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One Question for every team going into the 11th Weekend in the USL Championship

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 05/17/24, 8:45AM EDT


Learn the key question facing teams in action, and those on a bye week, as we enter a nine-game slate of action.

Orange County SC's Brian Iloski has been one of the club's bright performers so far this season and will try to help the side rebound from consecutive defeats as it heads to Oakland. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

There are nine games on this weekend’s slate of action in the USL Championship as some notable sides get a bye – in the case of the Charleston Battery, Sacramento Republic FC and New Mexico United, a useful one before their Open Cup contests next week – while others look to forge ahead in the regular season campaign.

Here’s one question we have for every club going into this weekend’s games.

Birmingham Legion FC – Can you find more attacking diversity?

The thing about Birmingham’s loss to the Charleston Battery on Wednesday night was it basically reflected what Legion is right now – a perfectly solid contender in the Eastern Conference that doesn’t quite have enough variation to break opponents down consistently. The Battery closed down the cutback crossing avenues that have brought Legion success of late, and there just wasn’t enough otherwise to create a clear-cut opportunity as Tyler Pasher’s forays across the top of the penalty area were neutralized as well. With the weekend off, and a trip to Sacramento next weekend on the horizon, working on that diversification is the move.

Charleston Battery – Is Adam Grinwis going to be ready for Tuesday?

The only real concern for the Battery after their sixth consecutive league victory on Wednesday night was the status of goalkeeper Adam Grinwis, who was substituted late in stoppage time due to a head injury against Birmingham after a five-save performance that continued his stellar overall campaign. Grinwis has posted -1.22 Goals Prevented mark this season alongside five shutouts, more than filling the shoes of Trey Muse from a season ago. No disrespect to Daniel Kuzemka, but making sure Grinwis is fit and ready for Tuesday night’s Open Cup Round of 16 clash with Atlanta United FC gives the Battery a better chance to advance.

Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC – End the month on a high?

Thanks to three consecutive victories – including a highly satisfying one against the familiar faces at Hartford Athletic last weekend – the Switchbacks have gone from pointless to the brink of being above the playoff line. Add another victory against Rhode Island FC on Friday night at Weidner Field in its final game of the month and Colorado Springs would post its longest winning streak since the first five games of the 2022 season and put itself above the playoff line for the first time this campaign.

Detroit City FC – How big can Le Rouge get?

Thursday’s announcement that Detroit City FC had acquired land in Southwest Detroit for the development of a soccer-specific stadium was a landmark moment for one of the best clubs and stories in American soccer. With this weekend off before Wednesday night’s Open Cup meeting with Indy Eleven, it’s a chance for reflection on how far Le Rouge has come in its first decade and where it’s heading next.

El Paso Locomotive FC – Here Comes the Sun?

El Paso Locomotive FC will wear its Sun City kit on Friday night as it looks for a second consecutive victory playing host to Memphis 901 FC. | Photo courtesy El Paso Locomotive FC

A week after claiming the first win of the season at Loudoun United FC, El Paso Locomotive FC will be donning its special-edition Sun City kits on Friday night against Memphis 901 FC. Our friends Mike Watts and Devon Kerr estimated Locomotive needs at minimum 9-10 points from its next six games to get back into the playoff race, hopefully these eye-catching designs will help deliver a second consecutive victory and another step in the right direction.

Hartford Athletic – Strike fast, strike hard?

The four-game losing streak Hartford Athletic finds itself in has been striking for its lack of attacking threat. The Athletic has only recorded three Big Chances Created in the past four games combined and has been held below 0.70 Expected Goals in all four contests. That’s not how we envision a team coached by Brendan Burke to operate, regardless of results. Getting back to the speed and incisiveness that helped this side win three of its four games as it visits Indy Eleven is a must.

Indy Eleven – Is it Hunter Sulte’s time to seize the moment?

After his performance in Indy’s 2-0 victory against San Antonio FC in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, it was a slight surprise to see Hunter Sulte relegated to the substitutes bench for Yannik Oettl last Sunday night in Miami. What that game showed again – as it has so far this season – is the 22-year-old loanee may be the more reliable performer in net for the Boys in Blue for the rest of this season. Sulte has put up an 81.8 save percentage over three league appearances, recording one shutout and -0.77 Goals Prevented mark. If he gets the nod against Hartford Athletic and comes through again, it should lead to a lengthy run between the sticks.

Las Vegas Lights FC – How much have you grown since Charleston?

