skip navigation

9 Top Storylines we took away from this weekend’s USL Championship action | Talking Points

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 04/29/24, 10:25AM EDT


Pittsburgh looks all the way back, Miami does the unthinkable (again), and LouCity’s home seems like fortress

Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC won its second consecutive game - and dropped Detroit City FC from the ranks of the undefeated - before a sellout crowd at Highmark Stadium. | Photo courtesy Mallory Neil / Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

The USL Championship season is almost one-quarter of the way complete after a full weekend that saw 12 sides pick up victories, and one more team drop of the ranks of the undefeated.

Here are nine top storylines we took away from the action, as well as reaction from coaches and players to the outcomes, as well as some additional thoughts on what we saw around the league.


If there was any doubt whether the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC were all-the-way back to being themselves after their win in Phoenix, the opening half-hour of the Hounds’ 2-0 victory against previously perfect Detroit City FC gave you all the evidence you needed.

Pittsburgh was relentless in its pressure, eliminated pivotal DCFC playmaker Maxi Rodriguez as a factor, and took control in remarkable fashion in front of a club-record regular season crowd of 6,099 fans at Highmark Stadium that lapped it up. In the opening 30 minutes, 46.6 percent of the game was played in Detroit’s defensive third as the Hounds put the visitors on their heels from the off.

“I think we were collective tonight. I think we were combative,” said Hounds Head Coach Bob Lilley. “When you play Detroit, there’s going to be a lot of physical moments and loose balls. I think we met those requirements tonight.”

For Lilley, the importance of the three points – which pulled the side up to seventh in the Eastern Conference after its five-game winless run to start the season – was paramount regardless of the opponent. There’s still a big distance between last year’s Players’ Shield winners and the Eastern Conference frontrunners, but for Lilley the more points the side can accumulate now, the better set it will be later in the season.

“After a miserable three-game start and not getting a win in Game 4 or 5, it was like now is the time,” said Lilley. “My focus right now is that it gets hard in July and August, when it’s super-hot… it’s hard to get results, period, even when you’re at the top of the table. If you’re chasing, it’s going to be even harder. So mentally, we have them more dialed in right now to dig ourselves out of the hole we started in, and we’ve stayed pretty healthy.”


Last season, Miami FC pulled off what at the time seemed a minor miracle, ending San Antonio FC’s 30-game home undefeated streak across all competitions with a 1-0 win at Toyota Field.

Given Miami’s form entering the rematch – a five-game losing streak in all competitions and winless since the opening day of the season – it seemed like it might take something remarkable again for the hosts to earn victory against a San Antonio side that had only lost once this season.

Miami didn’t just accomplish that. It knocked off an even more incredible streak as well. San Antonio had gone 65 games without defeat in the USL Championship since losing after it scored the opening goal, and when Luke Haakenson opened the scoring for the visitors with a sumptuous volley after 10 minutes it seemed SAFC was on course.

Not so. Despite the early deficit, Miami was in fact the more dangerous side in attack for the rest of the first half and got rewarded by goals from Luisinho and Michael Lawrence – making his first appearance for the side since 2022 – to take a halftime lead. From there, the defensive resilience and organization that had gone missing in recent weeks returned, giving Miami a deserved 2-1 victory to break their slump in form.

“I am happy with the effort and the attitude from the team,” said Miami Head Coach Antonio Nocerino. “I am happy for the players, because after a win they are happy, and the locker room has good enthusiasm. Now it’s important to recharge the energy and push more because this for now is nothing. It is a good win but it’s important now to continue.”


Apparently, there’s something about making your first appearance at Heart Health Park in Sacramento Republic FC’s colors that’s catching among its new forwards this season.

After Trevor Amann introduced himself to Republic FC’s supporters with a two-goal performance on the opening day of the season, on Saturday night it was Kieran Phillips’ turn to match him and deliver a hard-fought 3-1 victory against Loudoun United FC that moved Sacramento three points clear and still undefeated at the top of the Western Conference.

