The Charleston Battery's Dante Polvara provided the winner to cap a run of four wins in 12 days for his side as it remained undefeated so far this campaign on Saturday in Tulsa. | Photo courtesy FC Tulsa
We’re down to three undefeated teams in the USL Championship – including one that’s also winless – after this weekend’s action.
Here are eight key storylines, and some additional thoughts on what we saw in Saturday’s games.
The nature of the USL Championship season means every club will face stretches of multiple games in a short space of time. For the Charleston Battery on Saturday evening, it looked like the strain of a fourth game in 12 days was starting to show in the first half as after taking an early lead it first conceded an equalizer to FC Tulsa and then ceded some of the impetus in the contest overall.
But this Battery side is showing plenty of mettle as well as quality on the field. A refocused side picked up the tempo again in the second half and thanks to Dante Polvara’s excellent first professional goal it found a way to a 2-1 win to stay on top of the Eastern Conference standings and round out a six-point week on the road.
“Everyone loves to win,” said Battery defender AJ Paterson. “But to do it during a stretch of difficult games in a short period of time makes it that much better. It’s taken the full attention and effort from every single guy on this team to accomplish this feat.”
What feels notable about the Battery is it’s a group that feels confident in this moment. Next week’s home game with Louisville City FC is going to be another marker as to how far it has come already under Head Coach Ben Pirmann’s leadership.
During the preseason, we noted Sacramento Republic FC goalkeeper Danny Vitiello’s challenges in prior seasons with errors that resulted in opportunities for opposing sides, which more often than not led to goals.
We’re only six games into the new season, but it’s not a coincidence that so far Vitiello has been almost flawless, and in the process, Sacramento has taken the reins as the best defensive team in the Championship. Republic FC’s 4-0 victory against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC on Saturday night at Heart Health Park saw Vitiello produce a six-save shutout for his fifth clean sheet of the season. Sacramento has only conceded once in the league so far this season in a 1-1 draw with Eastern Conference leader the Charleston Battery, providing an element that is arguably more impressive than the attacking prowess on display from Russell Cicerone, Luis Felipe Fernandes, Rodrigo Lopez and company.
“We’re gonna eat a lot of doughnuts this year, that’s for sure,” said Lopez. “But it’s just a team effort. You know, I said it before the game a couple days. ago. Obviously, Vitiello and our back three, Jack [Gurr], Dami [Viader], and the wingbacks do a great job, our defensive-mids, but I feel like you know it starts at the top and we like to defend as a unit and do it all together. But I do want to give a lot of credit to our defenders and our midfielders who really work hard and help us get that momentum and help us keep clean sheets because we know we can score.”
Going into Saturday evening’s contest between Loudoun United FC and Birmingham Legion FC, one question was how both sides would respond to setbacks in their most recent outings.
That question was quickly answered by Loudoun, which jumped on its visitors to Segra Field on the way to a 3-0 victory that was as impressive a first-half performance as we’ve seen all season. With a goal and assist apiece for Kalil ElMedkhar and Zach Ryan and a sterling effort by young forward Wesley Leggett, it was an enjoyable viewing experience for Head Coach Ryan Martin.
“I thoroughly enjoyed watching our guys,” said Martin. “They’re out there competing, they were working, they were doing it for each other, collective effort, they were brave, and that was a complete performance, 100 minutes, start to finish, very good.
“I figured when we put a game together and we had all cylinders firing we were capable of scoring a lot of goals. So, for us it was even tougher because it’s such a good opponent and it’s even more enjoyable because they are so good.”
Loudoun is still a relatively young squad; its oldest outfield starter on Saturday was 25-year-old Gaoussou Samake. It’s going to be intriguing to see how this side develops over the course of the campaign.
Wilson Harris has been one of the USL Championship’s more consistent finishers since he first landed in the league with Sporting Kansas City II a few years ago, so it wasn’t a surprise to see him regaining his scoring touch with a second consecutive game-winning goal for the defending Eastern Conference title holders on Saturday in its victory against San Antonio FC.
As positive as Harris’ goalscoring contributions have been to LouCity since his arrival last season, however, the 23-year-old forward drew praise on Saturday for his work in leading the side’s defensive work from Head Coach Danny Cruz.
“When I look at the work that he puts in, day-in and day-out, when I look at his growth since he’s been here at this club, he deserves all the credit in the world,” said Cruz. “We asked a lot of him tonight. When you look at who applied most of the pressure it was Wilson because we wanted to keep the back line of six and the midfield line of four nice and compact. He was asked to do a ton of work and not only did he do it defensively, he scored the goal.”
Scratch Orange County SC and Hartford Athletic off the winless teams list. Both clubs took solid victories on Saturday night with OCSC earning a 1-0 result against Indy Eleven on home turf and Hartford Athletic using a pair of goals four minutes to hold off Oakland Roots SC 2-1 on the road at Pioneer Field.
