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One question for every team entering the 14th weekend of the USL Championship season

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 06/07/24, 4:00PM EDT


Ahead of a busy 11-game slate of action, here’s what we’re wondering going in

Indy Eleven and Augustine Williams will try to make it seven wins in a row when they visit Birmingham Legion FC on Sunday evening at Protective Stadium. | Photo courtesy Matt Schlotzhauer / Indy Eleven

After Wednesday's Copa Tejas showdown, the USL Championship features an 11-game slate this weekend that sees the Eastern Conference’s top two both looking to add wins at home and a pair of big rivalry games out west as Sacramento Republic FC visits Monterey Bay F.C. and Phoenix Rising FC hosts Orange County SC.

Ahead of the action, we’ve got one question for each club in action and on a bye this week.

Birmingham Legion FC – Can you stop the Big Blue Machine?

While last weekend saw Legion’s attack break out for a three-goal performance against El Paso Locomotive FC – increasing its overall goal total in the league this season by 33 percent – the big test for the side on Sunday evening at home will be whether its recent defensive prowess can be sustained against Indy Eleven. The Boys in Blue have yet to be held off the scoresheet this season – a key factor in their current six-game winning streak – but Birmingham has allowed only two goals in the past four games. Which unit comes out on top should end up a decisive factor at Protective Stadium.

Charleston Battery – What chance the Battery rebound?

The Charleston Battery host longtime rival Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC on Saturday night winless in their last two outings, which in turn has ceded first place in the Eastern Conference to Louisville City FC. For the Battery, however, that’s typically been the extent to which winless runs have occurred in the past 12 months. In fact, its last three-game winless run occurred around this point of the last campaign with a 2-0 defeat against the Hounds on June 10, 2023 its third game in a row without all three points before getting back in the win column against Hartford Athletic the following weekend. Charleston will look to turn the tables this time around and keep the pressure on LouCity at the top.

Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC – Ready to equal a club record?

Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC and Head Coach James Chambers would tie a club record with victory on the road against Memphis 901 FC on Saturday night. | Photo courtesy Isaiah J. Downing / Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC

Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC’s turnaround from its five-game losing streak to start the season has been remarkable, and now with a five-game winning streak under its belt it heads to Memphis 901 FC on Saturday with a chance to equal the longest winning streak in club history, set in the 2015 season. To do that, the Switchbacks are likely to want more control than they experienced last week against Oakland Roots SC. While Delentz Pierre’s opening goal was a belter, and the defense did well to bend but not break for a fourth shutout in the last five, being sharper and more controlled in possession feels like it will be key to blunt the threat Memphis’ attack carries.

Detroit City FC – Time to end these road blues?

It’s been a tough old go for Detroit City FC in recent weeks with the side having lost three consecutive outings across all competitions, and all three having come away from Keyworth Stadium. Le Rouge finish their road trip on Saturday night with a visit to Rhode Island FC looking to find the right balance after conceding 11 goals in the past three games. This side has always been solid defensively since it joined the Championship, but it’s going to have to step up as RIFC will see an opportunity for a first home win in club history at hand.

El Paso Locomotive FC – How does 11th place feel?

It’s been a few weeks since El Paso Locomotive FC hasn’t been on the bottom of the Western Conference but with its wins against the Charleston Battery and San Antonio FC in Head Coach Wilmer Cabrera’s first three games that’s changed. With another week to build ahead of Phoenix’s visit next weekend, Locomotive might be rooting for its Copa Tejas rival on Saturday night to keep FC Tulsa below them in the West.

Hartford Athletic – What’s up with Michee Ngalina?

Look, it’s still early in the season and the numbers aren’t bad – three goals and one assist in 900 minutes is solid enough – but it’s fair to say I think we were all expecting a little bit more from Michee Ngalina in his return to the Championship this season. The most eye-popping number so far? He’s only completed 10 dribbles at a 34.5 percent success rate, which is well off where he was when earning the Championship’s Young Player of the Year award in 2022. Hartford has picked up four points from its last two games, but it’s likely going to need Ngalina to shine to get a result in New Mexico and make a substantial push for the playoffs as this season continues.

Indy Eleven – Can you break your Birmingham hex?

The Boys in Blue are flying high with a six-game winning streak – the longest since the side joined the Championship in 2018 – but on Sunday night it heads to the city that’s been less than welcoming in its previous visits. Indy’s first visit to Birmingham in 2021 was the lone time the side has won away in five visits, with the last three resulting in defeats by a combined scoreline of 8-3. Indy has got the most consistent attack in the league this season, scoring in every game, and it’s going to need it to extend its winning run.

Las Vegas Lights FC – Trust the process, build off last week?