There’s no two ways about it – Las Vegas’ 6-0 defeat to the Charleston Battery last month was the big hiccup in the rebuild the Lights have been undertaking this season. Since then, they’ve looked better, and maybe never more so than against San Antonio FC last weekend when they arguably deserved better than the 1-1 draw at Toyota Field they ended up with. However, Louisville City FC comes to Cashman Field with the co-highest scoring attack in the league on Saturday. It’s going to be important to show everyone that Battery outing was a fluke.

Loudoun United FC – Can we shake this sense of déjà vu?

Hate to say it, but it’s looking a lot like the same old story for Loudoun United this season. A bright start gives way to less inspiring performances, and it results in a winless streak that ultimately puts the side out of reach of the playoff positions before the home stretch arrives. United was outplayed by North Carolina FC on Tuesday night in a 2-0 defeat that made it a month without a league win. Playing at home to Monterey Bay F.C. on Saturday night, we need to see something that isn’t the same-old, same-old.

Louisville City FC – Everyone caught up on Taylor Davila, right?

After earning Championship All-League First Team honors a season ago, Taylor Davila is continuing to shine in his new surroundings at Louisville City FC. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

Taylor Davila shouldn’t be thought of as an overnight sensation – when you earn Championship All-League First Team for a team that didn’t make the postseason, it should give you a sense of the level of respect there was for the 23-year-old midfielder around the league – but his seamless fit into the Louisville City FC midfield has put the spotlight on a player that could be headed for bigger things soon. Davila’s nine chances created against Orange County SC were the highest in a single game this season, and his overall game should have him in line for more individual honors at the end of the season. How Las Vegas deals with him is going to be key to watch.

Memphis 901 FC – Marlon’s in gear, can Lapa join him?

Positioning Marlon Santos as its center forward has helped reinvigorate Memphis 901 FC’s attack, and it was almost enough to steal a result on the road against Monterey Bay F.C. before the side allowed a late equalizer. We’ve also seen flashes of Bruno Lapa’s old self over the past three league outings, including an excellent display last week. The Brazilian hasn’t really caught fire since making the move to Memphis at the start of last season, but this structure seems to offer that potential. It could be key to 901 FC making a fourth consecutive postseason trip.

Miami FC – Is there any chance of a turnaround here?

NFL Hall of Famer Bill Parcells once said “you are what your record says you are.” It’s catchy, maybe overly simplistic, and in the case of Miami FC, we’re going to need to tweak it a little bit. Miami, you are what your underlying numbers say you are. Yes, you’re at the bottom of the Eastern Conference with seven points from 10 games, and still technically within striking distance of the playoff positions right now, but you’re underlying numbers? Whoa, buddy. Per Opta, Miami is last in the league with an Expected Goals mark of 7.8xG and last in the league with an Expected Goals Against mark of 20.41xGA – almost five higher than the next closest team. That does not bode well for the potential this is going to get better.  

Monterey Bay F.C. – Can you get on an upswing?

After three consecutive losses in all competitions – and three consecutive shutouts as well – Tristan Trager’s late equalizer against Memphis 901 FC felt like a morale boost for a side that has been as good as its current position in the Western Conference indicates. As MBFC heads east to face Loudoun United on Saturday, building on that emotion and getting back in the win column would set up a fascinating run of games in the next few weeks in which some of the league’s heavy-hitters come to Cardinale Stadium.

New Mexico United – Ready to be the favorite again?

Before New Mexico United’s clash with Real Salt Lake in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in the Round of 32, Dan Vaughn wrote a great piece for the Open Cup website about how USL Championship clubs go from being the hunted to the hunter when MLS clubs enter the tournament. Well, with no game this weekend, New Mexico gets to go back into hunted mode as it gets ready to face New York City FC II next Tuesday night at Belson Stadium. After three consecutive wins across all competitions, and the chance for a first Quarterfinal berth since 2019, United needs to lock in.

North Carolina FC – When will the goals come for Oalex Anderson?

North Carolina FC's Oalex Anderson has scored only once so far this season in the Championship after bagging 17 goals for NCFC in USL League One a season ago. | Photo courtesy Zach Taft / North Carolina FC

A season ago, Oalex Anderson was arguably the most important player in North Carolina FC’s attack as it won the League One title. This season, it’s just not clicking the way it feels like it should, and that’s something NCFC needs to build on what was overall an excellent performance on Tuesday night against Loudoun United. Anderson has only scored once this campaign, but more worryingly has only three shots on target among his 17 shots this season. Finding a way to restore his confidence won’t be easy against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, but getting the St. Vincent and Grenadines forward into a groove with his first goal since March would give North Carolina a chance to maintain momentum.

