San Antonio FC and Oakland Roots SC will open the season in a rematch of last year's Western Conference Semifinal clash at Toyota Field. | Photo courtesy Darren Abate / San Antonio FC
The USL Championship kicks off the 2023 campaign on Saturday evening with a 10-game slate of games that include a pair of rematches from the 2022 postseason, a clash between two former title-winners featuring exciting young talent, and a marquee matchup between two sides expected to contend in the Eastern Conference this season.
Here’s a look ahead to all the action.
Venue: AutoZone Park
Kickoff: 5 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: MEM 66%, LDN 13%, Draw 21%
The Lowdown: Memphis 901 FC kicks off the new season with a new Head Coach at the helm in Stephen Glass and a familiar cast that helped lead 901 FC to its best season in club history a year ago. Championship All-League First Team selections Phillip Goodrum (21 goals) and Aaron Molloy (10 assists) will be in the spotlight for the hosts as they take on a Loudoun United FC squad aiming to turn a corner as it begins a new era under the ownership of Attain Sports and Entertainment. The visitors took a 1-0 win the last time they visited AutoZone Park when Jacob Greene scored the only goal, and with numerous new faces in the squad Loudoun will be hoping to pick off a similar surprise to their opening-weekend victory against Indy Eleven a season ago.
Memphis 901 FC – Nighte Pickering: The United States U-19 international notched a pair of goals after turning professional mid-season with Memphis last season and will be aiming to get out to a strong start to his first full year with the club.
Loudoun United FC – Jeremy Garay: The young playmaker joins Loudoun on loan from D.C. United with experience from the El Salvador Men’s National Team and will look to spark the visitors in the attacking third.
Venue: Riccardo Silva Stadium
Kickoff: 5 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: MIA 57%, TUL 19%, Draw 24%
The Lowdown: Miami FC will try to kick off the new season in style on home turf against an FC Tulsa side looking to rebound to playoff contention this season under new Head Coach Blair Gavin. Tulsa finished outside the playoff positions for the first time since 2019 last year, and has added some new pieces alongside its established veterans to try and foment a resurgence. Among those are defender Brett Levis and forward Moses Dyer, both of whom arrived from the Canadian Premier League’s Valour FC, and former San Jose Earthquakes winger Siad Haji. They’ll look to replicate the club’s success in its last visit to Miami, when Dario Suarez scored the game-winner in a 2-1 victory for Tulsa that embodies Miami’s struggles at home last season. Head Coach Anthony Pulis’ side only won five times at home – compared to 10 wins on the road – a number that the hosts will want to greatly improve this season. Former Tulsa standout Joaquin Rivas could be a difference-maker against his former club, while Kyle Murphy and Florian Valot will also be aiming to get out to strong starts to the season.
Miami FC – Gabriel Cabral: After captaining South Georgia Tormenta FC to the USL League One title last season, Cabral could make his Championship debut here in the center of midfield.
FC Tulsa – Rodrigo da Costa: The Brazilian who made his name with the Florida Soccer Soldiers will be hoping for successful return to South Florida as he begins his fifth season with Tulsa.
Venue: Protective Stadium
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: BHM 53%, PIT 22%, Draw 26%
The Lowdown: Birmingham Legion FC and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC meet for the first time since their epic Eastern Conference Quarterfinals clash in the 2022 USL Championship Playoffs last October with the hosts looking to turn the tables on the Hounds to kick off the new campaign. Pittsburgh took victory in a penalty shootout behind goalkeeper Jahmail Waite in their last visit to Protective Stadium after Edward Kizza scored twice – once in regulation and once in extra time – to keep the Hounds in the game. Kizza and Waite both return this season for Pittsburgh, with Kizza now signed to a permanent deal after his loan from the New England Revolution last season as he looks to aid an attack set to be led by Albert Dikwa. Legion FC, meanwhile, has bolstered its attack with the arrival of Tyler Pasher and return of Neco Brett. That duo will join the returning group including former United States international Juan Agudelo and attacking midfielder Enzo Martinez, whose 23 combined goals and assists last season set a new single-season high in Birmingham’s short history.
Birmingham Legion FC – Tyler Pasher: The Canadian left winger returns to the Championship after two season in Major League Soccer and will look to pick up where he left off with double-digit goals in his last two season at Indy Eleven.
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC – Joey Farrell: The veteran center back was acquired by the Hounds this offseason from Phoenix Rising FC, reuniting him with Head Coach Bob Lilley, with whom he spent two seasons previously at the Rochester Rhinos.
