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11 Things – Breaking Through

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 09/03/18, 10:49AM EDT

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Adi’s first for FCC clinches 2018’s first playoff berth ahead of River Cities Cup contest

After a weekend that saw the first ticket booked to the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs while other contenders fell off the pace, here are 11 key numbers to wrap up Week 25 of the 2018 USL regular season.

88 – It took his fifth appearance for FC Cincinnati, but Fanendo Adi gave the club’s fans a glimpse of why the side went out and acquired the 6-foot-4 striker as his 88th-minute goal gave the side a dramatic 2-1 victory against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC on Saturday night before a crowd of 25,735 fans at Nippert Stadium. Cincinnati was pressed hard by the Hounds over the 90 minutes before it extended its undefeated streak to 16 games – now tied for the longest in the league this season alongside Reno 1868 FC – but as FCC goalkeeper Spencer Richey noted after the game, “you don’t go two or three months unbeaten without finding ways to win when teams outplay you, so tonight was one of those games. You got to find ways to win.”

6 – Cincinnati will next head to Slugger Field this Saturday for the third and final regular-season meeting with Louisville City FC, which absorbed a tough week on its home turf after the ebullience of the previous week’s road trip. Louisville's six goals against in front of its home fans in the past week’s performances against Toronto FC II and the Charleston Battery put the side in the bottom third in the league in goals against for the season in home contests, with 19 goals against in 13 outings. By comparison, Louisville has conceded only 13 goals in its 13 away games this season, tied for the fewest in the league in that statistic, a measure of how much the side has slipped in its home form at times this season.

18 – If there was a silver lining to Friday night’s 2-2 draw with the Battery for Louisville, however, it was the continued outstanding form of Cameron Lancaster, whose two goals on the night gave him eight in the month of August and 18 for the season overall as the English forward moved into sole possession of first place in the race for the USL Golden Boot ahead of Orange County’s Thomas Enevoldsen. We’ve looked earlier this season at Lancaster’s ability to hurt opponents in multiple ways, and alongside the stellar play of Ilija Ilic and rejuvenated showings by George Davis IV, Louisville is looking as potent as ever in the attacking third ahead of its biggest game of the season.

4 – Someone else who’s been in tremendous form of late has been the Swope Park Rangers’ Hadji Barry, who has scored in four consecutive games after his winner on Sunday evening in the defending Western Conference champions’ 1-0 victory against OKC Energy FC. Barry has assumed the mantle from Kharlton Belmar as Swope Park’s leading scorer with 12 goals overall this season, but more importantly the former Orlando City SC forward is scoring goals that make a difference for his side. From his 93rd-minute equalizer against Reno 1868 FC on August 19 to a pair of game-winning goals in the past week – he also struck the winner against Tulsa Roughnecks FC last Wednesday night – Barry has played a key role in getting Swope Park back on track after its eight-game winless streak.

8,957 – There were once again some impressive crowd numbers across this weekend’s action, but one that really stood out was the sellout crowd of 8,957 at AutoZone Park that were on hand to welcome Memphis 901 FC’s arrival and take in a clash between the Colorado Rapids of Major League Soccer and the USL’s Tulsa Roughnecks FC on Saturday night. Those fans were treated to an entertaining contest that saw Niki Jackson scored a hat trick for the Rapids in a 3-2 win for 901 FC advisor Tim Howard’s side, but they also showed the potential for what the league’s new markets are going to bring to the table when they officially arrive for their inaugural seasons next spring. While the race for the playoffs is in full swing, it’s going to be worth keeping an eye on what’s coming next in 2019 as well.


Photo courtesy Memphis 901 FC

2 – The Portland Timbers 2 took precisely two shots on goal on Saturday night against Saint Louis FC, and the first didn’t arrive until the 85th minute. The second, though, by Victor Arboleda in the third minute of second-half stoppage time provided a momentous victory for the hosts at Providence Park that kept Portland in with a chance at not just a playoff berth, but potentially a top-four finish by the end of the season in the Western Conference. A season ago, this was the sort of game that T2 would have found a way to lose late on. Now it’s the sort of game they’re figuring out how to win, and with 14 victories this regular season they’re doing it at a remarkably consistent level.

3 – Sometimes a Head Coach can be forced into a roll of the dice when they’re looking to find a spark for their side. In handing Sebastian Guenzatti just his ninth start of the season on Saturday night, Tampa Bay Rowdies Head Coach Neil Collins rolled an 11 as Guenzatti produced his first three goals of the season in a 3-0 victory against North Carolina FC that kept the Rowdies’ playoff chances afloat in the Eastern Conference. Selected over both Rowdies co-leading scorer Georgi Hristov and Leon Taylor, both of whom were included as substitutes in the squad, Guenzatti rewarded Collins handsomely to close the gap to the postseason places.

10 – The New York Red Bulls II have had to rely on their home form to carry their hopes of a fourth consecutive trip to the postseason in 2018, but Friday night’s 1-0 win against Ottawa Fury FC at MSU Soccer Park gave those expectations another important boost as the side picked up its 10th victory in 15 home contests this season. Jared Stroud’s early goal made the difference, and the hosts could have tacked on more had it not been for a strong performance by Fury FC goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau as he kept the visitors in the game. With only two home games remaining, New York is going to have to figure out how to take points from its travels over the next few weeks, but the Red Bulls II have given themselves a chance and that’s all that matters right now.

8 – New York’s first road excursion comes on Wednesday night when it visits an Indy Eleven side that is undefeated in its last eight games, but coming off three consecutive draws after a 1-1 draw with the Richmond Kickers on Saturday night that could have been worse had it not been for a major goalkeeping error by Richmond’s Trevor Spangenberg that allowed Dylan Mares to equalize after the Kickers had taken an early lead. Indy is in an interesting position thanks to its recent form, a solid playoff contender that has missed opportunities to gain ground on the top four. Some big games in the upcoming month will determine whether the end result is the home playoff game the side has set as a goal.

9 – One of those contests for Indy is on the road against Penn FC on September 12, which will certainly be one of the key games down the stretch for Head Coach Raoul Voss' side as it sprints to the finish with nine consecutive home games to close out the regular season. Penn gained the platform it needed to go into that final stretch over its past two outings, including a 3-1 victory against Bethlehem Steel FC on Sunday that handed playoff-contending Steel FC just its second defeat in the past eight games. Penn has six points to make up with nine games to go thanks to very helpful victories by the Charlotte Independence and Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday night and can’t be counted out yet when it comes to the postseason.

11 – The discrepancy in recent home and away form for Real Monarchs SLC has been startling, with Real having gone 0-4-1 on the road in its last five outings to let its advantage over FC Cincinnati in the race for the USL Regular Season Championship slide to a seven-point deficit since the start of July. The good news for the Monarchs, though, is that the side has remained indomitable at Zions Banks Stadium, which plays host to the side’s contest with San Antonio FC on Monday night as the club looks to extend its 11-game home winning streak. Only three wins away from breaking Orlando City SC’s 13-game winning streak in the 2014 regular season, the Monarchs have an opening tonight (9 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+) they need to take advantage of to maintain their hold on the Western Conference lead while also opening up opportunities down the line should FCC’s run come to an end.

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