Phoenix Rising FC's Carlos Harvey put in the sort of display his side needs plenty of this season in a victory at Birmingham Legion FC on Sunday evening. | Photo courtesy Birmingham Legion FC
Two notable clubs took themselves off the winless list this weekend, while there’s now only one undefeated side left in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference after a great weekend of action.
Here are seven storylines we took away from what we saw and heard, plus some bonus thoughts on what transpired elsewhere.
When Phoenix Rising FC acquired Panamanian midfielder Carlos Harvey this offseason, performances like this past Sunday at Birmingham Legion FC were likely what they were envisioning.
And while it’s going to be hard for the 23-year-old to replicate this every game – since the USL Championship partnered with Opta in 2017, only 16 players have won at least 12 duels, five tackles and scored in a contest – this is the level he should be shooting for week-in and week-out.
This year has the potential to be breakout campaign for Harvey. After scoring his first goal at the senior international level last month – only to be then left out of Panama’s squad for its Concacaf Nations League game with Costa Rica – there’s still a lot of work to be done to get in the picture for this summer’s CNL Finals and Concacaf Gold Cup.
After sitting on the edge of the LA Galaxy lineup for the past two seasons, Harvey can be a centerpiece for Phoenix. The edge he brings to the side has helped it grow since a disappointing display in Charleston to start the season when he was absent. Make no mistake, Sunday’s 2-1 win in Birmingham was one Phoenix needed to have, if for nothing else than to show it can close out a result against a quality opponent in the way it hadn’t against San Diego Loyal SC last weekend.
Harvey’s work was key to that success. More of the same, and he could be on the pathway to even bigger successes and opportunity.
Oakland Roots SC arrived for their contest with Indy Eleven on Saturday night with an idea of how their hosts would set up for the first meeting between the clubs.
They also arrived with a great plan to break it down that was then executed in fine fashion.
Focusing on the space in behind Indy’s high defensive line, Oakland wanted to force Indy goalkeeper Yannik Oettl into a split-second decision to come or go, as he had executed well in prior outings such as Indy’s home opener against Las Vegas.
When Lindo Mfeka caught out Indy’s back line with a darting run onto Dariusz Formella’s angled ball into the space, and then beat Oettl to the pass outside his penalty area, the hosts went ahead just before halftime.
From there, Oakland was able to stay compact in the same way it had to cut off New Mexico United in its victory a week ago, and while goalkeeper Paul Blanchette had to make six saves to earn his shutout only a sharp stop off a set piece to keep out Adrian Diz Pe really threatened for the hosts.
Roots SC struck in the same way in the second half, this time with Edgardo Rito breaking forward as Indy pressed to get into the game late before a beautiful lobbed finish. Head Coach Noah Delgado seems to have his side back on track. The visitors were certainly full value for their victory here.
In Monterey Bay F.C.’s first three goals of its 4-2 victory against New Mexico United on Saturday night at Cardinale Stadium, the combined moves that set them up used only five passes.
First, there was the beautifully executed counterattack to level the game after United’s Chris Wehan had opened the scoring. Goalkeeper Carlos Herrera released Sam Gleadle with a quick throw out, and after Gleadle had carried the ball 35 yards he found a streaking Alex Dixon, who put away his fifth goal of the regular season.
Seven minutes later, Herrera’s long goal kick upfield was met by a perfectly executed flick by Christian Volesky that sent Gleadle through on goal to finish. Then, to round the quick-strike sequence off five minutes into the second half, a midfield interception by Mobi Fehr quickly turned into a pass that bisected the New Mexico back line allowing Volesky to finish.
It was beautiful in its simplicity and speed of motion and carried MBFC to its first win since the opening day of the season. It should also be a warning of how quickly this side can capitalize if given the chances to run that New Mexico afforded them.
“I think we are very effective and efficient on the break,” said Gleadle, “and the guys are killers in front of goal, so as long as we can get the ball to each other and make good movement, we will create a lot of chances.”
There’s a line late in the great baseball movie Bull Durham.
“You know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is?” says Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis. “It’s 25 hits. Twenty-five hits in 500 at-bats is 50 points, OK? There’s six months in a season. That’s about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week, just one, a gork, a ground ball – a ground ball with eyes! – you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week and you’re in Yankee Stadium.”
The point? The margins between success and failure can often be minute, or just a simple case of good fortune.
Which brings us to the Charleston Battery and Hartford Athletic, who after this weekend’s 3-2 victory for the Battery at Patriots Point are in entirely different positions thanks to Arturo Rodriguez’s improbable stoppage-time winner on Saturday night.
Rodriguez’s first goal for Charleston was for all intents and purposes the soccer version of that mythical ground ball with eyes – an in-swinging free kick from the left that eluded everybody in the penalty area before ending up in the far corner of the net.
