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USL Championship Talking Points | Week 27

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 09/12/22, 9:18AM EDT


San Antonio clinches home playoff berth, but SD Loyal could come out feeling better about matchup

San Antonio FC clinched at least one home playoff game this postseason with its win against San Diego Loyal SC, but the visitors delivered arguably the better performance on the night. | Photo courtesy Darren Abate / San Antonio FC

The weekend didn’t give us any new additions to the field for the USL Championship Playoffs, but some notable victories and performances certainly provided plenty to talk about in the short-term, and maybe to look forward to in a longer view. What we do know is where at least one home postseason game will be played, and that we’ve got the potential for a single-season goalkeeping record to be set.

Here are 10 thoughts we took away from the action.


San Antonio ensured it will have at least one home game this postseason, and likely have homefield advantage at least through the Western Conference Final with its 1-0 win against San Diego Loyal SC on Saturday night. That – and a fine four-save shutout by Jordan Farr that included a crucial point-blank save late in the first half and a penalty kick denial after the break – might have been among the few positives for the hosts in a game that consistently tilted toward the visitors.

For Farr, though, the 12th shutout of the season was one to celebrate, moving him into a tie for the league lead. The 27-year-old is now three clean sheets away from tying the league’s single-season record with six games to play, a race he’ll engage in with Louisville City FC’s Kyle Morton and Miami FC’s Connor Sparrow over the final month of the season.

“As a ‘keeper you can’t be too high. I think I fell into that trap, potentially … as we were doing well you kind of think one way, and then you get kind of humbled,” said Farr. “For me, it’s just playing every game. We train really hard during the week, and so when it comes to Saturday you feel like you’ve earned it. You feel like everybody on this field has earned their spot. It’s easy to stay confident when you’re training hard during the week. And that goes out to the staff, that goes out to the team as well.”

You can rarely question the effort San Antonio puts forth – it’s a big reason why it’s in line to earn the best record in the Championship’s regular season. At the same time, there probably needs to be a higher level of quality to earn the reward this side is looking for at the end of the season than was on display on Saturday night.


On the opposite side of things at Toyota Field, San Diego Loyal SC’s loss probably put its chances of finishing as the No. 1 seed – which were slim to begin with – to bed, but there was a lot to like about the visiting side’s performance. An Achilles’ Heel for the side this season, however, has been penalty kicks. Alejandro Guido’s spot kick getting denied by SAFC’s Jordan Farr with a chance to level in the second half put SD Loyal at 4 of 8 from the spot this season and left the side with its longest losing streak this season at three games.

“The result is what the result is. We certainly had enough chances to score,” said SD Loyal Head Coach Landon Donovan. “We did enough to get something from the game but if the ball doesn’t hit the net you can’t win. I thought it was just a really good game, I though our guys played well, competed well, and I can live with that.”

If SD Loyal is going to claim its first silverware this season, it’s likely going to have to go through San Antonio. After the way the two meetings between the teams played out in the regular season, there will not likely be any trepidation of that possibility for Donovan’s squad.


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Rio Grande Valley FC acquires attacking midfielder Jonas Fjeldberg in a midseason loan, and the Norwegian helps lead the Toros on a late run of positive form that sneaks the side into the USL Championship Playoffs.

That’s too simplistic, of course – Fjeldberg gives Toros Head Coach Wilmer Cabrera much of the credit for the Toros’ turnaround – but it’s undeniable to ignore the impact that his return – this time on loan from Indy Eleven after last season’s stint from FC Cincinnati – alongside the arrival of Christian Pinzon has done to help the trajectory of the club’s season. After a 3-1 victory against New Mexico United on Saturday night, the Toros aren’t above the playoff line yet, but have won three games our of four and appear in really good shape ahead of next weekend’s home clash with Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC.

“I have said it before, this feels a lot like last year, where we dug ourselves a hole and it is time to come right out of it,” said Fjeldberg, whose goal capped the victory. “We believe that we are doing it again and if I was that spark to get that offense going then that is good. It is definitely more of a team effort, something must have clicked at the right time.”


There are now five teams separated by two points between seventh and 11th place in the Western Conference standings after this weekend, with Oakland Roots SC’s 2-0 victory on the road against Phoenix Rising FC at Wild Horse Pass including interim Head Coach Noah Delgado’s squad in that group after what must have felt a very satisfying victory for the visitors due to the past month’s events.

Where the goals came from for Roots SC might have come as a surprise, but then again maybe not. Lindo Mfeka was making only his seventh start of the season in a year in which he’s logged only just over 600 minutes after featuring prominently in 2021, but his first two goals of the season were both of the quality you’d expect from the South African playmaker. Shout-out to Ottar Magnus Karlsson for his deft pass to set up the second in his return to the starting lineup from paternity leave, too.

There’s still work to be done for Oakland. With only five games to go, it sits at a disadvantage to Rio Grande Valley FC, Las Vegas Lights FC and Monterey Bay F.C. among the five teams vying for a playoff place. This win, though, could be the breakthrough that can carry the side the rest of the way.


For a team that’s had as difficult a go of things overall this season as the Charleston Battery, going down a goal inside the opening four minutes to the Tampa Bay Rowdies – a team you hadn’t won against in almost two years – was not the ideal start. After Sebastian Guenzatti’s opener for the visitors at Patriots Point, however, the Battery found an adjustment that not only stemmed the early tide but shifted things in their direction in a 2-1 victory that saw Andrew Booth score both goals before an enthusiastic home crowd.

“I think on the first goal we got caught pressing in a way that wasn't really suited to the way Tampa Bay were playing,” said Booth. “After that, we were able to solve problems on the field, which is a testament to the guys on the field and the coaching staff. We just came together and realized we had to change something, and we did.” 

