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15 Games to circle now in the 2024 USL Championship Season

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 12/18/23, 12:30PM EST


New and renewed rivalries, postseason rematches, and some intriguing storylines highlight the new campaign

The 2024 USL Championship schedule is here, and it’s a beauty.

The 408-game, 34-week regular season will kick off on Saturday, March 9. The postseason will then carry us all the way through to the 2024 USL Championship Final the weekend before Thanksgiving.

Along the way, there are plenty of matches you’ll want to either attend in person or tune into on national or local television or streaming online.

Make sure to pay close attention to those that will air as part of the league’s broadcast agreement with CBS Sports, where we’ll see the Championship air on network television for the first time in its history. More details to come on those, soon.

For now, we’ve picked out 15 games that at first glance look like matchups that not only have great storylines from the jump, but figure to be important chapters in the story of the season ahead.

You can check out the full schedule here – why not let us know which matches you can’t wait to watch on our social media channels?

March 9 – North Carolina FC vs. Charleston Battery

Welcome back to USL Championship, North Carolina FC. How about we start off with a classic rivalry? The reigning Eastern Conference title holder Charleston Battery will head to WakeMed Soccer Park for the first edition of 2024’s Southern Derby in what figures to be a tremendous on-field contest between the historic clubs.

The Battery have returned much of their core talent led by 2023 Young Player of the Year Fidel Barajas. They have also added arguably the most influential central midfielder in the league in Aaron Molloy. On the other hand, North Carolina FC’s 2023 League One title-winning squad has been supplemented by the likes of five-time Championship All-League selection Paco Craig, midfielder Collin Martin and forward Rodrigo Da Costa. That should make for an outstanding opening day showdown.

April 6 – Louisville City FC vs. Indy Eleven

The first meeting of the Louisville-Indianapolis Proximity Association Football Contest – or LIPAFC for short – was in the 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. This meeting, however, will mark the 20th meeting in the USL Championship’s regular season and playoffs between the clubs in what remains one of the strongest rivalries in the USL Championship’s history.

Last season, LouCity regained the rivalry trophy with a season sweep after it had been in possession of Indy for two consecutive seasons. Those victories also ended up the difference in the final Eastern Conference standings between the sides, with LouCity two points ahead of the Boys in Blue in the final reckoning. With changes afoot for Indy this offseason following the departure of Head Coach Mark Lowry, this matchup will be a chance for the new manager to make a big first impression in a fascinating early-season contest.

April 27 – Birmingham Legion FC vs. Memphis 901 FC

Memphis 901 FC’s move to the Western Conference for the 2024 season means we’ll only see one edition of the Southern Harm rivalry in the regular season. That should just raise the stakes for both teams, and two fan bases whose rivalry predates the arrival of both Legion FC and 901 FC’s arrival in the Championship in 2019.

Birmingham has historically held the upper hand in the series, with a 6-3-5 record in the Championship overall. Last year, Legion FC not only claimed the season series, but took a 3-0 victory against Memphis during its run to the Quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. 901 FC will be aiming to turn the tables here as it looks for its first win in the series since the 2021 campaign.

May 4 – Phoenix Rising FC vs. Sacramento Republic FC

Phoenix Rising FC’s comeback against Sacramento Republic FC in the Western Conference Final of the 2023 USL Championship Playoffs provided another remarkable chapter in a rivalry that now spans 10 seasons. As they meet for the 25th time across the regular season and playoffs, both Sacramento and Phoenix will be aiming to gain the edge in what feels like will be a battle for top spot in the Western Conference this season.

Rising FC holds a 9-7-8 edge in the rivalry as it stands, testament to how closely fought games between these sides have typically been throughout their respective histories. This game should prove no exception as familiar faces return – and new arrivals look to make their mark – in one of this season’s marquee matchups. 

June 1 – Hartford Athletic vs. Rhode Island FC

Every prospective rivalry must have a starting point. When Hartford Athletic welcomes 2024 expansion side Rhode Island FC to Trinity Health Stadium for the first meeting between the clubs, however, there will already be plenty of built-in storylines. You can start with Rhode Island’s roster build, which has seen Head Coach and General Manager Khano Smith bring aboard former Hartford players Conor McGlynn and Prince Saydee for the club’s inaugural roster. The reception both get from the home crowd will be worth keeping an eye on.

