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One Question for every team in the USL Championship entering Week 12’s action

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 05/24/24, 9:00AM EDT


San Antonio looks to start its turnaround in New Mexico, El Paso looks for a new manager bounce, and much more

San Antonio FC is in sixth position in the Western Conference as it looks to jumpstart this season in its visit to New Mexico United on Saturday. | Photo courtesy Darren Abate / San Antonio FC

After the high of Tuesday and Wednesday night’s action in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the USL Championship returns with an 11-game slate of action in on Friday and Saturday night that features some intriguing contests in the final weekend in May.

We’ve got one question for every team in the league as the weekend arrives. Here’s where you can check out all of the action on national and local broadcasts.

Birmingham Legion FC – How quickly can Derek Dodson assimilate?

A standout last season in the Charleston Battery’s turnaround, Derek Dodson found himself in the limbo between not getting minutes for Minnesota United FC in Major League Soccer after signing as a free agent and MLS NEXT Pro being aimed more at younger players in the club’s organization. That brought him this week on loan to Legion, where he’s potentially a plug-and-play at right back with the ability to produce quality at both ends. Birmingham heads to Sacramento this Saturday, and it will be interesting to see if the 25-year-old can hit the ground running in one of the weekend’s most interesting games.

Charleston Battery – Can you pick yourself up?

The Charleston Battery’s elimination from the Open Cup on Tuesday night came in arguably the most deflating fashion of all – a chance to advance that got away. After 120 minutes against Atlanta United FC – but still technically undefeated this season across all competitions – it’s going to be a test of character as the Battery look to pick themselves up three days later against an El Paso Locomotive FC side that enters with a new Head Coach in Wilmer Cabrera as it looks to double its win total this season.

Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC – Who’s up for a hike?

The Switchbacks have this weekend off before aiming to pick up their four-game winning streak against Oakland Roots SC on June 1, which means time for some rest and recreation. We’re wondering which players might scale Pikes Peak on Saturday morning for a break from the regular exercise routine?

Detroit City FC – Where’s the mojo gone?

We were extremely high on how Detroit City FC was looking as it peeled off six consecutive wins across all competitions to start the season. After Wednesday night’s Open Cup elimination by Indy Eleven, however, it’s technically now five games without a win, even though we all know in our hearts how cool what happened in Houston was. With a weekend off before a visit to Louisville City FC next Wednesday, Le Rouge need to figure out a way back into the win column.

El Paso Locomotive FC – New Manager Bounce incoming?

Ah, the mythical New Manager Bounce. Everyone’s eager to impress the new boss, and it results in a run of positive results, right? Well, maybe, but El Paso Locomotive FC has some other factors going for it as it heads to face Eastern Conference leader the Charleston Battery on Friday night. Wilmer Cabrera’s hiring has potential – check out the conversation between Mike Watts and Devon Kerr in this week’s USL All Access as to why – but they’ve also had a full week of preparation while the Battery went 120 minutes on Tuesday night before falling in an exasperating manner in a penalty shootout. Sound like the build-up to Locomotive’s win against Loudoun United? It does to us.

Hartford Athletic – The only way is up?

After a bright start to the season, Hartford Athletic has lost five in a row in the Championship and is in need of a turnaround at home this Friday night. | Photo courtesy Hartford Athletic

It’s been a rough few weeks for Hartford. The blocks indicating their recent form on the USL Championship standings page? All red, and that’s not good. Here’s the thing, though – this is a team that’s shown us it has talent and on Friday it gets to play a Monterey Bay F.C. side that doesn’t mind playing fast-paced, back-and-forth soccer either. That feels like an ideal circumstance to get things moving back in the right direction for Athletic, and cause for real concern if it doesn’t happen.

Indy Eleven – How far can your momentum carry you?

After their midweek victory against Detroit City FC in the Open Cup, the Boys in Blue have won six consecutive games across all competition and are undefeated in their last eight outings overall. It’s now got a chance on Saturday night for the side’s first five-game winning streak in the Championship since the 2019 season, which was also the best campaign the side has achieved since joining the league the year prior. With Phoenix Rising FC the opponent and coming off a long week of travel, three points should be there for the taking, but in the big picture this Indy side is one that looks capable of competing on both fronts for silverware.

Las Vegas Lights FC – Can you make a breakthrough?

Since interconference play returned to the Championship in 2021, Las Vegas Lights FC has failed to find success against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, losing all three prior meetings including a 6-1 drubbing on its last trip to Al Lang Stadium two years ago. With the Rowdies having come away with consecutive great attacking displays – if not the result against FC Dallas on Wednesday night – the Lights will want to build on the momentum of results against San Antonio FC and Louisville City FC the past two weekends and finally earn at least a point for the first time in Tampa Bay.

