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10 Key Storylines from the fourth weekend in the USL Championship

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 04/01/24, 9:55AM EDT


Detroit’s Maxi Rodriguez is benefiting from new arrivals; New Mexico, Tampa Bay pick up important victories

Detroit City FC's Maxi Rodriguez has two goals and two assists in three games to start the new season in leading Le Rouge to a perfect start. | Photo courtesy Trevor Ruszkowski / Indy Eleven

For the first time this season in the USL Championship, every game across the weekend had a decisive outcome, which left two teams with perfect records and kept five more undefeated while helping shape the standings in both the Eastern and Western Conference at the end of the first month of the campaign.

Here are 10 key storylines we took away from the action, and some additional thoughts on what we saw.


The personnel changes at Detroit City FC have already made a visible impact to the side this season, but the player it might have impacted most in the squad is longtime midfielder Maxi Rodriguez, who starred in the side’s 2-1 victory against Indy Eleven on Saturday night. The 28-year-old provided the assist on Ali Coote’s first goal for the club to level the game midway through the second half and then bagged the late game-winner, being in the right place at the right time to tap home from Yazeed Matthew’s knock-down header.

“Listen, Maxi is a big game-changer in this league, and we’re delighted to have him, and I’m delighted to work with him,” said DCFC Head Coach Danny Dichio. “You can see the maximum effort that he puts in and it transcends to the rest of the group as well. The boys love him, the staff love him because he comes to work every day with a smile on his face, willing to work, willing to be coached, and those types of players are a joy to work with.”

The combination of the arrival of James Murphy to play in one of two holding midfield positions and Detroit’s higher pressing style of defensive structure has put Rodriguez in more positions to be dangerous and show his qualities around the penalty area. Alongside his two goals and two assists, he’s already taken 11 touches inside the opposing penalty area this season – a higher rate per 90 minutes than over the past two seasons. In leading Detroit’s second comeback victory this season after conceding first, his importance was on full display.


Seven days after a performance that lacked focus and defensive precision, potentially due to a reported flu bug that has hit the side, New Mexico United flipped the script in taking a 1-0 victory against Phoenix Rising FC that showed what United could offer at its best this campaign. Dayonn Harris’ first goal for the club proved the difference in the game, but the manner in which New Mexico came out from the off to set the tone in a game in which it knew it would have less possession was exactly what was required and could have produced a wider final margin of victory.

“I’m excited for the guys in the locker room and for the fans watching tonight — and the ones who showed up here,” United coach Eric Quill told the Albuquerque Journal. “I'm happy we were able to win in a hostile environment like this. That was New Mexico United soccer.”

New Mexico’s defense bent but didn’t break against Rising’s pressure. While Phoenix entered the final third 51 times, it only recorded eight touches and two shots inside the New Mexico penalty area as center backs Talen Maples and Anthony Herbert combined for 13 clearances and full backs Chris Gloster and Arturo Astorga recorded three interceptions apiece. New Mexico should be looking to put together a similar display next weekend against its other major rival El Paso Locomotive FC, and then carry that level forward.


After a slack opening 25 minutes against Rhode Island FC on Saturday night, the Tampa Bay Rowdies were looking for something that could help the side find its rhythm and poise in front of its home fans. The player that arguably delivered as well as any was center forward Manuel Arteaga, whose physicality and work-rate in leading Tampa Bay’s defensive press set the tone for a 4-1 comeback victory and the club’s first three points of the season.

“I think that Manu leads the line really well for us,” said Rowdies Head Coach Robbie Neilson.
“He was one of the key players that we wanted to bring in over the close season because we needed that physical presence. We lost JJ [Williams] who went up to Rhode Island, actually, and we had Cal up there, who was a top goalscorer, but Cal needs a little bit of assistance with the physicality. Manu brings that and he brings a great energy, so I’m delighted that he managed to get the goal. He’s different from everyone else that we’ve got, and he really leads that press.”

Arteaga only won 4 of 11 duels, but his alertness and willingness to put pressure on Rhode Island’s back line set the tone for the rest of the group. After finding the net himself to level the game 10 minutes into the second half, the Rowdies’ pressure eventually told with two goals that came from defensive misplays as they pulled away for victory.


