Detroit City FC's victory against Miami FC on Saturday night pushed Le Rouge back above the playoff line as the side took its third win in the past four games. | Photo courtesy Jon DeBoer / Detroit City FC
Another playoff berth was claimed on Saturday night, but it was a result around the Eastern Conference playoff line that might have carried the most significance this weekend as we move into the final weeks of the regular season.
Here are seven of the top storylines we took away from the weekend’s action, and some additional thoughts on what we saw.
In theory, every game is created equal. Three points is three points, whoever it comes against.
At this point of the season, however, Detroit City FC’s players knew what was at stake against Miami FC on Saturday night and rose to the moment. Le Rouge’s 2-1 victory on goals by Michael Bryant and Devon Amoo-Mensah – each off crosses by Brett Levis – not only pushed the side above then playoff line once again but provided a five-point cushion on 10th-placed Miami, which now looks on the outside of the playoff race with six games to go.
“Your home games against your direct competitors – so, you know, Miami and the teams that are within points of you – are maybe a little bit more important in the sense of those are the teams that you’re trying to stay above,” said Levis. “Picking up points at home is awesome and against kind of a direct rival in terms of a playoff push is very important.”
Detroit City has now taken 10 points from its last four games, giving the side valuable momentum into an important road contest against Phoenix Rising FC next weekend. With FC Tulsa having played to a scoreless draw against Rising FC later on Saturday night, the eighth and final playoff berth is in Detroit’s control with a one-point lead and a game in hand on the Oklahoma club.
After cruising into the playoffs last season, this year is going to be a tougher fight, but DCFC seems pointed in the right direction.
The Charleston Battery were without their leading goalscorer (Augustine Williams, 11 goals) and assist man (Fidel Barajas, 8 assists) on Saturday night due to international duty, and it just didn’t matter.
In the side’s playoff-clinching 2-0 victory against Western Conference foe San Diego Loyal SC, a pair of goals by Tristan Trager – doubling his total for the season – stood out in an excellent all-around display that showed why the Battery have achieved such a remarkable turnaround this season.
“It was a full team performance,” said Battery Head Coach Ben Pirmann. “We were missing five guys and had to make a sub 25 minutes in as well to a key player [Arturo Rodriguez]. We just said, ‘next man up, everybody's involved.’ That's what this team is about, that's what this club is about. Ultimately to clinch the playoffs with that type of performance is top.”
The Battery are still in third place behind Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC with five games to go in their regular season, and it’s going to take one of the other two slipping up to allow the side to potentially match its best finish in the USL Championship era when it took second place in the Eastern Conference in 2017.
As balanced as this side looks, there won’t be a team that Charleston fears facing, home or away.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies’ defeat last Wednesday night marked only the second time this season the side had lost after holding a lead, and only the fifth time it had dropped points overall.
That meant within the squad the feeling was Saturday’s game with Louisville City FC was as much as measure of the team’s heart and resilience as it was the quality it could produce on the field.
Thanks to a pair of goals by Cal Jennings – who is now on a career-best five-game goalscoring streak – the Rowdies were able to answer with a 2-1 win against LouCity at Al Lang Stadium in another classic battle between the two rivals.
“Tonight you saw resilience from the guys,” said Rowdies midfielder Jordan Doherty. “To [be brought back] level straight after the break is not ideal at all, but you see the team spirit and the resilience we have after the tough defeat we have on Wednesday to go and beat a team like Louisville. Credit to the whole staff and team for that.”
The Rowdies have now won six in a row at home and are undefeated in their last 10 games at Al Lang Stadium overall. Still in control of their potential to claim the No. 1 seed in the East, that’s a great record to have going toward the postseason.
Which club is currently the hottest in the USL Championship’s Western Conference?
After Orange County SC was held to a scoreless draw on Saturday night by El Paso Locomotive FC, that moniker goes to Monterey Bay F.C., which has won three in a row after Saturday’s 1-0 victory against Memphis 901 FC to move back into the playoff positions.
Was it the prettiest victory? Not at all, but it saw Monterey Bay go back to a fundamental defensive structure that saw the side try to absorb pressure and strike on the counterattack, which led to Alex Dixon’s penalty kick to decide the game. Carlos Herrera had to make seven saves as the hosts piled up a season-high 26 shots at AutoZone Park, but MBFC came through with the performance that was needed.
There’s still a narrow rope for Monterey Bay to travel – it’s played one game more than ninth-placed El Paso Locomotive FC, and there are serious tests to come against San Diego Loyal SC twice and others.
In terms of momentum, though, there’s no-one in the bottom half of the Western Conference with more, and that could be key to a potential playoff berth in Year 2 for Head Coach Frank Yallop’s side.
