Enzo Martinez and Juan Agudelo both found the net as Birmingham Legion FC got back on a winning track in Orange County on Saturday night. | Photo courtesy Liza Rosales / Orange County SC
We’re down to two undefeated teams at the top of the Eastern and Western Conference standings on a weekend where two clubs picked up their first league wins of the season and the top two teams in the East ended deadlocked.
Here are seven storylines we took away from the 11-game slate, and some additional thoughts on what else we saw around the league.
When Orange County SC took the lead on the half-hour mark on Saturday night, Birmingham Legion FC was looking at the possibility of losing three consecutive regular season games in the same campaign for the first time since its inaugural season in 2019.
Instead, the visitors quickly responded on a fine effort by Juan Agudelo to pull level just three minutes later before the combination of Collin Smith and Enzo Martinez put the side on top at Championship Soccer Stadium to earn a 2-1 victory and arrest its recent slide.
After the nature of the side’s loss on the road to Loudoun United FC the prior week, Legion FC Head Coach Tom Soehn was happiest with the determination and commitment defensively his side displayed in its fightback.
“I think a lot of guys had really good performances coming off a week where I don't think many guys had good performances at all,” said Soehn. “And it wasn't just the attacking components. It’s doing the little things, the grinding, the fighting, the defending. Everybody was committed to doing all the little intangible things to help you win games. For that, I’m really proud of the effort today.”
We’ve already thrown our hat in the ring that the Charleston Battery are going to be a contender this year, but Saturday’s scoreless draw with Louisville City FC only added more belief to that conviction.
In heavy conditions at Patriots Point after mid-afternoon thunderstorms, the hosts created the better chances in a hard-fought game and if not for Augustine Williams and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day could have taken a fifth consecutive victory.
“Both teams showed courage, both teams went for a lot of confrontations – and I don't just mean fouls and challenges – both teams tried to play on the front foot,” said Charleston Head Coach Ben Pirmann. “We had a lot of play and a lot of chances. I think both teams could have had at least a goal. We’re disappointed, we kind of feel like it’s two points dropped. But, against the top team and to play with that much courage, it was very good.”
The Battery’s undefeated record will get tested again next weekend when Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC and former player Romario Williams come to visit, but this is a side that shows no signs of slowing down.
There’s no question San Antonio FC probably deserved more from its “Champions Night” clash with Phoenix Rising FC. The defending Championship title holders outshot its visitors 19-3, had an expected goals mark of 2.38xG – comfortably its highest in a single game so far this season – and even held the upper hand in possession.
In the end, though, San Antonio was unable to find the sort of late-game magic we’ve become accustomed to and had to settle for a 1-1 draw with Rising FC despite Phoenix being down to 10 men for the final half-hour.
“We’ve got to be more clinical, we understand that,” said SAFC Head Coach Alen Marcina. “But the only thing we can do is continue to focus on what we can control. We put ourselves in great positions, and we believe in all of our attackers. It’s just a matter of time that we start putting those away, and when we do, we’re going to be extremely dangerous.”
Certainly, SAFC had enough opportunities. Niko Hansen had a big chance to put the side ahead shortly after Cristian Parano had leveled from the penalty spot in the 59th minute, only to see it blocked away, while Rising FC goalkeeper Rocco Rios Novo put in a stellar display with eight saves.
At the same time, it might also represent a rebalance from a season ago when San Antonio didn’t produce the same levels of attacking danger, but still found a way to win. The final 15 minutes of the second half was when San Antonio did its most damage in the 2022 season, scoring 15 goals in that segment of the game across the regular season and playoffs.
SAFC is now on its first three-game winless streak since the 2021 season, and while things will certainly be fine moving forward, it can’t let Sacramento Republic FC get too far ahead in the Western Conference.
If it were such an option, this would be the moment to buy stock in Loudoun United FC.
On Sunday evening at Segra Field the side produced another stellar display, mixing a combination of defensive solidity and quality in the final third to earn a 2-0 victory against Oakland Roots SC. United is now off to its best seven-game start to a season in club history as it continues to progress under Head Coach Ryan Martin.
You could make arguments either way that Loudoun should have won more handsomely, or that Oakland could have made it a tighter game. Roots SC goalkeeper Paul Blanchette was key to ensuring the former didn’t happen with another collection of excellent saves as Loudoun produced eight shots on target.
At the other end, Loudoun goalkeeper Hugo Fauroux only had one save to make, but it was an important one to keep the game scoreless early when El Salvador international Bryan Tamacas got a good look at goal. Overall, though, Loudoun continues to progress with a second consecutive league win and third in all competitions – the first time it has achieved that since the end of the 2019 season, when it went on a four-game winning streak – as it looks ahead to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in midweek.
All in all, Saturday night was a throwback to the best version we saw of Memphis 901 FC.