For San Antonio FC on Saturday night, there was the spectacular scissor-kick finish by Carter Manley, and the at this point almost inevitable late goal – this time by Kevon Lambert, SAFC’s league-high fourth goals in the final 15 minutes of the second half already this season – that lifted the side to a 2-1 victory against Monterey Bay F.C. before a crowd of 7,546 fans at Toyota Field.

Between the goals early and late, however, there was a hard-fought battle that showed why San Antonio has been at the top of the Western Conference consistently over the past few seasons, and why Monterey Bay is in a position to where it can challenge more consistently this season.

“Overall tonight, in particular – we brought it up again at halftime – that we have to continue to display our mentality and what we're about as a team,” said SAFC Head Coach Alen Marcina. “Stay the aggressors through the course of the game and continue with the intensity in our actions and continue to be the aggressors and play aggressive with [and] without the ball. Guys demonstrated that over the course of 90-plus minutes, so incredibly proud of them. Well-earned, well-deserved three points against the very good Monterey [Bay] team.”

After its undefeated start to the season, this was a litmus test for Monterey Bay’s credentials. It came away without the result it was looking for but asserted itself against one of the league’s best sides in one of the most difficult places to visit. That’s a silver lining it can carry forward with confidence.


In terms of its attacking performance, North Carolina FC’s return to the USL Championship on the opening weekend of the season was surprisingly timid as they seemingly sought more to contain the Charleston Battery than play the sort of soccer that led to winning the League One title.

Part of that also could have been the new pieces coming together after a plethora of new arrivals this offseason, and the progression between then and Friday night’s first win of the season against Hartford Athletic marked the difference and growth the side has seen in three weeks. NCFC’s 2-1 victory saw the side match the 16 shots it produced against the Tampa Bay Rowdies in Week 3 but created better scoring chances, which alongside a season-best four shots on target set up the win. There was danger from Hartford as it tried to rally late, but NCFC saw out an important result for the side’s confidence.

“We really wanted to make a statement tonight, if I can say that, because we have been training well,” said NCFC midfielder Louis Perez, who opened the scoring from the penalty spot after Oalex Anderson was brought down in the box. “We’ve been getting better and better and finding each other. Obviously, there are some new pieces while I was here with Oalex last year, but it's coming together. We're not there yet. I think we have a lot more but, yeah, we are finding the chemistry.”


Louisville City FC’s early aggressiveness this season has been a throwback to past successes, and it came to bear in a blowout 5-0 victory against Birmingham Legion FC in which the side set the tempo early. In the opening 15 minutes of Saturday’s game, almost 40 percent of the action occurred in Legion’s defensive third, and was capped by Jake Morris’ close-range finish in the 13th minute that set up the first five-goal performance for the side since two seasons ago.

LouCity never looked in serious trouble of losing its perfect start to the season after Wilson Harris bagged his first goal of the game with a shifty move inside the penalty area to capitalize on Ray Serrano’s low cross, and in the second half the hosts continued to pull Birmingham’s already struggling defense apart. Harris’ second of the game – giving him four goals in three outings to lead the league so far – was followed by finishes by Taylor Davila and Serrano that highlighted how well Louisville’s returning pieces are meshing with the new arrivals so far.

“We have a group that wants to get better and a group that’s together,” said Harris. “That’s the most important thing. We’re pushing each other in training – Wednesdays, when we scrimmage – and I think we just make each other better.”


There have been times already this season when Sacramento Republic FC’s attacking qualities have been on display, whether they’ve resulted in goals or near-misses. There wasn’t nearly as much of that on Saturday night against Memphis 901 FC – and credit to the visitors to Heart Health Park for that – but in the end Sacramento still found a way to get across the line thanks to Jonathan Ricketts’ 87th-minute winner.

“It’s not going to be easy this year – teams are going to come in here and make it difficult for us,” said Sacramento Head Coach Mark Briggs. “So, you know, we’ve got to find other avenues to attack, other ways to score goals and tonight, we found the back of the net on a set piece to get the three points for us.”

There will certainly be performances this season that see Sacramento hit higher gears in attack, but keeping pace with the rest of the pack at the top of the Western Conference is still important at this stage of the season.


