Skage Simonsen's brilliant early goal set up Detroit City FC for a memorable victory against San Antonio FC on Saturday night, bringing some Keyworth Magic to a side sorely in need of it. | Photo courtesy Jon DeBoer / Detroit City FC
There was a lot to take in across the USL Championship this weekend, including notable comeback victories and some crucial home results for three clubs hoping to pick up the pace in the Eastern Conference standings.
Here are seven key storylines we took away from the action, and some additional thoughts on what else we saw around the 11-game slate.
It took an almost perfect confluence of events, but Detroit City FC produced one of the results, if not the performances, of the season in rebounding to claim a 1-0 victory against San Antonio FC at Keyworth Stadium.
There was a lot to admire, particularly defensively, where the side that had been torn apart by the Tampa Bay Rowdies a week before absorbed all manner of pressure from the defending Championship title holders to come away with the result. Devon Amoo-Mensah in particular stood out for his individual display, but it was as much the collective in front of goalkeeper Nathan Steinwascher that found a way to match SAFC’s attacking intensity after Skage Simonsen’s stunning early finish that earned Le Rouge their three points.
“I think from the start we had something to prove,” Steinwascher told The Detroit News’ Nolan Bianchi. “Last week didn't go the way we wanted it to ... We knew how they were going to play, and we just knew it was going to come down to second balls and it feels great to get a clean sheet. Those guys in front of me worked so hard tonight and I think we should all be really proud of that performance.”
As lacking in form as the bottom six in the Eastern Conference has been of late, somehow Detroit is just within range of the top eight after only two wins in its first 11 games. The hope will be this is a spark to find a way back up the standings.
Detroit City FC wasn’t the only team to earn its first home win of the season on Saturday night. There was also good news for Hartford Athletic and Indy Eleven, which claimed their first three points in front of their home fans with victories against Loudoun United FC and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, respectively.
Hartford in particular looked impressive as it cruised to a 2-0 victory in a torrential downpour at Trinity Health Stadium against a Loudoun side that has come unstuck over the last few weeks. Juan Pablo Torres’ well-taken opener and a welcome return and goal for Elvis Amoh were a just reward for the way the Athletic approached the game, but maybe the most important element of the game for the hosts was the defensive performance.
The Athletic’s defensive shape kept Loudoun from finding high-quality chances and left the visitors to resort to hopeful, longer-range efforts that were easily handled by goalkeeper Richard Sanchez. More displays like that may hold the key to further success for Head Coach Tab Ramos’ side.
The two longest current winning streaks in the Championship were maintained elsewhere on Saturday night, with El Paso Locomotive FC making it a club-record six wins in a row with a 2-1 victory against Birmingham Legion FC as it rallied for victory for the first time this season, while the Rowdies earned a 3-0 win against Rio Grande Valley FC after getting a major scare from the hosts at H-E-B Park in the first half.
If not for Connor Sparrow, in fact, the outcome of the Rowdies’ first visit to Texas this season could have been very different. The veteran goalkeeper reached 300 regular season stops for his career with a seven-save shutout, five of which came in the first half as the Toros dominated proceedings. Having made it to the break scoreless, though, Tampa Bay found the form that has quickly shifted it into second place in the Eastern Conference as Charlie Dennis continued his stellar run with two more goals to give him five tallies in the past four games.
“After the first 10, 15 minutes I thought we looked like we couldn’t catch our breath,” said Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins. “They caused a couple of problems and we had to wait until halftime to make a personnel change. I thought in the second half the players just went to another level and got their legs back under them. I thought from the first whistle of the second half I thought there was only one team that was going to go on and win that game.”
It’s a sign of the Rowdies’ resilience they were able to find a way through. Certainly, there was no better way to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Collins taking the helm.
You could hardly have scripted Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC’s 4-1 victory against Las Vegas Lights FC better for Head Coach Bob Lilley.
Get a comfortable halftime lead behind a confidence-boosting pair of finishes by Edward Kizza? Check.
Add to that lead with two goals right around the hour-mark? Check.
Pull all your key starters well ahead of the ending ahead of your Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 clash against Columbus Crew SC on Wednesday night? Check.
The Hounds put together a clinical display and did so without Championship leading goalscorer Albert Dikwa being among the scorers. They look exactly where they need to be to put themselves in with a chance at another Cupset against a strong Crew lineup.
“We’re starting to play through the midfield more consistently, so we are having more guys get chances,” said Hounds Head Coach Bob Lilley. “We’re more fluid right now. Kizza has worked so hard all preseason, and he has played a lot of minutes. For us, this is what it’s about, the movement and multiple guys unbalancing teams. I thought tonight the guys played well, it’s a good win to go into the Columbus game.”
