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11 Things – Race You to The River

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 04/02/18, 12:51PM EDT

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Wins for Louisville, FCC Set up first meeting in 2018; Las Vegas gets lucky, stays lit

Five days away from the first River Cities Cup clash of the season and it’s starting to looking like a game you’re either going to want to be at in person or watching this Saturday night. Plus, a five-way jam at the top of the Western Conference and the kids who came through on an impressive night. Here’s 11 takeaways from this weekend’s games.

1. BEND BUT DON’T BREAK: FC Cincinnati’s first two-game winning streak to start a season, thanks to a 1-0 win in front of 17,535 fans at Lucas Oil Stadium to spoil Indy Eleven’s home USL debut, has shown off the club’s resilience, but it still feels there’s a way to go before the side gets to the level it’s looking for this season, especially in the attacking third. With as many new faces as the side has building chemistry is going to take longer than one preseason, but with only five shots on goal in two games and a lack of consistent connectivity in the opposing half in both of its outings so far this season the two wins feel a little less impressive than maybe they should. Teams are eventually going to find a way to break through at the other end – Evan Newton has already had to make 10 saves in two games, including another pair of dandies on Jack McInerney’s penalty kick and Ben Speas’ follow-up on Saturday – and that will force Cincinnati to be better in midfield and going forward to grab more control overall.

2. RAISE THE ROOF: By contrast, the only thing that didn’t go right on the night for Indy Eleven was that it ran into an immovable object in Evan Newton. From the club-record crowd of 17,535 to the overall performance there was plenty for Indy’s coaches and fans to be happy about as the club continued to move into its new era. The hosts out-passed and out-created their visitors – check out the piece of sauce below by Tyler Pasher that led to one of the best chances of the first half – and on another day would have come away with victory.

Still, the atmosphere that lingered with fans and players the morning after will be what makes this season a big one for Indy on and off the field. “It was awesome,” said forward Jack McInerney. “They were loud and rowdy. I’m disappointed that we couldn’t give them a goal and hear them go crazy. But, there’s a bunch more home games and we’ll build off this and win some more games at home.”

3. HYPE TRAIN ENGAGED: Yes, we’re still only about to kick off Week 4 of the regular season, but doesn’t this feel like its shaping up to be one of the bigger games in the River Cities Cup rivalry we’ve seen? After Louisville City FC’s hard-earned 1-0 victory against the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday it might not end up as one for the purists – both Louisville and Cincinnati are both currently in the bottom 10 in the USL in pass completion rate – but the passion and energy both teams and sets of fans will bring for FC Cincinnati’s home opener at Nippert Stadium could set the stage for a game as memorable as when they first clashed two seasons ago. There’ll be plenty of buildup to this one, and the chance for a leg-up in early-season positioning that both clubs will be eager to claim.

4. REGAL SENDOFF: The lone team in the Western Conference to hold an unblemished record alongside Louisville and Cincinnati in the East is the defending USL Regular Season-champion Real Monarchs SLC, which on Saturday paid a beautiful tribute to former assistant coach Liam Miller before and after their 4-2 win against the Portland Timbers 2.

As voiced by both Monarchs Head Coach Mark Briggs and players Chandler Hoffman and Sebastian Velasquez, Miller’s influence before his life was tragically cut short by cancer earlier this year was a blessing to all who encountered him in his soccer career and will clearly live on in the side this season.

5. FINDING A WAY: The Monarchs will next visit Phoenix Rising FC this Saturday, which took a last-gasp victory against Reno 1868 FC thanks to Solomon Asante’s penalty kick in stoppage time. While not nearly as convincing as its four-goal effort a week ago – Rising FC needed a big save in either half from goalkeeper Carl Woszczynski to keep the game level – Phoenix shaded the facets of the game that mattered despite being on the road. It’s the sort of win that could be an important one further down the line as Asante upped his hot start to the season to three goals in three games.

