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One Question for every team in the Championship ahead of Week 9’s action | Talking Points

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 05/03/24, 1:00PM EDT


We’ve got an 11-game slate on tap for Saturday, here’s what we’re wondering ahead of kickoff

Phoenix Rising FC and attacking midfielder Panos Armenakas will try to end Sacramento Republic FC's undefeated start to the season when the sides meet on Saturday night. | Photo courtesy Ashley Orellana / Phoenix Rising FC

The USL Championship has a packed 11-game schedule this Saturday ahead of next week’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Round of 32 with some clubs aiming to maintain their momentum and others seeking to avoid further difficulties throughout an interesting slate of action.

Among the spotlight contests are a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Final as Sacramento Republic FC visits Phoenix Rising FC, and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC playing host to Miami FC as each side tries to build off good wins last time out.

Here’s one question we have for each squad as they enter this weekend.

Birmingham Legion FC – Can you find more attacking precision?

Legion’s numbers right now are generally positive, even after last week’s Southern Harm loss to rival Memphis 901 FC. The side is establishing a better possession style – it’s crept over the 50 percent threshold for the season and is in the top-third in the league in shots. Where Birmingham is falling short currently is in the opposing penalty area, where it has a shooting accuracy rate of 36.5 percent – third-lowest in the league – and shot conversion rate of 9.5 percent – second-lowest in the league. If it can find more precision there, the results should start coming again in short order.

Charleston Battery – Will the M&M Boys keep rolling?

The Charleston Battery’s Nick Markanich and MD Myers have become the most explosive forward pairing in the league. They have each scored in their past four games – a first in the Championship’s history for teammates – and have the potential to keep that momentum this week. With Hartford Athletic coming off its most disappointing outing of the season in Louisville, a fast start for the Battery here could set up another important win.

Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC – Can you back up last week’s win?

You can imagine relief around Weidner Field from not only picking up a first win of the season in Oakland last week but doing so in a pretty comprehensive manner over this week’s training sessions. Now it’s imperative that the Switchbacks kick on as the last winless side in the Championship – El Paso Locomotive FC – visits this Saturday. It felt like Colorado Springs had enough to be a playoff team again this season, but the side has got to keep digging out of the hole its five-game losing streak to start the year put it in. 

Detroit City FC – Who’s going to fill in for Stephen Carroll?

Detroit City FC will have to do without standout center back Stephen Carroll on Saturday after he recieved his first red card in the club's colors in Pittsburgh in Week 8. | Photo courtesy Jon DeBoer / Detroit City FC

Since Detroit City FC joined the USL Championship, Irish center back Stephen Carroll has started in all 69 of his appearances for the club – third-most on the team behind Nate Steinwascher (74) and Maxi Rodriguez (71). With Carroll set to serve a suspension on Saturday against Loudoun United FC, we’ll be paying close attention to how DCFC’s back line reconfigures to account for his absence.

El Paso Locomotive FC – Who’s ready to be the hero?

If there’s one thing El Paso Locomotive FC can lean on as it heads to Colorado Springs this weekend, it has got history on its side. Locomotive has never lost on the road to the Switchbacks, going 2-0-5 in its visits since 2019. The big question for El Paso, however, is which player might step up and deliver this time around? With the side winless at the bottom of the Western Conference, it’s time for someone, anyone, to lead the way.

Hartford Athletic – Are you kidding with this schedule?

If it’s any consolation to Hartford Athletic fans, last Saturday wasn’t the most futile attacking day in the club’s history. In 2020, it recorded only one shot, which failed to hit the target, in a 5-0 defeat to Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC. Still, Hartford must be wondering what it did to come off its visit to Louisville and see it’s got to go and visit the other highest-scoring attack in the league this weekend in the Charleston Battery. We’re expecting a better display, but the Athletic must bring its “A” game to have a chance at derailing the Eastern Conference leaders.

Indy Eleven – Can you break the Pacific Timezone hex?

It’s a statistical oddity, but Indy Eleven has won only once in its 13 games against teams based in the Pacific Time Zone since the Championship adopted interconference play two seasons ago. So far this campaign it’s 0-1-1, losing to Oakland Roots SC on the opening day of the season and drawing at home to Sacramento Republic FC. As Indy heads to face Monterey Bay F.C. on CBS Sports Golazo Network this Saturday – a side that has won the prior two meetings between the clubs – the Boys in Blue will be aiming to solve that puzzle.

