Orange County must make up a seven-point gap to the playoff places in that span and boasts a new key face in attack with Milan Iloski’s 19 goals leading the Championship after his arrival to replace the 2021 Championship Final MVP Ronaldo Damus, who was transferred this past offseason to Swedish First Division club GIF Sundsvall. OCSC upset the odds when it visits Al Lang Stadium last November to claim its first league title and needs to do the same this time around to keep its playoff hopes viable.
Tampa Bay Rowdies – Aaron Guillen: The Rowdies defender is having another solid season and will need to keep a close eye on Championship Golden Boot leader Milan Iloski in a great one-on-one matchup.
Orange County SC – Seth Casiple: The central midfielder has notched five assists this season and will need to put in a strong display against a good Tampa Bay unit led by Lewis Hilton.
Venue: Patriots Point
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: CHS 35%, DET 39%, Draw 27%
The Lowdown: Detroit City FC will try to rebound from a setback last time out and continue to close in on a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference as it squares off with the Charleston Battery in the second meeting between the sides this season. Le Rouge fell 1-0 to Louisville City FC at Keyworth Stadium last Saturday night on a second-half penalty kick, but the side has had an impressive record coming off defeats under Head Coach Trevor James, whose side is 3-0-2 this season coming off defeats, with James’ tenure dating back to 2019 being marked by a lack of consecutive defeats in league play. DCFC is now in seventh place in the Eastern Conference but holds an eight-point lead on eighth-placed FC Tulsa with a game in hand after Tulsa’s loss to Hartford Athletic on Wednesday night. Charleston returns home after playing to a 1-1 draw against the LA Galaxy II last Saturday night that saw Patrick Hogan score his first goal of the season before Los Dos notched a late equalizer. Battery goalkeeper Hugo Fauroux notched a 10-save performance against LA to equal the league’s season-high in a single game, and the hosts will be hoping to reverse a 1-0 defeat to Le Rouge when they visited Keyworth Stadium in March when Antoine Hoppenot scored the only goal for the hosts.
Charleston Battery – Augustine Williams: The Sierra Leone international is fifth in the Championship with 13 goals this season, having recently notched the 50th regular-season goal of his career.
Detroit City FC – Antoine Hoppenot: After scoring in the prior meeting between the sides, Hoppenot is now tied for seventh in the Championship with seven assists this campaign, which moved him to 40 regular-season helpers in his career.
Venue: ONEOK Field
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: TUL 55%, LDN 22%, Draw 23%
The Lowdown: FC Tulsa is in need of a bounce-back performance to keep its playoff aspirations alive as it plays host to a Loudoun United FC side that is coming off a good victory last time out and could be motivated to play spoiler in its first trip to ONEOK Field. Loudoun almost claimed victory when the teams last met as Jalen Robinson and Tyler Freeman staked the side to a two-goal lead at Segra Field before late goals from Dario Suarez and Rodrigo da Costa pulled the visitors back for a 2-2 draw. Loudoun took a 3-1 victory in its last outing against Atlanta United 2, however, as Jeremy Garay scored his first professional goal to cap another standout display. Tulsa, meanwhile, fell 2-1 to Hartford Athletic on Wednesday night to break a two-game winning streak and now sits eight points out of the playoff positions in the Eastern Conference with eight games to go in the regular season. Suarez found the net from the penalty spot for his fourth goal of the season, while Da Costa leads the squad with seven tallies, and both could need to put in strong performances to take what is a must-win for the hosts.
FC Tulsa – Rodrigo da Costa: The Brazilian playmaker is looking for his first goal since July 9 on Saturday night after being held without a goal or assist in his past six appearances.
Loudoun United FC – Jeremy Garay: The 19-year-old El Salvador international has had a stellar individual season and could provide a test for Tulsa’s experienced midfield likely to be led by Eric Bird.