Las Vegas Lights FC will be hoping for a little more good fortune in front of goal as it plays host to Miami FC on Saturday night at Cashman Field. | Photo courtesy Lucas Peltier / Las Vegas Lights FC

For a side based in Las Vegas, the Lights sure didn’t get the luck the house usually relies on around the city’s casinos against Phoenix Rising FC. At the same time, there was a ton to feel optimistic about against the defending Championship title holders despite the continuation of the side’s current winless run. Facing a Miami FC side that is struggling for form – where luck has very little to do with it – the Lights have a great opportunity to carry the same ideas as a week ago and take home their reward.

Loudoun United FC – Got tickets for the USMNT this weekend?

Loudoun United FC has the weekend off, so what better way to spend it than heading to FedEx Field and taking in the United States’ Men’s National Team contest against Colombia ahead of this month’s Copa America. (Drew Skundrich used to play with Mark McKenzie and Brenden Aaronson, he can take care of the tickets.)

Louisville City FC – Is another home romp inevitable?

We detailed earlier this week how dominant Louisville City FC has been at Lynn Family Stadium this season, with 27 goals in six home league games at an average of 4.5 per game. It’s not a given that will happen against North Carolina FC, which has only conceded once in a three-game undefeated run, but the firepower a team like LouCity can bring is tremendous and could put on another show for those tuning in on CBS Sports Golazo Network.

Memphis 901 FC – Can you find transitional moments?

With Marlon Santos, Luis Fernando and Akeem Ward constants in the lineup for Memphis, there’s speed to burn in transition when 901 FC gets the opportunity. That could prove particularly important as the side hosts a Colorado Springs side that has won its last five games behind a marked defensive improvement. The Switchbacks have allowed an average of three shots on target the past five games – dropping their season average to four per game overall – by becoming far more difficult to break down when they have their defensive players in position. Disrupting that in transitional moments – especially with Marlon’s capabilities – could be key to 901 FC bouncing back from last week’s setback.

Miami FC – Who can step up to fill Nicola Cardona’s shoes?

One of the bright spots in the Miami lineup this season has been center back Nicolas Cardona, who has led the side in tackles won (33 of 42) and duels won (81 of 133). With Cardona away on international duty with Puerto Rico – and impressing again in a very creditable 0-0 draw on the road against El Salvador on Thursday night – his place alongside Daltyn Knutson is a key one for Miami Head Coach Antonio Nocerino to fill adequately as Miami tries to find a result on the road in Las Vegas.

Monterey Bay F.C. – Can Antony Siaha keep this going?

Officially, Antony Siaha has recorded 14 consecutive saves going back to his side’s visit against Hartford Athletic on May 24, with his back-to-back shutouts last week earning him Championship Player of the Week honors. When he’s at the top of his game, the Cameroonian looks like one of the best shot-stoppers in the league, and with 17 shutouts in 47 appearances he’s got solid numbers to back that up. Coming up against Sacramento Republic FC, however, Siaha needs to stay at the top of his game to give the hosts a chance to reverse their defeat earlier this season when the NorCal rivals met in the Round of 32 of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

New Mexico United – Who’s taking the penalty kicks?

To be clear here, the obvious candidate is Greg Hurst, who at this point of the season is the only New Mexico player to have scored in the league from the spot in 2024. The Scottish forward put his away against North Carolina FC on April 20 in a 3-2 win on the road. If he’s not available? Well, there had better be a solution because going 1 of 5 from the spot so far – including 0 for 2 last week in Monterey Bay last Sunday – has left points on the table that United can’t afford if it wants to hold onto first place in the West.

North Carolina FC – Ready for your litmus test?

North Carolina FC defender Paco Craig will return to face former club Louisville City FC aiming to be the first team to take points home from Lynn Family Stadium this season. | Photo courtesy Zach Taft / North Carolina FC

So far this season, there isn’t a bigger road test right now than going to face Louisville City FC. For a North Carolina FC side that’s on a three-game undefeated streak and coming off a bye week to prepare, this game won’t be defining of how it’s season is going to go, but if it can be the first team to take points off LouCity on its home turf this season it would be the best indicator yet that this side is on the right track in its return season in the Championship.

Oakland Roots SC – What reception is Charlie Dennis going to get?

Charlie Dennis was one of the key players when Oakland Roots SC reached the postseason in 2022 and scored a memorable goal as part of its victory in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. That offseason, the Tampa Bay Rowdies came calling with an offer Oakland accepted for Dennis’ services and the English midfielder took the opportunity and ran with it, earning Championship All-League First Team honors. This will mark his first game back in Oakland since then – Roots visited Tampa Bay in interleague play – and you’d expect a warm reception from the Roots faithful at Pioneer Stadium. How Dennis fares after scoring his first goal of the season last week will be worth watching.

