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Gameday Previews – Saturday, September 23

By Staff, 09/22/23, 5:30PM EDT


A handful of key games highlight a nine-game slate of action, including a meeting between two of the top three in the West

San Antonio FC and Orange County SC will square off for the first time this season with a playoff berth within reach for both clubs. | Photo courtesy Darren Abate / San Antonio FC

The first meeting of the season between two of the top three teams in the USL Championship’s Western Conference highlights a nine-game Saturday night slate to kick off the weekend’s action as San Antonio FC plays host to Orange County SC at Toyota Field with both teams within range of clinching a playoff berth before the weekend is out.

Elsewhere, the top three teams in the Eastern Conference will all be looking for wins on home turf having secured their postseason spots, while NorCal rivals Oakland Roots SC and Monterey Bay F.C. square off to wrap up the night’s action in a crucial game just above the playoff line in the West.

Here's a look ahead at all the action.

Loudoun United FC vs. Louisville City FC

Venue: Segra Field
Kickoff: 6:30 p.m. ET
Broadcast: ESPN+

The Lowdown: Louisville City FC will aim to rebound from a midweek setback and clinch its berth in the postseason as it heads to face Loudoun United FC, which put in a positive display in its most recent outing on home turf. Loudoun (7-19-4, 25pts) played to a 2-2 draw with the Charleston Battery last time out as both Chris Hegardt and Kalil ElMedkhar recorded a goal and assist at Segra Field to ern the side its first point in the past four games. The hosts will have to try and break a four-game losing streak to LouCity as the sides square off for the second time this season, however, as they try to stave off mathematical elimination from playoff contention. LouCity (13-10-7, 46pts) is on course for its ninth consecutive postseason berth, meanwhile, but suffered a 4-3 defeat to Miami FC on Wednesday night that saw the side take the lead three times but fail to hold on, instead conceding a late goal for a second loss in the past three games. Needing a win or FC Tulsa to fail to take victory against the Charleston Battery later in the night, all three points are essential for Louisville here as it looks to return to the top four in the Eastern Conference standings.

Spotlight Players
Loudoun United FC – Chris Hegardt:
The Charlotte FC loanee shone last weekend in a fine midfield display and will look to build on that performance which saw him record one goal and one assist.

Louisville City FC – Wilson Harris: The 23-year-old has scored in three consecutive games, his best run of form this season, and is closing in on reaching a half-century of goals in the USL Championship’s regular season, currently sitting on 48.

Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC vs. New Mexico United

Venue: Highmark Stadium
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET
Broadcast: ESPN+

The Lowdown: Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC could reach the 60-point mark for the second time in the USL Championship era – and clinch a top-three finish in the Eastern Conference this season – if it can take victory against a New Mexico United side battling to reach the playoffs. The Hounds (16-5-9, 57pts) took a 2-1 victory against Miami FC last Saturday night as Robbie Mertz scored a late winner at Riccardo Silva Stadium, a result which moved the side three points ahead of the second-placed Tampa Bay Rowdies in the Eastern Conference. Albert Dikwa also found the net for Pittsburgh, putting him tied for the league-lead with 17 goals this season, to help move the side’s undefeated streak to four games, and with four games to go the Hounds are in a strong position to claim top spot for the second time in five seasons, having recorded 68 points to finish on top of the East in 2019. New Mexico (10-13-7, 37pts) faces an uphill fight to get into the postseason, meanwhile, but did secure a point in a 0-0 draw with Sacramento Republic FC on Wednesday night in its most recent outing. Sitting three points behind a trio of teams on 40 points above the playoff line going into this weekend, United will look to take victory on the road and hope for help elsewhere to keep their chances of postseason play alive in the club’s first trip to Highmark Stadium.

Spotlight Players
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC – Kenardo Forbes:
The Jamaican playmaker has recorded seven assists this season, two off the league lead, as he continues to compile another impressive campaign in Pittsburgh.

New Mexico United – Justin Portillo: The central midfielder should return to the lineup for United after a one-game suspension against Sacramento, and his creativity and set pieces could be crucial for the visitors.

Charleston Battery vs. FC Tulsa

Venue: Patriots Point
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
Broadcast: ESPN+

The Lowdown: The Charleston Battery and FC Tulsa will both try to overcome key absences due to suspension as the visitors try to maintain their push to reach the USL Championship Playoffs. The Battery (15-7-8, 53pts) return home having played to a 2-2 draw against Loudoun United FC last Saturday night in which Nick Markanich scored a second-half equalizer at Segra Field. The result left Charleston in position to potentially clinch a home playoff game to start the postseason, but the side will have to do so with Markanich and defender Juan Sebastian Palma, both of whom will serve a one-game suspension. Tulsa (9-12-9, 36pts) has also been hit by suspensions this weekend after Phillip Goodrum’s goal lifted the side to a 1-0 win on the road against Oakland Roots SC last Saturday night. The result moved Tulsa back above the playoff line, two points ahead of Detroit City FC, but the visitors will be without Goodrum, Milo Yosef and Marcus Epps on Saturday night, taking Tulsa’s top two goalscorers off the field. After the Battery took a 2-1 win in its visit to Tulsa earlier this season, the hosts will be hoping to complete a season sweep and keep the pressure on the top two in the East.

