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Nine Storylines to keep an eye on in the USL Championship’s sixth weekend

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 04/12/24, 3:40PM EDT


Rhode Island’s Albert Dikwa faces first reunion with Hounds; Orange County heads to San Antonio looking to continue run

Rhode Island FC forward Albert Dikwa has scored three goals in four games for his new club ahead of Saturday's clash with former side Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC at Beirne Stadium. | Photo courtesy Kiera Winslow / Monterey Bay F.C.

After a pair of high-scoring outings to kick off Week 6 in the USL Championship’s regular season, the weekend brings nine matchups that feature a major Western Conference showdown, one of this season’s surprise packages looking for more history, and the reunion of last year’s Championship Player of the Year with his former club.

Here are nine storylines to keep an eye on as the action unfolds across the next two days.


The opening month of Rhode Island FC’s on-field history has been bumpier than was hoped for with the club still awaiting its first victory in club history. On Saturday it plays host to Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which also finds itself winless four games into the season as it prepares to face former standout and 2023 Championship Player of the Year Albert Dikwa.

The Cameroonian forward’s move to Rhode Island this offseason after bagging 20 goals for the Hounds last year was one of the major moves within the league. So far Dikwa has produced as expected with a team-high three goals in four games as RIFC has drawn three times, but after last weekend’s scoreless draw with the Charleston Battery he downplayed the significance of facing his former club.

“Obviously, I have a respect for the Riverhounds but right now Rhode Island is my family, is my team,” said Dikwa. “The Riverhounds were in the past, my focus now is with Rhode Island and to try and get the three points next week.”

With the success Dikwa earned in Pittsburgh – and the respect he has for Hounds Head Coach Bob Lilley – as his career blossomed at Highmark Stadium, it’s hard to imagine he has any hard feelings toward his former club. If he can lead RIFC to its first win in club history against them, though, it would probably be pretty sweet.


The Charleston Battery had already impressed this season, but Tuesday night’s victory against Louisville City FC set down a marker for the defending Eastern Conference title-holders in one of the season’s most compelling games so far.

Led by a pair of goals by Nick Markanich – taking him to five in five appearances this season – the Battery remained undefeated as they head to face Indy Eleven on Saturday to wrap up a busy eight-day stretch. With Arturo Rodriguez unavailable due to injury there’s an additional squeeze on the roster, but Head Coach Ben Pirmann was pleased with the fight his side showed to hold off Louisville in the second half to secure all three points.

“It was a really tough trip to Rhode Island with the travel and the conditions and some injuries,” said Pirmann. “Then to turn around quickly without really any preparation and have such a strong performance, we trust these players. We believe in them. For me, you learn that they can battle, and they can fight.”

Saturday’s meeting with Indy is the first since the Battery eliminated the Boys in Blue from the postseason with a 5-0 victory in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals last year. With Indy aiming to bounce back from its defeat to LouCity – and much closer to full strength than in that encounter – this should be a game to keep a close eye on.


Orange County SC has been all smiles during an undefeated five-game run to start the new season. | Photo courtesy Liza Rosales / Orange County SC

Orange County SC’s five-game undefeated streak to start the season has equaled its best five-game start to a season, matching its start to the abbreviated 2020 campaign when it won three games and drew twice to kick off proceedings. In order to keep that streak going – and match its eventual 4-0-2 start in the 2020 campaign – it will have to break a lengthy run of misfortune as it heads to face San Antonio FC at Toyota Field on Saturday night.

OCSC has won only once on the road against San Antonio in its history, earning a 3-0 victory on April 14, 2018 behind goals from Koji Hashimoto, Thomas Enevoldsen and Giovanni Ramos-Godoy. Since then, the side has drawn twice and lost once in its trips to South Texas, with the defeat a 4-0 setback suffered late last season.

The side turned the tables on San Antonio with a 1-0 victory back in its home turf – a result that proved key in OCSC finishing second in the Western Conference standings a season ago. If it can find a way to defeat San Antonio here, the potential for a similar run to the top of the Western Conference – as the side achieved in 2018 – would have cleared a major early hurdle.    


With a third consecutive shutout in its 1-0 victory against San Antonio FC last weekend, Las Vegas Lights FC set a club record for the most consecutive shutouts in its history. This weekend as it heads to face Monterey Bay F.C. on Saturday night, the side has the potential to carve out more pieces of history as it shoots for the first four-game winning streak in Lights history.

The defensive chemistry the side has built in short order has been key to that success. Goalkeeper Raiko Arozarena has made 11 saves across the past three outings, but the experience of center back duo Fabien Garcia and Emrah Klimenta has provided a solid foundation while a midfield trio of Valentin Noël, J.C. Ngando and Coleman Gannon has provided strong two-way play.

“We’re growing together every game and are really starting to develop chemistry,” said right back Shawn Smart, who earned his second consecutive Championship Team of the Week selection after scoring the game-winner against San Antonio. “You can see it on the field. … The back line can’t get all the credit though. As Dennis likes to say, ‘We all attack, and we all defend.’ And we stand true to that. The clean sheets are a reflection on the whole team as a collective working behind the ball because it takes 11 men.”

That midfield will get another test in Monterey Bay, where veteran Mexican midfielder Rafael Baca has made a solid start to the season alongside former United State youth international Mobi Fehr. As the Lights look to surpass their 2023 win total barely a month into this season, the energy for both sides should be high.