It left the Battery with all three points, and the Athletic hard done by in a game where the visitors probably deserved to get something. Charleston is still undefeated, and third in the East. Hartford is still winless in the league, and in 11th place. When the final position for both clubs is determined at the end of the season, moments like this can make all the difference.
If what happened to Hartford was a gut-punch, FC Tulsa’s loss at San Diego Loyal SC earlier on Saturday was just downright cruel.
The visitors had held firm in limiting the hosts’ chances at a winner inside the final 15 minutes and had even had a chance to grab a late lead themselves through Dario Suarez’s skied effort in the final minute before stoppage time.
And then the worst misfortune that can befall a player struck Collin Fernandez.
The idea was right – get to the cross and clear it behind for a corner before one of SD Loyal’s attackers can get there – but Fernandez’s header found the top-right corner of the net, leaving goalkeeper Michael Nelson helpless and the midfielder face down on the turf, waiting for it to swallow him.
You could argue it was a result the hosts deserved overall – certainly SD Loyal Head Coach Nate Miller believed it was – and it kept San Diego perfect on home turf this season.
“We put them under so much pressure,” said Miller. “We were working our wingbacks to pull out their full backs and got in behind them many times. We had one great goal and then many goals we should have scored, and that’s just football. You have to create a high volume of chances and however they go in, they go in.”
In terms of the breaks of the season, it’s one FC Tulsa will want to put behind it quickly.
Louisville City FC’s victory against Detroit City FC took time to arrive due to a superb performance by Le Rouge’s Nathan Steinwascher in goal, but thanks to Wilson Harris’ finish with 10 minutes to go the crowd of just over 9,500 fans at Lynn Family Stadium saw the hosts get back on track after a strong all-around display.
After the consecutive defeats the side had suffered in the league over the past two weekends, two 1-0 victories in the span of four days – having defeated USL League One side Lexington SC by the same scoreline in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday night – put the defending Eastern Conference title holders back on the right path.
“Winning is huge,” said Harris. “No matter how you do it. I think the locker room is going to be buzzing. We're going to be back to our regular selves, and hopefully get a result on the weekend.”
LouCity faces a rematch of last year’s USL Championship Final against San Antonio FC next, a game that will be a mental and physical challenge for two sides that aren’t currently at full strength due to injuries. LouCity Head Coach Danny Cruz has been happy with the fortitude his side showed in the past seven days, and thinks his side is ready for the challenge.
“You know, those two games that we went through, it’s not easy to go through that,” said Cruz. “You have two choices in that moment – to put your chest out and keep your head up or to crumble and I felt that group has stuck together through all of it, has held each other accountable. The staff is working hard, the players are working hard, and we're excited to get another opportunity against them, that’s for sure.”
Jamaica’s Romario Williams has historically been one of the Championship’s most consistent forwards, but last year after his midseason arrival at New Mexico United things just didn’t seem to quite click into place as he scored just once in 10 appearances.
After joining Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC this offseason, he’s now bagged two goals in five games, both game-winners against Loudoun United FC last weekend and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC this Saturday night. Both came from close-range finishes after good team buildups, with Williams’ movement and awareness putting him in the right place to finish.
It’s a positive sign for a Switchbacks side that is now a point off the leaders in the Western Conference despite all of its offseason changes, with Colorado Springs Head Coach Stephen Hogan aiming to build his center forward’s confidence back up as part of that rebuilding process.
“The idea of Romario in the box is frightening to anybody,” said Hogan. “He just hasn’t gotten love, and the idea that we want to do [here] is anyone that has had maybe an upsetting season the season before, or two seasons that aren't great that we see real promise in, we give them love. And that’s what we’re doing with Romario.”
Here are some more thoughts on the past weekend of action…
Tampa Bay’s display wasn’t overwhelming, but the side got back to the clinical qualities it has used in the attacking third to pick up a key win. Read more about that here.
It might have ended up scoreless, but both San Antonio FC and Sacramento Republic FC emerged with positives on Saturday night. Here’s more on that.
Not a good week for Panenkas, between San Diego Loyal SC’s Charlie Adams and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC’s Maalique Foster. Time to put those away for now, lads.
Miami piled on a lot of pressure late against Tampa Bay, but the game was basically over by that point. Things are not going great right now in South Florida.
The games in which Detroit City FC was finding ways to earn draws from last year are now turning into 1-0 defeats. That’s four already in five regular season games this season.
We’re still trying to figure out how El Paso Locomotive FC’s Benny Diaz and Eric Calvillo kept out those two chances for Orange County SC. Game-savers, both, in a big win for Locomotive FC.