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9 Top Storylines we took away from Week 10 in the USL Championship

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 05/13/24, 1:25PM EDT

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Rhode Island looks good, but can’t close the deal; Louisville continues its home dominance, New Mexico pushes through


Rhode Island FC and Albert Dikwa narrowly missed out on a memorable first home victory on Saturday night against Sacramento Republic FC. | Photo courtesy Ron Cournoyer / Rhode Island FC

We officially completed the first quarter of the 2024 USL Championship regular season on Saturday night, and after the midweek work put in by a collection of clubs across the league the weekend’s action delivered some eye-opening performances, and left us with some questions to ponder going into a busy slate throughout the upcoming week.

Here are nine top storylines we took away from the action, and some additional thoughts on what we saw.

1. RHODE ISLAND STUNG AFTER LATE EQUALIZER

For 90 minutes, Rhode Island FC might have put together its most complete performance of the season.

It took the lead twice in the first half against Western Conference leader Sacramento Republic FC at Beirne Stadium, the first time the visitors had trailed this season in any competition, first through Stephen Turnbull’s powerful strike and then on Karifa Yao’s header, responding to a well-worked Republic FC equalizer.

In the second half it had chances to extend its lead, only for Prince Saydee to blaze a chance over the crossbar and Albert Dikwa to be denied on a one-on-one opportunity. And then, in second-half stoppage time, Republic FC ripped away its chance at a first home win as Jonathan Ricketts’ scrambled finish off a recycled free kick kept his side undefeated after a 2-2 draw.

“It definitely feels like a loss,” said Turnbull. “Really disappointing, you work that hard, have good quality chances in front of goal, and to not put the game away, it stinks. If you play against good teams, and you don't put them away, you get punished. At the end of the day, that's what it's going to come down to. When you play against quality teams, if you get your chances, you have to score.”

Without question, this was a significant improvement from Rhode Island after its scoreless draw at North Carolina FC in Week 9. All things considered, the way the side played against one of the favorites for the Championship title should add to the confidence within the RIFC squad.

But that’s not going to make this result sting any less.

2. LOUISVILLE CONTINUES HOME CONTROL

As it stands, there are two places in the Championship where you currently do not want to visit.

One is the Charleston Battery at Patriots Point, where the current Eastern Conference leader is 4-0-0 and has a +12-goal differential. The other is the team now snapping at their heels in Louisville City FC, which moved to 5-0-0 in the league on Saturday with a 3-0 win against Orange County SC less than 72 hours after its elimination in a penalty shootout from the U.S. Open Cup away at Seattle Sounders FC.

“I can’t say enough about how proud I am of the group,” said LouCity Head Coach Danny Cruz. “It was a difficult week with regard to the travel, when we got home and when we trained and the physical aspects that go into this.

“To be back home, on a grass field with the width we have here, it allows us to play the game the way we want to play. Then when you’re able to play the football but also add the mentality and fight, you can see the quality this group has.”

LouCity got some early tests from OCSC that goalkeeper Damian Las did well to deal with, but once it got rolling after Wilson Harris’ eighth goal of the season with 19 minutes gone it was relatively smooth sailing for the hosts. Louisville has now scored at least three goals in games at Lynn Family Stadium across all competitions this season, setting itself up for what’s emerging as a duel against the Battery for silverware at the end of the season.

“I think it’s a huge statement,” said LouCity midfielder Adrien Perez, who notched two second-half assists. “We lost the Open Cup, but I think we’re here to take the league.”

3. LEGION PICTURE PERFECT, AGAIN

It was almost uncanny the way Birmingham Legion FC split open the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ defense to provide the only goal of the game in a 1-0 win at Al Lang Stadium.

In fact, you could almost have flipped a mirror to the goal Martinez scored the previous week against FC Tulsa and seen all the hallmarks of the same idea. A neat build-up on one flank, a precise through-ball to a fullback cutting in behind the back line, and a cutback cross the veteran Martinez was on hand to sweep home into the opposite corner.