Spotlight Players
Charleston Battery – Fidel Barajas:
The Mexico U-17 international has recorded eight assists this season, one off the league lead, and could provide the replacement for Markanich in the starting lineup after coming off the bench last weekend.

FC Tulsa – Nathan Worth: The 16-year-old central midfielder is another top young talent set to be on display in Charleston, with Worth having made five consecutive starts to put himself in the picture for the U.S. squad at November’s FIFA U-17 World Cup.

Detroit City FC vs. Hartford Athletic

Venue: Keyworth Stadium
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
Broadcast: ESPN+

The Lowdown: Detroit City FC will try to rebound from a setback last time out against a Hartford Athletic side that has lost six consecutive games in falling out of playoff contention. Le Rouge (9-13-7, 34pts) dropped into ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings last Saturday after a 5-0 defeat to Phoenix Rising FC that saw Rising FC score late in the first half before opening the floodgates after the break to hand DCFC its heaviest defeat since joining the USL Championship. The side is undefeated in its last three home games, however, and took a 3-1 victory against Hartford earlier this season when Ben Morris scored a pair of goals to lead the side to victory. The Athletic (4-20-4, 16pts) continue their slide last Saturday as they fell 4-2 against Memphis 901 FC despite holding a halftime lead through a pair of goals by Prince Saydee. The Liberian winger is now tied for the club lead with seven goals this season, alongside Kyle Edwards, but the side hasn’t earned a result on the road since July 23, leaving it bottom of the Eastern Conference.

Spotlight Players
Detroit City FC – Michael Bryant:
The experience defender will try to lead a bounce-back display after last weekend’s defeat and keep a Hartford attack that has been dangerous in check.

Hartford Athletic – Antoine Hoppenot: The attacking midfielder scored when he faced his former club for the first time this season and has shown positive signs in recent outings in the attacking third.

Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Memphis 901 FC

Venue: Al Lang Stadium
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
Broadcast: ESPN+

The Lowdown: The Tampa Bay Rowdies and Memphis 901 FC will square off in a rematch of one of the more remarkable games of this season as Memphis tries to clinch its place in the postseason at Al Lang Stadium. The Rowdies (16-7-6, 54pts) return home after a thrilling 3-3 draw against San Antonio FC last Saturday night at Toyota Field that saw the side rally from a two-game deficit behind goals from JJ Williams, Charlie Dennis and Joshua Perez before conceding late to leave the game all square. Perez’s goal was his first for the Rowdies, while Williams, Dennis and Cal Jennings have now combined for 36 goals this season for the club. Jennings and Dennis found the net when Tampa Bay visited Memphis earlier this month, putting the side into the lead at AutoZone Park, but the hosts came out on top in a 3-2 victory that saw Jeremy Kelly and an own goal in stoppage time rally 901 FC to victory. Memphis (12-8-10, 46pts) would clinch a playoff berth with a victory against the Rowdies after moving into fourth place in the Eastern Conference on Wednesday night after a 1-1 draw with rival Birmingham Legion FC at Protective Stadium that saw Aiden McFadden score his first goal for the club after joining on loan from Atlanta United FC, but the Rowdies are undefeated in their last 10 home games, a tall task for the visitors as they enter on a three-game road winless streak.

Spotlight Players
Tampa Bay Rowdies – Cal Jennings:
The former 901 FC forward scored when these teams met for the first time this season and has a team-leading 14 goals overall in his first season for Tampa Bay.

Memphis 901 FC – Jeremy Kelly: The central midfielder has put together another strong campaign and should be key in the center of the park again here against a strong Rowdies unit.

Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC vs. Sacramento Republic FC

Venue: Weidner Field
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET
Broadcast: ESPN+

The Lowdown: Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC will continue its pursuit of a place in the postseason as it plays host to Sacramento Republic FC, which is looking to move closer to sealing top spot in the Western Conference as it heads on the road. The Switchbacks (12-13-4, 40pts) moved back above the playoff line last Friday night as Tyreek Magee’s long-range strike combined with Carlos Herrera’s eight-save shutout to earn a 1-0 victory on the road against Orange County SC. The result broke a three-game winless streak for Colorado Springs, which is now level on points with Monterey Bay F.C. and Oakland Roots SC in the tight battle for the final playoff places in the West. Republic FC (15-5-10, 55pts) has clinched its postseason spot already, but was held to a 0-0 draw by New Mexico United on Wednesday night that left the side four points ahead of San Antonio FC with four games to go in the regular season. Sacramento goalkeeper Danny Vitiello posted his 30th regular season shutout in the USL Championship against New Mexico, but now the visitors will be hoping to continue the Switchbacks’ recent home struggles having earned a 4-0 victory when these teams met earlier this season.

