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USL Weekend Preview – Week 24

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 09/01/17, 9:59PM EDT

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Top two teams in Western Conference clash as league closes in on landmark

TAMPA, Fla. – The top two teams in the USL Western Conference will square off in a game that could see the first berth in the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs be claimed, and other marquee matchups continue the race for the postseason as the league approaches a major milestone in a 13-game slate of action that concludes Week 24 of the 2017 regular season.

First-place Real Monarchs SLC squares off with second-place San Antonio FC on Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium, with the Monarchs able to clinch their first trip to the postseason with a victory and also move closer to the USL Regular Season Championship. Also in the Western Conference, sixth-place Sacramento Republic FC hosts seventh-place Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC in a big game for both, while Orange County SC will try to cool off Reno 1868 FC’s current run as the hottest team in the league.

The Eastern Conference also sees a top-three matchup on Saturday night, as first-place Louisville City FC plays host to the third-place Charleston Battery at Slugger Field. Other games to watch include eighth-place FC Cincinnati taking on the ninth-place Pittsburgh Riverhounds at Nippert Stadium, with a crowd of more than 20,000 fans set to be on hand for a crucial game in the playoff race, and the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ first meeting with the New York Red Bulls II.

This weekend, the USL and its teams’ thoughts also center on the millions of people that are currently reeling from the flooding and disaster left by Hurricane Harvey in Texas. To support the relief efforts currently underway, the USL is asking all fans of its clubs to help raise funds for the American Red Cross disaster relief.

There are three very easy ways to donate:

  1. Visit the American Red Cross website using the link: www.redcross.org/donate.
  2. Text HARVEY to 90999 to donate $10 to the Red Cross.
  3. Call 1-800-RED CROSS

Every game of the 2017 USL season will be available on the league’s Match Center, with updates from across the league also available via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

GAMES TO WATCH


Photo courtesy Zach Bland / Charleston Battery

Saturday, Sept. 2
FC Cincinnati vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds
4 p.m. ET, Nippert Stadium

FC Cincinnati and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds square off for the second time this season with major postseason implications for both at stake with the teams separated by just a point on either side of the red line in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

FCC (9-9-7, 34pts) sits in eighth place going into Saturday’s contest and is looking to build on a big 3-1 victory against Ottawa Fury FC when it last took the field on Aug. 23. Facing the penultimate game at Nippert Stadium in the regular season, Cincinnati needs to maintain its upper hand on the Riverhounds, having taken a 1-0 win at Highmark Stadium earlier this season.

The Riverhounds (8-8-9, 33pts) are rolling into Nippert Stadium on a three-game winning streak after earning a 3-2 victory against Bethlehem Steel FC but has struggled in the past to break down FCC. Earning its first win in the series between the teams would move Pittsburgh into the top eight and notch the club’s first four-game winning streak since the 2013 regular season.

Louisville City FC vs. Charleston Battery
5 p.m. ET, Slugger Field

USL Eastern Conference leader Louisville City FC and the third-place Charleston Battery will look to rebound from defeats in their last outings when they meet for the third and final time in the regular season. After playing to a draw in each of the previous two meetings at MUSC Health Stadium, the winner will also claim the regular-season series.

Louisville (13-5-5, 44pts) fell to a surprise 3-0 defeat to Orlando City B last Saturday night at Slugger Field but has proved adept at bouncing back from losses this season. City took victory after each of its previous four defeats and will be looking to do the same and extend its edge over the Battery in the race for first place.

The Battery (11-6-8, 41pts) saw their recent struggles continue in a 3-1 defeat to the Richmond Kickers last night, which leaves the side with only one win in its last nine outings. Charleston would move level with Louisville on points with a victory, but enters having seen Slugger Field be the point of its elimination from each of the past two editions of the USL Cup Playoffs.

Real Monachs SLC vs. San Antonio FC
9 p.m. ET, Rio Tinto Stadium

Western Conference-leader Real Monarchs SLC will become the first team to claim a place in the 2017 USL Cup playoffs should it take victory against San Antonio FC at Rio Tinto Stadium, but second-place SAFC could make the race for the USL Regular Season Championship very interesting should it take victory on the road.

The Monarchs (17-3-4, 55pts) moved within three points of a place in the playoffs last Friday night in a 2-1 victory against Rio Grande Valley FC for its 11th win in 12 outings at Rio Tinto Stadium this season. After recording two assists in the contest, Chandler Hoffman sits in the top three in both goals (14) and assists (7) in the league this season, the only player to hold that status.