The Athletic, though, are in building mode as well. CEO Nick Sakiewicz and new Head Coach Brendan Burke have been busy overhauling a roster that finished at the bottom of the Eastern Conference last season. Burke has shown capable of delivering turnarounds in short order before – most notably in the USL Championship at Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC – and he’ll be eager for his new club to get the upper hand early on its new local rival.

June 15 – Sacramento Republic FC vs. Oakland Roots SC

There has tended to be a David vs. Goliath feeling to the rivalry between Oakland Roots SC and Sacramento Republic FC, and 2023 was the year in which Goliath finally took control. After winning just one of their first seven league meetings, Sacramento swept Oakland in their home-and-home series on the way to finishing on top of the Western Conference as Roots SC missed out on the postseason.

Roots SC has tended to find a way to make life difficult for Republic FC. With some new arrivals coming on board alongside familiar faces like leading goalscorer Johnny Rodriguez, the visitors will be aiming to make their mark here. They should have plenty of road backing as well in what’s become one of the best rivalries in the league over the past three seasons.  

June 22 – Phoenix Rising FC vs. Charleston Battery

The 2023 USL Championship Final provided us with one of the most compelling finales to a season in league history. For the first time we had a matchup between two sides that had failed to reach the playoffs in the prior campaign, and Phoenix Rising FC and the Charleston Battery then gave us the first game to go to extra time since 2015, and the first to go to a penalty shootout since the league’s inaugural season in 2011.

The rematch promises to provide another tremendous contest with both sides bringing back key players from their postseason runs while adding new pieces that could carry the sides higher up their respective standings. As the midway point of the season approaches, the Battery will be hoping to take a little revenge in the desert as two of the top young coaches in North America – and two good friends in Charleston’s Ben Pirmann and Phoenix’s Juan Guerra – match wits again. 

July 24 – Detroit City FC vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

From the moment Detroit City FC arrived in the USL Championship a season ago, there’s been a good level of animosity growing between Pittsburgh’s Steel Army and Detroit’s Northern Guard supporters groups. On the field, there hasn’t been too much that separated two sides that pride themselves on bringing quality tempered with a high level of work-rate.

After prior skirmishes in the regular season, however, Detroit City landed the biggest blow in the burgeoning rivalry so far in last year’s postseason when Academy product Dominic Gasso’s late strike proved the winner as No. 8 seed Le Rouge upset the Hounds, who had claimed the Players’ Shield for their first silverware in the Championship era with the best record in the league. This clash at Keyworth Stadium should offer a keenly fought battle between the Rust Belt squads, with new Le Rouge Head Coach Danny Dichio set to try and match wits with Pittsburgh’s legendary Bob Lilley.

July 27 – El Paso Locomotive FC vs. New Mexico United

Since its first edition, what’s become known as the Derby del Camino Real between El Paso Locomotive FC and New Mexico United has become arguably the most heated in the USL Championship. With Albuquerque, N.M. and El Paso, Texas separated by less than a four-hour drive, the stands have always been packed for these affairs – including last season’s clash at Southwest University Park in El Paso that saw Locomotive FC welcome a club-record crowd 8,411 fans.

The contests have been hard-fought as well with each side taking a 1-0 victory on the road last season. As Locomotive FC Head Coach Brian Clarhaut enters his second season, and New Mexico Head Coach Eric Quill begins his first full campaign, there’s the potential for more fireworks here as they conclude the season series while battling for position in the West.

August 3 – San Antonio FC vs. FC Tulsa

FC Tulsa makes its return to the Western Conference for the first time since the 2020 season with Head Coach Blair Gavin having set up a solid foundation in his first year as well as adding some important new faces to try and help the side find the next level in 2024. Among those are two-time USL League One Defender of the Year Arthur Rogers, and former Championship title winner Justin Portillo, both of whom bring a high level of quality to the squad.

