Photo courtesy Diego Diaz / Portland Timbers 2
Week 6 of the 2017 USL regular season saw San Antonio FC maintain its standout start, saw another strong squad stay hot on its heels, and emphasized the importance of the opening goal. Only one side that opened the scoring in its contest over the course of the past week failed to take a victory, and that lone side – Ottawa Fury FC – still came away with a point from its tricky trip to Charleston.
1. CATCH US IF YOU CAN: San Antonio FC returns to the Alamo City with not only its undefeated record intact, but a club-record four-game winning streak under its belt after a 4-0 victory against the Portland Timbers 2 on Friday night. At the center of SAFC's success this season has been its ability to control games from the front. Only once has the team trailed, in its lone draw against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC. The side's outstanding counter-attack has thrived, and it did once again against T2.
2. POWERFUL PRIDE: Keeping up its pursuit of the Western Conference leader on Saturday evening was Real Monarchs SLC, which took its fifth win out of six games by defeating the Swope Park Rangers 2-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium. It took a strong defensive display in the second half to ensure goals by Chandler Hoffman and James Moberg held up for the host. The Monarchs have now claimed five wins in 10 fewer games than they did a season ago. The investment in players with USL experience has certainly paid off so far.
3. ROCKING AND REELING: A two-game losing streak off the back of the Swope Park Rangers' seven-game winning streak that dated back to last season is definitely disappointing, but the Rangers are still doing most of the things that brought them success at the start of the season. As noted above with San Antonio, though, the importance of getting the opening goal and not leaving a hill to climb to get back into the game is going to be crucial on Friday night when Swope Park returns home for a rematch of last season's Western Conference Final against Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2.
4. BATTLING BACK: The Charleston Battery twice faced deficits against Ottawa Fury FC on Saturday night, but twice the trump card of Romario Williams came through to keep the Battery at the top of the Eastern Conference. The Jamaican -- on loan from Atlanta United FC -- is already past halfway to reaching his goals total for Charleston a season ago, when he led the side with 10. With The experience around him, the Battery are shaping up very well indeed so far.
5. SPECIAL DELIVERY: The Tampa Bay Rowdies joined Charleston at the top of the East thanks to a special delivery. What can Brown do for you? How about a strike that lands at No. 1 in ESPN SportsCenter's Top 10 and earns a victory against the Richmond Kickers that breaks a three-game winless streak. As impressive as Deshorn Brown's finish was, though, it was the Rowdies' defense that made the victory as it recorded a fourth shutout of the season in a strong return to form.
6. CAPITAL CHALLENGE: Ottawa Fury FC is the Rowdies' next opponent in league action next Saturday at TD Place, but before then the team will launch its Canadian Championship campaign on Wednesday night against FC Edmonton. After putting in a strong defensive display against Toronto FC II, and striking twice against Charleston on Saturday, Ottawa will need to strike the right balance between the two performances to emerge with a positive result in the opening leg of the series, and take a step toward a clash with Toronto FC in the semifinals.
7. SAN ANGELO: Toronto FC II hasn’t been able to produce much in the way of offense in recent weeks despite the presence of Jordan Hamilton on loan from the club’s MLS squad, but the Reds have been able to grind out three successive scoreless draws to keep things moving for the side in the point column. On Saturday, it was another stellar performance by Angelo Cavalluzzo that saw TFC II notch its biggest draw to date as his 10-save performance frustrated Louisville City FC in front of 8,282 fans at Slugger Field. Cavalluzzo is tied for fourth in the USL with 18 saves going into Week 7, as TFC II has recorded three consecutive shutouts for the first time since the 2015 season.
8. FINDING THE RIGHT FIT: Fully embedded with the squad on loan from the Houston Dynamo, Joe Holland showed what he could provide Rio Grande Valley FC on Saturday night as his goal and assist led the Toros to an important bounce-back 3-0 win on home turf against OKC Energy FC. After the game, though, he praised Toros Head Coach Junior Gonzalez and his teammates for getting up to speed as quickly has he has. “The coaching staff and all the boys here did such a great job and I’m really thankful for them getting used to the style of playing with them so quickly,” said Holland. “It’s all about how they facilitate me, rather than what I do.”
Photo courtesy Christian Inoferio / Rio Grande Valley FC
9. KEYS TO THE KEYSTONE: The Pittsburgh Riverhounds’ Kevin Kerr has been among the leading chance creators in the USL so far this season, sitting tied for second in the league with 17 going into Week 7. It took until Saturday for the first of those chances to come to fruition, however, as his first assist of the season led to a 1-0 victory in the Keystone Derby Cup against the Harrisburg City Islanders through Corey Hertzog’s fourth goal of the season. Times have been tough for the Hounds since the start of the 2016 season, with Kerr correct that so far this year the side has played well without much reward. With Toronto FC II coming to visit on Wednesday, the hope must be a well-earned win to provide the platform for bigger things to come.
10. EVERYTHING BUT THE GOAL: As things have been tough for the Riverhounds this season, so too are they turning that way for FC Cincinnati at present. Head Coach Alan Koch and his side will likely be bemused that they took nothing from a 1-0 defeat against Bethlehem Steel FC on Saturday, with the visitors at Goodman Stadium having the better of the play and hitting the woodwork twice before Hugh Roberts’ late goal for Steel FC grabbed all three points for the hosts. FCC appeared to have found its top gear two weeks ago with a great performance against Saint Louis, but two points from the past three games, and no lead held in that span, means there’s plenty of work to be done.
11. STAMPEDED: Rochester Rhinos Head Coach Bob Lilley was critical of his players despite salvaging a draw against the New York Red Bulls II in the club’s home opener. It’s certain Saturday’s display was much more to his liking, as the Rhinos demolished a good Charlotte Independence side 4-0 behind a sturdy defensive display and an attack that struck quickly and often when given the chance. The Rhinos may have had less possession and touches than their visitors to Capelli Sport Stadium, but 14 shots on goal, eight of which hit the target, told the bigger story of the game as Charlotte was stymied, finishing with only two shots from within the Rochester penalty area. If the Rhinos can find this level of consistency week-in and week-out, they’re going to be a team worth watching.