Loudoun United FC – Time for a double?

Loudoun United FC’s victory on the road against Orange County SC in the Round of 32 of the Open Cup was arguably one of the surprises of the round considering the league form for both, but with victory in its last Championship outing and a creditable performance against Los Angeles FC on Tuesday night, Loudoun is on a small upswing as it returns to Championship Soccer Stadium for the second time this month. Pick up a second consecutive league win and it would propel United seriously into the playoff conversation.

Louisville City FC – Can you pick up the pace on the road?

Louisville City FC's return of seven points from four road games this season is solid, but hasn't matched its home form as it heads to face Rhode Island FC this weekend. | Photo courtesy Las Vegas Lights FC

Louisville City FC has been the most dominant force at home in the USL Championship this season with five consecutive victories and 22 goals at Lynn Family Stadium. The road hasn’t been as kind, however, and after last week’s 2-2 draw against Las Vegas Lights FC the side heads to Rhode Island FC for an early-evening kickoff looking to keep the pressure on Charleston at the top of the standings. With only six goals in four road games, finding the same attacking energy on the road as at home is going to be important.

Memphis 901 FC – Will Marlon Santos end the month in style?

Marlon Santo has balled out in the Championship this month with four goals and three assists, and if you could his two-assist performance against Birmingham Legion FC on April 27 he’s tied for the fourth-longest assist streak in league history. On Saturday night when 901 FC plays host to Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC the Brazilian will try to make his final statement in bidding for the May Player of the Month award as well as another three crucial points that could – if everything else goes right – send Memphis into a top-four position in the West.

Miami FC – Who’s going to lead the turnaround?

Miami FC’s defeat to Phoenix Rising FC last weekend wasn’t a surprise, but it was once again a dispiriting performance that saw the visitors outclassed in Arizona. What likely ticked off Head Coach Antonio Nocerino most, though, was how Phoenix dominated the physical side of the game, winning more tackles and duels to hold Miami to less than 30 percent of possession. With North Carolina FC coming to South Florida, Miami has to find more of an edge, which has been the foundation for games where it’s looked more competitive this campaign.

Monterey Bay F.C. – Erase the tape?

Safe to say that about everything that could have gone wrong last weekend at Loudoun United FC did for Monterey Bay, which lost 3-0, got outshot 16-6 and was reduced to 10 players before halftime, which might have made film review either painful or pointless this week. That was a fifth game without a win for Head Coach Frank Yallop’s side across all competitions, giving us flashbacks to the downturns that cost MBFC a playoff berth last season. The good news is while Monterey Bay comes back to the East Coast on Friday night, its opponent – Hartford Athletic – is in equally dismal form. It’s important for the visitors to find the right performance and the right result here.

New Mexico United – Can you avoid the hangover?

For some clubs – New Mexico United among them – there’s nothing like a run in the Open Cup. United’s fans were ebullient after Tuesday night’s win and are already looking forward to July’s visit to Los Angeles FC in July. For the players, though, staying present in the moment for Saturday’s home game against a rested San Antonio FC is a must. As nice as the cup run is, New Mexico’s vying for top spot in the Western Conference as well and it needs to break a four-game league winless run against its visitors to maintain that push.

North Carolina FC – Was last week the turning point?

North Carolina FC picked up a four-point week in Week 11, signalling a potential turnaround in form as they visit Miami FC on Saturday night. | Photo courtesy Chris Cowger / Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

We’ve been waiting for the North Carolina FC side to look as good in practice as it did on paper to arrive. Last week’s four points – which were achieved despite a dicey first half in Pittsburgh – were a step in the right direction and now a big opportunity arrives visiting Miami FC on the road. Getting another good display and all three points on the road would be big for the visitors as they try to scale up in the Eastern Conference.

Oakland Roots SC – Old way’s the best way?

Our friend from Backheeled and the USL Show John Morrisey had a great breakdown of how Oakland Roots got its first win under interim Head Coach Gavin Glinton last week against Orange County SC, a reversion to the structure that we enjoyed watching early in the season with a new wrinkle. With three points under their belts, we’re looking forward to seeing how this plays out against FC Tulsa on Friday night, which is coming off a pair of drubbings defensively and might be ripe for the picking.

Orange County SC – Is this what regression to the mean looks like?

It’s an interesting contrast – one person’s “this team knows how to find results when it matters,” is another’s “they’re overachieving and will come back to the pack.” Our current case in point in this matter is Orange County SC, which went six games undefeated to start the season despite some shaky underlying numbers – and has now lost three games in a row across all competitions as it prepares to host Loudoun United FC on Saturday night. This is an important game for OCSC – it’s still in the top three in the Western Conference, but it’s becoming crowded in there. Finding a way to deliver a result – dominant or not – will give the side some breathing room and confidence.