“The first one was a whirlwind, really,” said Phillips. “Me and Trevor [Amann] connected well, and he played it in behind and I was just running as fast as I could to try and get away from the defender and keep composure at the end. But I mean, when the ball hit the back of the net, the crowd was electric, so that was a good feeling.”

Republic FC has kept finding ways to score this season – dating back to the last campaign it has scored in 14 consecutive outings, its longest such scoring streak since 2017 – and Phillips’ ability to move off the ball and connect with Amann showed promise. For a team that was already stocked with talent, the Huddersfield Town loanee could be another great addition.


Orange County SC couldn’t have got out to a better start against Monterey Bay F.C. on Saturday night – Thomas Amang missed a gilt-edged opportunity in just the fourth minute, and then made amends with the opening goal of his side’s 2-0 victory two minutes later – but OCSC Head Coach Morten Karlsen was thoroughly disappointed with the way his side played the remainder of the half.

Monterey Bay got well on top at times, recorded seven of the last nine shots of the half from the 18th minute on, and was only denied an equalizer by a remarkable performance by OCSC goalkeeper and eventual Player of the Match Colin Shutler.

“[We] got way too comfortable after the first 10 minutes of the half and then we left the initiative to them and didn’t compete at all,” said Karlsen. “I was not happy at halftime but I’m equally proud of our second half performance, especially with the way we were more aggressive, better on the ball and much more solid defensively. So, for me it was two different worlds the first and second half and I’m happy to see that we could respond the way we did.”

Shutler has already had some big moments this season – see his stoppage-time equalizer in Sacramento on the opening day of the season, and numerous big saves in his side’s strong overall start. It has the potential to leave Karlsen with a quandary moving forward as to whether he plays the experienced veteran or continues to rotate with young talent Duran Ferree.


After what was by the club’s standards a thoroughly mediocre regular season record at Lynn Family Stadium in 2023 of 8-6-3, Louisville City FC’s goal of making its home the hardest place to visit in the USL Championship is well on course.

LouCity saw six different players find the scoresheet in a demolition of Hartford Athletic on Saturday night that moved the side to 4-0-0 this season on home turf in the league with the past three victories having seen Head Coach Danny Cruz’s side bag at least five goals.

“It’s so fun when everyone gets to score and everybody gets a piece of the dub,” said forward Adrien Perez, who put home the second goal of the night. “It’s an amazing feeling, and you can see it from the fans to the players, just the atmosphere. Our group had a fun time.”

Louisville’s six goals doubled the number of shots Hartford attempted (3) over the 90 minutes as the visitors simply didn’t get a look in despite having an edge in overall possession. With a weekend off before heading to face Seattle Sounders FC in the Round of 32 in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the perennial contenders are flying.


The Tampa Bay Rowdies have been adamant about their goal to pin opponents inside their half and force breakdowns. In the opening half of the side’s 3-0 victory against New Mexico United at Al Lang Stadium, the reasons for that were on full display.

From Manuel Arteaga registering the first shot of the game after only 21 seconds to a pair of early goals predicated on putting New Mexico on its heels – the first off a beautifully executed corner kick put home by Cal Jennings and the second turning over United’s defense in its own end to give Jennings his second goal of the game off Arteaga’s assist – Tampa Bay executed flawlessly to give itself a lead that was rarely threatened.

“The key for us is at the start of the game, we want to play in the opposition’s half,” said Rowdies Head Coach Robbie Neilson. “That’s really important for us. To get the center halves to the halfway line and play through them. If we do that, we start to create opportunities and then we get the crowd behind us and we start to get momentum.”

New Mexico had some moments of danger, most notably through former Rowdies player Dayonn Harris in his return to Al Lang Stadium after an offseason transfer, but after coming up short against El Paso a weekend ago in the finishing department the Rowdies were clinical this time around to secure an impressive victory.


Four years ago, Bruno Lapa wrote his name into the Southern Harm rivalry’s history book with two goals and one assist on his Birmingham Legion FC debut against Memphis 901 FC and former United States international goalkeeper Tim Howard.

On Saturday, the Brazilian wrote another chapter in the rivalry’s history, this time for the Bluff City squad.