Spotlight Players
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC – Tyreek Magee:
The Jamaican has notched a pair of game-winners in his three goals this season for the Switchbacks and has shown a creative spark in the final third for the side.

Sacramento Republic FC – Luis Felipe Fernandes: The Brazilian was on target when these sides met earlier this season and has bagged a single-season best six goals so far this campaign.

San Antonio FC vs. Orange County SC

Venue: Toyota Field
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
Broadcast: ESPN+

The Lowdown: Two of the top three teams in the Western Conference will square off as San Antonio FC and Orange County SC meet for the first time this season in a key game for playoff positioning. San Antonio (13-5-12, 51pts) sits in second place in the West after a dramatic 3-3 draw against the Tampa Bay Rowdies last Saturday night that saw SAFC let a two-goal lead slip before Ignacio Bailone scored a stoppage-time equalizer to salvage a point for the side. San Antonio is four points behind first-place Sacramento Republic FC with four games remaining but will be looking for a win here to create separation ahead of OCSC with the sides set to meet in California on the penultimate weekend of the regular season. Orange County (14-10-5, 47pts) missed out on a chance to further close the four-point gap to San Antonio last weekend as it fell 1-0 against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, ending a club-record nine-game undefeated streak. The side recorded eight shots on target in the contests, however, and brings a strong attack let by Milan Iloski and Thomas Amang, who will try to find a way through a San Antonio defense that will be without center back Fabien Garcia as he serves a one-game suspension following the side’s contest with the Rowdies.

Spotlight Players
San Antonio FC – Lamar Batista:
The rangy center back could return to the lineup for SAFC with Garcia’s absence having come off the bench in his last four appearances overall.

Orange County SC – Thomas Amang: The powerful center forward has notched seven goals this season and will be a critical outlet for teammates to play off as he goes up against SAFC’s back line.

El Paso Locomotive FC vs. Phoenix Rising FC

Venue: Southwest University Park
Kickoff: 9:30 p.m. ET
Broadcast: ESPN+

The Lowdown: Phoenix Rising FC will try to rebound from a late set-back in midweek as it heads to face El Paso Locomotive FC, which would return above the playoff line with a victory back on home turf this time out. El Paso (11-12-6, 39pts) returns home after suffering a late 1-0 defeat against Sacramento Republic FC last Saturday night as a stoppage-time goal spoiled a good defensive display by goalkeeper Benny Diaz and his back line. Locomotive FC is now in ninth place in the West, one point behind three teams above the playoff line, but would move back into a playoff position with a win due to the clash between Oakland Roots SC and Monterey Bay F.C. elsewhere on Saturday night. Rising FC (12-8-10, 46pts) could clinch a playoff place this weekend, meanwhile as a win combined with three other results going the side’s way would be enough to secure a return to the postseason. Phoenix missed out on a second consecutive win on Wednesday night as it conceded in second-half stoppage time in a 1-1 draw against Indy Eleven after Carlos Harvey had opened the scoring at Phoenix Rising Stadium. Having taken a 5-0 victory when these teams first met in August, however, Phoenix will be looking for another big attacking display from its strong attacking corps.

Spotlight Players
El Paso Locomotive FC – Marc Navarro:
The Spanish veteran has two goals and four assists this season but his defensive work could be crucial in their contest against a Phoenix attack that has a 26.1 percent cross success rate.

Phoenix Rising FC – Danny Trejo: The co-leader for the USL Championship’s Golden Boot with 17 goals notched his sixth assist of the season on Wednesday night, and scored twice against El Paso when these teams last met.

Oakland Roots SC vs. Monterey Bay F.C.

Venue: Pioneer Stadium
Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET
Broadcast: ESPN+

The Lowdown: Oakland Roots SC and Monterey Bay F.C. will square off in a crucial contest for their playoff possibilities as the NorCal rivals meet for the second time this season. Oakland (11-11-7, 40pts) suffered a 1-0 defeat against FC Tulsa last Saturday night, the club’s fourth consecutive loss. The result dropped the side to seventh place in the Western Conference, and also saw Lindo Mfeka sent off, resulting in a one-game suspension for the South African playmaker that will be served in this game. Monterey Bay (11-7-12, 40ts) is looking to rebound from a deflating defeat on Wednesday night that saw San Diego Loyal SC score twice late at Cardinale Stadium to send MBFC to a 3-2 defeat. The result broke a four-game winning streak for Head Coach Frank Yallop’s side and left it in eighth place in the Western Conference with four games to play. After Roots SC took a 3-1 victory when the sides met in Monterey Bay earlier this season, MBFC will be hoping to turn the tables in one of the most important games of the stretch run.

Spotlight Players
Oakland Roots SC – Johnny Rodriguez:
Oakland’s leading scorer with 11 goals this season, Rodriguez bagged a pair of finishes against Monterey Bay earlier this season and will be hoping for a similar display this time around.

Monterey Bay F.C. – Kai Greene: The veteran defender is set to make his 200th regular season appearance in the USL Championship and will want to put in a lockdown display to help his side rebound and claim all three points.

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