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10 Storylines to follow in the fourth weekend of the USL Championship season

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 03/28/24, 4:22PM EDT


Monterey Bay gets a major litmus test in San Antonio, Indy, Detroit square off in an enticing clash on CBS Sports Golazo Network

This weekend in the USL Championship season brings our first Friday night action of the campaign as North Carolina FC and Hartford Athletic kick us off before a nine-game slate on Saturday that features a doubleheader on CBS Sports Golazo Network and some intriguing matchups elsewhere.

Here are 10 storylines we’re following going into the action, and here’s where you can tune in to catch it all.


There’s been something different about Monterey Bay F.C. this season. The third-year club has put together more cohesive performances around the midfield play of veteran Rafael Baca and have been good value for the five points they’ve picked up over three games to start the season.

If there’s a test of anyone’s pedigree as a contender, though, away at San Antonio FC is one of the fixtures where you find out who you are. San Antonio is closing in on two calendar years during which it has lost only once in the USL Championship – a 1-0 shocker to Miami FC last season – and has made its characteristic strong start to the campaign.

Monterey Bay has only taken one point from four prior meetings with San Antonio in a scoreless draw last August that needed a seven-save shutout by Carlos Herrera. If MBFC’s first win in the series comes on Saturday night (8:30 p.m. ET | ESPN+), it would make a big statement.


Indy Eleven and Detroit City FC has all the makings of becoming a great rivalry in the next few years, but the first meeting between the clubs this season at Michael A. Carroll Stadium on Saturday night (7 p.m. ET | CBS Sports Golazo Network) might be the most enticing on-field prospect we’ve seen since Le Rouge joined the league two years ago.

On one you have an Indy team that has taken four points from its first three games, but that has looked on the upswing in terms of its new personnel meshing with established starters – Douglas Martinez Jr.’s return from international duty with Honduras should add to the threat the hosts to stretch Detroit’s back line. On the other, DCFC has shown a vastly improved attack through consecutive victories to start the season with Elvis Amoh, Maxi Rodriguez and Ali Coote combining well, one that should test Indy’s defensive unit.

It’s early, but the result here could have repercussions well down the line for two sides that could be vying for a top-four finish in the end and could mark the start of this series becoming something more serious.


A season ago, it wasn’t until the sixth game of the season that Birmingham Legion FC faced its 19th shot on target, a total the side’s defense currently sits at through two games. Last Saturday the side allowed double-digit shots on target for the first time since it was dismantled 7-0 by Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2019 USL Championship Playoffs and was lucky to only suffer a 1-0 defeat against Hartford Athletic.

The challenge for Birmingham so far has been two-fold. Standout young midfielder Matt Corcoran has been sidelined with a torn labrum – the club announced he underwent successful surgery on Thursday – and while Kobe Hernandez-Foster has started both games in his absence alongside Enzo Martinez, the duo has seemed to lack cohesion defensively. Behind that, the defensive back three has struggled to close the seams inside the edge of the penalty area against both Hartford and Phoenix Rising FC, resulting in chances goalkeeper Matt VanOekel has been mostly mighty in denying so far.

There might be no respite in that regard as Birmingham heads to face Louisville City FC (4 p.m. ET | ESPN+), which will have motivation of its own after Legion swept the season series between the sides last year. Getting the spacing right to keep LouCity’s Ray Serrano and Wilson Harris from replicating their bright performances last week is going to be essential for the visitors.


New Mexico United claimed victory the last time it visited Phoenix Rising FC in 2023 and could use a similar performance and result on Saturday night. | Photo courtesy JJ Digos / Phoenix Rising FC

There are some games that whatever the stakes, it’s always a good idea to tune in. Clashes between Phoenix Rising FC and New Mexico United fall in that category. As our friend Devon Kerr said on USL All Access this week, “if they were in different conferences, on different planets, in different universes, I would still watch it. There is an emotion tied to that match that even if every single player that has played in one of those before has been removed, it’s going to be a slaughter.”

While Phoenix is coming off its first win of the season – achieved in solid fashion against Oakland Roots SC – this might be just the game New Mexico needs to get back on track. United looked a step slow against the Charleston Battery in suffering a 4-0 defeat last Saturday night – it recorded only nine touches in the Battery penalty area compared to 38 for the hosts at Patriots Point – and needs to regain the tempo it showed against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC to start the season.

With a large contingent of traveling fans expected to be on hand, as when New Mexico took a 2-1 win in their most recent trip to Phoenix last October, this should be a must-watch to close out Saturday night (10:30 p.m. ET | ESPN+).


The lone prior time Hartford Athletic took three consecutive victories to start a season coincided with the lone prior time the side reached the USL Championship Playoffs in the abbreviated 2020 campaign. Their opponents on that run? The New York Red Bulls II, Loudoun United FC and the Philadelphia Union II, all of which were at that point in fully-fledged “Play the Youth” moments.

