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Four takeaways from Saturday night’s action in the USL Championship Playoffs

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 10/23/22, 9:30AM EDT


Colorado Springs dominates, Guenzatti continues resurgence, Memphis gains from home support

Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC' Aaron Wheeler celebrates as the hosts advanced past Rio Grande Valley FC in the Western Conference Quarterfinals for its first playoff win since 2015. | Photo courtesy Mark Reis / Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC

The 2022 USL Championship Playoffs presented by Hisense got off to a flying start on Saturday night. Crucial goals provided late drama in a pair of contests, and there was plenty more to unpack from superb individual and team performances.

Here are four things we took away from the action.  


On paper, the Western Conference Quarterfinal between No. 3 seed Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC and No. 6 seed Rio Grande Valley FC appeared the game with the biggest upset potential of the opening weekend. In practice, the Switchbacks put in the most dominant display on Saturday night in a 3-0 victory that arrived late but was thoroughly deserved.

Colorado Springs had won only once in its final six games of the regular season but was on top of its game from the start this time out. The balance the hosts showed across the field kept the Toros from finding any kind of rhythm. RFGVC held more possession and produced more passes into the final third than Colorado Springs, but only recorded three touches inside the Switchbacks’ penalty area as all five of its shots came outside the penalty area.

By contrast, the Switchbacks were consistently dangerous, from Macauley King’s early chance off a well-conceived set piece in the third minute to the key breakthrough by El Salvador international Jairo Henriquez with six minutes to go. Aaron Wheeler’s two late goals added a gloss to the final score, but once the Switchbacks went ahead there just wasn’t going to be a way back for the visitors against their well-drilled opponents.


For much of the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ season, the form of captain and two-time Championship All-League selection Sebastian Guenzatti was one of the most puzzling conundrums in the league. After a 20-goal campaign in 2021, the veteran forward had only two goals on an Expected Goals mark of 6.31 through the end of September.

Fast forward a few weeks and Guenzatti looks back to his best. A two-goal performance on Saturday night in the No. 3 seed Rowdies’ 3-1 victory against No. 6 seed Miami FC showed off the instincts that have made him one of the most dangerous players inside the penalty area in the Championship in recent years. His opening goal early in the second half saw Guenzatti show awareness to ensure he remained onside to capitalize on the rebound of Leo Fernandes’ initial shot, and the capper for the hosts with 20 minutes to go was an instinctive strike that showed him at his best.

As far as the Rowdies have been carried this season by Fernandes, Jake LaCava and others in the attacking third, Guenzatti’s current run of five goals in his past four appearances is a massive boost to the two-time defending Eastern Conference title winners.


On a night when all four home clubs took victories, the side that might have benefited most from its homefield advantage was Eastern Conference No. 2 seed Memphis 901 FC. Playing its first home postseason contest in club history, 901 FC was locked in a serious battle with No. 7 seed Detroit City FC that saw the visitors grab an equalizer with 13 minutes to go as Le Rouge’s Yazeed Matthews cancelled out Chris Allan’s goal for Memphis five minutes earlier.

The momentum had been decidedly with Detroit in the second half – “They had us pinned in for moments in the second half,” said Memphis defender Graham Smith. “If that was an away game, you’d start to feel the pressure a little bit.” – but a vocal crowd of more than 6,000 fans at AutoZone Park helped the hosts remain positive. With two minutes to go, Smith provided the decisive moment, heading home from Jeremy Kelly’s angled cross to put Memphis ahead before Phillip Goodrum added an insurance goal in stoppage time for a 3-1 victory.

“We were tired, and our supporters pushed them on,” said Memphis Head Coach Ben Pirmann. “That gave us the edge there. That's why we do it. I think our sport is a little bit different from the other sports because it involves the community so much and you want to do it for them. It means the world to us as a team.”


As brightly as Sacramento Republic FC began its final game of the regular season – scoring twice in the opening four minutes against San Diego Loyal SC on October 15 – the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference almost dug itself an early deficit to open the postseason against No. 5 seed New Mexico United at Heart Health Park on Saturday. Two lax passes led to two early chances for Jerome Kiesewetter and Amando Moreno that the visitors were unable to capitalize on.

Compare that to the start of the second half, and you got an idea of why Sacramento is going to be dangerous this postseason. A tic-tac-toe passing sequence that saw Keko find Rodrigo Lopez for a pass that released Maalique Foster in behind the United defense gave Republic FC the lead, and from there the hosts were in firm control. New Mexico didn’t register a shot on target in the second half, and while there was an element of good fortune to Keko’s second goal for the hosts it was probably deserved.

The focus for Sacramento as it prepares for its first Western Conference Semifinal since 2019 next weekend – which could see it head to face No. 1 seed San Antonio FC pending Sunday night’s result between No. 2 seed San Diego Loyal SC and No. 7 seed Oakland Roots SC – is likely to be ensuring it avoids the mishaps that gifted United chances, which on another night could have been Republic FC’s downfall.

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