On a night when Legion FC was under plenty of defensive pressure it was a reminder of how fluid this side can be when it’s at its best. Coming after the disappointment of being eliminated from the Open Cup on the same field by the Rowdies three days earlier, it was a big end to the week for the visitors.

“It’s a testament to the work they’ve put in,” said Legion Head Coach Tom Soehn. “We knew coming in that we would be facing a lot of pressure and they stepped up to the task and put in a performance that they could be really proud of. It’s all about climbing up the table and they were a big reason why we were able to do that tonight.”

Legion has been up and down at different points over the first two months of the season, explaining its current winning record and negative goal differential. Finding these sorts of combinations consistently would be a means to leveling up as a potential contender.

4. INDY CONTINUES TO MAKE MOVES

Remember when we had some concerns about Indy Eleven after back-to-back shellackings by Louisville City FC and the Charleston Battery?

The past month has put a lot of that to rest. On Sunday night the Boys in Blue were a convincing 3-1 victor against Miami FC – one that might have seen more goals if not for some wasteful finishing – to give the side a six-game undefeated streak in all competitions and the signs that a corner has been turned.

Has the competition been at the level of Louisville and Charleston? No, and let’s face it there are no two other teams that have the resume’s either of those have so far this season. But putting together good results with strong underlying numbers is a big plus whatever the competition you’re up against, and that’s good for Indy’s long-term projection as a side that can challenge later in the campaign.

5. NEW MEXICO PUSHES THROUGH

There was a moment right after Oakland Roots SC equalized on a wicked deflection from Neveal Hackshaw’s shot early in the second half on Saturday night when things might have gotten away from New Mexico United. Before a season-high crowd of 11,568 celebrating Meow Wolf Night, Oakland gained momentum and threatened to take the lead.

And then, after some timely substitutions by United Head Coach Eric Quill helped stem Oakland’s attacking threat after the opening 15 minutes of the half, Mukwelle Akwale stepped up and delivered another highlight-reel finish from a free kick to send New Mexico to a 2-1 victory. The result wrapped a run of three wins in eight days and a second-place position in the Western Conference with one game fewer played than Sacramento Republic FC.

“I think we’ve shown that resiliency, and that that effort is needed to just go for it,” said Quill. “We want to win at home. Tying at home is not good enough. So, we went aggressive and the subs’ mentality became aggressive. And you can see the game change. We started putting a lot of pressure on them and their back line and turned them over. And we suffocated a little bit and got them questioning themselves. That’s what we wanted to do.”

New Mexico has had good seasons in the past, making the playoffs in four of its first five campaigns. This, though, feels like something new – a team that can challenge the best in the Western Conference.

6. DETROIT TAKES POSITIVES AFTER LONG WEEK

On one hand, losing your 100 percent record on home turf could be a disappointing way to end a great week.

For Detroit City FC Head Coach Danny Dichio, though, the positives far outweighed the negatives as his side played to a 1-1 draw against Phoenix Rising FC on Saturday evening at Keyworth Stadium.

“I’ve got to give them a lot of credit, the boys put in the effort,” said Dichio. “They were really dying towards the end there but they held on and saw out the 1-1 draw. At home, we’re a little disappointed we’ve given up points, but at the end of the day we’ve played against the USL Championship team today who won the cup last year and we stood toe-to-toe with them.”

Detroit’s lack of depth was noticeable on Saturday, with center forward Elvis Amoh still sidelined after his bright start to the season. With a full week off to recuperate before its Round of 16 clash with Indy Eleven on May 22, Le Rouge should be ready to go again and try to book their first trip to the Quarterfinals in the historic tournament.

7. TULSA, PITTSBURGH LEFT EQUALLY FRUSTRATED

There was no shortage of energy and enthusiasm from FC Tulsa and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC on Saturday night, but the final result of a 2-2 draw after the Hounds clawed their way back from a two-goal deficit at halftime despite conceding two penalties left both sides looking at things glass-half-empty.

For Tulsa Head Coach Mario Sanchez, the disappointment was in his side’s lost lead. For a second consecutive outing, his side was unable to maintain a two-goal advantage and forced to settle for a point.

