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USL’s Week Ahead – Open Cup Precedes Weekend Matchups

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 05/16/18, 9:28AM EDT

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Top-three clash in Western Conference between Phoenix, Sacramento highlights Saturday's slate


Photo courtesy Michael Rincon / Phoenix Rising FC

TAMPA, Fla. – The USL’s clubs enter a busy week that will see 22 teams make their entry into the 2018 Lamar Hunt. U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday night before a big weekend of action in league play, as Week 10 of the regular season arrives. Saturday night brings a top-three clash in the Western Conference, as second-place Phoenix Rising FC plays host to third-place Sacramento Republic FC at the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex, while Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC takes its undefeated record on the road to face a Tampa Bay Rowdies side that has won all three of its games on home turf at Al Lang Stadium this season, but before the weekend arrives, there are some fascinating games that match some of the best clubs in the PDL with USL competition, as the professionals look to avoid an early exit in the Second Round of the historic tournament.

All 561 regular-season games, the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs and the 2018 USL Cup can be accessed via USLSoccer.com’s Match Center.

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In the USL’s 11 Things to Know, Nicholas Murray looks at a historic comeback by Reno 1868 FC against rival Sacramento Republic FC, a major victory for the Charlotte Independence to vault the side back into the playoff race, and the extended winning streak of the Charleston Battery, who have moved into second place in the Eastern Conference after sitting in the bottom five of the standings only three weeks ago.

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2018 LAMAR HUNT U.S. OPEN CUP


Photo courtesy Zach Bland / Charleston Battery

Twenty-two USL clubs will begin their road in the Second Round of the 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday night, as the league’s teams look to take the first step to emulating the historic run made by FC Cincinnati in reaching the Semifinals of last year’s edition of the tournament.

Two matchups bring some added intrigue, with USL clubs squaring off against current members of the Premier Development League that have been unveiled as members of the new USL Division III that will kick off in 2019. The first of those features the Charleston Battery – who a decade ago became the most recent lower-division club to reach the Open Cup Final when it faced D.C. United – as the historic USL side plays host to South Georgia Tormenta FC at MUSC Health Stadium after the Statesboro, Georgia-based side advanced thanks to a 2-1 victory against fellow PDL side the Myrtle Beach Mutiny last Wednesday night.

The other features Las Vegas Lights FC, which is one of three USL clubs making its debut in the tournament, as it plays host to FC Tucson, a side that has built a strong history in the single-elimination tournament since its first entry in 2013. Tucson took a 2-1 victory against California qualifier La Maquina FC on Wednesday night to advance to the Second Round for a third consecutive year, and the club has defeated professional opposition before at this stage, advancing to a Third Round-matchup with the Houston Dynamo after defeating the now-defunct San Antonio Scorpions back in 2013.

Other interesting games to watch feature USL clubs heading on the road to face PDL opposition, with the Richmond Kickers visiting perennial PDL Playoffs contender Reading United AC and Indy Eleven making the trip to face Mississippi Brilla FC.

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Photo courtesy Brett Hansbauer / FC Cincinnati

Wednesday, May 16
Bethlehem Steel FC vs. New York Red Bulls II

Goodman Stadium, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania | 5 p.m. ET
Bethlehem Steel FC (2-4-2, 8pts) will try to rebound from a road loss in its last outing, as it hosts the New York Red Bulls II (3-1-5, 14pts), who enter on a seven-game undefeated streak. Bethlehem fell 2-1 to the Charleston Battery this past Saturday night at MUSC Health Stadium, as a second-half penalty kick by former U.S. Under-20 international Derrick Jones began a potential comeback that the visitors couldn’t complete. Bethlehem has taken both of its wins this season at home and could use a win to close the gap to the top eight in the Eastern Conference. The Red Bulls II have drawn four consecutive games after a 1-1 draw with Nashville SC on May 6 in their last outing but remain only three points back of the leaders in the Eastern Conference after a bye week and would shift into a top-three position going into the weekend with a win on the road.