Tulsa’s credentials as a postseason contender should get a serious test as it heads to visit San Antonio FC. Over the past three seasons, SAFC has been the hardest team to defeat on its home turf in the Championship, losing only five times in 56 home outings. Tulsa, however, recorded one of the most notable wins of the 2023 regular season when it defeated SAFC in Oklahoma last season as 16-year-old midfield talent Nathan Worth starred in a 2-1 victory. That result and the likely clash of playing styles the two teams will bring make this one to keep a close eye on.

August 17 – Louisville City FC vs. Charleston Battery

With nine consecutive appearances in the Eastern Conference Final, Louisville City FC has been the gold standard for arguably the entire USL Championship since the club’s launch in 2015. As it reaches its 10th anniversary season, however, it might have more challengers than ever before. Among them are the Charleston Battery, who produced the biggest year-on-year turnaround in league history under Head Coach Ben Pirmann a season ago and then defeated LouCity for the Eastern Conference crown in the playoffs.

The Battery have already started to reload with Pirmann’s former charges at Memphis 901 FC in defender Graham Smith and midfielder Aaron Molloy joining this offseason. So has Louisville with 2023 Championship Defender of the Year Arturo Ordóñez the club’s first major new arrival of the offseason. With just over two months to go in the regular season, this could easily be a battle for top spot in the East, and beyond that a great game to watch between two sides that want to entertain.

August 31 – Rhode Island FC vs. Birmingham Legion FC

From Birmingham Legion FC’s launch over four-plus seasons, Khano Smith served as first assistant coach to Tom Soehn as the club achieved consistent levels of success in the USL Championship. Last spring, however, Smith was hired away to become the first Head Coach in Rhode Island FC’s history, and here he’ll get to welcome his former boss and mentor to the northeast in what should be an important game for both clubs in the third quarter of the campaign.

Smith won’t be the only Legion FC alum in Rhode Island’s welcoming party. RIFC acquired forward JJ Williams via transfer this offseason after he recorded 12 goals and nine assists for Tampa Bay last season. The powerful No. 9 previously recorded 13 goals and six assists in 56 appearances for Birmingham in his career. How Williams matches up against former teammates Alex Crognale and Phanuel Kavita will be one of the storylines to watch here.  

September 25 – Orange County SC vs. Phoenix Rising FC

There is no active series in the USL Championship that has seen more meetings than that between Orange County SC and Phoenix Rising FC, and this late-season matchup could be a pivotal game in the Western Conference playoff race with a month to go in the regular season.

Phoenix holds a 14-9-9 record in the prior meetings between the sides, including its memorable extra time victory at Championship Soccer Stadium in the Western Conference Semifinals of its run to its first league title last season. As Rising FC returns to the same venue, Orange County will be hoping to turn the tables and should also be in position to bolster its own bid for top spot in the conference standings. 

October 12 – Louisville City FC vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies

This past campaign marked the first time in five years that Louisville City FC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies hadn’t squared off in the USL Championship Playoffs, and the first time in three years they hadn’t met for the Eastern Conference title. That’s how these two clubs have become the measuring sticks for others in their consistency not just in the regular season but the playoffs for the rest of their conference rivals.

Next season figures to be no different with the Rowdies bringing back a large portion of the rejuvenated squad that finished second in the East under new Head Coach Robbie Neilson before any new faces arrive at Al Lang Stadium. LouCity, meanwhile, has already snapped up the 2023 Championship Defender of the Year Arturo Ordóñez as well as re-signing leading scorer over the past two seasons Wilson Harris to a new two-year deal. With top spot potentially on the line, this is going to be must-see.

October 26 – Sacramento Republic FC vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC

The final day of the regular season has some juicy contests – see the interconference clash between Louisville City FC and Phoenix Rising FC, for one – but this matchup between Sacramento Republic FC and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC should have your close attention given how pivotal it could be to the final Western Conference standings.

Republic FC will be one of the favorites to top the standings once again in 2024. The side has already brought on board 2023 USL League One Player of the Year and Golden Boot Trevor Amann to supplement its returning talent from a season ago. But don’t overlook the Switchbacks, who remain one of the sharper operators in the free agent market and earned a top-five finish despite last offseason’s turnover in the squad. This game shouldn’t just be entertaining to watch, it could have higher stakes than you might initially think.

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