El Paso Locomotive FC's victory against New Mexico United on Friday night - its first all-time at Isotopes Park - put the side on far firmer footing in the Western Conference playoff race.
Another pair of playoff places were claimed on Saturday night with the two teams that contested the past two Eastern Conference Finals both booking their places. It was in the Western Conference where the major intrigue developed this past weekend, however, with the postseason race taking another collection of turns that left some teams up, and others grasping.
Here are 10 things we took away from the weekend’s action.
If you ever wanted to see the importance of having a clinical goalscorer in your ranks, then El Paso Locomotive FC’s victory against Derby del Camino Real rival New Mexico United on the back of a pair of goals by Luis Solignac was a great illustration. The Argentine’s two goals on the night proved the difference in a 2-1 win in which the visitors had less than half the shots of their hosts at Isotopes Park but capitalized more fluidly as Solignac’s impressive run of form.
Solignac has now scored almost half his 13 goals this season in the past four games, with six tallies in that span. He’s now closing in on teammate Josue Aaron Gomez for the club’s all-time scoring lead in the Championship, but much more importantly he’s powering El Paso’s drive to return to the playoffs. That position isn’t secure yet – with only five games to go, El Paso still needs to keep winning and hope its rivals slip up – but the way Solignac is coming through has put Locomotive FC on much firmer ground than two weeks ago.
“Pressure is always part of this game,” said Solignac. “I think we’ve coped with it. We’ve taken six points from the last two games, we’re in a better position right now but we cannot let it slip. We’ve got to keep going, use this momentum, because if we go into the playoffs playing like this it’s going to be hard for the other teams.”
It could be easy to get discouraged if you were a New Mexico United fan on Friday night after the side’s loss at home to El Paso Locomotive FC. The 2-1 setback meant United remained in fifth place in the Western Conference standings, even with Kevaughn Frater delivering a superb finish for his first goal in the club’s colors since his recent return. The problem for New Mexico was Frater’s goal was the lone tally on the night, and a pair of good finishes by Luis Solignac earned Locomotive FC the victory.
“Where we wanted to get the ball, we got the ball and continuously created so many chances,” said New Mexico Head Coach Zach Prince. “And, yeah, that's the name of the game. You've got to score goals and we have players that will do it. I told them in the locker room, I believe in that group so much. My trust in that group, my belief in that group does not waver at all. And the attitude from us to keep going, keep creating chances towards the end of the game? Phenomenal. But I'm definitely disappointed in the result.”
As tough as the outcome was, if New Mexico keeps playing the way it did against El Paso, a playoff spot will get wrapped up soon enough, and it could be a threat to deliver a surprise in the postseason.
There was a certain sense for Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC of aiming to set the record straight against Phoenix Rising FC on Saturday night after the defeat the side absorbed at Wild Horse Pass late in July. After a 1-0 victory that saw the hosts dominate proceedings with Jairo Henriquez’s goal providing the difference, the Switchbacks look back to where they need to be to contend this postseason.
“Obviously the result in Phoenix was just a bad result for us, so to be able to win today was good,” said Henriquez. “We had some chances to be able to win by a bigger margin, but the important thing is every game we're getting better. The most important thing is to go into the postseason as best we can with as much rhythm as we can.”
Henriquez game-winner was his second in the past three games and was another sign of how the El Salvador international is fitting into Colorado Springs’ lineup. With three goals and three assists in eight appearances, his arrival has added another valuable piece in the attacking third.
As quickly as the playoff race in the Western Conference is changing each week, it’s making victories for teams around the playoff line against those at the top that much more important. As other rivals fell in those situations, Monterey Bay F.C. gave itself a major boost with a 3-1 victory against second-placed San Diego Loyal SC that saw Sam Gleadle score twice in a comeback result at Cardinale Stadium.
With the LA Galaxy II off until Monday night, MBFC’s victory was the only one claimed by a team below the playoff line. Combined with Las Vegas Lights FC’s defeat in Tampa Bay it provided another glimmer of hope for the Head Coach Frank Yallop’s first-year squad as it looks to take advantage of games in hand and a busy final stretch of eight games in the last six weeks.
“Even before their goal we had a lot of half-chances, we were pretty much on the front foot from the first whistle,” said Gleadle. “I thought we started off well. Credit to the whole team because it’s easy to put your heads down when you go down a goal, but we didn’t do that. Once we got that goal back, it was like OK, we’re even again, let’s keep doing what we were doing, believe in ourselves and go get the winning goal.”
The Tampa Bay Rowdies were the biggest home favorite in this weekend’s slate as they played host to Las Vegas Lights FC and delivered a performance to match. With Leo Fernandes notching another two goals and an assist to continue his career season and Lucky Mkosana finding the net on his 100th appearance for the club late on, it was the sort of display that showed why Tampa Bay has won the Eastern Conference each of the past two years as it booked a fourth consecutive playoff trip.
