San Diego Loyal SC's five-goal performance on Friday night was the most goals Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC had conceded in a home game in its history. | Photo courtesy Isaiah J. Downing / Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
If you wanted late-game drama, the USL Championship’s Saturday night slate provided plenty to go around as the playoff race in both conferences continued to take shape at the top of the standings and around the playoff lines.
We’ll have plenty on that among the seven storylines that caught our eye this weekend, but we’ll start off with what ended up the most lopsided result of the weekend, as well as some additional thoughts on the action that transpired.
San Diego Loyal SC had to wait out a delay before kicking off on Friday night at Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC. Once they got underway, however, there was little hesitation from the visitors at Weidner Field in putting their stamp on the game.
An opening goal after just 35 seconds from Adrien Perez, and a second within nine minutes from Blake Bodily blew apart what had been an intriguing clash on paper in spectacular fashion.
“We just were really wanting to have a fast start, really wanting to come out flying, come out with a lot of intensity and play our football,” said SD Loyal Head Coach Nate Miller. “We did that and then some, so I’m just very happy for the players.”
Perez’s goal wasn’t the fastest in SD Loyal’s history – that is still Kyle Vassell’s goal after 16 seconds last September against Las Vegas Lights FC – but the right winger’s impact on the game overall was impressive as he ended the night with two assists in a 5-0 romp. That’s the most goals the Switchbacks have conceded in a home game in their history, and showed SD Loyal back to its best after a challenging road trip ended with a pair of victories and a top-four position in the Western Conference.
“This is now an extremely successful road trip,” said Miller. “It started out difficult, but we have a great group and a together group. We know it’s a long season, but I tell you what, we did a lot of things right tonight, and the second half took the sting out of the game and made it comfortable. When you go away to the team right next to the table and win five-nil, it's all good.”
If there was a theme to Saturday night’s action, it was teams earning results late.
If we’re honest, that’s started to become a theme for FC Tulsa in the last couple of months, with Phillip Goodrum at the center of the story. Since his arrival on May 22, the 2022 Championship All-League selection has now contributed to three game-winning goals in the 89th minute or later, with the latest his game-winner in the fifth minute of stoppage time against Hartford Athletic on Saturday night at ONEOK Field.
“It’s the collective team. We have a ‘never say die’ mindset,” said Goodrum. “You can never give up. The 90th minute is when the game is most open, and like [Tulsa Head] Coach [Blair Gavin] said, the subs came on and made the difference. Collin [Fernandez] came off the bench and put in an unbelievable ball. So, it’s just me being a poacher and feeding off the movements of my teammates. Never give up.”
Tulsa is now on a four-game winning streak having avoided the trap that Hartford almost proved to be after its crucial midweek victory against Miami FC. As importantly, it’s taken wins against teams it needed to beat to gain position ahead of a what looks on paper to be a tough stretch of games.
Friday night’s game against a Rio Grande Valley FC side on its own strong run of form will be another important test for Goodrum and co., but one Head Coach Blair Gavin believes it will be ready for.
“Phil is one of the most competitive people I’ve ever seen, along with Eric Bird,” said Gavin. “Phil has come in every single day and showed this in training, and it is contagious throughout the team and his belief on the training pitch. I am fortunate I get to see it every single day – what he does on the field is an exact representation of all the hard work he puts in and I’m very thankful that he’s playing for us.”
In the turnaround the Charleston Battery have achieved this season, what’s stood out as a key element is the side’s resilience in difficult situations.
Over the past week it was in evidence again as the side twice came from trailing on the road to earn a point, with Andrew Booth’s second-half equalizer in the seventh minute of stoppage time against Miami FC providing a thrilling end to an entertaining game.
The Battery have now claimed 11 points after trailing this season – the club’s second-highest total in a season since the start of the USL Championship era, and the most by any team this season so far – which has kept the side in the top three in the Eastern Conference standings ahead of a big home game against conference leader Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC this Saturday night at Patriots Point.
“It shows that we’ve got the team spirit, energy, fitness levels, desire to win and get what we can from any game and keep going until the final whistle,” said Battery Head Coach Ben Pirmann. “That’s what we try to implement and work on every day. In an ideal world, we wouldn't be in that position. We’d be fighting for taking the lead and keeping clean sheets, not giving up softer goals. But that can happen in this league. On the road, that can be difficult, and things happen, but we have got to adapt. Thankfully, we did it again tonight.”
It’s safe to say Sacramento Republic FC’s first-half performance against Memphis 901 FC didn’t live up to the expectations of Head Coach Mark Briggs.
“We got a little bit of a screaming at halftime, which we deserved,” said Republic FC forward Russell Cicerone. “I think it was a mindset thing that we didn’t come out and battle in the first half.”