SAFC (12-2-9, 45pts) comes in 10 points back in the race for first place in the Western Conference but holds a game in hand on the Monarchs, which could cause that gap to shrink quickly should San Antonio emerge with a win. SAFC came close in the first meeting between the teams this season, when Real needed a late equalizer by Max Lackowecki to earn a 2-2 draw at Toyota Field.

Sacramento Republic FC vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Papa Murphy’s Park, 10:50 p.m. ET

Sixth-place Sacramento Republic FC will try to arrest its slide down the Western Conference standings when it plays host to seventh-place Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC with two points separating the sides as they meet for the first time this season.

Sacramento (10-8-5, 35pts) saw its winless streak reach three games as it fell 3-1 to Phoenix Rising FC last Saturday night, and a midweek win for Tulsa Roughnecks FC pushed the side down into sixth in the conference standings. Republic FC hosts five of its next six outings but needs to pick up a win to avoid getting drawn further into a battle for a playoff position.

The Switchbacks (9-10-6, 33pts) have also fallen in their last two outings but remain in the top eight in the Western Conference thanks to favorable results elsewhere. With only seven games to go in its regular season, Colorado Springs would give its playoff hopes a major boost with a win on the road, which would send it past Sacramento in the standings.

NUMBER CRUNCHING

975 – The USL has seen 975 goals scored across the league this season after Thursday night’s game between Orlando City B and Bethlehem Steel FC. The 1,000th goal of the season is on course to arrive on Saturday night.

88.5 – Orlando City B goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. saved 23 of 26 shots in August for a save percentage of 88.5 percent.

42 – Pittsburgh Riverhounds forward Corey Hertzog has created 42 chances from open play this season, the most in the USL.

18 – Eighteen current and former USL players have been called up to international duty in World Cup Qualifying and international exhibitions. The league’s players are set to feature in World Cup Qualifying contests across four different federations this weekend.

12Orlando City B’s 12-game undefeated streak is the longest in club history and is only two back of San Antonio FC’s 14-game undefeated streak, which stands as the longest so far this regular season.

OTHER NEWS AND NOTES

- Las Vegas Lights FC was unveiled on Monday night as the official name of the 2018 USL expansion club in the Entertainment Capital of the World, with Owner Brett Lashbrook making the announcement at the Freemont Street Experience after more than 10,000 votes were cast on the potential name for the new team. Fans can now submit logo concepts at the club’s official website, LasVegasLightsFC.com.

- In a wide-ranging interview with SoccerNation.com, USL President Jake Edwards spoke about a historic season for the league and the broader topics of youth development that the USL is taking on alongside its teams to provide a strong path for the top young players in the United States and Canada.

- Bethlehem Steel FC got a late equalizer from Marcus Epps in a 1-1 draw with Orlando City B on Thursday night at Orlando City Stadium, breaking a three-game losing streak for Steel FC. OCB had taken the lead with 15 minutes to go through U.S. U20 international Pierre Da Silva, only for Epps to answer with four minutes to go.

- The New York Red Bulls II (9-11-5, 32pts) will try to move back into the playoff positions when they take on the Tampa Bay Rowdies (10-6-8, 38pts) on Saturday afternoon at MSU Soccer Park (4 p.m. ET | Match Center). New York almost claimed victory in its last outing on Sunday afternoon, only to concede late in stoppage time in a 2-2 draw against Ottawa Fury FC. The Red Bulls II have won their last three outings at MSU Soccer Park, which could be bad news for Tampa Bay, which has won only once on the road this season. The Rowdies were held to a 1-1 draw by Ottawa Fury FC in their last outing on Aug. 19 at Al Lang Stadium, and after a bye week, they will be aiming to solidify their place in the top four in the Eastern Conference.

- The Charlotte Independence (12-5-8, 44pts) will try to rebound from their first defeat at their new home at the Sportsplex at Matthews when they take on the Richmond Kickers (5-12-8, 23pts) on Saturday night (7 p.m. ET | Match Center). Richmond is coming off a major boost in confidence after a 3-1 victory against the third-place Charleston Battery last Saturday, when Sunny Jane led the way with a goal and assist. The Kickers will look to play spoiler again against the Independence, who fell 3-2 to Toronto FC II last Saturday in its first defeat at the Sportsplex at Matthews (5-1-2). Charlotte has now lost two of its last four outings, and will be eager to bounce back and solidify a top-two position in the Eastern Conference.

- The Rochester Rhinos (10-5-8, 38pts) will continued their pursuit of a top-four place in the USL Eastern Conference when they visit Toronto FC II (5-14-7, 22pts) at the Ontario Soccer Centre on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET | Match Center). Rochester rallied to take a 2-1 victory against STLFC on Saturday night as goals by Wal Fall and Jochen Graf led the side level on points with the fourth-place Tampa Bay Rowdies in the Eastern Conference standings. Toronto is on a roll at home, however, going undefeated in its last four outings (2-0-2) after Shaan Hundal’s stoppage-time equalizer earned a 1-1 draw with Saint Louis FC on Wednesday night in the side’s opening game of the week.