The Charleston Battery have been putting in work on the road so far this season with four of their first five games of the campaign away from Patriots Point, but the persistence with which they’ve had to dig out results so far has been evident of how challenging the Championship campaign could be across the board this season. The defending Eastern Conference title holders rallied for a 2-1 win against Miami FC as MD Myers scored his first goal for the club in the final 10 minutes, an eventual reward for the pressure the visitors built after going behind early.

“The biggest takeaway from the three road matches is that we've got 14 more of these away games, 30 more total, where teams will fight and claw and do everything they can to negate our movements, to take away our space,” said Battery Head Coach Ben Pirmann. “They will try to do whatever they can to get results, whether that's in the counterattack, drawing fouls, using energy and momentum from being at home. We know in seven days we'll have to do the same thing in Rhode Island.”

At the end of the first month of the season, the Battery have among the best underlying numbers in the Championship with an Expected Goals mark of 6.26xG, good for second in the league, and an Expected Goals Against mark of 2.16xGA. Safe to say, this side is poised to be in contention for the long haul.


It’s unlikely there’s a cliché coaches like more than “goals change games.” In Las Vegas Lights FC’s 3-0 victory against Oakland Roots SC on Saturday night it was a perfect illustration of why it’s a go-to. The Lights hadn’t got much going in the attacking end in the first half at Pioneer Stadium, recording only two shots overall, but 45 seconds into the second half Coleman Gannon’s deflected shot from the top of the penalty area found the net and the game’s momentum shifted.

Four minutes later, Gaoussou Samake hammered home a second off a sharp through-ball by Valentin Noël and the visitors had taken control on the way to a second consecutive victory. It wasn’t the cleanest performance overall – in-between the two goals, the Lights were almost caught out playing out of the back before goalkeeper Raiko Arozarena recovered to make an important save on Oakland’s Travone Reid – but Las Vegas in the main is becoming more difficult to play against, which is typically a foundation for success.

“We challenged them to take another step forward after the Memphis and Tulsa games to really try and control space and think about how we can be compact and be more aggressive in the right moments so we can win duels,” said Lights Head Coach Dennis Sanchez. “When you play against a direct team like Oakland tonight, I thought we did a really good job of controlling space, winning second balls and when we’re around our own goal, putting our bodies on the line to protect and deny many goalscoring opportunities.”


Given the injuries Orange County SC has had to weather on its back line early in the 2023 season, the fact the side is not only still undefeated but sitting in a tie for first place in the Western Conference has been a testament to the adaptability the side has shown. On Saturday night in a 1-0 victory against FC Tulsa, that was on display again as full back Charlie Ascensio had to leave the game at halftime and central midfielder Anish Chattha took his place at left back as the hosts managed to see out a victory.

“I’m happy with a win. We have had to make a lot of adaptations these past few weeks, with injuries and players being sick, and Ashish moving to left back,” said OCSC Head Coach Morten Karlsen. “There are a lot of different things that we have had to adjust and manage. But that adversity also demands a good mindset of the players and I think they've had that, so then it's about getting the job done. And we did that today.”

OCSC was aided slightly in its pursuit by the absence of Phillip Goodrum from Tulsa’s lineup as the standout forward was withdrawn from the lineup following pregame warmups by the visitors. At the same time, this is a good platform the hosts can build on as the side continues to build its attacking chemistry.

And now some additional thoughts on the weekend’s action…

- Indy Eleven is the lone side yet to have scored in the second half this season. That’s going to make a good start against Louisville City FC on Saturday imperative.

- Detroit City FC has earned two victories after conceding first so far this campaign. That’s earned the side more points from losing positions than it did in the entire 2023 regular season (4), a mark that ranked last in the league.

- Miami FC couldn’t hold on against the Charleston Battery, but its persistence in defense continues to be impressive and Rocco Genzano’s pass to set up Allen Gavilanes’ early goal was the best of the weekend.

- Phoenix Rising FC has gone from two performances in which it has looked great in attack to two performances in which it hasn’t looked convincing. That’s going to have to change, fast.

- Hartford Athletic came the width of a post from equalizing against North Carolina FC on Friday night. A first loss is tough, but this side looks equipped to rebound.

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