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9 Key Storylines to watch in the USL Championship’s second weekend

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 03/15/24, 12:00PM EDT


LouCity’s transformed core gets its first run-out in El Paso, while all eyes are on Rhode Island’s official debut

2023 USL Championship Defender of the Year Arturo Ordóñez could make his official debut for Louisville City FC against El Paso Locomotive FC on Saturday afternoon. | Photo courtesy Louisville City FC

After Wednesday night’s start of the second week of the 2024 USL Championship season, we’ve got an 11-game slate of games throughout Saturday that bring the six remaining teams to see action into the fold.

Among the notable matchups is an inaugural home opener for Rhode Island FC and a potential USL Championship Final preview when the Tampa Bay Rowdies host San Antonio FC at Al Lang Stadium. Here are nine things we’re paying close attention to over the course of the night, and some additional thoughts on what will be worth watching.


What began two years ago at Louisville City FC with the arrivals of players like Wilson Harris and Ray Serrano and the ascent of Carlos Moguel Jr. and Elijah Wynder as Academy graduates who began earning First Team minutes reaches its potential for a full formed transformation this season as the club kicks off its new season on the road at El Paso Locomotive FC.

Only one player from LouCity’s inaugural season now remains in Niall McCabe, while only three players on the roster – McCabe, Sean Totsch and Brian Ownby – were part of the side that won the club’s last USL Championship title in 2018. With another collection of new arrivals likely to make their debuts for the club – including 2023 Championship All-League First Team selections Arturo Ordóñez and Taylor Davila – it should be one of the more intriguing opening days LouCity has experienced as it enters its next chapter under Head Coach Danny Cruz.


With a three-game homestand to open the season, including the first two against sides that didn’t reach the postseason a year ago, El Paso Locomotive FC would have hoped to get out to a strong start to the campaign. Instead, the side has taken one point from two games after conceding late against Monterey Bay F.C. in a 1-1 draw on Wednesday night, and its arguable that the offseason signing of Jahmali Waite has prevented things looking worse so far.

According to Opta, El Paso has allowed 3.05 Expected Goals across its openings two games with Jamaican international Waite having made some impressive stops against both Hartford Athletic and Monterey Bay. USL Tactics’ John Morrissey took a look at the problems that have caused this in detail, but with Louisville City FC coming into Southwest University Park there’s likely a big performance needed by the hosts to find a positive coming out of its opening stint at home.


It’s been a little over a year since Khano Smith was appointed as the first Head Coach in Rhode Island FC’s history, and just over four months since Spanish goalkeeper Koke Vegas was introduced as the club’s first signing. On Saturday afternoon, we’ll get to see how this has all come together as RIFC plays before a sellout crowd in its debut at Beirne Stadium against a New Mexico United side that looked bright in its opening game.

There’s a lot of reason for optimism ahead of RIFC’s inaugural campaign. It’s leadership group has shown it understands what it takes to build a successful club – see Chairman Brett Johnson’s success not only as part of Phoenix Rising FC, but also across the Atlantic Ocean with current EFL Championship promotion candidate Ipswich Town FC – and it has hired a strong group of executives and a squad that on paper looks to have quality throughout its starting lineup. It’s Game 1, and there’s no better time to lay out what this side has the potential to be. 


No side put up a higher Expected Goals mark (1.54xg) without finding the net than Phoenix Rising FC as the defending Championship title holders were held at bay by a remarkable eight-save shutout by Birmingham Legion FC in their home opener. That aside, it was an impressive display by Phoenix, and showed off how aggressive the side is aiming to be with its wide players overall this season.

Set up in a 3-5-2, wingbacks Edgardo Rito and Gabriel Torres each recorded a pair of shots – only center forward Dariuz Formella accounted for more with three shots inside the penalty area – as the interplay in the channels released them into shooting opportunities. How that plays against the back four Monterey Bay rolled out in its opening game will be interesting to watch, but the visitors should be ready to attack at Cardinale Stadium as they aim for a first win of the campaign.


San Antonio FC will face a test of its new possession-driven strategy as it heads to face the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday night. | Photo courtesy Darren Abate / San Antonio FC

The debut of new Tampa Bay Rowdies goalkeeper Jordan Farr against former club San Antonio FC on Saturday night at Al Lang Stadium is the obvious storyline going into the opening game of CBS Sports Golazo Network’s doubleheader, but there’s also a fascinating subplot brought on by the new playing style San Antonio unveiled in its opening game against Loudoun United FC.