Phoenix Rising FC – Who’s bringing the energy?

Phoenix Rising FC’s five-game undefeated run across all competitions ended on Wednesday night against Seattle Sounders FC as by the end of the night at Starfire Stadium the pressure the Sounders were able to maintain throughout the second half wore down Rising’s attempt to hold onto its halftime lead. With another cross-country trip and visit to Indy Eleven on Saturday night, Phoenix is going to have to dig deep and find the energy to compete with one of the hottest teams in the league right now before heading home.

Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC – When the chances come, can you capitalize?

The Hounds have made a strong recovery from their slow start to the season but have missed out on maximum points in the past two weeks mainly because their finishing hasn’t been sharp enough. Ten goals in 10 games overall have come on below league-average shooting accuracy (45.8 percent) and shot conversion rate (12.1 percent) and that’s kept Pittsburgh from being among the contenders for the top four one-third of the way through the season. Going into Memphis 901 FC – a side that while in positive form has recorded only one shutout this season – the Hounds must take their opportunities to get back on track.

Rhode Island FC – Can you get Albert Dikwa firing again?

2023 USL Championship Golden Boot winner Albert Dikwa has been held scoreless in his last seven appearances as Louisville City FC comes to Beirne Stadium this weekend. | Photo courtesy Ron Cournoyer / Rhode Island FC

2023 Championship Player of the Year and Golden Boot winner Albert Dikwa was one of the bright spots in the early going for RIFC but he’s currently on a run of seven appearances without a goal across all competitions. With RIFC’s form having fluctuated back and forth in its inaugural season, it’s going to need one of its biggest players to get on track as Louisville City FC comes to visit what’s expected to be a sold-out Beirne Stadium hoping to see Rhode Island’s first home win of the season.

Sacramento Republic FC – Did Cristian Parano earn a starting shot on Tuesday?

Sacramento announced on Thursday evening that Russell Cicerone had undergone a procedure to repair a high ankle injury, and his timeline for return is still up in the air. What that resulted in for the side’s victory against the San Jose Earthquakes was a shift into a two-forward system that employed both Trevor Amann and Kieran Phillips in the starting lineup, a chance from the typical Republic FC center forward and two attacking playmakers system we’ve been accustomed to. With his explosive display off the bench to lead Sacramento to victory, however, this might be the moment for Cristian Parano to get a shot at one of those two No. 10 roles and see what he can deliver against Birmingham Legion FC.

San Antonio FC – Is this where the turnaround begins?

San Antonio FC has been winless in its last four games across all competitions, a run that in the club’s last outing saw it hold on at home for a draw against Las Vegas Lights FC to sit in sixth place in the West. That’s not a position we’ve been accustomed to seeing the 2022 Championship title-winner in under Head Coach Alen Marcina, and this weekend’s trip to New Mexico United is an important one to try and gain ground on the top two. While assists leader Jorge Hernandez won’t be available due to suspension, San Antonio can at least go to Isotopes Park knowing it’s undefeated in its last four games against New Mexico and has won each of its last two trips to Isotopes Park. For a team with big aspirations, this needs to be a line in the sand to reset its season.

Tampa Bay Rowdies – Who’s going to provide the secondary scoring?

Forrest Lasso’s brace last weekend was notable for a few reasons, but it also made the veteran center back only the third player to have recorded multiple goals for the Rowdies in the league this season. While the duo of Manuel Arteaga (8 goals) and Cal Jennings (7 goals) have been superb in leading the attacking line, Tampa Bay will probably need to find more from its supporting cast to push on and challenge Charleston and Louisville. Closing out its homestand against Las Vegas with a win – and some new names on the scoresheet – would be a good end to the week.

FC Tulsa – Is Michael Creek your starting goalkeeper now?

It’s never a good night for a goalkeeper when you’ve had four goals put past you, but for FC Tulsa’s Michael Creek there were a couple of silver linings against Sporting Kansas City on Tuesday night. Individually the 26-year-old put up a 10-save performance and posted a -0.43 Goals Prevented mark on SKC’s barrage of shots making him arguably Tulsa’s Player of the Game despite the result. What’s more, that’s continued the trend of Creek outplaying Joey Roggeveen in their league appearances this season – Creek has a better save percentage (70% to 43.5%) and a superior Goals Prevented mark as a result (-1.49 to Roggeveen’s +4.31). Roggeveen has the experience, but Creek’s numbers should justify a solid run as the starter until proved otherwise.

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