6. LUCK BE A LADY: Rising FC is at least one of the teams that you could have predicted would be in the picture to be near the top of the Western Conference standings early in the regular season, but Phoenix has been joined by some surprise packages in a five-team logjam to have picked up seven points from the first three weeks of the regular season. Among those is Las Vegas Lights FC, which continued its undefeated start to the season with its biggest performance so far in taking a 2-1 victory against the previously perfect Swope Park Rangers. You could certainly argue there was a decent element of luck to the win, Carlos Alvarez’s goal to level things up was officially the only shot on goal recorded by the hosts as the game-winner came on a defensive mistake by Colton Storm that led to an own goal, but on a night where Swope Park carried much of the play the visitors didn’t quite click in the final third as effectively in their previous two outings which allowed Lights FC to sneak home with all three points.

7. OKLAHOMA TWO-STEP: There was no luck involved for the team that currently sits on top of the Western Conference on goal differential after the past week after Orange County SC earned victory against both OKC Energy FC and Tulsa Roughnecks FC as former Danish international Thomas Enevoldsen made his first big impact since arriving during the offseason. OCSC more than held its own in edging out Energy FC 1-0 to open the week’s action on Wednesday night on Enevoldsen’s first goal for the club, but then put on a clinical display that included an Enevoldsen hat trick against a Roughnecks side that had everything that could go wrong happen – including finishing the game with nine men. There are going to be tougher tests ahead for Orange County, but things look as though they’re coming together well for Head Coach Braeden Cloutier so far.

8. FOX IN THE BOX: The other two teams making the early running in the West are Northern California rivals Fresno FC and Sacramento FC, and both sides were the beneficiaries of late dramatics on Saturday night. Just like Orange County, the Foxes built on an opening victory of the season in midweek to claim back-to-back wins on Rony Argueta’s late goal against OKC Energy FC. The game wasn’t the prettiest for the fans at Chukchansi Park – the two teams combined for only 10 total shots, four of which fell to the hosts – but while the Foxes were outmaneuvered at times they still found a way to win.

Republic FC didn’t take all three points from its visit to Rio Grande Valley FC, meanwhile, but it certainly felt like the side got away with a point after trailing by two goals going into the final 10 minutes. A quick response to a fine finish by the Toros’ Jorginho James by Cameron Iwasa provided the platform for the comeback, a result that left RGVFC Head Coach Gerson Echeverry having to console his side after Conor Donovan’s own goal left his side still looking for its first win this season. “When you’re up 2-0 with that much time left, it feels like a loss,” said Echeverry.

9. YOUTH VS. EXPERIENCE: ATL UTD 2’s meeting with the Charlotte Independence on Saturday brought together the opposite ends of the age spectrum in the USL and the 2-2 draw the sides produced included plenty of great individual moments as well as collectively cohesive play from both sides, a very positive sign for both moving forward. On Atlanta’s side there was the youth of 16-year-old George Bello, who created the opening goal with a great run that saw the last-gasp challenge of Independence defender Lee Jung-Soo send the ball into the net for an own goal, and former U.S. U20 international Lagos Kunga, whose great late finish appeared to have notched the victory for the visitors at the Sportsplex at Matthews. Each time, though, there was a response from the 38-year-old Jorge Herrera, whose pair of goals showed the Colombian playmaker is still in peak condition and allowed the Independence to continue their undefeated start to the regular season.

10. STAMPEDED: In a similar vein to Atlanta, the youth of the New York Red Bulls II was on display on Saturday, but the perennial playoff contenders ensured there was no way to get off the hook for the Charleston Battery in a 5-2 victory that saw a second-half surge by the hosts at Red Bull Arena prove enough for victory. There are still plenty of questions to be answered by the Red Bulls II defense, which required goalkeeper Evan Louro to record nine saves to keep the Battery off the board, but on Saturday it was the normally reliable Battery defense that fell to pieces repeatedly to give New York its fourth win in the past five meetings between the clubs, a surprising outcome given the defensive solidity Charleston had shown in its first two games of the regular season.

11. KICKED INTO GEAR: Going into the third game of the regular season for both the Richmond Kickers and Nashville SC there were still questions about where the goals were going to come from to get things moving for each club. While there were certainly questions about the validity of the penalty kick that saw Nashville score its first professional goal in club history against Bethlehem Steel FC, that either side emerged with a win should be a big confidence boost for both. For the Kickers in particular, coming back to earn a 2-1 victory against North Carolina FC thanks to a pair of second-half goals that including a great game-winner by Raul Gonzalez, the importance of that first win of the regular season shouldn’t be underestimated.

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