Facing a potential defeat on home turf for the second time this season, though, Cicerone came through in combination with Keko to deliver the equalizer in a 1-1 draw that kept Republic FC alone in first place in the Western Conference standings. It was a harsh punishment on Memphis, which appears to have put the consecutive heavy defeats it suffered earlier this month behind it, but the quality that saw Cicerone and Keko combine to produce the best chance of the night for the hosts was worthy of earning a third consecutive draw.
“Overall, a disappointing performance,” said Briggs. “I thought the energy was missing and that resulted in us not showing the quality that we usually do. But the guys – give them credit where credit’s due – they found a way to get back in the game and get a point. So, we at least got a point in the right direction.”
As much has changed in the past couple of years for El Paso Locomotive FC’s on-field personnel, it’s still good to have someone like Josue Aaron Gomez there to rely on.
One of three current players that debuted with the squad in its inaugural 2019 season alongside local product Chapa Herrera and club legend Yuma, the 28-year-old’s deft flicked header late against Rio Grande Valley FC salvaged a point for the hosts in a 1-1 draw at Southwest University Park, and salvaged a week that could have been highly deflating for the side.
“I’m very glad to have been able to help out the team with a goal and get the draw,” Gomez said in Spanish after the match. “We still have lots of games left and we need to look forward. What happened today happened and we need to shift focus to Saturday against a strong opponent.”
Gomez has now scored 31 goals for El Paso across the regular season and playoffs in his career, second to Luis Solignac in club history, but his work ethic has always made him a favorite of Locomotive FC fans. As important as it’s going to be to get back in the win column for Los Locos quickly, they’re still in a solid spot in the top three.
No-one was expecting a fast start from Oakland Roots SC against Monterey Bay F.C. on Saturday night.
For one, it just hadn’t been typically in their nature this season, and after a tough midweek outing against Memphis 901 FC that resulted in a 1-1 draw, it could have been a time to try and settle and conserve energy for later.
But the visitors defied expectations, and it set up an impressive 3-1 victory at Cardinale Stadium that showed the side back at its best with Johnny Rodriguez bagging a pair of goals before Memo Diaz capped the performance with a late insurance marker and stuck the landing on his somersault, drawing a 10 from the judges.
As notable as Rodriguez’s performance was, the player that might have stood out most was Jeciel Cedeno, who is proving an ideal fit in the Roots SC lineup. Linking play consistently with 28 of 35 passes completed as well as an assist and three chances created, the player who arrived in the deals that sent Edgardo Rito to Hartford Athletic put in the work that Oakland needs on either side of the ball to be successful.
Roots SC has always found a way to be part of the playoff field since joining the Championship. Saturday’s victory was an indicator that can be the case again this season as they sent home a strong travelling contingent of support happy.
As spectacular as Birmingham Legion FC’s attack has the potential to be, it was never going to go anywhere playing the way it had defensively against Las Vegas Lights FC in Week 18.
In a very good way, however, Legion FC went from one extreme – by its standards – to another in its 1-0 victory against the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday night, a result that broke Tampa Bay’s 11-game undefeated streak as the visitors entered their new era without Neill Collins guiding them on the sidelines.
In allowing Tampa Bay only five shots overall and an Expected Goals mark of 0.18xG, Legion FC set season-bests for itself in both categories after season highs of 20 shots allowed and 2.48xGA against Las Vegas.
Add one Enzo Martinez finish off Prosper Kasim’s sharp assist and the hosts came away with a well-deserved result.
“We've talked about this next three game stretch and how important it is,” said Legion FC Head Coach Tom Soehn. “Obviously, we let some games slip along the way and the only way to catch teams ahead of you is to take care of them and get three points in. One of the things we really focused on was our defensive attitude and our defensive posture and it was so much better tonight.”
Legion FC has the firepower to make a dent in the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. If it can show consistent defensive discipline, it will be that much more dangerous.
Here are some other things we took away from the weekend’s action…
- Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC Head Coach Bob Lilley didn’t think his side played all that well on Saturday night – “We have a massive game next week [against Charleston], and we’re going to have to play a lot better.” – but a 2-0 win at home and a 13-game undefeated streak has the Hounds in control.
- It’s big for Marc McNulty to finally get that first goal for Orange County SC, and Korede Osundina’s finish was a great display of his quality in an important win at Loudoun United FC.
- Rio Grande Valley FC was so close to another big win. Still, a point on the road at El Paso isn’t a bad return, and it keeps the momentum going for an intriguing clash with FC Tulsa this weekend.
- Was it what Birmingham did to stymie the Tampa Bay Rowdies, or just a hangover from last weekend’s celebration? We’ll find out when the Rowdies head to Indy on Saturday.
- Colorado Springs goalkeeper Christian Herrera entered Friday night as a net positive in his stop-stopping. That changed in a hurry in the opening 10 minutes against SD Loyal.
- What an absolute sucker punch Miami FC had to absorb in stoppage time against Charleston. As inconsistent as the bottom of the Eastern Conference is, a win could have gone a long way.
- Oh, Hartford. You just can’t keep giving away chances like those to good players.