Las Vegas Lights FC – Have you got a short-term memory?

Las Vegas Lights FC returns home this weekend looking to put its toughest performance of the season behind it quickly as it hosts New Mexico United. | Photo courtesy Lucas Peltier / Las Vegas Lights FC

As high as the Lights were flying after their three-game winning streak early last month, everything fell apart against arguably the best side in the league in the Charleston Battery last week. That’s not the disaster it might be. For teams that are rebuilding, there are going to be bumps in the road – just look at the Battery’s 7-0 hammering at the hands of San Antonio FC last May. What matters now is how Las Vegas responds. Charleston came back from its drubbing with a 1-0 win the following week against Monterey Bay F.C. Back on home turf the Lights will want to get something out of New Mexico United’s visit.

Loudoun United FC – Can you turn promise into results?

Among Loudoun United’s performances this season have been signs of a side that’s on the verge of a breakthrough moment. Last week against Sacramento Republic FC, it battled well before succumbing to a pair of late goals against the Western Conference leader. While there were positives to take from that game, the importance of taking actual victories instead of moral ones is sitting there and there’s no more important moment for United to seize the moment than this weekend. Loudoun held a halftime lead against Detroit City when it visited Keyworth Stadium earlier this season but ended up being handed a 2-1 defeat. Turning the tables this time around would go a long way to boosting the side’s confidence and move it closer to that breakthrough.

Louisville City FC – Who’s your tip for the Derby?

With LouCity taking the weekend off for the Kentucky Derby – as has become traditional – we’re curious who the punters among them are backing at Churchill Downs. (The weekend off also has the advantage of extra rest before heading to face Seattle Sounders FC next Wednesday in the Open Cup.)

Miami FC – Can you sustain the intensity?

The knock against Miami FC in recent weeks had been that the side had simply become too easy to play against. In its last outing against San Antonio FC, it produced a display that was far more disciplined defensively and opportunistic in attack – the side allowed the fewest shots it had faced (10), shots on target faced (2) and Expected Goals Against (0.59xGA) than in any prior game this season. As it heads to Pittsburgh, can it deliver a similar shift and earn a result?

Memphis 901 FC – Was last week’s lineup your current best shape?

Look at Memphis 901 FC’s lineup last week and the lack of a true center forward was evident. In effect, the role was played by Marlon, who was consistently the farthest player forward for the side, but most of the time he was fanning out into wider areas, effectively allowing the side’s midfield led by Bruno Lapa to fill the central spaces joining the attack. It was effective – Memphis got a pair of well-taken goals as Lapa and Marlon combined – as 901 FC ended its winless run in the league. The question now is whether that’s the style and shape this side can carry forward into Saturday’s clash with the Tampa Bay Rowdies, whose high defensive line could be vulnerable to a similar approach.

Monterey Bay F.C. – Have you got another response?

One of the traits Monterey Bay has shown this season compared to last is an ability to put a disappointing result behind it quickly. When it suffered its first loss of the season to San Antonio FC it came back with a win next time out against Oakland Roots SC. That’s a far cry from last season, when things started to escalate when things went wrong, with nine- and five-game winless runs in the second half of the campaign the biggest reason why the side missed the playoffs. After a loss to Orange County last time out, taking a third consecutive win in the club’s series against Indy Eleven would be exactly what’s needed.

New Mexico United – Can you get out of the gate quickly?

Last Saturday night’s visit to the Tampa Bay Rowdies was the first time New Mexico United had conceded inside the opening 15 minutes of a game this season, but the pressure the side sustained – not attempting its first shot of the game until the 22nd minute after having already conceded twice – made the defeat feel almost inevitable. With a trip to Las Vegas at hand, setting the tempo is imperative for United to try and rebound against a Lights side that has conceded seven times in the opening half-hour of games this season, most in the league.

North Carolina FC – Can you make the key moments yours?

North Carolina FC has put in positive displays so far this season but doesn't have enough results to go with them so far. | Photo courtesy Zach Taft / North Carolina FC

There are few teams that American Soccer Analysis’ underlying numbers like more than North Carolina FC. The side currently ranks sixth in the league with 12.57 Expected Points based off its Expected Goals matchups so far this season. The problem? NCFC is bottom of the Eastern Conference with six points through its first eight games, and attention to detail is why. Finding a way to execute in the key moments at either end of the field is a must for this side, especially against a Rhode Island FC side that has experienced similar comparative difficulties in execution.

