Photo courtesy FC Cincinnati
TAMPA, Fla. – Cincinnati claims its first piece of silverware, while Vancouver and LA remain neck-and-neck at the top of the West. Here’s what we learned from Week 18 in the USL:
1. KINGS OF THE RIVER: There’s a very good argument that FC Cincinnati’s 2-0 victory against Louisville City FC was the first major on-field landmark of the club in a season that has seen so many off-field landmarks so far – which was continued by the 20,151 attendance on Saturday at Nippert Stadium. Considering that Cincinnati’s win was its first against the other teams in the current top four of the Eastern Conference – the side had gone 0-3-1 against Louisville, New York and Charleston prior to Saturday – the River Cities Cup triumph was a big boost for the host as it looks to hone in on a top-two position.
2. ON THE REBOUND: If there’s anything we’ve learned about Cincinnati’s squad in its inaugural season, it’s that the team is a resilient bunch. Saturday’s win continued its streak of bouncing back from its four defeats this season with victories, a strong sign of the resiliency and experience Coach John Harkes was looking for when he and his team put the group together. After Wednesday night’s deflating loss to New York Red Bulls II, Saturday’s performance showed a team hardened by that experience, and ready to go again.
3. STILL ON TOP: As with all streaks, Louisville’s undefeated run at the top of the Eastern Conference was going to come to an end at some point, but thanks to the Red Bulls II’s loss to Charleston on Saturday afternoon, City got to keep its edge in the race for the regular-season championship. Louisville will look to start a new streak on Saturday as it welcomes Orlando City B to Slugger Field, aiming to complete a three-game sweep of the season series between the two.
4. SHINING THROUGH: The LA Galaxy II were last season’s USL road warriors, accumulating a league-high eight wins on the road. Los Dos haven’t been quite as prolific this season, with the Red Bulls II claiming their crown, but Saturday’s 3-2 victory against San Antonio FC gave them back-to-back road wins, and four in a row overall as they remained solidly in second place in the West. With a visit to Orange County Blues FC next, Coach Curt Onalfo’s side is in good position to set itself up at home when the playoffs arrive thanks to its form on the road.
5. SANNER STRIKES: The Galaxy II aren’t in sole possession of first in the Western Conference thanks to a remarkable ending on Sunday that saw Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 grab a victory from what appeared to be a certain draw with Sacramento Republic FC. Sanner’s stoppage-time goal off a cross by Daniel Haber was his first as a professional, and couldn’t have come at a better time for WFC2 as it rebounded from a disastrous visit to Texas last week with a morale-boosting victory.
6. LATE, LATE SHOW: Sanner’s goal for Vancouver was the first of three decisive late goals on Sunday that provided a great level of drama to cap the week’s action. Following Sanner’s opening act, it was Wilmington Hammerheads FC’s Liam Miller who scored an absolute peach of a finish to earn his side a 2-2 draw with Orlando City B. Then, Mark O’Ojong brought the house down for Seattle Sounders FC 2 with a deflected late winner that gave S2 a 1-0 win against its Cascadia rival the Portland Timbers 2.
7. WHAT’S THAT SOUND? Listen closely, and you can hear Seattle creeping back into the playoff conversation. S2’s win on Sunday against T2 was its third in a row, and suddenly Coach Ezra Hendrickson’s side is only two points back of the eighth and final playoff place. One of the season’s major surprises was how poorly Seattle began the season after reaching the playoffs a season ago. After going 3-8-4 in the first half of the season, however, S2 is now 3-1-1 in the second half and looking more and more dangerous.
8. BATTERY BOOST: The Charleston Battery might be a dark horse for a top-two position at the end of the season in the Eastern Conference, but their 3-2 win against the New York Red Bulls II on Saturday showed how dangerous the side can be. What made the win more impressive was the absence of Justin Portillo and Ricky Garbanzo, who were both suspended, as Maikel Chang came to the fore with a goal and assist. With the suspended duo available again on Saturday, the Battery’s visit to Cincinnati will be a must-see.
9. POWERING UP: OKC Energy FC continued its move up the standings as it pulled away for a 3-0 victory against Tulsa Roughnecks FC in the Black Gold Derby on Saturday night at Taft Stadium, with the side’s third consecutive win moving it into the top four in the West. Energy FC’s uptick in form, which has the side on a seven-game undefeated streak, has seen its attack find the net when needed, but more importantly has seen a return to the defensive strength that saw the side be so difficult to beat last year, with four shutouts in the past five games.
10. ON THE UPSWING: Energy FC’s next game comes against a Saint Louis FC side that got back on a winning track on Saturday with an impressive win against a good Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC side. Irvin Herrera’s return to the score sheet with his 10th goal of the season was particularly welcome for Saint Louis, which will now look to boost its playoff chances even further with a schedule that sees it play five of its next six games on home turf.
11. UPS AND DOWNS: Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC is still in contention for a strong position when the USL Playoffs arrive in two months, but it’s still proving hard to figure out quite how good this side is given the variance in its results of late. The Switchbacks dropped to 1-2-2 in their last five contests with Saturday’s defeat in Saint Louis, which means it won’t be able to overtake Vancouver on Friday no matter the result at Switchbacks Stadium. With 11 games to go, greater consistency has to be the goal if Coach Steve Trittschuh’s side is to achieve its lofty goals from the start of the season.