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10 Key Storylines we took away from the USL Championship this weekend

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 04/08/24, 1:06PM EDT


Wilson Harris is a man on fire, New Mexico shows its composure, Las Vegas’ midfield has found its defensive rhythm

Louisville City FC's Wilson Harris has seven goals in four games and his overall game has found another level to lead the side to a perfect start to the season. | Photo courtesy Club Eleven / United Soccer League

From a barn-burner of a Friday night opener to a five-star show on CBS on Saturday afternoon to historic performances for Las Vegas Lights FC and Detroit City FC figuring out a way to continue its perfect start to the season, the first 12-game weekend in the USL Championship this season gave us plenty to chew on.

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


Wilson Harris has had some big runs of form in the USL Championship since his breakout season in 2019. What he’s done over the first four games of the 2024 season – which continued with his first professional hat trick in LouCity’s thrilling 5-3 victory against Indy Eleven in the first USL Championship game to air on network television this Saturday on CBS – has taken things to a whole other level.

“This is a kid that came in this offseason with a point to prove,” said LouCity Head Coach Danny Cruz of Harris. “His preseason was phenomenal. He's a part of our leadership group for a reason because he showed me the growth that he has had in the offseason and really what he's building towards.”

Harris’ finishing was superb, but there was a relentlessness to his performance in setting and resetting to be ready to take and create chances that underlined the growth he’s shown. His run of seven goals in four games and a strike rate of a goal every 46.7 minutes can’t last the whole season – at least, we don’t think it can – but there’s the potential for the 24-year-old to do something special as part of this group.

“You take it all in at once,” Harris said of his afternoon. “You’re not in your head so much. You’re just playing free. It’s super loud, and you can’t really think. All the hard work you put in during the week hopefully shows, and it did today.”


The biggest test of a team’s personality comes under adversity. In their reaction to falling behind late to rival El Paso Locomotive FC on Saturday night at Isotopes Park, New Mexico United’s players showed they have what it takes to push into the Western Conference’s contenders at the end of the season.

“When we went [down] 2-1, there was a general belief,” said midfielder Marco Micaletto. “We looked around, I looked around at the boys, and everybody knew we were going to get at least one more chance. And we were going to put it away, because that's what good teams do, and we’re a good team.”

The composure New Mexico showed to execute less than two minutes after former player Amando Moreno had put El Paso ahead from the penalty spot was remarkable, with Micaletto’s angled cross picking out Jacobo Reyes as he drifted in unmarked from the left side to head home. After Reyes’ contribution off the bench, another substitute in Daniel Bruce then made his mark, receiving a pass by Nicky Hernandez and then providing a perfect return that allowed the midfielder to fire home a winner in one of the most dramatic editions of the Derby del Camino Real we’ve seen.

The introduction of both Reyes and Bruce – brought on as a last roll of the dice by Head Coach Eric Quill moments after Moreno’s penalty kick – worked exactly as intended and grabbed a vital three points out of the fire.

“We talk about all the time your subs don’t come and keep the game the same or let it down go,” said Quill. “[They] come raise the level of the game. And they did that. And that’s all I can ask for. So, I’m just proud they were rewarded for their mentality coming in. That’s what happens when you come up with a good attitude and high ambition. You get rewarded for that.”


Detroit City FC got out to an ideal start in its pursuit of a fourth consecutive win to start the season. Rhys Williams’ clever run to cut out North Carolina FC defender Lamar Batista and fortunate deflection off defender Nelson Flores Blanco to put the side ahead at Keyworth Stadium was the platform for the side to build on.

From there, though, Le Rouge were unable to kick on and came the width of a goalpost away from letting the lead slip when NCFC’s Rodrigo Da Costa hit the post in the second half. The hosts held on for a 1-0 win – and there’s always something to be said for taking three points when you’re not at your best – but the combination of the performance and both Williams and Elvis Amoh having to depart due to injury made this a tough day at the office overall for Head Coach Danny Dichio’s side.

“I thought it was not us at all,” Dichio said. “I have to give credit to the group, because they found a way to hang on. … The standards that we set for each other internally … we all agreed that wasn’t us today.”

The status of Amoh will be one to watch closely, with the Ghanaian having been integral to the strong start the side has made this season. The upcoming bye week might have come at just the right time for DCFC to reset.


The big deficiency in Las Vegas Lights FC’s first two performances of the season was its lack of structure in the center of midfield, which allowed Memphis 901 FC and FC Tulsa to take advantage of the space available.