There have been no more prolific teams at the start of the first and second half respectively this season than Sacramento Republic FC (6 goals inside the opening 15 minutes of the first half) and the Charleston Battery (6 goals inside the opening 15 minutes of the second half).
On Saturday, though, each side showed the value of the early goal in rebounding from disappointing setbacks in their prior outings.
The Battery, fresh off their shellacking by San Antonio FC last weekend, produced a fine eighth-minute finish by Arturo Rodriguez to get on top of Monterey Bay F.C. early and then made that stand up as its defense rebounded in a confident overall display.
“We want to be a team [who’s] more mentally tough, keeps the ball in phases and then we can make the opponents suffer,” said Battery Head Coach Ben Pirmann. “It was a good response. Winning is so important. Winning at home is important. Getting a shutout is important. We checked a lot of those boxes.”
Sacramento, meanwhile, put the pressure on rival Oakland Roots SC early and it paid off with Keko’s superb 12th-minute strike to set up a 3-1 victory at Heart Health Park. After suffering a first league loss of the season in midweek, Republic FC remained on top of the Western Conference as it bagged another pair of early goals to start the second half.
“We have to start the games right and we have to maintain that intensity and that level of focus for 90 minutes,” said Sacramento Head Coach Mark Briggs. “The guys have been doing a fantastic job of that. We didn't focus for one 90 minutes [on Wednesday at Orange County] and we bounced back tonight. Good teams bounce back after a little bit of adversity and that’s what we did tonight.”
You can make your own call on this one – was it San Diego Loyal SC pushing through to earn victory, or Miami FC collapsing defensively to defeat?
Either call is probably justifiable, but we’re going to give credit to SD Loyal here for battling through to come back from a pair of deficits to grab victory in South Florida thanks to Elliot Collier’s 85th-minute winner. After falling at home a week prior, it could have been easy for the side’s heads to drop when Kyle Murphy found the net against the run of play in the second half of Saturday night’s contest, but the visitors just got back to work and found a way to earn a big road result.
That’s the sort of mentality Miami needs to start finding more of if its to fulfill its potential this season. After going into last weekend’s nationally televised game with Louisville City FC feeling like it had something to prove, the side has now lost twice in a row and conceded six goals in the process. That’s not the defensive solidity we’ve come to expect and continues to show why Miami has farther to go to become a serious contender than a club like SD Loyal.
It looked a good chance that Orange County SC was going to find a goal and earn a result against Phoenix Rising FC for most of Saturday night’s game at Championship Soccer Stadium. A sterling display in goal by Rising FC’s Rocco Rios Novo, however, and some near-misses by the hosts left Manuel Arteaga’s goal for Phoenix as the difference-maker, and left OCSC interim Head Coach Morten Karlsen to take the silver linings from the contest.
“For tonight, and for the last couple of games, I take quite a lot,” said Karlsen. “I think for some aspects we look solid, but we still have that final finesse to work on and definitely our fitness, we need to be more competitive. I’m not unhappy with today, but I just feel there’s a little bit more for us to give. In terms of players, yes, we’re thin, but hopefully we’ll have some players back this week and it’s going to be a tough week for the boys.”
Thanks to the side’s victory against Sacramento Republic FC on Wednesday night, this is a week that Orange County can probably look at as a step forward. Certainly, they seemed to have the greater attacking threat in both halves against Phoenix, but weren’t able to find a decisive finish.
With the season one-third of the way through, though, the 2021 Championship title winners can’t let the teams ahead of them open too big a gap in the next few weeks.
Here are some other things we took away from the weekend’s action…
- If Aaron Molloy and Jeremy Kelly can boss the midfield consistently the way they did in Tulsa on Friday night, 901 FC is going to keep rising in the standings.
- Your current league-leader in Goals Prevented according to American Soccer Analysis? Phoenix Rising FC’s Rocco Rios Novo. 20-year-old is living up to his pedigree.
- Charlie Dennis has goals in four consecutive games, but Ryan Spaulding has picked up an assist in three consecutive games for the Tampa Bay Rowdies. He’s been an ideal fit on the left side.
- There’s no reason for San Antonio FC fans to be concerned after missing out in Detroit. That Champions Kit hasn’t proven too lucky yet, though, has it?
- On paper, it feels like Birmingham Legion FC should be better than the number of goals it is currently leaking, right?
- One home game in the next five outings for Las Vegas Lights FC. We want to believe there’s a win coming, soon.
Tag(s): Features San Antonio FC CO Spring Switchbacks Orange County SC Phoenix Rising FC Rio Grande Valley FC Sacramento Republic FC Charleston Battery Pittsburgh Riverhounds Tampa Bay Rowdies Las Vegas Lights FC Birmingham Legion FC Indy Eleven Memphis 901 FC El Paso Locomotive FC Loudoun United FC Hartford Athletic San Diego Loyal SC Miami FC Detroit City FC