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11 Things – Beating the Odds

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 08/20/18, 11:49AM EDT

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Energy FC keeps hope alive, while Cincinnati takes control at the top of the East

Teams in the Western Conference look to beat the odds, while a 13-game undefeated streak and scoreless results elsewhere leaves FC Cincinnati in firm control at the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Here are 11 numbers that told the story of the past weekend of action across the USL.

3 – The odds are still against OKC Energy FC reaching the USL Cup Playoffs – according to fivethirtyeight.com they currently stand at a seven percent chance – but after the side took its third consecutive victory on Saturday night in a 4-2 win on the road against Rio Grande Valley FC it’s not necessarily as far-fetched as it might seem to see the side to make a similar run as it did a season ago to find a place in the top eight in the Western Conference by the end of the season. Both Alex Dixon and Christian Volesky have each scored in the club’s past three games – with Volesky producing a pair of excellent finishes against the Toros on Saturday – while recent loan addition Adam Jahn has found the net twice in that span. There’s still a lot of work to be done over the final eight games, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel appearing for a side that appears full of belief right now.

6 – We noted this when the USL surpassed 1,000 goals last week, but there’s been nobody deadlier from long range this season in the league than FC Cincinnati’s Emmanuel Ledesma. On Saturday night he showed why once again with his league-leading sixth goal from outside the penalty area this season, which got the hosts moving in a 3-0 victory against the Charleston Battery before a crowd of 27,142 fans at Nippert Stadium that moved their undefeated streak to a club-record 13 games. More than half of Ledesma’s goals have come from long range this season, he now has a team-high 11 for the year, with his ability to create a yard of space in traffic and release quickly making him difficult to contain for opposing defenses.

352,709 – In addition to Ledesma continuing his standout season, FC Cincinnati also raised the bar on its own USL single-season attendance record as it became the first team in the league’s history to pass 350,000 fans in total attendance with three home games to go in the season. The manner in which the club has been embraced by the city over the past three years continues to be one of the best stories in North American soccer, and while the side itself might have had some early-season jitters at Nippert Stadium things are certainly seeming set fair for more success to come now and in the future.

12 – There’s a new shutout leader in the USL going into Week 24 of the season after Ottawa Fury FC’s Maxime Crepeau recorded his 12th shutout of the season to pass Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC’s Dan Lynd – who was sidelined for the Hounds’ 0-0 draw with the Charlotte Independence – but the scoreless encounter between Crepeau and Fury FC and the Indy Eleven on Saturday afternoon at TD Place raised the pressure a little on the Canadian side in its bid for a place in the postseason. Sitting in seventh place, but in a three-way tie on points with the eighth-place New York Red Bulls II and ninth-place Nashville SC, Ottawa goes to Bethlehem Steel FC on Wednesday evening knowing a defeat to a side that has won four of its last five outings could see it sitting below the playoff line.

13 – After a midseason dip in form that saw the Portland Timbers 2 dip close to the playoff line in the Western Conference, a 4-1 win on Sunday night against Seattle Sounders FC 2 that was about as comfortable as the score indicated continued to the upward surge the side has made in the past two weeks to put it firmly on track for a first trip to the USL Cup Playoffs. At the forefront of the club’s three-game winning streak has been forward Foster Langsdorf, who now has 13 goals on the season after a brace against S2, just one of the league-lead held by Orange County SC’s Thomas Enevoldsen. With T2 welcoming OCSC to Merlo Field on Wednesday night, there’s a major subplot to what was already looking like a must-see contest.