ATL UTD 2 vs. Toronto FC II
Coolray Field, Gwinnett, Georgia | 7 p.m. ET
ATL UTD 2 (1-4-3, 6pts) and Toronto FC II (0-6-2, 2pts) will both look to end extended winless streaks when they meet for the first time at Coolray Field. Atlanta outshot its hosts on Saturday night, but still fell 2-0 to Ottawa Fury FC as its winless run reached seven games. ATL has failed to take victory since its inaugural game in club history on March 24 when it defeated the New York Red Bulls II. Toronto is looking for its first win of the season, meanwhile, as it conceded a late goal in a 1-0 loss to Penn FC last Wednesday afternoon to remain at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.

Friday, May 18
Portland Timbers 2 vs. LA Galaxy II

Providence Park, Portland, Oregon | 2 p.m. ET
The Portland Timbers 2 (5-3-2, 17pts) will try to continue a three-game undefeated streak when they host the LA Galaxy II (1-5-3, 6pts), who are coming off a historic first victory of the season last Wednesday night. Los Dos’ 6-3 win against Saint Louis FC saw 15-year-old Efrain Alvarez become the youngest player to score a hat trick in the USL’s history, and it was the first game to feature hat tricks by a pair of teammates, as Ethan Zubak also scored three times for the hosts at StubHub Center. T2 is also coming off a big victory to move into fifth place in the Western Conference, with former U.S. U20 international Eryk Williamson scoring a late winner in a 1-0 win against Seattle Sounders FC 2 on Saturday night. Portland would move into the top three in the Western Conference with a victory ahead of the rest of the weekend’s action, having already surpassed its points total of 15 from a season ago in the biggest turnaround of the season so far.

Saturday, May 19
Charleston Battery vs. Ottawa Fury FC

MUSC Health Stadium, Charleston, S.C. | 7 p.m. ET
The Charleston Battery (5-2-2, 17pts) will look to continue their four-game winning streak when they host Ottawa Fury FC (2-4-2, 8pts) for the fourth game of the club’s five-game homestand in May. The Battery are on their longest winning streak since the 2013 season after a 2-1 victory against Bethlehem Steel FC this past Saturday night that saw Ataulla Guerra and Gordon Wild both find the net. Guerra is now tied for second in the league with five goals, one shy of his total from the 2017 season. Ottawa is coming off back-to-back victories itself, as it scored a 2-0 victory against ATL UTD 2 on Saturday afternoon at TD Place thanks to first-half goals by Steevan Dos Santos and Carl Haworth. This weekend’s game will also see a familiar face return to Charleston, with former Battery defender and 2013 USL Defender of the Year Colin Falvey part of a Fury FC back line that has recorded three consecutive shutouts.

Charlotte Independence vs. Toronto FC II
Sportsplex at Matthews, Matthews, North Carolina | 7:30 p.m. ET
The Charlotte Independence (3-3-2, 11pts) will aim to build on a big victory in its last outing as it plays host to Toronto FC II in a game that was originally scheduled to be played at BMO Field but moved to allow adequate recovery time for the venue’s pitch following a busy schedule. The Independence swept to a 4-1 victory against FC Cincinnati last Saturday night to snap a five-game winless streak in impressive style, with four different players finding the net in the win. With a four-game road trip to come following Saturday’s game, Charlotte will want to try and take advantage of a Toronto side that will be in action on the road for the second time in Week 10 after its visit to ATL UTD 2 on Wednesday night.