Booth’s two finishes were both sharply taken, the first coming off a missed defensive clearance by the visitors before Aidan Apodaca set up the second midway through the second half. On a day when leading scorer Augustine Williams wasn’t at his best – the Sierra Leone international had six shots, including a glorious chance late in the first half, but was unable to add to his season tally – coming away with a statement victory offered something good to build on for Head Coach Conor Casey’s side.

“[The fans] have been here and they've supported us all year long, regardless of results,” said Casey. “They’ve brought an incredible atmosphere and we've been just so eager to give them something to cheer about. Tonight was the best performance of the year and the energy in the stadium was top notch.”


The Tampa Bay Rowdies weren’t bereft of chances to regain control of the game against the Battery – a chance sent over by Jake LaCava early in the second half stands out as a key moment – but for a team that prides itself on defensive stability and having control of the game there were multiple moments that caused concern from typically reliable starters.

“We just didn’t perform,” said Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins. “Unfortunately, I’ve had to say that a couple times more recently than I’d like, so I need to get my finger on that. There’s still plenty of football to be played, still plenty of points to be played for but we can’t keep performing like that.”

That’s true, and what’s also now true is the Rowdies have ceded control over the path to second place in the Eastern Conference to Memphis 901 FC, which remains a point ahead of Tampa Bay with six games to play for both. After a tough visit to AutoZone Park early this season, you can imagine the Rowdies would not relish a return visit in a potential Eastern Conference Semifinal.


Going to play at altitude at Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, Detroit City FC Head Coach Trevor James and his side were aware the typical pressing game the team has used to great effect this season was going to have to be used more sparingly, but while the visitors were put under pressure by the Switchbacks at Weidner Field, they emerged with a 2-1 victory that moved Le Rouge even closer to clinching a playoff berth.

“Our pressing game, what we like to do, we cut down a little bit,” said James. “We didn’t press as much as we would normally in a game, which meant they had the ball – the possession would show they had the ball a lot, but they had a lot of the ball in areas which didn’t hurt us. We allowed them to have the ball and pick our times when we could pressure, pick our times when we could break them down, and stuck to the gameplan. It worked well today.”

A classic set piece goal by Maxi Rodriguez off a near-post flick by Matt Lewis late in the first half before a great half-volley by Deklan Wynn on Antoine Hoppenot’s ninth assist of the season gave DCFC enough for victory, while goalkeeper Ryan Shellow performed admirably in his USL Championship debut. With three consecutive road victories under their belts, Le Rouge would like to see that form make an appearance at home, but it does feel like a good omen for a postseason that seems it will require success on the road in October.


As the old proverb goes, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” We’re looking in your direction, Birmingham Legion FC, because as nice as Neveal Hackshaw’s first headed finish off a corner kick was for Indy Eleven 11 minutes on Saturday night, that we got an almost exact replay of it five minutes later was a lapse you just don’t expect from Legion FC at this point.

Of course, Indy’s overall display was a sign of where the team has grown, and where it still has work to do as it eventually took a 4-3 victory after squandering a three-goal first half lead accumulated in the opening half-hour. The winner by Stefano Pinho also left you to wonder what if the current run of Indy form – which now sees it undefeated in its last four games, taking 10 points in that span – had come sooner to put pressure on the top seven instead of being part of the building blocks for 2023.

“What we do have to show is the heart and desire to keep digging in and moments of quality from certain players to get us to victory in the end,” said Indy Head Coach Mark Lowry. “We’ll look at the three goals [we gave up], but the guys defended unbelievable at times as well, holding that line on the edge of the [penalty area], the stuff they did was superb. We fully deserved the win, and I don’t want to be too harsh on the guys because a win’s a win. Birmingham are a playoff team, it shows we’re going in the right direction.”  


While we’re on the topic of old sayings, Hartford Athletic’s motto for Saturday night as new Head Coach Tab Ramos led his first game at the helm should have been “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Well, the Athletic should have shown more than enough for the sellout crowd at Trinity Health Stadium in a 3-2 victory against FC Tulsa that the hosts were forced to hold onto late, but certainly did enough to deserve overall.

Ramos’ touches could be seen earlier in the game, most notably in the first goal of the night. On a fourth consecutive corner kick in the span of two minutes, a clever short routine cleared space for Danny Barrera to deliver a low ball through the six-yard area where Tulu was at the back post to score. The Togolese defender charged the length of the sideline to celebrate with his new coach in one of the sights of the weekend.

Hartford was officially eliminated from playoff contention on Saturday night thanks to Detroit City FC’s victory in Colorado Springs, but with a four-game undefeated run currently ongoing, like Indy, the Athletic are building something potentially interesting for next season.


FC Tulsa’s playoff chances were already hanging by a thread going into the weekend, but its loss in Hartford combined with victories by Miami FC on Friday night and Detroit City FC on Saturday effectively sealed the top seven in the Eastern Conference. A disappointing evening was maybe summed up by a horrible moment for goalkeeper Austin Wormell, whose own goal accounted for the second goal for the hosts at Trinity Health Stadium.

It was the latest misfortune to befall the team, which just hasn’t been able to get into a consistent groove most of the season. After falling for a second time to Hartford in under a month, the message from interim Head Coach Donovan Ricketts is to try and stay positive.

“We have to put things into perspective and not get emotional and think too far into our own heads,” said Ricketts. “Individually, they worked hard. As a unit, they looked good. It’s not about mistakes – if you let mistakes define you, we will keep fighting and pushing. We will never get too high or too low, we will keep fighting. It’s tough, but like I tell our guys, ‘We have [four] more games to play, and we’ll keep fighting on.’”

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