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11 Things – Block Party

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 08/27/18, 10:30AM EDT

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Cincinnati puts up the walls in Tampa Bay; Barril hits paydirt with Energy FC

With a regular-season high 24 games spanning the past seven days of action, including 15 alone this past Saturday night, there was a lot to let sink in after the dust settled on Sunday morning. On a weekend in which the USL surpassed 2 million in total attendance for the second consecutive season, here are 11 numbers that summed up the action on the field.

13 – Sitting tied for the second-most goals in the USL after this weekend’s action with 53 tallies, there have been plenty of times this season where FC Cincinnati’s attack has carried the side to victory. On Saturday night, though, it was the club’s back line that did the bulk of the work as it recorded 13 blocked shots in digging out a 2-1 victory against a Rowdies side that ended up outshooting it 31-7 at Al Lang Stadium. That number is tied for the second-highest by a side in a game this season, two back of San Antonio’s 15 against Sacramento Republic FC on June 16, and showed a side prepared to do the work defensively to keep its run at the top of the Eastern Conference going.

7 – A lot of attention has, correctly, gone toward what Christian Volesky and the rest of OKC Energy FC’s attack has done over the club’s four-game winning streak, which continued in a 3-0 win against Seattle Sounders FC 2 this Saturday. What might be the bigger story in OKC’s run, though, is the play of midfielder Jose Barril, who has notched seven assists over that span to move one off the league-lead of 10 going into the final stretch of the season. There are only six players who have more chances than Barill over the past two seasons, but last season Energy FC’s inability to capitalize left him with only three assists. Now the Spanish midfielder is seeing the chances he’s setting up get cashed and is in the running for the league’s assists title as a result.

25 – Everyone wants to make a good first impression, and in the span of 25 minutes Zach Steinberger did just that on his North Carolina FC debut with two goals and one assist to lead the side to a 6-2 romp against North Carolina Derby rival the Charlotte Independence. With Daniel Rios also notching a brace in the second half to remain in contention for the USL Golden Boot, NCFC matched the highest scoring second-half output in the league this season as it took a solid step forward in the race for the USL Cup Playoffs.

40 – In the span of one week, the LA Galaxy II went from being the side that scored four goals in a first half in its victory against Sacramento Republic FC to becoming the side that had four rung up against it as Real Monarchs SLC managed it in 40 minutes – one fewer than Los Dos at Papa Murphy’s Park – in an emphatic 11th consecutive home victory at Zions Banks Stadium. For a team that’s won four of its last five games the Monarchs have still felt like a side that wasn’t necessarily all there, but on Saturday they made a big statement to close in on clinching a playoff place potentially as early as next Monday night.

90 – Reno 1868 FC welcomed a club-record crowd of 7,103 fans to Greater Nevada Field on Saturday night, but Sacramento Republic FC spoiled the party for the hosts as the visitors took their first league win in Northern Nevada to add to their Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup victory at the venue earlier this season to the delight of the club’s travelling support. While the goals by Cameron Iwasa, his 12th of the campaign, and Wilson Kneeshaw put Sacramento ahead, it was another sterling goalkeeping display by Josh Cohen that ensured the result held up, with Cohen now sitting tied for the league-lead on 90 saves this year.

6 – The knock against teams like Bethlehem Steel FC, so it was told, was that they didn’t tend to travel well due to the inexperience of the players being sent out on the road. In claiming the club’s sixth win in its last seven games and its sixth win away from home this season overall with a 2-1 win against Nashville SC at First Tennessee Park, however, Steel FC continued the raise the pressure on the teams pursuing it in the Eastern Conference standings as it moved into fifth place with six games to go in its regular season. Adam Najem’s stoppage-time winner – just over a week after he’d made his international debut for Afghanistan – capped another memorable performance for Head Coach Brendan Burke’s squad, which is now tied for sixth in the league in away wins this season.

9 – With 24 games stretched across the past week of action there was a certain expectation of a high goal count in Week 24, but with nine goals across its two games Louisville City FC took the crown as it recorded a league-best 9.2 goals out of the 98 scored overall in its emphatic road victories against the Charlotte Independence and Richmond Kickers. There was the contribution of Cameron Lancaster to that total, of course, which could have been higher if not for the woodwork in Charlotte, but maybe the best sign for Louisville was that Luke Spencer bagged three goals as well coming off the bench in both games. With some key games coming up early next month the defending champions are looking like they’re gearing up at just the right time.

29 – Phoenix Rising FC almost matched Louisville’s attacking output with a pair of four-goal outings over the past week that moved it back into second place in the Western Conference, with the goals coming on a combined 29 shots across the two victories against San Antonio FC and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC. Phoenix has consistently been one of the more trigger-happy sides in the league – it currently sits second to only the New York Red Bulls II with 396 shots total shots this season – but in the past week the side put away its chances with much greater efficiency, more than doubling its conversion rate to 33.3 percent on unblocked shots in the past two outings.

20 – How big was the Swope Park Rangers’ 2-1 victory against San Antonio FC to snap an eight-game winless streak this past Saturday night, to the two-time defending Western Conference champion’s playoff chances? According to ClubSportsStats.com it raised SPR’s chances of making the playoffs by 20 percent, making it a 77 percent chance to reach the postseason to defend its conference title in October. There have been some serious bumps in the road for the Rangers in recent weeks, including an uncharacteristic winless streak at Children’s Mercy Park, but a sharp first half and stellar second-half display by goalkeeper Eric Dick got the side a crucial three points ahead of its midweek clash with Tulsa Roughnecks FC.

-7 – Goal differential might not always be the most accurate signifier of a team’s strength, but the fact that Rio Grande Valley FC’s stood at just -7 going into Saturday’s game with Orange County – far closer to even than some of the others off the playoff pace in each conference – might have given a clue as to how close the Toros have been to breaking through this season than their record would indicate. That said, claiming a 2-0 victory against Western Conference contender Orange County SC on the road this Saturday night was still unexpected, but there should be plenty of credit doled out to Head Coach Gerson Echeverry and his side for earning its first road win of the season against a side that was coming off four consecutive victories during which it had found the net 12 times. The Toros aren’t going to make the postseason, but they certainly could have an impact on those who are vying for a playoff place down the stretch.

6 – It wasn’t quite now-or-never for Penn FC on Saturday night – the club ends the season with nine consecutive home games that it’s counting on to make a big push for the postseason – but the fact the club was able to end its six-game winless streak on the road against Ottawa Fury FC, one of the teams it’s going to need to overtake for that playoff berth, in a 2-0 victory on Saturday night was a big plus as Head Coach Raoul Voss’ side tries to right its course for the final stretch of the season. There’s another six-pointer on the horizon for Penn when it visits Bethlehem Steel FC, from which getting at least a draw is going to be key, but on a night when the side needed to make the most of its chances it finally came through.

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