FC Cincinnati vs. North Carolina FC
Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio | 7:30 p.m. ET
FC Cincinnati (5-2-2, 17pts) will try to hold onto first place in the Eastern Conference as it plays host to North Carolina FC (2-3-2, 8pts), which returns to league action on a four-game undefeated streak as it makes its first trip to Nippert Stadium. FCC had its three-game winning streak snapped this past Saturday as the Charlotte Independence handed it a 4-1 defeat in North Carolina, with Danni König’s second-half goal – his third of the season – the only silver lining to the performance. North Carolina will see its first league action of the month in Cincinnati, having gone 2-0-2 in its last four games before a pair of bye weeks. NCFC took a 3-0 win against Penn FC in its last outing on April 28 and finds itself four points out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference going into Saturday night.

Louisville City FC vs. ATL UTD 2
Slugger Field, Louisville, Kentucky | 7:30 p.m. ET
Louisville City FC (5-2-1, 16pts) will try to rebound from its first back-to-back defeats since the 2016 season when it hosts ATL UTD 2 at Slugger Field. Louisville was held scoreless for a second consecutive outing this past Sunday, as Nashville SC took a 2-0 victory against the defending USL Cup champion at First Tennessee Park – a result that saw City FC slide to third in the Eastern Conference. With ATL UTD 2 coming off a midweek outing against Toronto FC II, Louisville will be hoping to improve on the 1-1 draw that resulted when the sides met for the first time this season, when Atlanta’s Andrew Carleton scored a late penalty kick to earn his side a point at Coolray Field.

Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
Al Lang Stadium, St. Petersburg, Florida | 7:30 p.m. ET
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (4-0-4, 16pts) will put the last undefeated record in the USL this season on the line when it visits the Tampa Bay Rowdies (4-5-0, 12pts), with the hosts hoping a return to its home field will result in a change in fortunes. The Rowdies are on a three-game losing streak after last Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to the Richmond Kickers, the fifth consecutive game Tampa Bay has lost on the road. Tampa Bay is a perfect 3-0-0 at home this season, however, continuing its excellent form at Al Lang Stadium that was a staple in its first year in the USL. The Hounds boast the best defensive record in the USL, having conceded only twice in eight games after holding Indy Eleven without a shot on goal in a 0-0 draw last Friday night at Highmark Stadium.

Indy Eleven vs. Bethlehem Steel FC
Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana | 8 p.m. ET
Indy Eleven (4-2-2, 14pts) will look to get back in the win column when it hosts Bethlehem Steel FC for the first time on Saturday night. Indy played to a 0-0 draw with Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC at Highmark Stadium last Friday night to bolster its place in the top eight in the USL’s Eastern Conference, maintaining its undefeated road record that has yet to see the side conceded away from home this season. Indy enters the weekend’s action three points back of the Eastern Conference leaders but will be making a long trip back home after a Wednesday night clash against the PDL’s Mississippi Brilla FC in Jackson, Mississippi, while Steel FC will also be coming in off a league game on Wednesday evening against the New York Red Bulls II.

OKC Energy FC vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Taft Stadium, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma | 8 p.m. ET
OKC Energy FC (1-8-0, 3pts) will try once again to break its longest losing streak in club history when it takes on Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (4-5-2, 14pts). Energy FC remained on the bottom of the Western Conference last Wednesday night as it fell 3-0 to Phoenix Rising FC, and the side has also been held scoreless in five consecutive games and for an overall run of 519 minutes. The Switchbacks had their confidence boosted last Friday night, meanwhile, as the side took a 1-0 victory against Las Vegas Lights FC that moved Colorado Springs back into the playoff positions in the Western Conference. Luke Vercollone’s goal made the difference in the win, which ended the Switchbacks’ four-game winless streak.

Rio Grande Valley FC vs. Swope Park Rangers
H-E-B Park, Edinburg, Texas | 8:30 p.m. ET
Rio Grande Valley FC (1-3-5, 8pts) will aim to add to its four-game undefeated streak but will likely get a strong test from the Swope Park Rangers (4-2-3, 15pts) as the visitors look to bounce back from a tough road loss last time out. The Rangers were handed their second defeat of the season last Wednesday night. Despite taking an early lead on Kharlton Belmar’s eighth goal of the regular season, the side fell 4-1 to Western Conference leader Real Monarchs SLC. The Toros have recorded three consecutive draws since taking their first win of 2018 but arguably had the better of this past Saturday’s 0-0 draw with San Antonio FC. Sitting six points out of the top eight going into the weekend, the Toros would get a major boost if they can go one better than last season’s 2-2 draw between the teams at H-E-B Park.

