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8 Key Storylines from the sixth weekend of the USL Championship season | Talking Points

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 04/15/24, 11:20AM EDT


The Charleston Battery finish an eight-day stretch strong; Tulsa shows its mettle against frustrated Sacramento

The Charleston Battery's Emilio Ycaza and Diego Gutierrez celebrate during the side's 4-2 victory against Indy Eleven on Saturday night. | Photo courtesy Matt Schlotzhauer / Indy Eleven

Defending Eastern Conference title holder the Charleston Battery cemented their position at the top of the standings on Saturday night in the biggest highlight of a weekend that saw the top teams in the Western Conference falter a fraction in the early pace for the USL Championship’s Players’ Shield.

Here are eight key storylines we took away from the action, and some additional thoughts on what we saw over the nine-game slate.


The Charleston Battery were riding a wave of momentum into their clash with Indy Eleven on Saturday night after a midweek victory against Louisville City FC that pushed the defending Eastern Conference title holders to the top of the standings, but in his pregame message to his side, Battery Head Coach Ben Pirmann wanted to ensure that in going for a third difficult game in eight days the side didn’t lose focus on the bigger picture.

“I said, ‘Tuesday was a game you’re probably going to remember for a long time because of the moment and being at home with the fans,’” said Pirmann. “‘This might not be a game you remember forever. But, come August, September, October when things are positioned tight, this [match] is going to be something that’s going to be integral and huge for who we are.’”

The Battery emerged from the test with flying colors as Nick Markanich and Emilio Ycaza starred in a 4-2 victory at Michael A. Carroll Stadium that kept the side undefeated through seven outings. Charleston was tested after scoring an early goal through Ycaza as Indy struck back with two goals in two minutes just before the half-hour mark, but Markanich’s outstanding start to the season got the side back on level terms with a highlight-reel finish before the big moments went their way in the second half.

An unfortunate own goal by Indy’s Macauley King put the Battery back on top, and less than a minute after Indy’s Sebastian Guenzatti was denied an equalizer by a crucial save by Adam Grinwis, MD Myers was scoring his second goal in as many games at the other end to ice the victory.

“Seven points out of nine in those three games, that’s really good,” said Markanich. “It’s a big win for us. We just have to keep the momentum going for next weekend in Oklahoma.”


With the number of chances Sacramento Republic FC created against FC Tulsa, and the fact the side played up a player for 75 minutes after Tulsa’s Edwin Laszo was sent off in the first half, it felt like after Rodrigo Lopez broke the deadlock with a deflected shot the goals could have started to flow at Heart Health Park.

Instead, Sacramento was left frustrated as it sent only five shots on target out of its 23 efforts overall against a stubborn opponent that squeaked out a 1-1 draw with a fine long-range finish of its own by Patrick Seagrist midway through the second half.

“I thought the first half, we were excellent,” said Republic FC Head Coach Mark Briggs. “We played at a tempo and a rhythm that Tulsa couldn't deal with. Second half, we didn't play with that rhythm, didn't play with that tempo. And we lacked quality in the final third. At the end of the day if you don't hit the target, you don't score goals and that's the reason why we're coming away with one point when we should have had three.”

Sacramento’s draw shouldn’t be too much of a concern – even strikers as good as Russell Cicerone and Trevor Amann are going to have off days – and the chances were there to be taken. Republic FC will be hoping it can manage to create in the same way and be more clinical in an early-season rematch with Orange County SC next Saturday.


While Sacramento was left to rue its missed chances, for FC Tulsa this was a great staging post for what’s to come this season. While the side’s predicament was entirely self-caused – Edwin Laszo was already going to get a yellow card for the challenge that led to the coming together, and should know better than swiping at an opponent’s head – it ended up producing a performance that was determined and got some good saves by Joey Roggeveen which sets a level for where this side needs to be.

“To play almost 75 minutes a man down and get a result against one of the best teams in the league is a tremendous achievement,” said Tulsa Head Coach Mario Sanchez. “Days like today will have a lasting effect on our team as we continue to improve.”

Tulsa showed against Phoenix Rising FC it has the creativity to compete this season. Against Republic FC it shows it might have the composure to do so as well when up against it.


For a side that was coming off a demoralizing defeat in its last outing, El Paso Locomotive FC could have used its home outing against Oakland Roots SC as a potential turning point in its season.

Instead, it suffered the same fate for a second weekend in a row – albeit in less dramatic fashion – in letting a halftime lead slip to two goals in the space of five minutes by Oakland’s Johnny Rodriguez that earned Roots a 3-2 victory at Southwest University Park.

“I thought this was a bad performance from the opening whistle,” said Clarhaut. “It was the complete opposite performance of New Mexico last weekend where we had a lot of energy. With that being said, you’re still up 2-1, and you give up two goals in five minutes for the second week in a row. We’re losing games by one goal every single week, so I need to look at myself in the mirror because something’s not right here.”

For a team that had the expectations El Paso did starting the season, those aren’t the sort of words you really want to hear at a postgame press conference, even if they’re the honest truth. With Wednesday’s Open Cup visit to Union Omaha looming large, a winless Locomotive side is facing a massive test of character just over a month into the campaign.