San Antonio’s possession-oriented structure showed its potential, even if a late equalizer spoiled the party at Toyota Field last weekend, but how that dedication to building out of the back fares against a Tampa Bay side that has shown a desire to press hard when given the opportunity will be a big test. One potential matchup to watch? San Antonio FC’s Carter Manley on the right side of the back three for the visitors against Tampa Bay newcomer Damian Rivera, who has had a bright preseason running the left channel behind Cal Jennings at center forward.


There might not have been a more surprising result in Week 1 than Miami FC’s newly-constituted roster taking a 2-0 victory against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, a result that had its share of good fortune but on the whole showed a new energy around the club. Those good vibes are likely to get an even bigger test this weekend as Sacramento Republic FC arrives looking for its first win of the season and likely still smarting a little from last week’s late concession against Orange County SC.

For Sacramento, facing clubs based in the Eastern time zone has been one of the easier challenges in its history. Republic FC boasts a 19-3-7 record against clubs along the East coast of the country and went an undefeated 6-0-6 against Eastern Conference opposition a season ago, including a 1-0 win against Miami. With Russell Cicerone likely returning to the lineup to play alongside Trevor Amann, the hosts will likely need to raise their level to come away with a result.


It’s unlikely its fans need a reminder, but Detroit City FC scored the fewest goals of any team in the USL Championship last season ago, earning a postseason berth – and subsequent Eastern Conference Quarterfinal upset of Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC – behind a sturdy defensive unit. Le Rouge have added new signings to try and rectify that this offseason, and one of them will make a return to a happier hunting ground than he found a season ago when DCFC heads to face Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC on Saturday.

Elvis Amoh put in a strong season for the Switchbacks in 2022, bagging 13 goals and helping the side reach the postseason. His time at Hartford Athletic didn’t go as planned as he seemingly lost confidence while scoring only five goals on an Expected Goals mark of 9.07xG as his shot conversion rate plummeted to 9.1 percent. Finding a return to form for Detroit alongside potential playmaker Ali Coote would be a major boost, and with a visit to Weidner Field first on the agenda for this season the familiar surroundings could be helpful as well.


The two goals for Las Vegas Lights FC this season are to put a side that can compete for postseason action for the first time on the field, and to win back the fans that provided a passionate backdrop for the club’s games in its early years. After falling on the road in their opening game of the season last weekend against Memphis 901 FC, getting a result on home turf would be a good means to start as it faces an FC Tulsa side that has undergone its own changes this offseason.

Based off its final preseason outing, Tulsa could have as many as six new starters in its lineup on Saturday as Head Coach Mario Sanchez leads the side for the first time. The threat posed by returning forward Phillip Goodrum is one Las Vegas will have to watch closely, and the hope will be Charlie Adams is available in what could be a pivotal midfield matchup with Justin Portillo. It might not be the highest-profile game of the weekend, but it could provide plenty of entertainment.


Oakland Roots SC Head Coach Noah Delgado made one of the sharpest adjustments in Week 1 as his side opened the campaign with a 2-1 victory against Indy Eleven as his halftime introduction of Daniel Gomez addressed the imbalance in midfield Indy had been able to take advantage of and turn the game in Roots’ favor.

Facing another impressive midfield group in the Charleston Battery led by Aaron Molloy this Saturday at Pioneer Stadium it will be interesting to see if Delgado keeps the same shape as his side ended the game in and try keep Molloy and Emilio Ycaza from finding pockets where they can influence the game from central positions on Saturday night. Ycaza in particular felt like he had a quiet night against North Carolina FC in Charleston’s opener, and finding a way close those pathways could be essential if Oakland is to make it two wins from two to start the campaign.

Here are some other thoughts on what we might see this weekend…

- Memphis 901 FC had time and space to operate in the attacking half against Las Vegas Lights FC, which fueled their first season-opening victory in club history. Expect a sterner test to come from Indy Eleven, which will want to rebound from its setback in Oakland.

- Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC lacked jump in its first game of the season in New Mexico. Eyes should be on Danny Griffin to set the tempo as one of the side’s more influential players.

- North Carolina FC played within itself to limit Charleston’s chances on opening weekend. Hopefully we’ll see something a little bit more expansive this weekend as the side heads to Loudoun United FC.

- Massachusetts native Harry Swartz has become a fixture in New Mexico United’s lineup over the last two seasons. He should be a player to watch in a return to New England at Rhode Island FC.

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