If Hartford can take victory on Friday night (7 p.m. ET | ESPN+ | SiriusXM FC) to match that start, however, it will have done so against two teams that went to the 2023 USL Championship Playoffs (El Paso Locomotive FC and Birmingham Legion FC) and upcoming opponent North Carolina FC, which after winning the 2023 League One title looked on paper to have bolstered its roster impressively for its return to the Championship.

After the dominant attacking display without a consistent end product Hartford put up against Birmingham last Saturday – its 4.07 Expected Goals mark was the second-highest in a game in club history – the Athletic will be looking for a sharper display in the final third. That could lead to a highly entertaining contest against an NCFC side that would be boosted if it claims its first win of the season.


Miami FC’s struggles a season ago led to the breakup of last year’s squad this offseason, but one player who couldn’t really be faulted for 2023’s playoff absence was right back Mark Segbers. The veteran was among Miami’s most consistent performers over the season before being transferred to the Charleston Battery in September and helping his current club win the Eastern Conference title.

Segbers will return to South Florida for the first time since that move on Saturday night (7 p.m. ET | ESPN+) as part of a Charleston team that is both looking to build on its first win of the season – an emphatic 4-0 result against New Mexico United last Saturday – and end a seven-game winless streak against Miami dating to 2021 that continued in one of his first games for the Battery last year, a 2-1 defeat at Patriots Point that served as the last official loss for Charleston in the Championship. His performance on the right side in concert with Nick Markanich – who has scored in the past two games – could put the visitors on the front foot against one of the campaign’s surprise packages so far.


The Tampa Bay Rowdies return home looking for their first win of the season under new Head Coach Robbie Neilson against league newcomer Rhode Island FC. | Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies

Last weekend, the spotlight was firmly on the Charleston Battery, San Antonio FC and Phoenix Rising FC to break into the win column for the first time this season. You can make the same case for the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Rhode Island FC this Saturday night when the teams clash at Al Lang Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET | ESPN+) after each putting in good performances over their first two outings of the season but taking home only two points for their troubles.

Picking up victory might be more important for the Rowdies. Back in front of their home fans, the side put together a great start to its opening game against San Antonio FC two weeks ago only to fail to close out all three points. With Louisville City FC in particular having picked up maximum points to start the season, Tampa Bay won’t want to let one of its bigger rivals in the East get too far ahead of it in the standings. To do that, however, it will have to try and rein in Albert Diwka, who got off the mark last weekend with his first two goals for RIFC and enters having scored in his last two encounters with the Rowdies while with Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC.


Memphis 901 FC headed to Sacramento Republic FC last season as a member of the Eastern Conference in the USL Championship and narrowly missed out on claiming all three points after Emerson Hyndman’s goal early in the second half was cancelled out late by Sacramento’s Russell Cicerone to leave the sides all square in a 1-1 draw.

901 FC makes its first trip to Republic FC as a member of the Western Conference on Saturday (10 p.m. ET | CBS Sports Golazo Network) for its first road trip of the season, Hyndman should be in the spotlight again. The former United States international departed at halftime of Memphis’ defeat to Indy Eleven in its most recent outing, but the potential influence he can provide is going to be big against a Republic FC group that has started well and boasts a deep array of options.


The only side to have appeared just once so far this season, FC Tulsa has had the most drawn out opening to the campaign. The side could match the sides two have taken two wins from two as it heads to face Orange County SC on Saturday night (10 p.m. ET | ESPN+) with the deployment of the club’s leading goal-scorer a season ago Phillip Goodrum something to watch closely.

Conventionally a center forward previously in his USL Championship career – to the tune of 40 regular season goals in 97 appearances – the 26-year-old set up as a second striker underneath Stefan Stojanovic in Tulsa’s 3-1 win against Las Vegas Lights FC on March 16. In the process, Goodrum was active in play more frequently across the three attacking channels, and still found time to deliver his opening goal of the season with a thunderbolt from the top of the penalty area.

Tulsa’s remarkable offseason gave way to an intriguing opening game. If his form sustains, Goodrum could be at the heart of more success to come.


Trinidad and Tobago international Neveal Hackshaw is among the potential returnees for Oakland Roots SC on Saturday night when it hosts Las Vegas Lights FC. | Photo courtesy Oakland Roots SC

Oakland Roots SC’s lineup was almost put together with duct-tape and superglue last week. How stretched was the side? Center back Camden Riley filled in as a central midfielder against Phoenix Rising FC and was arguably among the better performers in the side’s 1-0 defeat.

Roots should be closer to their regular selves this week, though, with the anticipated return of midfielders Neveal Hackshaw (Trinidad and Tobago) and Irakoze Donasiyano (Burundi) and defender Bryan Tamacas (El Salvador) from international duty. All three had important roles to play in Oakland’s season-opening victory against Indy Eleven with Tamacas providing the winner. That should help the side’s structure on Saturday night at Pioneer Stadium (10 p.m. ET | ESPN+) against a Las Vegas Lights FC side that’s starting to come into its own.

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