Venue: Patriots Point
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: CHS 27%, PHX 50%, Draw 23%
The Lowdown: The Charleston Battery and Phoenix Rising FC will square off for the first time since 2014 both clubs coming off major overhauls this past offseason. The Battery kick off the new campaign with 2022 Championship Coach of the Year Ben Pirmann at the helm after his offseason departure from Memphis 901 FC. Pirmann and the club’s front office have been active in rebuilding the Battery’s squad, with numerous new faces such as recent loan arrival Dante Polvera from Aberdeen FC, and New Zealand international Deklan Wynne set to potentially make their first official appearances alongside returning standouts Augustine Williams and Leland Archer. Phoenix also got to work in its first offseason under mid-2022 appointment Juan Guerra, with fellow Venezuelans Erickson Gallardo and Renzo Zambrano among the new arrivals aiming to make an impact for the visitors. That set up this clash as an intriguing clash as to which club is further along in its bid to return to the playoffs at the end of this season.
Charleston Battery – Fidel Barajas: The Mexico U-17 international is coming off a Concacaf Men’s U-17 Championship in which he notched three goals and five assists, building a bigger spotlight as he enters his first full Championship season.
Phoenix Rising FC – Erickson Gallardo: The former Toronto FC signing could be a potent addition to the Rising FC front line, and has shown positive signs so far this preseason for his new club.
Venue: Al Lang Stadium
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: TBR 64%, IND 14%, Draw 22%
The Lowdown: The Tampa Bay Rowdies will face one of the icons of the club’s modern era in their home opener as Sebastian Guenzatti makes an immediate return to Al Lang Stadium with Indy Eleven. An offseason arrival for the Boys in Blue after his departure from Tampa Bay as the Rowdies’ all-time leading goalscorer, Guenzatti is part of a major offseason overhaul for Indy as Head Coach Mark Lowry looks to lead the side back into the postseason in his second year at the helm. Also newly-arrived for Indy are another former Rowdies player in midfielder Jack Blake, who is set to be joined in midfielder 2022 All-League selection Cam Lindley and Aodhan Quinn. The Rowdies will also have a new-look attack with JJ Williams and Cal Jennings likely to lead the way and other newcomers such as midfielder Charlie Dennis also likely to feature. They’ll need to fill the gaps left by the absence of 2022 Championship MVP Leo Fernandes, with the Rowdies’ standout ruled out for the season with a ruptured Achilles’ tendon.
Tampa Bay Rowdies – Forrest Lasso: The three-time Championship Defender of the Year makes his return to Tampa Bay after a one-year stint in Sweden and will be tasked with containing his former teammate Sebastian Guenzatti in Indy’s attack.
Indy Eleven – Adrian Diz Pe: The Cuban center back is set to make his 100th regular season appearance in the Championship and his debut for the Boys in Blue as the visitors try to make a good start to the new campaign.
Venue: Toyota Field
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: SA 61%, OAK 15%, Draw 24%
The Lowdown: San Antonio FC will begin its USL Championship title defense at home to one of the teams it defeated on the road to postseason success last October as Oakland Roots SC visits Toyota Field. San Antonio has retained numerous key pieces from last year’s title-winning group including Championship Goalkeeper of the Year Jordan Farr, Defender of the Year Mitchell Taintor and captain Connor Maloney. The hosts will rely on that sturdy back line once again as it builds a new-look attack with returning forward Justin Dhillon and playmaker Cristian Parano being joined by new arrivals Juan Carlos Azocar, Kimarni Smith and Niko Hansen. Oakland is also set to bring a retooled attack this season after the return of Ottar Magnus Karlsson to Venezia F.C. after his loan stint, but the side has some reliable veterans back in the fold in goalkeeper Paul Blanchette and defenders Emrah Klimenta, Tarek Morad and 2022 All-League selection Edgardo Rito. After a pair of hard-fought visits last season, Roots SC will be hoping to spoil the party.
San Antonio FC – Juan Carlos Azocar: The Venezuelan winger will come up against familiar opposition after his season-long loan to Oakland last year as he looks to make a big first impression in San Antonio’s colors.
Oakland Roots SC – Irakoze Donasiyano: The former Nashville SC forward arrives in Oakland looking to jumpstart his career, and his speed could be a good weapon for the visitors on the counterattack.
Venue: Southwest University Park
Kickoff: 9:30 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: ELP 40%, SAC 32%, Draw 28%
The Lowdown: El Paso Locomotive FC will try to get out to a positive start under new Head Coach Brian Clarhaut as it welcomes Sacramento Republic FC, which arrives with a new centerpiece for its attack as it bids for its second Championship title in club history. The arrival of Russell Cicerone was one of the major moves of the offseason in the Championship, bringing one of the most consistent goalscorers of the past two season at Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC out west as Sacramento looks to find greater consistency in the final third throughout this season. Locomotive FC has its own attacking standout to rely on in Luis Solignac, whose 16 goals last regular season placed him in the top five in the Championship. The hosts have also added some new faces including young midfielder Luis Moreno from the Houston Dynamo Academy and the first two professional signings from the club’s Academy in Joel Maldonado and Diego Abarca, all of whom will be hoping to break through in Clarhaut’s first season.