- The Swope Park Rangers (12-6-6, 42pts) will try to break a six-game winless streak (0-2-4) when it plays host to OKC Energy FC (9-9-6, 33 points) at Children’s Mercy Victory Field on Saturday night (8:30 p.m. ET | Match Center). OKC is coming off a big victory in its pursuit of a place in the USL Cup Playoffs as it defeated fellow contender Orange County SC 2-1 last Friday night. Energy FC is in the final playoff position in the Western Conference going into this week’s action, but it needs to maintain its momentum with Phoenix Rising FC holding games in hand. Swope Park fell 1-0 to Reno 1868 FC last Saturday to slide to fourth place in the Western Conference, and is looking for its first home victory since a 4-0 victory against Rio Grande Valley FC on July 8 against OKC.

- Orange County SC (7-7-8, 29pts) will try to claim its first victory at its new home when it welcomes the third-place Reno 1868 FC (12-5-6, 42pts) to Champions Soccer Stadium at Orange County Great Park on Saturday night (10 p.m. ET | Match Center). Reno is on a four-game winning streak, which saw the side take a 1-0 victory against the Swope Park Rangers this past Saturday to further bolster its playoff claim. 1868 FC enters having defeated second-place San Antonio FC, fifth-place Sacramento Republic FC and fourth-place Swope Park in succession. Orange County, meanwhile, is looking to rebound from a 2-1 defeat to OKC Energy FC last Friday night, which kept the side in 11th place in the Western Conference. OCSC still has 10 games remaining, but it needs to snap a five-game winless streak if it’s to make a run at the USL Cup Playoffs.

- Phoenix Rising FC (8-7-6, 30pts) will try to build on a 3-1 victory against Sacramento Republic FC last Saturday night as it maintains its pursuit of a first trip to the USL Cup Playoffs against Seattle Sounders FC 2 (9-14-2, 29pts) on Saturday night at the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex (10:30 p.m. ET | Match Center). Chris Cortez scored a goal and added two assists as Rising FC took victory despite Didier Drogba’s absence through injury, which moved the side into ninth place in the conference standings while holding multiple games in hand on seventh-place Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC and eighth-place OKC Energy FC. S2 will be looking to bounce back from a midweek loss as it saw a two-game winning streak end on Wednesday night in a 1-0 defeat to Tulsa Roughnecks FC that kept the side in 10th place in the Western Conference.

- Ottawa Fury FC (7-9-8, 29pts) will look to build on a dramatic draw this past Sunday as it hosts Saint Louis FC (8-11-6, 30pts) at TD Place on Sunday afternoon (2 p.m. ET | Match Center). Ottawa grabbed a stoppage-time equalizer through Ramon Martin Del Campo against the New York Red Bulls II in its last outing, but the side is now five points out of the Eastern Conference playoff positions with eight games to play in the regular season. Saint Louis also enters in major need of a victory after succumbing late in a 1-1 draw against Toronto FC II on Wednesday night. Christian Volesky gave STLFC the lead on the road, but a stoppage-time equalizer by Shaan Hundal for the Reds put another dent in Saint Louis’ playoff hopes.

- Tulsa Roughnecks FC (11-10-3, 36pts) continues its trip through the Pacific Northwest as it visits the Portland Timbers 2 (2-18-4, 10pts) at Providence Park on Sunday afternoon (3 p.m. ET | Match Center). The Roughnecks took a 1-0 victory against Seattle Sounders FC 2 on Wednesday night as Jorge Luis Corrales scored the only goal of the game, and the win moved Tulsa into fifth place in the Western Conference standings. T2 played to a 1-1 draw on the road against Rio Grande Valley FC on Wednesday night at H-E-B Park and remains on the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

- The LA Galaxy II (6-13-4, 22pts) will look to bounce back as they welcome Rio Grande Valley FC (7-11-7, 28pts) to the StubHub Center Track & Field Stadium on Sunday night (9:30 p.m. ET | Match Center). Los Dos fell 2-1 to Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 last Sunday to put their playoff hopes further out of reach despite Ethan Zubak’s first-half goal. The Galaxy II are now 11 points out of the playoff positions with nine games to play, putting major pressure on to take victory against RGVFC. The Toros are also under pressure to win to keep their playoff hopes alive after a 1-1 draw against the Portland Timbers 2 on Wednesday night at H-E-B Park, where Kai Greene’s goal deep in stoppage time salvaged a point for the hosts.

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