“We’re showing that we can play with anybody, but showing we can play anybody’s not enough,” he said. “We need to get wins.”

On the Hounds’ side, the execution the side showed in possession didn’t live up to Head Coach Bob Lilley’s expectations for what his side is capable of. Pittsburgh likely had the better argument to come out a winner – it outshot its hosts 20-7 and hit the woodwork twice to Tulsa’s once – but with only three shots on target Pittsburgh wasn’t able to capitalize and take another three points.

“We’re playing with heart, but we’re not playing to our ability level on the ball,” said Lilley. “Defensively, we’ve been inconsistent. Tonight, we have everyone back in good position, but we’re naive and give up a penalty crashing into the guy. It’s Keystone Kops sometimes. The second PK we give up, again, we have a goalkeeper being indecisive at the edge of the box, the same thing we had last Saturday [against Miami].”

8. SAN ANTONIO CONTINUES TO LET POINTS SLIP

You can understand why San Antonio FC’s Kendall McIntosh was putting a brave face on things after his side’s 1-1 draw against Las Vegas Lights FC on Saturday night.

Playing its third game in eight days after being eliminated in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in midweek, down a handful of key players due to injury, and reduced to 10 players after a careless yellow card by Jorge Hernandez early in the second half, the side was able to earn a result.

“I think it galvanizes the group a little bit,” said McIntosh. “Now we know a little bit more about ourselves. Now we know we can dig deep now we know. These are the moments where you say ‘Okay, that guy’s got my back,’ and I know that in adversity, in times of trial and tribulation, that guy’s going to have my back, and so being a part of that was special.

“I mean, obviously, we want three points, and I don't want to say that we're happy with ties at home, but I think again, given the circumstances, it was a good character-building game for us.”

Here’s the problem – Las Vegas probably should have won this game, and they were facing the same challenge San Antonio was after falling last weekend to New Mexico United and in midweek to Los Angeles FC. The Lights officially outshot San Antonio 15-0 in the second half, and 20-3 for the game.

This isn’t the San Antonio we’ve become accustomed to, finding ways to deliver regardless of circumstance, and it’s losing ground as a result.

9. THE MONTEREY BAY, MEMPHIS CONUNDRUM

In terms of entertainment, there was plenty on offer at Cardinale Stadium on Saturday night. Monterey Bay F.C. produced a handful of high-quality chances, Memphis had more shots overall and showed its resilience in battling back to take the lead late in the second, but wasn’t able to hold on for victory as Tristan Trager scored his fifth goal of the season to leave the teams tied 2-2 in the end.

What we’re left with is the question of how good either of these teams are?

You can make the argument the late equalizer was a crucial one for Monterey Bay. Coming off consecutive league wins and elimination in the Open Cup by Sacramento Republic FC in midweek, it needed a positive result to try and get things turned back in the right direction. Now the focus switches to Saturday night and its trip to Loudoun United FC to try and get back in the win column.

For Memphis, a point on the road is a positive, but this will probably feel like a missed opportunity at a third consecutive league victory which would have carried the side comfortably above the playoff line. While we’re only one-quarter of the way through the season, this is the sort of result a team can look back on with regret later on in the campaign.

And now some additional thoughts on what we saw this weekend…

- Picking up a road victory is always going to feel good. For Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, doing so against their friend Brendan Burke and the collection of former Switchbacks players now at Hartford Athletic, it likely meant immeasurably more.

- It was finally Tumi Moshobane Time for El Paso Locomotive FC, which is finally off the slide with a victory at Loudoun United FC. Is there a second win coming soon?  The overall performance may need to be better, given Loudoun’s wasteful finishing.

- Phoenix Rising FC appears to have found a more consistent level in the last few weeks. It needs to start turning those performances into victories, though.

- The Tampa Bay Rowdies are among the best in the Championship in terms of their underlying numbers with a +5.25 Expected Goals Differential so far. That doesn’t matter much if you’re not getting the results that should deliver, though.

- If we told you before the season that Las Vegas Lights FC would take four points from six against San Antonio FC in the regular season, how would you have felt? Because that’s what the Lights have done.

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