The visitors registered the most shots of any team in a single game this Championship season, scored three times, hit the woodwork twice more, and put nine shots on target on the way to a 3-0 victory against Rio Grande Valley FC that could hardly have been more comprehensive.
In earning a first league win, and first shutout in all competitions this season, 901 FC gave itself the sort of confidence boost it greatly needed to get on a run of form back toward the top of the Eastern Conference.
“There’s not a lot of teams that come here and do what we did tonight,” said Memphis Head Coach Stephen Glass. “That’s a special performance from the players. Rio Grande are a very good team. At home, they’re difficult to beat. Rio Grande were dangerous and carried a threat so it’s great that the guys were able to see that off at one end of the pitch with zero goals against. That’s huge for us.”
That confidence will come in use for 901 FC’s next contest, which will see it head to face Atlanta United FC on Wednesday night in the Third Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. With Glass, Phillip Goodrum, Laurent Kissiedou and Luiz Fernando all set to return to their former stomping grounds at Fifth Third Bank Stadium, the side will enter buoyed by this performance.
We’re almost a quarter of the way through the regular season and the top four teams in the Western Conference are the same as they were at the end of the 2022 season.
That might not be a surprise when it comes to Sacramento Republic FC, San Diego Loyal SC and San Antonio FC considering the returning groups and new additions they made. For Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, though, it’s a big feather in the club’s cap that after such changes this offseason the ship is still right on course.
Saturday’s 2-1 comeback victory against New Mexico United at Weidner Field was another example of that. The side self-destructed to give up an opening goal to New Mexico’s Santi Moar but instead of letting their heads drop they simply got back on the front foot and created the chances to deliver all three points. The first goal might have been from a slice of good fortune with Harry Swartz’s redirection for an own goal, but the hosts won their battles, produced more danger, and remained undefeated at home in the league this season.
“The build up for us through from our backline is now becoming really dangerous,” said Switchbacks Head Coach Stephen Hogan. “That line, Jairo’s [Henriquez] line, Drew’s [Skundrich] line, once we get in that window that's what's really impressive, and that's what teams around the league are seeing. It's that final step, [of finishing] that's infuriating at times, but we are still carving out wins because of character.”
The departures the Switchbacks suffered on the field compounded by the loss of former Head Coach Brendan Burke had numerous people down on the club’s prospects going into this season. So far, they’re defying those predictions.
At the halftime break, it appeared Indy Eleven had found the attacking spark it had been hoping its new arrivals could provide. Solomon Asante had a goal and assist, while Aodhan Quinn had picked up his first assist as part of the Boys in Blue and Sebastian Guenzatti his first league goal of the season.
And then, after Monterey Bay F.C. overturned a halftime deficit behind goals from Christian Volesky and Nevello Yoseke, the hosts were unable to find a response. MBFC’s 3-2 victory at Michael A. Carroll Stadium was another notable result for Head Coach Frank Yallop’s side, and another cause for concern for Indy.
The hosts failed to record a shot on target in the second half, and took only four shots overall, all of which came after Yoseke had put Monterey Bay ahead in the 63rd minute. The visitors were tight in their defensive work – during the second half, MBFC won 11 of 12 tackles – but after a promising opening 45 minutes ended in a third consecutive defeat, there’s a lot of work still to be done for Head Coach Mark Lowry and his squad.
Here are some other thoughts on what we saw this weekend…
- Sacramento Republic FC has taken a leaf out of San Antonio FC's book when it comes to finding the opening goal. Here's why that's been crucial so far this season.
- There wasn’t much to separate San Diego Loyal SC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies, but SD Loyal made its chances count when its visitors didn’t. Here’s more on that.
- We see you El Paso. After three losses to start the season, Locomotive FC is undefeated in four games after Saturday’s 2-0 victory against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC. Something’s starting to come together here.
- You have to hope Rodrigo Lopez’s late-game injury for Sacramento Republic FC isn’t serious. The cover’s there in the squad, but it would be a serious shame if he was out for a lengthy period with the way he’s been plating.
- Monterey Bay F.C. remaining undefeated away from home after its victory at Indy, though, is a remarkably impressive start. Christian Volesky’s got two goals and two assists in the past two games, and the club is halfway to matching last season’s away win total.
- Miami FC couldn’t have timed its attacking breakout better as it romped past Las Vegas Lights FC, given Wednesday night’s Miami Clasico against Inter Miami CF is next on the slate.
- Ben Morris’ missed opportunity for Detroit City FC in the 11th minute of Le Rouge’s 1-0 loss to Sacramento Republic FC was symbolic of the club’s current troubles. The entire front line needs a confidence boost.
- Oakland Roots SC has lost two in a row, but there has been a lot to like about the way they’ve played. Good things should start happening again soon.
- Phoenix Rising FC’s Rocco Rios Novo is starting to live up to the hype from when he first arrived at Atlanta United FC. The 20-year-old has a -2.33 goals minus expected goals mark per American Soccer Analysis. Now his side’s got to start clicking more in attack.