Orange County SC – Was last week the spark for something?

After his side’s loss to Loudoun United FC on May 25, Orange County SC Head Coach Morten Karlsen spoke about his team needing to be “brave enough to go out here and challenge their destiny.” While he was sidelined last week due to suspension, you’d imagine the 3-2 win that got OCSC back in the win column against Detroit City FC was close to what he was looking for. As the side heads on the road to face longtime rival Phoenix Rising FC this weekend, another display like that by Thomas Amang in particular could get OCSC back into the mix for top spot in the West.

Phoenix Rising FC – Can you find your home form?

After three consecutive outings on the road, Phoenix Rising FC will be glad to be back at home this Saturday night to host Orange County SC, but the defending Championship title holders will also be set on finding more success at 38th St. and Washington than it has so far this season. Rising has suffered three defeats in seven home outings this year – matching its total from the 2023 regular season – and while its road heroics of a year ago can’t be discounted it’s going to need to start putting up wins at home to keep up in the crowded Western Conference standings.

Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC – Will Patrick Hogan be center stage?

When Patrick Hogan departed the Charleston Battery after the club’s disastrous 2022 season, he found a landing spot in Pittsburgh and became a spot-starter a season ago while getting a chance to build his game. That work has paid off this season where Hogan has become one of the Hounds’ most consistent defensive performers, winning 71 duels at a 72.4 percent success rate – including 53 aerial duels at a 79.1 percent success rate. Coming back to Patriots Point to take on one of the league’s most prolific attacks, the visitors will likely need Hogan to put in a solid shift for a chance at success.

Rhode Island FC – Do we see the front three again?

Rhode Island FC hosts Detroit City FC on Saturday night aiming to give its fans a first home victory in club history. | Photo courtesy Rhode Island FC

Last weekend, for the first time this season, we saw Rhode Island start a game with all three of its potential big guns in the starting lineup as JJ Williams and Mark Doyle flanked Albert Dikwa against Hartford Athletic. It had some of the desired intent – Doyle scored the opening goal off an assist by Williams as Dikwa helped disrupt the defense, and in the second half RIFC comfortably outshot its hosts only to end in another draw. With a first home win up for grabs at home to Detroit City on Saturday night, employing the same bold lineup should be on the cards with the hope it can deliver all three points.

Sacramento Republic FC – Where can Justin Portillo make the biggest difference?

Justin Portillo’s arrival at Sacramento Republic FC this week is a move the club likely felt it needed to make given Rodrigo Lopez’s absence for the remainder of the season, but there might also have been another motive for the Western Conference contender to bring the veteran midfielder aboard. Portillo has been one of the best set piece deliverers in the Championship for years, and that’s been a weakness so far for Republic FC. The side has logged 102 chances created this season, but only 10 of those have come at corners or free kicks. Portillo’s deliveries and the aerial prowess of Trevor Amann, Conor Donovan and others can change that, and potentially kickstart other areas of Sacramento’s attack.

San Antonio FC – Can we see some more of Adriel Padilla?

The answer to this given San Antonio’s current situation with injuries and international call-ups is likely yes, given San Antonio now turns around to face FC Tulsa on Saturday night after Wednesday night’s loss to Copa Tejas rival El Paso Locomotive FC, but the way the 18-year-old Padilla played in his USL Championship debut provided a major plus to a tough night for SAFC. Drawing praise from Mitchell Taintor and Kendall Burks after the game, Padilla didn’t look overawed or out of place. Giving him another run might not just be required under the circumstances but might be exactly the opportunity Padilla needs.

Tampa Bay Rowdies – Time for more donuts?

Officially, this is National Donut Day, which we are informed is held on the first Friday of June every year. For the Tampa Bay Rowdies, however, the first day back to training after the previous week’s outing has been Donut Day with the side having posted shutouts in three consecutive league games for the first time this season. After the shakiness the side showed adapting to Head Coach Robbie Neilson’s preferred pressing style early this season, everything is clicking for Tampa Bay as it heads to Oakland in pursuit of another victory, and another excuse for glazed celebratory treats.

FC Tulsa – What’s the attacking plan moving forward?

There’s a number of factors at play – good goalkeeping from opponents and sub-par finishing to name two – but the turnover that’s occurring at FC Tulsa that continued this week with the departure of Justin Portillo to Sacramento Republic FC when the side is on a four-game scoreless streak fills us with a lot of questions. There’s still talent here led by Phillip Goodrum and Stefan Stojanovic, but it feels like there needs to be a better plan in place to get the most out of an attack that ranks in the lower half in the league in goals, shots, shooting accuracy and shot conversion rate.

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