San Antonio FC vs. Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Toyota Field, San Antonio, Texas | 8:30 p.m. ET
San Antonio FC (3-2-4, 13pts) will try to vault into the playoff positions in the Western Conference when it plays host to Tulsa Roughnecks FC (0-4-5, 5pts) in the first meeting between the teams since last year’s Western Conference Quarterfinals matchup in the USL Cup Playoffs. San Antonio is undefeated in its last four outings after a five-save shutout by goalkeeper Diego Restrepo earned a 0-0 draw with Rio Grande Valley FC last Saturday night but sits a point out of eighth place in what is turning into a tight race for position one-quarter of the way through the season. Tulsa is still looking for its first win of the season after a 5-1 defeat to Phoenix Rising FC last Saturday, a loss that broke a run of five consecutive draws for Head Coach David Vaudreuil’s side.

Phoenix Rising FC vs. Sacramento Republic FC
Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex, Phoenix, Arizona | 10:30 p.m. ET
Phoenix Rising FC (6-1-3, 21pts) is coming in off a high as it plays host to Sacramento Republic FC (5-2-3, 18pts) at the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex on Saturday after sweeping through its trip to Oklahoma in Week 9. Rising FC doubled its win total all-time in the Sooner State as it defeated both OKC Energy FC and Tulsa Roughnecks FC by a combined score of 8-1 to remain a point back of Real Monarchs SLC in the race for first place in the Western Conference. Sacramento was unable to keep pace with the top two this past Saturday, as it squandered a two-goal halftime lead in a 3-2 loss to regional rival Reno 1868 FC at Papa Murphy’s Park and will be wanting to produce a big bounce-back performance to move level with Phoenix on points in the standings.

Reno 1868 FC vs. Seattle Sounders FC 2
Greater Nevada Field, Reno, Nevada | 10:30 p.m. ET
Reno 1868 FC (3-3-4, 13pts) will try to continue its stellar recent form when it hosts Seattle Sounders FC 2 (2-6-1, 7pts) after completing a four-game road trip with a big comeback victory that moved the side within a point of the Western Conference playoff places going into this weekend. Reno came back from a two-goal halftime deficit to defeat Sacramento Republic FC 3-2 on Saturday night at Papa Murphy’s Park, as Paul Marie and Mo Thiaw each had a goal and assist for the visitors. 1868 FC is now undefeated in its last six games (3-0-3) as it builds out of a slow start to the season. S2 didn’t have as good a time of it this past Saturday, as it conceded a late goal in a 1-0 loss to the Portland Timbers 2 at Cheney Stadium. Seattle has lost back-to-back games, is winless in three and now has to visit a venue where it fell 6-0 last season when these teams met for the first time.

Las Vegas Lights FC vs. Real Monarchs SLC
Cashman Field, Las Vegas, Nevada | 11 p.m. ET
Real Monarchs SLC (7-1-1, 22pts) will try to continue its three-game winning streak when it visits Las Vegas Lights FC (2-2-4, 10pts), one of only two teams to have taken a point from the Monarchs in nine outings this season. Lights FC was the visitor for the opening of Real’s new home at Zions Bank Stadium on April 30, and despite playing down a man for more than 70 minutes, the team held on for a 0-0 draw. That result was part of the club’s current five-game winless streak, a run that continued in a 1-0 defeat to Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC last Friday night. The Monarchs remained on top of the USL Western Conference, as Maikel Chang scored the only goal in a 1-0 win against Fresno FC this past Saturday as Real capped its four-game home stand at its new home with a 3-0-1 record.

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