From landmark attendance figures at both the league and club level to some outstanding milestones reached by teams and individuals, Week 29 had plenty to talk about as the race for the USL Cup Playoffs continued to twist and turn in the Eastern Conference. Here are 11 numbers that summed up the past weekend’s action across both conferences.
2.5 million – The biggest number of the weekend was also the biggest number a lower-division league has seen in North American soccer history when it comes to total attendance as the USL surpassed 2.5 million in the stands for the 2018 on Saturday night as part of a week that saw almost 130,000 fans be part of a 22-game slate of action. That single-week total was the second-highest in the league’s modern era and continued to illustrate just how far the league has come over the course of this decade as nine contests logged more than 5,000 fans in attendance. The league’s independent clubs continue to average more than 6,000 fans per game this season in what has been a season of unprecedented success at the turnstiles for clubs old and new across the USL.
10 – FC Cincinnati led the way in the stands as it set a USL regular-season single-game record with 31,478 fans on hand to see the club both be awarded the 2018 USL Regular Season Championship shield and also set a USL modern-era record as it took a 10th consecutive victory in a hard-fought 3-0 win against Indy Eleven at Nippert Stadium. Indy certainly had chances to spoil the party, but Cincinnati got goals at decisive moments, the first by Fanendo Adi and the second by Danni König both assisted by Jimmy McLaughlin that set the hosts on their way to victory and a major celebration that was aided by the three points. “I don’t think it would be as enjoyable celebrating a regular-season championship if we didn’t go out and get a positive result against a very good team tonight,” said FCC Head Coach Alan Koch. “We obviously enjoyed it Wednesday. We get to enjoy it together tonight with everybody.”
10 – Reno 1868 FC knew it needed to maximize both its games in hand and its four-game homestand at Greater Nevada Field over the past two weeks. After a 2-0 victory against Tulsa Roughnecks FC on Saturday night the side accomplished both, having taken 10 of a possible 12 points from the four games to move within a point of a return trip to the USL Cup Playoffs and potentially within reach of a home game when the postseason arrives. Brian Brown’s 19th goal in 1868 FC colors – which pushed him past fellow Jamaican Dane Kelly for the club’s all-time lead – and Zach Carroll’s powerful header provided the goals on the night in a second consecutive win that indicated Reno is coming into form at just the right time of year. Three closing games against the Portland Timbers 2, Phoenix Rising FC and Orange County SC will now test 1868 FC’s playoff mettle as the season comes to its conclusion.
11 – Reno’s margin of victory could easily have been wider if not for a stellar goalkeeping display by Tulsa Roughnecks FC shot-stopper Fabian Cerda, one of two great performances in the Silver State by visiting goalkeepers on Saturday night that also saw OKC Energy FC’s Cody Laurendi take the spotlight. Each goalkeeper recorded 11 saves, one off the single-game season-high by the Richmond Kickers’ Travis Worra against the New York Red Bulls II, with Laurendi’s display helping earn Energy FC a 1-0 win at Cashman Field against Las Vegas Lights FC.
Cerda wasn’t as fortunate as his side was unable to provide much in the way of attack at the other end, but the USL’s leader in saves with 115 this season still had a game to remember in defeat that was capped by a penalty-kick save on 1868 FC’s leading scorer Brian Brown in the 88th minute.
50 – Saturday night almost didn’t bring the chance for Phoenix Rising FC’s Chris Cortez to score the 50th regular-season goal of his USL career as Rising FC’s leading scorer this season saw the opening 90 minutes of the club’s contest against Saint Louis FC from the substitutes bench. But after being brought on for Didier Drogba in the final minute of the contest, when his chance came, Cortez didn’t miss. A perfectly-placed free kick to the bottom right corner that capped off a 2-0 victory for the hosts at the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex brought the house down while also ensuring a crucial three points in Phoenix’s pursuit of first place in the Western Conference after Billy Forbes had broken down STLFC’s resistance with eight minutes to go to move the side within a point of Orange County SC with a game in hand. “I told [Chris], I'm sorry it took me so long to get him in there,” said Rising FC Head Coach Rick Schantz. “The guy's like the magic boot right now, it's pretty spectacular. I've seen him do that quite a few times in training. He's in good form, and the team's in good spirits right now. We're going to be tough to beat.”
15 – While Cortez has been providing crucial goals throughout this season for Phoenix, the same has been the case for Cameron Iwasa for Sacramento Republic FC. His 15th goal of the season that arrived early against the Portland Timbers 2 at Papa Murphy’s Park proved the winner in a 1-0 victory that saw Sacramento claim its fourth win in the last five games and jump into third place in the Western Conference. A Sacramento native, Iwasa has held a special place at the club since joining Republic FC before its second season in 2015 and this year has previously written himself into the club’s record book by becoming its all-time leading scorer. If Sacramento is to write another championship chapter in the club’s history when this postseason arrives, you can expect Iwasa will have a large part to play.