After the tumultuous offseason the club experienced, there’s been a lot to enjoy about how FC Tulsa has started the new season. Now the key question for the side is whether it can sustain the positive traits it has produced on the field for longer periods.

Last Friday night’s game against Phoenix Rising FC was a case in point. Tulsa flew out of the blocks, scoring the fastest goal in the league this season through Stefan Stojanovic – officially clocked at 53 seconds – and could have added more before allowing Phoenix to wrest control of the game from them with two goals in short order before the halftime break. The game ended in a 3-3 draw at ONEOK Field, and Tulsa Head Coach Mario Sanchez was left to wonder about what might have been.

“You can obviously look at it two ways, right?” said Sanchez after the game. “We created a ton of chances. I mean, I thought the first half we should have had legitimately two or three. Stef [Stojanovic] had a couple chances I know we wish he got back. But obviously we started off with great, good energy, complete control of the game for 35 minutes and then lost our way, so we need to definitely work on staying focused.”

After heading to face Orange County SC in its second outing of the season, Tulsa will head back to California on Saturday for another big test against Sacramento Republic FC. The series history hasn’t been kind to the visitors – they’ve not won against Sacramento in 12 prior meetings – but that could be an element that brings everything into sharp focus for a side that seemingly brings some real potential to the table.


Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC has conceded a pair of goals in each of its first four games of the season, leaving the side without a win as it heads to Phoenix. | Photo courtesy Isaiah J. Downing / Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC

There’s a fundamental truth as to why Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC is the last team without a point in the USL Championship this season – the team just hasn’t been particularly difficult to break down for opponents, and the side knows it.

“It’s not defending. It’s moving, it’s not defending and that’s been an Achilles heel. [It's) something we’d applied over the last number of weeks and then we get into game time when it's showtime and we don't defend,” said Switchbacks Head Coach James Chambers after the side’s defeat to Sacramento Republic FC. “We just don't do basic defending.”

The Switchbacks have conceded two goals in each of their first four games of the season. The task may not get easier as the side heads to face defending Championship title holder Phoenix Rising FC on Saturday, which despite its own ups and downs to start the campaign has shown some liveliness in attack that came to the fore against FC Tulsa last week.

But if Colorado Springs is going to maintain its playoff run – which began when it moved into Weidner Field in 2021 as its high-flying attack drew the headlines – it’s going to have to improve defensively. This weekend is as good a place as any to start.


After a rocky defensive start to the season, Birmingham Legion FC seemed to figure a lot of things out last Sunday evening as it claimed victory against Loudoun United FC. While Loudoun took the lead through Abdellatif Aboukoura – which in fairness was a blinder – Legion allowed only nine shots overall, half the number of shots it faced against Louisville City FC on March 30, and recorded its lowest Expected Goals Against mark at 0.46xGA, three times lower than its previous best this season in its season-opener at Phoenix Rising FC.

Making those standards stick must now be the priority for Birmingham as it heads to face a North Carolina FC side that has gradually found its attacking level after its return to the Championship this season. NCFC could have been considered unfortunate not to take something from its trip to Detroit City FC last weekend – it outshot the hosts 12-6 and hit the woodwork through Rodrigo Da Costa in a 1-0 defeat – and will return home looking to pick up a second win of the season against a nearby potential rival.


El Paso Locomotive FC has yet to post a shutout this season, a key factor in the side's five-game winless run to open the campaign. | Photo courtesy Ivan Pierre Aguirre / El Paso Locomotive FC

The endings for both Oakland Roots SC and El Paso Locomotive FC last Saturday night had nasty twists that resulted in defeat. For Oakland, there was a late concession that saw NorCal rival Monterey Bay F.C. take a 1-0 victory, and for Locomotive the drama of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory after conceding twice in three minutes to Derby del Camino Real rival New Mexico United at Isotopes Park.

For Locomotive in particular, that makes the meeting between the sides on CBS Sports Golazo Network critical as the side once again goes in search of its first win of the season. The side’s attack sprang into life late against New Mexico, and the potential to see Joaquin Rivas for a longer stint alongside Justin Dhillon and Amando Moreno could be on the cards here. Where El Paso much shore things up, however, is on its defensive flanks, which has so far proven key to where opponents can find success.

With Locomotive apparently dead-set on playing a three-man back line centered by Bolu Akinyode, it will need more responsible defensive work by its wingbacks if its to earn a first shutout of the season. With the speed Oakland can bring – including from forward Johnny Rodriguez as he returns to full fitness – more cover will be needed for the hosts to come out on top.


For a second consecutive start to the season, Loudoun United FC provided some intrigue as it picked up four points from its first two games, including an impressive 3-1 win against North Carolina FC in its home opener on March 16. Since then, unfortunately, things have taken a similar turn to a season ago as well with consecutive defeats on the road to Detroit City FC and Birmingham Legion FC.

This campaign should result in a different outcome to that which we’ve seen before at Segra Field, where moments of optimism have regularly come crashing back to reality. The quality in the side appears to be there on paper – 19-year-old Abdellatif Aboukoura’s second goal of the season in Birmingham was quite the illustration of that – but we need to see it more consistently on the field. Facing a Memphis side that has also lost three in a row – and only scored once in that span – is an opportunity United needs to grasp.  

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