El Paso Locomotive FC's Emmanuel Sonupe celebrates his second-half goal that earned the visitors victory against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC on Friday night. | Photo courtesy Isaiah J. Downing / Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
There were few home comforts in the USL Championship this weekend as we began the second quarter of the season with a dramatic collection of games on Friday night, the continued rise of two Eastern Conference powers on Saturday, and luck refusing to be a lady for Las Vegas’ homecoming.
Here are seven key storylines we took away from the action, as well as some additional thoughts on what we saw and heard around the action.
You’ll have known that prior to Friday night’s contest, El Paso Locomotive FC had never lost on the road against rival Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC in six visits. Thanks to a fast start, and a defensive display that was just good enough, that trend continued in a 3-2 victory for Locomotive FC that went down as another instant classic between the two clubs.
Between Petar Petrovic’s goal and assist in the opening 13 minutes to Luis Solignac notching his fifth career goal against the Switchbacks, the visitors got out to an ideal start and were able to hold off the Switchbacks from there as Emmanuel Sonupe notched a needed insurance goal in the second half.
It’s now been more than a calendar year since El Paso lost when scoring first, and the momentum the side has built over the past month with four consecutive victories after losing its first three games in the league under new Head Coach Brian Clarhaut continues to grow.
“It is bigger than all of us,” Clarhaut said in the postgame locker room. “You’re going to have to come in and contribute, and we need to keep going. Enjoy this moment now. Enjoy it, four wins in a row, I’m super-proud of you.”
With El Paso leading the way, it was a great weekend for road teams across the USL Championship overall with only the Tampa Bay Rowdies being able to take victory on their home turf. Some of those results might not have come as a surprise – San Diego Loyal SC has typically fared reasonably well at Orange County SC, with their 2-1 victory the fifth time in six visits the side has come away with a result (two wins, three draws).
Others, though, provided another jolt to clubs that are struggling for form presently. Rio Grande Valley FC’s capitulation – conceding twice in second-half stoppage time against New Mexico United to grab a 2-2 draw from the jaws of victory – was the most dramatic, while others like Monterey Bay F.C. – which we’ll talk about more in a minute – found a way to earn a result.
After this past weekend, road teams are now cumulatively 33-34-35 in the league this campaign, and while there are some places where it remains difficult to get a result, that’s a surprising level of parity.
It was a bumper week for players scoring against their former clubs. You had JJ Williams notching a decisive opening goal for the Tampa Bay Rowdies – his first in the league this season – against Phoenix Rising FC on the way to a 2-0 victory. There was Connecticut native Rashawn Dally putting the icing on the cake for Memphis 901 FC against former club Hartford Athletic in a 2-0 victory at Trinity Health Stadium.
But there was none more significant than Alex Dixon and Christian Volesky for Monterey Bay F.C. on Friday night, who each provided finishes for their current club to earn a dramatic 2-2 draw against former club Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC at Cardinale Stadium. Volesky’s finish in the first minute of second-half stoppage time came on just the fourth shot for the hosts on the night, but found a way to continue the club’s current undefeated run.
“Maybe we didn’t play particularly well tonight, which we didn’t for us,” said Monterey Bay Head Coach Frank Yallop. “But I will say Adrian [Rebollar]’s effort to nick it off the defender and a great ball across for Christian – who is hot. He didn’t have many chances tonight, but the one that mattered, he scored.”
Monterey Bay will certainly take that lift in confidence as it prepares to face Los Angeles FC on Tuesday night in the Round of 32 in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
If there were any concerns about the Tampa Bay Rowdies, meanwhile, a second consecutive convincing performance – this time punctuated by a pair of excellent goals – should have set the ship right. The hosts jumped on top of Phoenix Rising FC at Al Lang Stadium, took a 10th minute lead on Williams’ goal and hardly looked back from then on.
“The level was high tonight,” said Williams. “That’s the biggest thing for us. We wanted to start well and put the pressure on them. Once we did that, we were able to win the ball in good spots and create chances from there. That’s how the Rowdies play, so it’s just about having more performances like that.”
Phoenix had chances, to be sure, but after Manuel Arteaga was denied by a sharp close-range save from Tampa Bay’s Connor Sparrow just past the hour-mark, the visitors didn’t register a shot the rest of the way. That’s the sort of defensive display the Rowdies can continue to build on as they look to make their move up the Eastern Conference standings.
There was a harsh reality to the start Memphis 901 FC made this season. Now, though, after a 2-0 victory against Hartford Athletic on Saturday night that ran the club’s undefeated streak to five games in the league and seven in all competitions, the side is avoiding the trip-wires that resulted in its downfall in March.