Since the introduction of the midfield trio of J.C. Ngando, Coleman Gannon and Valentin Noël against El Paso Locomotive FC, however, the balance and workrate has been right, and it’s made all the difference. Las Vegas’ 1-0 victory on Saturday night against previously undefeated San Antonio FC was a statement win for the side.

“The collectiveness has been fantastic,” said Lights Head Coach Dennis Sanchez. “It was a theme earlier in the season and it continues to be the case that we really want to control space between our lines, press in the right moments, and you saw tonight that San Antonio does a really good job of having numbers around the ball, but still has the ability to be vertical at the right times. Overall, our back line was very good tonight, the way that they handled duels and overloads.”

Las Vegas’ current run has made club history as the side has recorded three consecutive shutouts for the first time. There are other elements at play here too, such as the arrival of Fabien Garcia in the back line alongside Emrah Klimenta and sterling goalkeeping on Saturday from Raiko Arozarena, but the Lights are now a more difficult side to play. That could change everything moving forward.


The challenge for Birmingham Legion FC on its three-game road trip to start the season had been finding the right defensive structure and personnel to make it work. After being shellacked against Louisville City FC in Week 4, the pieces seemed to fit together far better on Sunday evening against Loudoun United FC and eventually resulted in a confidence-building 3-1 victory in the club’s home opener at Protective Stadium.

“We were at a low, and we needed something to pick us back up,” said Legion Head Coach Tommy Soehn. “And this early in the season, we're still figuring out who we are. And I think we grew through the game. I thought we were timid early, and then once we figured out what it was all about, we did a really good job of making it hard for them.”

What seemed key was the introduction of Jake Rufe as the right-sided wingback opposite Moses Mensah, which offered better defensive protection for what’s become a regular back three of Alex Crognale, Phanuel Kavita and AJ Paterson. Rufe won 8 of 9 duels, 2 of 3 tackles and won possession a team-high six times. That provided a foundation for Legion’s speed to make things happen as the side gained confidence, with Tyler Pasher delivering another highlight-reel finish as the game-winner.

This should be a turning point for Legion’s season and get them back among the contenders in the Eastern Conference.


The changes made by Hartford Athletic to its squad this offseason was designed to create a side built for speed. So far, it’s having the desired effect, as Saturday’s 3-2 victory in blustery conditions at Trinity Health Stadium showed.

Deshane Beckford’s opening goal – after he had won a penalty kick, only for Romario Williams’ tame effort to be saved by Miami goalkeeper Daniel Gagliardi – showed exactly why opponents can’t afford to be too assertive in how many players it sends forward on set pieces against Hartford. The Jamaican’s speed – combined with Anderson Asiedu’s acceleration and awareness – left Gagliardi in no-man’s land 40 yards from his net as he tried to snuff out the counterattack, and game Beckford an open net to finish into to set Hartford on its way to a third win out of four to start the season.

“I think we can live with anyone in transition,” said Hartford Head Coach Brendan Burke. “If teams come out and want to press us and they leave any space in behind, we can hit them that way, and if they sit back we need to be a little bit better at being ball-dominant, but the positives are that we have really good players here now, players that I trust and that put a lot of energy into every performance. When you have that, you can fix all the other stuff that comes along the way.”

This wasn’t the cleanest performance by Hartford, but the side has delivered results so far. The danger players like Beckford, Michee Ngalina – who still doesn’t seem to quite have found his feet but will be lethal when he does – Marcus Epps and Enoch Mushagalusa can provide is in full evidence.


After missing out on Sacramento Republic FC’s opening game of the season due to suspension, Russell Cicerone seemed eager to make up for lost time when the side headed to Miami FC for its second outing of the season with a team-high six shots, only one of which found the net.

This past Saturday, by contrast, Republic FC’s leading scorer a season ago looked to have found his groove again, taking what the game gave him on the way to picking up his first goal and assist of the campaign in a 2-0 win at Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC.

“It was only a matter of time for Russell to start scoring,” said Sacramento Head Coach Mark Briggs. “I am over the moon tonight, not only with him scoring a goal, but with his collective performance - the work he did for the team, the pockets he found, and his choices in possession. And then obviously to get his goal I was really happy with him.”

Cicerone buzzed around the Switchbacks’ defense on the two goals for the visitors, first driving the line back before finding Trevor Amann in space for his fourth goal of the season and then waltzing through defenders to finish powerfully to the bottom-left corner for Republic FC’s second. That’s a great sign for what should be to come for one of the Championship’s title favorites.

“To go on the road, get a clean sheet and score two great goals I think is a testament to our character,” said Cicerone. “It’s a very difficult place to go and get all three points. So, it was just a strong team effort tonight.”


Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC had experimented by using Danny Griffin as a center back in its opening three games of the season. It wasn’t a failure by any means, but on Saturday when the Hounds mainstay was restored to his regular central midfield role you could see the impact it had on the side’s fortunes.

The 25-year-old was a force in Pittsburgh’s 0-0 draw with the Tampa Bay Rowdies, winning a team-high 11 of 18 duels and tying with Kenardo Forbes in winning possession 10 times. That helped the Hounds win the midfield battle against the visitors to Highmark Stadium, and while the performance wasn’t rewarded with a win – three shots on target on 15 shots showed the sharpening that’s still needed in the final third – it was a return to the sort of soccer that has made the Hounds contenders over the past five years.

“I feel like everything – or a lot – has been self-inflicted and that’s not Pittsburgh Riverhounds soccer,” said Pittsburgh Head Coach Bob Lilley. “Usually, we’re pretty stingy and we wear you down and we have the quality to get our goals when we need to. We’ve been giving them away far too easy and it’s nice to put a stop to that and hopefully we can build on that.”


The Charleston Battery had the edge in chances – and made sure Rhode Island FC goalkeeper Jackson Lee was the busier of the two shot-stoppers at Beirne Stadium on Saturday night – but for Head Coach Ben Pirmann there was something missing in the performance as his side was held to a scoreless draw on the road for the second time this season.

“Five games in, we’ve got to do a better job of being calmer when the other team is excited and the crowd’s on us,” said Pirmann. “I wish we would have executed a little bit better in the second half, but it wasn't for lack of trying, it wasn’t for a lack of effort. A shutout is good. Getting a point on the road is good. [The squad] gave absolutely everything they could for this team, for this club, for each other, and that's all we can ask for.”

Charleston is still undefeated in the defense of its Eastern Conference title – officially, its 10-game undefeated run through the end of the regular season and postseason is the club’s longest since 2018 – but it’s going to want to deliver more when it squares off with Louisville City FC on Tuesday night in a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Final.


FC Tulsa welcomed the club’s biggest home opener crowd this decade on Friday night and put on a show that highlighted the side’s potential and the flaws that need to be addressed to make it a playoff contender again.

On the plus side, even without Phillip Goodrum in the lineup there were great attacking moments. Stefan Stojanovic scored the fastest goal in the Championship so far this season after just 51 seconds to put the side into the lead, Justin Portillo bagged the third two-assist game of his career with a great pair of corner kick deliveries, and there were other chances besides as Edwin Laszo made a big impression on his debut.

On the negative side, the lapses the side had defensively ended up costing it dearly as Phoenix rallied twice, first to take the lead with two goals from Remi Cabral late in the first half and then to leave the game tied 3-3 thanks to Dariusz Formella’s penalty kick after having been reduced to 10 players. The fans got their money’s-worth, but Tulsa missed an opportunity here.

“Obviously we got to tidy up the last 15 minutes in the first half,” said Portillo. “We were all over them the first half and then we let up two goals in the first half. Second half we came on the first half, got the lead, they went a man down and then in those situations you just got to find a way to win, and we didn’t. I guess there’s learning moments and things that we can for sure fix, but the fight and the effort was there.”

Here are some of the other things we took away from the weekend…

- Monterey Bay F.C. grabbing victory late in Oakland was a big boost for the visitors, but the postgame melee that saw Roots’ Neveal Hackshaw and Baboucarr Njie and Monterey Bay’s Walmer Martinez and Carlos Herrera all shown red cards wasn’t pretty at all.

- There wasn’t anything spectacular about Orange County SC’s victory against Memphis 901 FC on Saturday afternoon, but the combination of efficiency in taking their chances and avoiding costly errors made for a really solid 2-0 victory on the road. You’ll take that anytime.

- San Antonio FC Head Coach Alen Marcina was disappointed with individual displays against Las Vegas that ended up costing his side its undefeated record. “We lacked the intensity, urgency and tactical discipline,” Marcina said postgame.

- Rhode Island FC is going to have to show someone other than Albert Dikwa can provide attacking punch soon. The 2023 Player of the Year was negated well by Charleston, recording only one touch inside the Battery’s penalty area.

- Phoenix Rising FC showed fortitude to come back despite being down to 10 players in Tulsa, and the moves to create the opening two goals were great, but this side still feels like it’s figuring out how to deliver consistent performances.

- It’s still early, but the four-point gap between the top six and bottom six in the Western Conference seems notable even at this stage.

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