Venue: Weidner Field
Kickoff: 9 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: COS 38%, NM 36%, Draw 26%
The Lowdown: Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC and New Mexico United meet for the first time this season with the third-placed Switchbacks holding a three-point lead over fourth-placed United ahead of a crucial game in the battle for position at the top of the Western Conference standings. Both teams are coming off morale-boosting victories last Saturday night with the Switchbacks having taken a 1-0 win against the Tampa Bay Rowdies through El Salvador international Jairo Henriquez’s second goal since his midseason arrival at the club. The result broke a six-game winless streak for the Switchbacks, who are now seven points behind second-placed San Diego Loyal SC with eight games to go in the regular season. New Mexico also broke out of a downturn in form last Saturday with a 2-0 win against Monterey Bay F.C. that saw a strong return to form at both ends of the field. Chris Wehan and Preston Tabort Etaka scored a minute apart late in the first half at Isotopes Park, with Wehan’s goal his third this campaign directly from a free kick to sit tied for the league lead in that category, and the United defense held MBFC without a shot on target as Alex Tambakis picked up his 38th career shutout. New Mexico claimed three wins in four meetings between the sides last season, which included a split of the games in Colorado Springs, and with the potential firepower on display for both sides this should be a must-see contest in addition to one that is crucial for both teams in the standings.
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC – Hadji Barry: The 2021 Championship MVP has scored four goals in four prior games against New Mexico United as he looks to add to his 15 goals so far this campaign.
New Mexico United – Justin Portillo: The veteran midfielder may have a key role to play as United faces a Switchbacks midfield that will be absent Cam Lindley as he serves a one-game suspension for caution accumulation.
Venue: Southwest University Park
Kickoff: 9:30 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: ELP 43%, PHX 31%, Draw 26%
The Lowdown: Phoenix Rising FC and new Head Coach Juan Guerra will head to face El Paso Locomotive FC for his first game at the helm in what sets up as a critical contest for the playoff hopes of both clubs. Currently in the seventh and final playoff place in the Western Conference, El Paso is looking to break a six-game winless streak that continued last Saturday night in a 3-1 defeat to San Diego Loyal SC. Locomotive FC is one point ahead of both the LA Galaxy II and Oakland Roots SC, and five points ahead of Phoenix in 10th place, but has only seven games remaining in its regular season, giving Rising FC three games in hand as it looks for a resurgence under its new sideline boss. Returning to Phoenix from his position as Head Coach at Oakland Roots SC after serving as an assistant at Rising FC last season, Guerra and his squad are aiming for a strong run over the final 10 games to continue a postseason streak that began in the 2017 season. The side is coming off a 2-1 defeat to Orange County SC on August 12 that proved the final game at the helm for Rick Schantz and has won only once in its last 12 games overall, a run of form that requires a major turnaround. Victory in El Paso – where the side won its lone prior visit in the 2019 season – would be a strong start.
El Paso Locomotive FC – Josue Aaron Gomez: The Mexican forward scored the only goal when the teams met at Wild Horse Pass earlier this season, a result that earned Locomotive FC its first win against Phoenix in club history.
Phoenix Rising FC – Kevon Lambert: The Jamaican international will need to be at his best against a good El Paso midfield unit and could provide the balance that Guerra is aiming to implement in a more possession-based approach.
Venue: Cardinale Stadium
Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: MB 39%, LA 33%, Draw 27%
The Lowdown: Monterey Bay F.C. returns home looking to close the gap to the playoff places, and on the visiting LA Galaxy II, with the visitors also firmly in the hunt for the postseason after earning a point at home last time out. Monterey Bay fell 2-0 to New Mexico United last Saturday night at Isotopes Park for the second loss in the past three outings for the side. The first-year side remains in contention for a postseason berth, however, as it sits five points out of the playoff positions with 10 games to play in the regular season, and a victory against Los Dos could narrow the gap to seventh-placed El Paso Locomotive FC as Christian Volesky and the club’s attack looks to get back on track after being held without a shot on target in New Mexico. The Galaxy II, meanwhile, could move into the playoff positions with a victory after earning a 1-1 draw against the Charleston Battery last Saturday night as Josh Drack provided a late breakthrough on his third goal this season directly from a free kick. Los Dos will be hoping for a repeat of a 3-2 victory they took behind a hat trick from Preston Judd when the teams met for the first time in June at Dignity Health Sports Park.
Monterey Bay F.C. – Simon Dawkins: The English veteran has notched a goal and assist in 16 appearances this season and will be looking to rebound from an underwhelming performance in New Mexico.