Oakland Roots SC – Can you give Paul Blanchette some help?

There was something otherworldly about how Paul Blanchette last season, making 114 saves at a 70.4 percent save percentage and keeping Oakland Roots SC in games it had no business being in. Unfortunately for Roots, Paul the Wall has developed some cracks this season, and he’s going to need some help. Blanchette’s save percentage is down to 66 percent so far this season. As worryingly, he’s at a +4.28 Goals Prevented mark, which is decidedly inverted from a season ago. As good as he was a season ago, Oakland’s going to have to do more to try and help its shot-stopper if it’s going to pull out of its current winless streak.

Orange County SC – Who’s going to lead the bounce-back?

Orange County had its chances early against Louisville City FC last Saturday but has now won only one of its last five outings across all competitions as it heads to Oakland Roots SC this weekend. If there’s a defining trait for the side so far this season it’s that there’s been a different player ready to step up, which has forged a strong team dynamic and a third-place position in the West. In Oakland, it’ll be interesting to see which players step to the fore to stop this recent slide in form.

Phoenix Rising FC – Who’s in, who’s out?

With a four-game undefeated streak across all competitions, Phoenix has found a solid rhythm in recent weeks including a good draw against Detroit City FC last weekend to wrap up a long week on the road. Picking up all three points at home to last-placed Eastern Conference team Miami FC is a must to keep up the pace in the standings, but there could be the temptation for Head Coach Danny Stone to play the lineup he thinks can earn that result while holding back some bigger players for next week’s game against Seattle Sounders FC in the Open Cup, and give Phoenix the best chance to advance there as well.

Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC – Will you tighten things up on the ball?

Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC and midfielder Robbie Mertz return home on Saturday night looking to continue a six-game undefeated run in league play. | Photo courtesy Mallory Neil / Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

The Hounds are undefeated in six consecutive league games, but the last couple of outings haven’t seen the side be as sharp as it could be in the final third. Pittsburgh put up a cumulative 5.57 Expected Goals against Miami FC and FC Tulsa and only came away with three goals to show for it. As Head Coach Bob Lilley said, the effort was there, but tightening up the passing and finishing on the ball is going to be a must against a North Carolina FC side that’s built confidence off its midweek win.

Rhode Island FC – Can you help Jack Panayotou pull the strings?

The only thing that likely could have made Jack Panayotou’s debut for Rhode Island FC better on loan from the New England Revolution would have been if he could have found the net, but the 19-year-old was impressive stepping into the lineup with one assist and three chances created. Heading on the road against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, finding a way to involve Panayotou consistently – he only had 35 touches as he acclimated to his new surroundings – could pay big dividends for the players around him.

Sacramento Republic FC – The fans are ready, are you?

Republic FC just managed to hold onto its undefeated record last weekend in Rhode Island thanks to Jonathan Ricketts’ stoppage-time equalizer, and now its full attention can move to next Tuesday night’s contest at home to the San Jose Earthquakes in the Round of 16 in the U.S. Open Cup. After Sacramento’s win two years ago against the Quakes the anticipation for this contest is going to be high, and Republic FC will take the weekend setting itself for a game its fans would dearly love to see it come through victorious.

San Antonio FC – Can you find a reset?

San Antonio FC suffered another home draw last Saturday against Las Vegas Lights FC, but the lasting effect from the game beyond the result was the red card to Jose Herrnandez, ruling him out of the side’s next contest against New Mexico United on May 25. With this weekend off, it’s time to reset, get healthy and find a higher level to get back into contention at the top of the West.

Tampa Bay Rowdies – Keep calm and carry on?

The thing about the Tampa Bay Rowdies season so far is that overall, they’ve looked the part of a serious contender. The problem has been when things have gone wrong, they’ve gone really wrong to the detriment of the club’s record. After suffering the first two defeats of the regular season in the past two weekends, finding a way to bounce back at home to FC Tulsa is imperative. Staying calm and sticking to the plan, which has looked mightily effective, should be the focus here.

FC Tulsa – If you get the lead, can you hold it?

There hasn’t been much of a problem for FC Tulsa in finding the net this season – the side has scored in its last six league outings and notched 10 goals in that span – and has only been shut out once. The problem has come in defending that lead. Each of the past two weeks, Tulsa has let a two-goal lead turn into a draw against Birmingham Legion FC and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC. If it gets in front against the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday, it’s got to figure out a way to make that stick.

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