Oakland Roots SC – What does Gavin Glinton’s first lineup look like?

Going to San Antonio FC is hardly an easy first game for a new coach, but that’s the situation facing Oakland Roots SC interim Head Coach Gavin Glinton this Saturday. After the end of Noah Delgado’s tenure with the club last Sunday night, we’re fascinated to see how Glinton sets up his side, and how active he is making in-game adjustments depending on how things proceed over the 90 minutes.

Orange County SC – How does the beach sound?

Orange County is the other side with the weekend off as it gets ready for next Tuesday’s contest with Loudoun United FC. How about a team day at the beach for bonding and relaxation before the focus to advance returns?

Phoenix Rising FC – Can you slay the dragon again?

Phoenix Rising has had some epic contests against Sacramento Republic FC over their 10-year history in the league, including last year’s Western Conference Final at Heart Health Park. Now it’s coming off a good road victory last weekend and has a chance to end Sacramento’s undefeated start to the season. Rising spoke last year about how its defeat in Sacramento was a turning point for its campaign and eventual playoff run. This is the yardstick Phoenix can measure its current position by again.

Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC – Stick or Twist?

A tactical deviation aside against Phoenix Rising FC two weeks ago, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC’s lineups have been looking pretty consistent over the last few weeks as the side moved into the Eastern Conference playoff positions with a four-game undefeated run. The question now will be whether the Hounds and Head Coach Bob Lilley stick with that group and wait to make rotations for next week’s U.S. Open Cup contest against FC Tulsa. Regardless, at home against Miami FC, the Hounds will be expecting all three points as they try to gain ground on the front runners in the East.

Rhode Island FC – Can you cut down on the errors?

Defensive errors have been part of why Rhode Island FC has yet to catch fire in its inaugural season in the USL Championship. | Photo courtesy Ron Cournoyer / Rhode Island FC

As mentioned above, Rhode Island FC is a side that American Soccer Analysis’ data likes only for the results to not currently measure up for the expansion side. Unlike this Saturday’s opponent in North Carolina FC, the problem for RIFC has been evident – too many errors in the defensive end. Rhode Island has recorded six errors that have led directly to shots for opponents, three of which have led to goals. The latter number is tied with Miami FC for the most in the league and is something the side must clean up if it’s to live up to its potential.

Sacramento Republic FC – Time for revenge?

There’s no universe in which you can apply the same weight to a regular season game as one that’s played with silverware on the line. At the same time, you can’t help but think the Sacramento Republic FC players who experienced the disappointment of losing at home to Phoenix in last year’s Western Conference Final with the chance to host the 2023 Championship Final in their grasp will want to send a message in the first meeting between the clubs since then.

San Antonio FC – Ready to bounce back again?

San Antonio’s streak of 65 consecutive games without defeat when conceding first went by the wayside in dramatic fashion last Saturday in Miami. Now as the side returns home it will be with the aim of avoiding something else that hasn’t happened since the 2020 season. The last time SAFC lost consecutive regular season games was the final two games of the 2020 campaign. As Oakland Roots SC arrives, expect a reaction from the hosts at Toyota Field.

Tampa Bay Rowdies – Can you maintain momentum?

The Rowdies have played their most dominant soccer of the season over the past three outings and while they were only rewarded with two wins and a draw instead of sweeping all three its feels like the side has found its groove under new Head Coach Robbie Neilson. Maintaining that this weekend is essential as it faces a Memphis 901 FC side it hasn’t fared well against in the past. Memphis swept the regular season series last year, scoring seven goals in the two games. Reversing that trend is going to be expected for the visitors at AutoZone Park.

FC Tulsa – Can Phillip Goodrum mark Game 100 with a goal?

FC Tulsa dug out a good road victory last weekend in El Paso but maybe the biggest plus for the side was the return of Phillip Goodrum after a brief stint on the sideline. Having equaled the club’s single-season scoring record last season, the forward is an essential piece of Tulsa’s machine with Saturday set to mark his 100th regular season appearance in the league. As prolific as he has been in the Championship the last two years, marking that landmark with a goal and a victory would be an ideal celebration.

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