LA Galaxy II – Preston Judd: Los Dos’ leading scorer has notched 29 regular-season goals for the Galaxy II so far in his career and could provide a serious threat to MBFC’s back line once again after bagging a hat trick in their first meeting.
Venue: Cashman Field
Kickoff: 10:30 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: LV 29%, RGV 42%, Draw 30%
The Lowdown: Las Vegas Lights FC can bolster its position above the playoff line as it looks for a second consecutive victory against a Rio Grande Valley FC side that heads to Nevada in a must-win position for its postseason hopes. Lights FC took a 2-1 victory against Sacramento Republic FC last Saturday night behind goals from youth internationals Christian Torres and Daron Iskenderian to move into sixth place in the Western Conference, four points ahead of the teams above the playoff line. Head Coach Enrique Duran’s side is now in position to potentially reach the playoffs for the first time with the midfield trio of Frank Daroma, Danny Crisostomo and Jorge Almaguer playing a key role in the side’s improved defensive stability. Las Vegas took victory behind a goal from Morten Bjørshol in a game that proved symbolic of the Toros’ season so far at H-E-B Park as the hosts outshot Lights FC 27-3 but were stymied by an eight-save shutout by Las Vegas goalkeeper Abraham Romero. RGVFC let a two-goal lead slip away against San Antonio FC last Saturday night as the final South Texas Derby of the season ended in a 2-2 draw despite goals for the visitors by Christian Pinzon and Akeem Ward. With a seven-point margin to make up in its final 10 regular season games, the Toros will be hoping for better fortune this time around as it tries to close the gap to the postseason places.
Las Vegas Lights FC – Christopher Jaime: The 18-year-old signed his first professional contract with Lights FC on Thursday, having previously made 34 appearances as a USL Academy signing, and could be in line for a return to the starting lineup.
Rio Grande Valley FC – Isidro Martinez: The midfield playmaker has had opportunities this season with 27 shots but has yet to find the net while recording an Expected Goals mark of 2.16xG, one reason for the Toros’ underperforming attack.
Venue: Heart Health Park
Kickoff: 11 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: SAC 41%, OAK 32%, Draw 27%
The Lowdown: Sacramento Republic FC will try to claim its first victory against northern California rivals Oakland Roots SC in another of the weekend’s key games in the Western Conference, with Roots SC looking to build on a big midweek victory as it rounds out a week on the road. Oakland claimed a 3-1 win against second-placed San Diego Loyal SC at Torero Stadium on Wednesday night, earning interim Head Coach Noah Delgado a victory in his first game at the helm since the departure of former Head Coach Juan Guerra to take the same position at Phoenix Rising FC. Goals by Juan Carlos Azocar and Emrah Klimenta pulled the side into the lead after going behind, while Edgardo Rite wrapped up the victory late in the second half. The result moved Oakland within a point of seventh-placed El Paso Locomotive FC in the playoff race, and the visitors will now try to main their undefeated record against Sacramento, which is hoping to rebound from a setback last time out. Republic FC fell 2-1 to Las Vegas Lights FC last Saturday night at Cashman Field as Douglas Martinez Jr.’s first-half penalty kick was overturned by the hosts. The result kept Sacramento in fifth place in the Western standings, two points behind New Mexico United with nine games to go in the regular season. Republic FC needed a late equalizer when these teams last met on July 9 in a wild 3-3 draw at Heart Health Park that saw Luis Felipe Fernandes score in the sixth minute of stoppage time after Ottar Magnus Karlsson had scored twice for the visitors. With five draws in six prior meetings – and Oakland having claimed the lone victory – the two teams should provide another compelling contest this time around.
Sacramento Republic FC – Luis Felipe Fernandes: The midfielder has scored in both prior meetings between the teams this season and will be looked to for another big performance on home turf.
Oakland Roots SC – Emrah Klimenta: The former Republic FC defender marked his 50th appearance for Oakland with a goal against San Diego Loyal SC and will be aiming to earn another positive result for the visitors at a venue he’s well familiar with.
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 FC Tulsa Charleston Battery Louisville City FC Pittsburgh Riverhounds Tampa Bay Rowdies Las Vegas Lights FC Atlanta United 2 Indy Eleven El Paso Locomotive FC New Mexico United Loudoun United FC The Miami FC Oakland Roots SC Detroit City FC Monterey Bay F.C.