With the side holding a two-goal lead at the break, Tampa Bay Head Coach Neill Collins’ message was to continue to push against a Las Vegas side that still has playoff aspirations of its own. Scoring three times in the final 25 minutes after Cal Jennings had produced a brilliant strike for the visitors drove that effort home, with the Rowdies’ 694 overall passes the most by a side in a single game this season.
“It’s easy to gloss over those performances because you’re expected to win those games, and it is expected,” said Collins. “But you can see with other results around the league week how difficult it can be. We’ve made some tough work of these kinds of games earlier in the season. Tonight, I thought we got our reward for the performance with the goals.”
Louisville City FC was in a lightning delay when it clinched its eighth consecutive trip to the playoffs on Saturday night as FC Tulsa’s loss to Atlanta United 2 did the job before LouCity wrapped up its 3-1 victory against Sacramento Republic FC at Lynn Family Stadium. It’s become standard for Louisville – which will now try to keep its record of reaching at least the Eastern Conference Final in every season alive – but it’s also come with some new faces leading the way.
Among those is Amadou Dia, who notched his seventh assist of the season to set up Wilson Harris’ opening goal of the game in the ninth minute and put in another impressive shift on the left flank in what has been a strong all-around season. Dia is currently winning 67 percent of tackles, 64 percent of duels while ranking third on the team with 27 chances created. For a team that needed a major addition to replace Jonathan Gomez after his move to Spain, Dia has more than fit the bill.
There wasn’t anything that remarkable about San Antonio FC’s 2-0 victory on the road against Oakland Roots SC on Saturday night. It was just a good, solid performance backed by a pair of goals from Samuel Adeniran for a team looking to get back to those sorts of displays, which put SAFC as the favorite to come out of the Western Conference this season in the playoffs.
“It was one of our most complete team performances, [like the ones] that we were having the first half of the year, when we were having a bunch of success,” said SAFC defender Mitchell Taintor. “I think it was really good to have everything kind of come together before a big game against San Diego. I think we just need to keep steady heads and keep going at it this week, we’ve had three great weeks of training and we’ve got to keep that going.”
San Antonio’s up-and-down August – which saw the side go 2-2-1 – began with what at the time felt like a game-changing defeat to San Diego Loyal SC at Torero Stadium. Now as the sides prepare to meet again, it might be SD Loyal feeling the heat, with Adeniran’s strike rate of nine goals at a tally every 131 minutes among the best in the league currently.
It’s a sign of the expectations the past month have delivered for Birmingham Legion FC that it was disappointed to only come away with a 1-1 draw on the road against a Miami FC side that has also been in good form of late this Saturday night, but you could understand why. A saved first-half penalty kick by Juan Agudelo that could have put the hosts ahead, and then needing to fight back to earn a point in the second half left honors even at Riccardo Silva Stadium, and saw Legion FC drop points as Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC were picking up wins.
“I felt disappointed that we only got one, especially when we had the penalty and the opportunities to get up early, which I felt was important to open them up,” said Legion FC Head Coach Tom Soehn. “But then we didn’t, and they went up a goal. It’s still important that we were resilient to keep pushing the game right up until the end. I credit the guys for their effort.”
Legion FC faces a big month ahead with games against Indy Eleven and the Tampa Bay Rowdies sandwiching what will be likely the most important remaining game for the side against Pittsburgh on September 14. As high as Birmingham is aiming, that could end up a classic.
The combination of Detroit City FC’s draw against Indy Eleven and FC Tulsa’s loss to Atlanta United 2 on Saturday night moved Le Rouge closer to a postseason berth in its first season in the Championship, but the 0-0 draw for the hosts against Indy at Keyworth Stadium continued an unwanted streak for the side, which is now winless in its last seven games on its home turf.
DCFC’s road form – which has seen it take victories away at the Charleston Battery and Birmingham Legion FC in recent weeks – has maintained its momentum forward, but for a team that takes pride in providing success for the great home support it receives each year, the effort to try and find a winner seemed to take the team out of its regular attacking rhythm.
“Late in the game, we kind of lost our shape a little bit,” DCFC Head Coach Trevor James told the Detroit News. “In doing so, allowed them to run up the middle of the field and possibly create a chance or shot at goal, or whatever it would be. ... We need to keep within what we do and keep within our shape on the field, and hopefully get the winning goal, but obviously, not tonight.”
It’s been a tough year at all levels of the Atlanta United FC organization, but on Saturday night Jackson Conway at least provided an individual silver lining that could set him up for success next year and beyond. The 20-year-old’s two-goal performance in a 2-1 victory for Atlanta United 2 against FC Tulsa not only broke a five-game losing streak for the side, but also sent Conway to 10 goals this season individually, a new single-season record.
“Huge personally and it’s big for the team as well because we’ve had a tough year, you know?” said Conway, whose performance almost certainly doomed Tulsa’s playoff chances. “It’s really important that I do it for them because they work so hard. The whole team deserved the win tonight and I couldn’t be more happy for them and myself.”