Handing 17-year-old goalkeeper Duran Ferree his first start for Orange County SC on the road at San Antonio FC was a fascinating choice by OCSC Head Coach Morten Karlsen. The United States youth international had suffered a tough night at the office when he last visited Toyota Field in San Diego Loyal SC’s colors last June, conceding twice in the first five minutes while being caught out of position on a long-range free kick by Rida Zouhir for the second.

There were no such issues on Saturday night, however. Ferree was consistently in the right position and made three good saves to earn his side a hard-earned point on the road after a 0-0 draw. The performance by the San Diego native showed his individual progression, and illustrated again how Orange County SC’s defense might bend but can be difficult to break down with fellow teenager Ashton Miles again solid in the back line.

Since becoming the youngest player to record a shutout in the Championship’s regular season 12 months ago, Ferree has performed well for club and country. This performance was another great step on the way to a bright future.


Monterey Bay has been one of the best stories in the USL Championship so far, and the jump the side showed from the opening kickoff at Cardinale Stadium against Las Vegas Lights FC on Saturday night – recording the first eight shots of the game – not only gave the hosts an early lead from Alex Dixon’s penalty kick, but put the side into the right rhythm to follow through in a 3-1 victory that pushed MBFC into third place in the Western Conference.

Underpinning all of that – including a pair of assists from Carlos Guzmán and a clever finish by Tristan Trager just before halftime – is the sense of camaraderie that Head Coach Frank Yallop believes he has within his squad. Michael Gonzalez came on to score his first goal in the professional ranks, while Miguel Guerrero had a solid impact after also coming on as a second-half substitute, a sign of their growth within the squad.

“It’s nice for them to build credibility with the team, the fans, and just help the team and feel their worth in there,” said Yallop. “They work hard everyday, Michael [Gonzalez] and Miguel [Guerrero] got their chance today and they did really well with it and both deserved time for what they did. It’s good for our team spirit.

“The older guys have done great with the younger guys, if you look at it between Rafa [Baca] and Charlie [Guzmán] and [Alex] Dixon, they really help those guys. They don’t yell at them, they truly want to help them along and it shows on the field now. The training is good going into the games and we feel confident to roll on the field together and do our thing.”


It’s too early in the season to be labeling anything as a must-win – although it might feel that way if your side has yet to register one this season – but it sure felt like Loudoun United FC needed to show us – and itself – something when it hosted Memphis 901 FC on Saturday afternoon.

Loudoun delivered, not just with an impressive display, but a victory that got the side back on track after consecutive defeats with goals by Zach Ryan and Drew Skundrich earning a 2-1 result after the side had fallen behind early at Segra Field.

“We put ourselves in a hole, obviously, giving up the goal early. We actually thought we played pretty well and could have been winning at that point, so to give that up was obviously frustrating,” said Loudoun Head Coach Ryan Martin. “The response was great.  We just stayed true to who we are, and we knew we were going to get chances.  We were long overdue for a restart goal, so great stuff from Drew and a very good collective effort to see off a good win.”

Loudoun made a great start to the 2023 season, giving hope the club’s new ownership could help turn the side into a postseason contender. It then went into a long winless slide that took those hopes away. Getting back in the win column after the two defeats that preceded it was big for this side, even as early as it remains in the season.


One of the challenges in the start to Phoenix Rising FC’s title defense has been the up-and-down nature of its performances. That made the consistent energy the side produced at home to a struggling Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC side the main positive that Head Coach Danny Stone took out of a game in which Phoenix had a clear majority of the chances and possession to limit the Switchbacks’ opportunities.

“It felt that everyone had good energy in this game,” said Stone. “There was a spark to this game and that’s positive to look forward. To have a squad of 24 players who are all at that high level and compete for the 11 spots [in the lineup] is an incredibly important thing and they approach it with a great attitude. They help each other out to succeed.”

Where Rising still needs to find more is in its finishing. The hosts could have been comfortably head if not for not only a good performance by Colorado Springs goalkeeper Christian Herrera but some near-misses that could have made things much more comfortable. Phoenix’s profligacy was almost punished in second-half stoppage time – Matt Mahoney found the net for the Switchbacks, but Ronaldo Damus was correctly ruled offside to wide the goal away – and provided a late wake-up call that there’s still a long way for Rising to grow this campaign.

And now some additional thoughts on what we saw in the past weekend’s action…

- We’re as confident as San Antonio FC Head Coach Alen Marcina that the finishing is going to come for his side soon enough as well as it’s currently playing. It can’t keep drawing at home, though.

- There were positives for both North Carolina FC and Birmingham Legion FC to take away from their 1-1 draw, but didn’t it feel like both teams were a bit too happy to settle for a point until late on?

- Rhode Island FC and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC’s scoreless draw showed how the Hounds miss Albert Dikwa, and how RIFC needs the rest of its forward contingent to step up its productivity.

- We wouldn’t expect a shake-up at Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC right now, but as with El Paso Locomotive FC there’s an energy here that doesn’t currently feel quite right.

- There are silver linings to be found for Indy Eleven, but three consecutive defeats against the top three in the Eastern Conference – and allowing 11 goals in the process – shows how far this group still must go to be a contender.

- Oakland Roots SC’s Johnny Rodriguez and the Charleston Battery’s Nick Markanich are a bit good at the footballing activities, aren’t they? Crikey.

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