El Paso Locomotive FC – Eric Calvillo: The El Salvador international will need to be at his best in the center of midfield as El Paso looks to maintain control against one of the deepest units in the Championship.
Sacramento Republic FC – Jack Gurr: The right-sided wingback was a strong two-way performer in the 2022 campaign and could help provide the service as Sacramento looks for a strong attacking start.
Venue: Cardinale Stadium
Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: MB 41%, HFD 32%, Draw 27%
The Lowdown: Monterey Bay F.C. and Hartford Athletic will square off for the first time to open the new campaign with each club harboring playoff aspirations as after offseason upgrades across the field. Monterey Bay returns for its second season with a strong core including defenders Hugh Roberts and Kai Greene and attacking pieces Walmer Martinez and Christian Volesky, but the side led by Head Coach Frank Yallop has added more experience to accompany that this offseason. Forward Alex Dixon – who is on the verge of 50 regular season goals in the Championship – and defender Alex Lara could make their home debuts on Saturday. Hartford, meanwhile, brought two major attacking pieces into its squad with 2022 Championship Assists Champion Antoine Hoppenot and center forward Elvis Amoh joining the side as it looks for a first postseason berth since 2020. With Athletic Head Coach Tab Ramos at the helm after last year’s late-season appointment, this could be an intriguing clash to open the season.
Monterey Bay F.C. – Chase Boone: The young forward sat tied for the most goals for MBFC with Sam Gleadle last season on eight tallies and will be hoping to get out to a strong start this campaign.
Hartford Athletic – Elvis Amoh: The center forward has scored double-digit goals in each of his past two campaigns and his physicality could provide a strong test for Monterey Bay’s back line.
Venue: Championship Soccer Stadium
Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: OC 32%, LOU 41%, Draw 27%
The Lowdown: Two former USL Championship title winners will begin their new campaigns as Orange County SC plays host to reigning Eastern Conference title holder Louisville City FC. Orange County is aiming for a bounce-back season after going from the league title in 2021 to last place in the Western Conference a season ago, and has multiple new faces on board to help drive that such as defenders Markus Nakkim and Andrew Fox, and forward Thomas Amang. There are some important names coming back for the hosts, however, led by 2022 Championship Golden Boot winner Milan Iloski, who’ll be looking for a fast start to his new season. LouCity, meanwhile, remains almost intact from its past campaign with 21 players returning to its squad. The upgrades the club has added have been notable, however, with former El Paso Locomotive FC playmaker Dylan Mares aiming to make an impact for his new squad as it heads west to start the season.
Orange County SC – Korede Osundina: The United States U-20 international is coming into a big year and will be aiming to bag his first Championship goal early in the campaign.
Louisville City FC – Wilson Harris: A Los Angeles native, Harris led LouCity with 15 goals a season ago, including finding the net in Louisville’s 3-1 victory against Orange County at home last season.
Venue: Torero Stadium
Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET
538.com Predictor: SD 61%, DET 16%, Draw 23%
The Lowdown: San Diego Loyal SC will look to claim victory in its home opener for a third consecutive campaign when it plays host to Detroit City FC, which is aiming to pick up where it left off after reaching the playoffs a season ago in its first campaign in the Championship. San Diego enters the new season with Nate Miller installed as Head Coach after previously serving alongside Landon Donovan on the club’s staff. After finishing second a season ago, but being eliminated at home in the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2022 USL Championship Playoffs, SD Loyal is hoping to make a strong start as it welcomes some new pieces to the squad including 2022 title winner Elliot Collier and local product Joe Corona, who arrives to bolster the midfield. Le Rouge will try to stymie their hosts with a strong defensive corps returning led by goalkeeper Nathan Steinwascher and defender Devon Amoo-Mensah and Stephen Carroll. The side’s attack will have some new faces, though, with former Ipswich Town FC forward Ben Morris on board alongside players with Championship experience such as Skage Simonsen and Tommy McCabe.
San Diego Loyal SC – Joe Corona: The former United States international could make his debut for SD Loyal on Saturday night and should face a solid battle against Detroit’s Maxi Rodriguez in the middle of the park.
Detroit City FC – Adrian Billhardt: The USL League One Comeback Player of the Year in 2022 as he helped South Georgia Tormenta FC claim the title, Billhardt is set for his Championship debut this season.
Tag(s): Game Previews San Antonio FC Orange County SC Phoenix Rising FC Sacramento Republic FC FC Tulsa Charleston Battery Louisville City FC Pittsburgh Riverhounds Tampa Bay Rowdies Birmingham Legion FC Indy Eleven Memphis 901 FC El Paso Locomotive FC Loudoun United FC Hartford Athletic San Diego Loyal SC Miami FC Oakland Roots SC Detroit City FC Monterey Bay F.C.