6 – Sacramento moved into third place in the Western Conference as Real Monarchs SLC continued to drift after a 2-0 defeat to Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC at Zions Bank Stadium on Saturday night made it seven games without a win for Head Coach Jamison Olave’s side. Real did almost everything but score against its Rocky Mountain rival, holding a 17-8 shots advantage for the contest, but a remarkable display by Switchbacks goalkeeper Moise Pouaty kept the hosts off the board and allowed second-half goals by AJ Ajeakwa and Marty Maybin to grab victory for Colorado Springs. The Monarchs have now scored only six goals over their seven-game winless run, which for a side with the potential firepower the Monarchs have is not a good sign with only two games left in the regular season and both the Portland Timbers 2 and Reno 1868 FC within range of potentially taking the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference.
5 – The Monarchs have struggled of late at home, and those difficulties in picking up wins on home turf have been mirrored in the Eastern Conference by Nashville SC, which after a 1-1 draw against the New York Red Bulls II on Saturday night before a crowd of 8,036 at First Tennessee Park has only taken five points from its last five home games to remain just outside the playoff positions with three games to go. What arguably made Nashville’s draw with fellow playoff contender New York more frustrating was the paucity of clear chances the side created despite playing up a man for more that 60 minutes after Jose Aguinaga was sent off for the Red Bulls II in the 24th minute. The hosts threatened twice to claim victory in second-half stoppage time as Red Bulls II goalkeeper Evan Louro made a pair of stellar saves to keep out NSC’s Ropapa Mensah and Liam Doyle, but those two chances were part of only five shots on goal for the game and 11 shots overall for the hosts, numbers that certainly should have been higher.
4 – The number of efforts toward goal Ottawa Fury FC produced on Sunday afternoon against Bethlehem Steel FC wasn’t the issue for the hosts at TD Place, but rather the accuracy of placement as the side finished the contest having hit the woodwork four times as it ended in a 0-0 draw that put a major dent in Ottawa’s postseason hopes. The first missed chance was the most egregious, a penalty kick in just the fifth minute being rung off the left post by Steevan Dos Santos, and the Cape Verde forward also rang the right post thanks to a good fingertip save by Steel FC goalkeeper Jake McGuire midway through the first half. Efforts by Cristian Portilla and Thomas Meilleur-Giguere also found the woodwork before the halftime break, but there was no payoff as Ottawa left itself above the playoff line but in danger of being eliminated before it takes to the field for its final game of the regular season on October 13. The margins at this time of the season can be narrow, and it’s arguable after Sunday that the width of a goalpost is what might separate Fury FC from a place in the postseason.
15 – One team that has no worries about being part of the postseason again is the Charleston Battery, who officially clinched their eighth consecutive trip to the USL Cup Playoffs on Saturday night in spite of seeing their 15-game home undefeated streak at MUSC Health Stadium come to an end at the hands of Toronto FC II. Things looked to be going swimmingly for Charleston when Patrick Okonkwo put them ahead early in the second half, but then the Reds fought back and continued their impressive late-season form behind goals from Ayo Akinola and Jordan Hamilton to walk away with a 2-1 victory. The victory likely won’t cost the Battery a home game in the postseason after Indy Eleven’s defeat to FC Cincinnati but coming on the same night that Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC was held to a draw by the Charlotte Independence it could have felt like a missed opportunity to try and improve their final position for when the playoffs arrive.
18 – Having fallen to the Battery earlier in the week, the last thing that North Carolina FC could afford as it looked to claim its place in the USL Cup Playoffs was more dropped points at home against the Richmond Kickers, and thanks to two goals and one assist by Kyle Bekker that gave him a combined 18 goals and assists this season (6 goals, 12 assists) the hosts rallied to take a 3-2 victory at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park that moved the side into the top eight at the end of the weekend’s action. The hosts certainly got a scare from the Kickers, who twice took the lead in the first half only for Bekker to lead NCFC back in front of a crowd of 8,004 fans. “Everyone else seems to have an easy time with Richmond except for us, we like to make a meal out of it every single time,” said Bekker after the game, who will be hoping for smoother sailing over the final three games of the regular season as the side tries to plot a course to the playoffs.
Tag(s): News Nashville SC The 18 CO Spring Switchbacks OKC Energy FC Phoenix Rising FC Real Monarchs SLC Reno 1868 FC Sacramento Republic FC FC Tulsa Charleston Battery FC Cincinnati New York Red Bulls II Ottawa Fury FC Toronto FC II Cody Laurendi Chris Cortez Fabián Cerda North Carolina FC Indy Eleven