“We had little periods of games where we were severely punished,” said Memphis Head Coach Stephen Glass. “I think the boys felt that. We continued to do what we believed would make us better at some things. The negative things that we needed to handle well, we’ve done. It’s important that the boys continue to do that. We need to make sure we keep our foot on the gas. We don’t think we’ve arrived. It’s important we do this right through early November.”
Memphis did just that against Hartford. A fine end-to-end move to set up Laurent Kissiedou’s opening goal showed how smoothly 901 FC can move when given the opportunity to shift gears out of its own defensive third, and in Bill Hamid – who produced four saves for his second clean sheet in the past three games – there’s a veteran presence that appears to have boosted everyone’s confidence.
All of which is good news for the Bluff City Mafia, and bad news for those who hoped the changes 901 FC experienced this offseason would result in a change in the club’s rising fortunes.
There’s plenty to commend about Indy Eleven’s comeback on Saturday night to take a 2-1 victory against Loudoun United FC as Sebastian Guenzatti finally found his first league goal of the season for his new club before Juan Tejada’s late winner at Segra Field.
But if we’re being honest, it probably doesn’t get to that moment if Zach Ryan’s strike is awarded to give Loudoun a two-goal lead in the 62nd minute. The rasping shot that clipped the underside of the crossbar that looked a goal to everyone except the officiating crew – later confirmed by replays – was the turning point in a game that Loudoun had held the upper hand in prior to the final 20 minutes.
United will still be disappointed to have let its lead slip late, of course, and will want to rebound strongly on Wednesday night as it hosts Columbus Crew SC in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Indy, on the other hand, will need to take this fortunate break and try to build on it as a gauntlet that sees it face Sacramento Republic FC, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC and Louisville City FC before the end of the month awaits.
If you needed any more evidence of how competitive Las Vegas Lights FC is going to be this season, you only needed to look at the way the side approached its opening two home games of the league campaign this weekend. Lights FC took the game to both Eastern Conference leader the Charleston Battery and defending Championship title holder San Antonio FC, outshooting both and holding the edge in Expected Goals in both matchups in a 72-hour span.
Unfortunately for Lights FC, those efforts came without reward. A crucial penalty kick save by Charleston’s Trey Muse on Lights FC’s Erick “Cubo” Torres – the biggest highlight of a six-save shutout – with 16 minutes to go preserved the Battery’s 1-0 win on Friday night, and a stellar finish by Tani Oluwaseyi for San Antonio with nine minutes to go lifted the visitors to a 2-1 victory on Sunday afternoon.
There’s a lot to like about Las Vegas’ approach, and plenty of silver linings to take from this weekend. Hopefully the results will follow soon.
Here are some other thoughts on what we saw and heard over the weekend…
- “We have another starter, the day before the game get kicked – we had to completely change what we worked on during the week basically the day of the game.” – San Antonio FC Head Coach Alen Marcina. Maybe slightly less rigorous training sessions the day before the game should be in order?
- Best wishes to San Antonio FC’s Connor Maloney and his nearest and dearest, with Marcina revealing the SAFC captain’s absence from Sunday’s game was to be with his wife for the birth of their child.
- Oakland Roots SC, Oakland Soul SC and Project 51O all taking wins and scoring nine goals between them? That’s a nine-point weekend that only a few clubs anywhere in the country might be able to match as the USL W League and League Two kicked off their seasons.
- Ronaldo Damus got quite the warm welcome back to Championship Soccer Stadium with San Diego Loyal. Picked up an assist and tied for the player fouled most in the game alongside Joe Corona with four fouls received.
- New Mexico United got a key contribution from Academy standout Alex Waggoner in its comeback, with his instinctive close-range finish setting up Harry Swarz’s goal. Good to see another Academy product in Andres Robles make his league debut as well.
- Trey Muse, the Charleston Battery’s ace in the hole in Las Vegas on Friday night. Superb performance by the former U.S. youth international.
- Detroit City FC and FC Tulsa both desperately needed a win, so inevitably they ended up all square. At least Le Rouge’s scoreless streak is over thanks to this Abdoulaye Diop banger.
Tag(s): Features San Antonio FC CO Spring Switchbacks Rio Grande Valley FC FC Tulsa Charleston Battery Pittsburgh Riverhounds Tampa Bay Rowdies Las Vegas Lights FC Indy Eleven Memphis 901 FC El Paso Locomotive FC New Mexico United Loudoun United FC Hartford Athletic San Diego Loyal SC Detroit City FC Monterey Bay F.C.