Hartford had to get things done the hard way. After putting together a strong first-half performance that included the aforementioned finishes by Prince Saydee and Jeciel Cedeno, the visitors had to hold on against a strong Oakland effort to rally in the second half. Still, that should be a confidence-booster ahead of the side’s next outing, on the road at the New England Revolution in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Orange County, on the other hand, saw Milan Iloski become its all-time leader in regular season goals with a first-half penalty kick, and then close out Indy Eleven with a sterling defensive display that provided little to the visitors in the way of big chances.
“Three points is a highlight; a clean sheet is a highlight,” said OCSC Head Coach Richard Chaplow. “I’m just delighted really with the performance defensively. I thought it was impressive. We really had to dig deep at times. I think we limited them to very few clear-cut chances, if any, I can't really think of any clear-cut chances. They did obviously have a lot of pressure without creating a ton. So, I thought from front to back defensively we were great.”
Just like seemingly everyone who faces Rio Grande Valley FC this season, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC was made to work for its success on Saturday night at Highmark Stadium. The hosts picked up a 2-0 victory, their first on home turf this season, as Albert Dikwa and Kenardo Forbes each found the net in the second half.
As well as the goals were taken – Dikwa credited Hounds Head Coach Bob Lilley for his close-range finish after a week of working to be more proactive in the penalty area – for Forbes there’s a positive collective energy around the squad this season. Even with midfielder Robbie Mertz and defender Arturo Ordoñez out with suspension, the veteran was impressed with the way the side responded.
“Guys stepped up,” said Forbes. “We have a really good team, and these young guys love to play. This team is a lot younger. This squad is together. Last year, we were all over the place. [This year], we do a lot of stuff together as a team, and that wasn’t the case last season. Hopefully we can do some damage this season.”
That collectiveness combined with Lilley’s eye for detail could make for a dangerous combination.
You could tell there was a different energy about New Mexico United as it played its home opener on Saturday night before more than 11,000 fans at Isotopes Park. A bright start resulted in Sam Hamilton’s goal, and while the hosts led San Diego Loyal SC back into the game – and eventually saw the visitors get an equalizer in first-half stoppage time – the second half showed New Mexico’s qualities as a side.
The only thing it didn’t offer? A decisive finish. A 1-1 draw wasn’t the result Head Coach Zach Prince was looking for, but there were certainly more positives than negatives to take away after a lackluster display the week prior.
“There is zero doubt in my mind that everyone on the field played fighting football tonight,” said Prince. “Overall, I am very happy with the performance, but I am not happy with result. You know, you need three points in this league as much as you can get it and it was right there for us to take, but we can build off this. There is no doubt about it.”
If there was a silver lining to Miami FC’s 0-0 draw with Detroit City FC for Head Coach Anthony Pulis on Saturday night, it was that his side picked up its first shutout of the season.
Still, the lack of attacking punch in the final third remains a major cause for concern as the side sits winless in the league after six games.
“You can’t question the work ethic,” said Pulis. “They kept pushing and kept fighting. At the end, when we had the 10 men, we were still putting pressure on and still getting numbers in and around the final third to keep knocking on the door. So that certainly isn’t in question. As I said, I think it’s quite clear to everyone what we need to do better and it’s that final third piece. It’s just people stepping up and making plays when they need to, to try and get obviously get us over the line.”
Miami isn’t the only team suffering from attacking challenges early this season. Indy Eleven was held scoreless for a third consecutive outing in its loss to Orange County SC on Saturday night. With the players both sides have at their disposal, it’s not going great for two teams expected to be among the playoff contenders.
Here’s what else we took away from the weekend’s action…
Las Vegas is 1. Undefeated, 2. Winless, and 3. Entertaining to watch. That could still add up to success in the future.
Everything we said about Miami and Indy above also applies to Detroit City. The goals have to start coming soon.
Phoenix Rising FC had Rocco Rios Novo’s spectacular late save to thank for a result on Saturday night. Head Coach Juan Guerra’s side needs to be more clinical in the final third.
That’s a setback for Oakland Roots SC, sure, but there was still a lot to like about the overall display.
FC Tulsa keeps doing enough to look dangerous, but it’s going to rue the points it’s dropping down the line.
Memphis 901 FC looks good in fits and starts, but it’s yet to score the first goal in a game this season. That’s got to change.
Tag(s): Features San Antonio FC CO Spring Switchbacks Orange County SC Phoenix Rising FC Rio Grande Valley FC Sacramento Republic FC FC Tulsa Charleston Battery Louisville City FC Pittsburgh Riverhounds Las Vegas Lights FC Birmingham Legion FC Indy Eleven Memphis 901 FC New Mexico United Loudoun United FC Hartford Athletic San Diego Loyal SC Miami FC Oakland Roots SC Detroit City FC Monterey Bay F.C.