If there’s one team Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC has faced the most challenges against in recent seasons, it’s San Antonio FC.
While Saturday night’s game was a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Final in the USL Championship Playoffs, it also marked the latest meeting in a series that had seen SAFC go undefeated in the last nine meetings, and win the last six games between the sides.
In that context, a 1-1 draw at Weidner Field thanks to a late equalizer by 17-year-old Marco Rios that earned a vital point in the playoff race could have been one of the best results of the weekend for the hosts.
“The game was not going to be any sort of football game, we knew that, we planned for it,” said Switchbacks Head Coach Stephen Hogan. “I think we had the ball in the air all week, planning for what they were going to do. We went out there with certain personnel that would give us a good bit of fight and they did. They did it. Even getting Duke [Lacroix] back late from international duty and seeing the effort he put up was nice. That was a level of commitment that I hope we can bounce into Orange County with now.”
In all honesty, there wasn’t much to take away from the end of Orange County SC’s eight-game winning streak on Saturday night after a 0-0 draw against El Paso Locomotive FC at Championship Soccer Stadium.
The hosts showed more attacking intent – not hard to do, really, as El Paso didn’t seem to go anywhere and was held without a shot on target for the first time in just over three years – but Orange County was unable to find enough to seriously threaten Locomotive FC goalkeeper Benny Diaz over the 90 minutes.
For OCSC Head Coach Morten Karlsen, there’s a lesson in that for his side as it remained within reach of San Antonio FC in second place in the Western Conference standings.
“There are still positives in a nine-game unbeaten streak and another clean sheet,” said Karlsen. “But we also know that we can get complacent and think we’re just going to win every game just by showing up. We’ve got to put in the work and the effort, maybe a little bit more than we did tonight. But overall, we will bounce back and control the controllable.”
Orange County will need to raise its level over the final six games, starting at home on Friday night against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC. It shouldn’t take too much to shift through the gears again.
A cursory look at the numbers from Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC’s 3-1 win against Loudoun United FC showed a convincing win by the Eastern Conference leader against the 11th-placed side in the standings.
Albert Dikwa had a pair of goals to move into the league-lead with 16 tallies this season, the side outshot its visitors to Highmark Stadium almost four-to-one and posted an Expected Goals advantage of 2.50xG-0.18xG.
But it was exactly the sort of game that Hounds Head Coach Bob Lilley saw flaws in his team that a better opponent could expose.
“I let the guys know, that it was good that we won the game, but it was one of our poorer performances,” said Lilley. “It’s disappointing. I don’t think we should be playing with fire right now. We need to do our jobs better. It was a great crowd. Nice weather. I think we should be holding ourselves to a higher standard.”
The sellout crowd of 5,512 – resetting the club’s regular season record attendance for the fourth time this season – will still have gone away happy enough, but there are expectations for Pittsburgh this season to finally break through in the postseason, and Lilley believes there’s more needed for his side to achieve that.
Here are some other takeaways we had from the past weekend…
- Tabort Etaka Preston showed off exactly why Legion FC picked him up in midseason. His dribble and cross to Neco Brett to finish for the only goal in a Sunday evening win for Birmingham showed former club New Mexico United what it was missing.
- We’re pretty sure Louisville City FC and San Diego Loyal SC are going to be fine despite Saturday’s setbacks. Next Saturday’s contest between the sides at Lynn Family Stadium is going to be a important one, though.
- Hands up if you had Monterey Bay F.C. and Las Vegas Lights FC as the only Western Conference teams to win this weekend? Tyler Bagley and Danny Rios aren’t going away quietly for Las Vegas.
- Did it feel like Phoenix Rising FC settled for a point a little too early in Tulsa? Only one shot in the final 20 minutes doesn’t feel right for a team with this much attacking firepower.
- Kalil ElMedkhar, take a bow. That’s quite the way for Loudoun United FC to record its first goal at Highmark Stadium in club history.
- FC Tulsa’s Nathan Worth continues to be impressive in the center of the park, so much so that The Athletic’s Tom Bogert is pointing toward his candidacy for U.S. U-17s.
- Poor Hartford Athletic. When it rains, it pours, we guess.
Tag(s): Features CO Spring Switchbacks Orange County SC Phoenix Rising FC FC Tulsa Charleston Battery Louisville City FC Pittsburgh Riverhounds Tampa Bay Rowdies Las Vegas Lights FC Birmingham Legion FC El Paso Locomotive FC New Mexico United Hartford Athletic Miami FC Oakland Roots SC Detroit City FC Monterey Bay F.C.