10 – Real Monarchs SLC took its 10th consecutive home victory on Saturday night, but Tulsa Roughnecks FC didn’t half make it difficult for the hosts at Zions Bank Stadium in a 3-2 result that saw Real need a late penalty kick to keep its remarkable streak intact. Everything looked to be going to plan for the Monarchs as Chandler Hoffman struck twice to put the hosts up ahead, but the Roughnecks then did what others have struggled to do this season and pushed back firmly against their hosts. Former Monarchs player Eti Tavares must have thought he’d earned his new club a point when he struck with seven minutes to go, only for a foul on Real’s Juan Ignacio Mare in the penalty area to undo Tulsa’s good work, which allowed Just Portillo to score his first goal in a Monarchs uniform from the spot and Real to escape with all three points.

1,058 – There has always been a sense of rivalry between Sacramento Republic FC and the LA Galaxy II with the California clubs having had some memorable battles upon their arrival in the 2014 season, but of late that rivalry had started to become tilted in Republic FC’s favor with Sacramento having gone undefeated throughout the 2016 and 2017 seasons against Los Dos. As of Saturday night, however, that streak came to an end as the Galaxy II pulled out one of the most surprising results of the season, a 4-1 victory at Papa Murphy’s Park that saw the side claim its first victory in 1,058 days against Republic FC. All four Galaxy II goals came in the first half as Head Coach Mike Munoz’s side was sharper on the ball and clinical with its finishing in a display that was reminiscent of Los Dos’ 4-0 victory at the same venue midway through the 2015 season. With a visit to Reno 1868 FC up next, Republic FC is going to have an interesting week of training, to be sure.

8 – It wouldn’t be a first for a finalist from the previous season’s USL Cup to miss out on the postseason berth, but with the Swope Park Rangers’ winless streak reaching eight games there’s a serious chance the back-to-back Western Conference champions won’t have the chance to defend their title. From a side that was unbeatable at Children’s Mercy Park, the Rangers now can’t seem to buy a home win, twice letting a lead slip on Sunday against Reno 1868 FC before needing a stoppage-time equalizer from Hadji Barry to salvage a point in a wild 3-3 draw to move to 0-3-2 in their last five home games. The ninth-place Rangers have fewer games remaining than the sides they’re going to have to overtake in the West and a visit to San Antonio on Saturday that figures to be pivotal.

1 – The Rangers are also going to have to be concerned about potential challengers passing them in the conference standings, with not only OKC Energy FC but also Fresno FC taking big victories on Saturday night. For the Foxes, a return home to Chukchansi Park proved the tonic the side needed to end its four-game winless streak as Zach Ellis-Hayden’s first goal in the club’s colors – on his first shot on goal of the season – proved enough to push the hosts past Saint Louis FC 1-0 in one of the bigger results of the week. While there are varying numbers of games left to be played – and seventh-place STLFC and eighth-place San Antonio FC have the most of all of them – the four-point gap between seventh place and 12th place in the Western Conference means that no-one below the line is truly without hope yet.

19 – Even with a tough opponent visiting Slugger Field on Saturday night, things seemed to be set for a memorable opening night for Louisville City FC Head Coach John Hackworth, but despite his side finishing its contest with Nashville SC before a crowd of 9,684 fans with a 19-8 shot advantage the hosts couldn’t find the net in a frustrating 0-0 draw that saw the gap to FC Cincinnati at the top of the standings increase to 11 points. Louisville still has one more game against its River Cities Cup rivals this season, which alongside two games in hand could help it close that gap down the stretch, but Louisville is now going to need help if it’s to have a home road to a USL Cup defense.

7 – Phoenix Rising FC has been up and down over its last seven games, but Saturday’s 2-0 victory against Las Vegas Lights FC provided an up that the side should be hoping can be sustained as it kicks off a three-game homestand on Wednesday night with a visit from San Antonio FC in the USL Game of the Week on ESPN3. Having alternated wins and losses since the end of June, Rising FC is still in third place in the Western Conference after Solomon Asante struck again in its victory against Las Vegas to move to 11 goals for the season, tied with teammate Chris Cortez, but now needs to push on with more consistency if it’s going to bridge the six-point gap to the Monarchs at the top of the standings over its final 10 games of the regular season.

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