His two goals for 901 FC – both coming off assists from fellow former Legion forward Marlon’s – gave Memphis a 3-0 victory that earned the side its first win in the rivalry series since 2021 and gave 901 FC a much-needed three points after its recent setbacks in the league.

“The boys are delighted and I’m so happy for them,” said 901 FC Head Coach Stephen Glass said. “The performances they put in recently, to get a reward like that away at Birmingham.”

Lapa has had his ups and downs since making the jump to Memphis prior to last season after recording 19 goals and 11 assists in 70 appearances for Legion. With his first goals of the season now secured, the hope will be the Brazilian can kick into gear and get Memphis on a positive track.


There might be no-one in American soccer that’s had a better April than the Charleston Battery’s Nick Markanich, who capped off his month with a club-first in the USL Championship era and a first individually with a four-goal game in his side’s 6-0 demolition of Las Vegas Lights FC at Patriots Point.

Markanich is part of a machine that is moving beautifully in possession at the moment. Combined with hesitance and missed defensive rotations in Las Vegas’ back line, it added up to a memorable day for the 24-year-old, who according to Battery Head Coach Ben Pirmann “just keeps getting better.”

“My first professional hat trick and then another one. Four goals, I’m excited,” said Markanich. “I was buzzing the whole time. There were a couple of mistakes from the other team, from MD with pressure, so I give all [credit] to my teammates.”

Markanich and Myers have each scored in four consecutive games – all wins – while Markanich now leads the Championship with 11 goals in nine contests. That’s already matched his total from a season ago across the regular season and playoffs. It could put the Championship’s single season record in play later in the year.


Phoenix Rising FC Head Coach Danny Stone rang the changes ahead of his side’s game on Friday night against Rhode Island FC with seven new faces in the starting lineup.

According to Stone it was in part due to the busy upcoming schedule Phoenix has at hand, but for Emil Cuello – who was handed just his second start of the campaign – it was an opportunity that he grasped with both hands.

The Argentine – who made an impact off the bench in last year’s run to the Championship title – was busy from the opening minutes, created the opening goal for Remi Cabral and ended up as one of two pivotal performances alongside goalkeeper Rocco Ríos Novo in a 3-1 victory at Beirne Stadium.

“Panos [Armenakas] and Emil both have good ability physically to cope with the game and I thought added some of that pressing energy and some of that work into the game,” said Stone. “I’m pleased for them, I thought they both had good moments and good aspects to their performance tonight.”

For Armenakas, a steady place in the starting lineup is almost assured as influential as the Australian has been since his arrival. For Cuello, it’s been less certain with Friday night only his seventh start since joining Phoenix prior to the 2023 campaign. His performance certainly made a case for more opportunities.

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

- By the numbers there was little to choose between Indy Eleven and North Carolina FC on Saturday night, but Indy made its moments count better, highlighted by Douglas Martinez Jr.’s winner, and that earned a morale-boosting three points before another boisterous crowd at The Mike.

- You could say the same of FC Tulsa and El Paso Locomotive FC, which was decided by Boubacar Diallo’s goal eight minutes into the second half to give Tulsa a 1-0 win on the road at Southwest University Park. The bounce-back result after defeat to Charleston in Week 7 had Tulsa Head Coach Mario Sanchez rightfully enthusiastic.

- That result was another setback for El Paso, which is now the only winless team in the Championship. There just didn’t seem to be enough there to push Locomotive over the line for an equalizer.

- Finally, the sort of performance we’ve been waiting to see from Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC in its first win of the season against Oakland Roots SC. Clean incisive finishing from Maalique Foster’s two assists, the Switchbacks need more of that in short order.

- Oakland’s loss saw the first head coaching move of the offseason with Noah Delgado on the way out and assistant Gavin Glinton taking over as interim Head Coach. With Dom Dwyer about to arrive, this seems like curious timing, particularly since the side’s underlying numbers didn’t seem bad, but that’s the way this goes sometimes.

Follow the USL Championship

Most Recent News

Most Read News

Latest Videos