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USL Weekend Preview – Week 21

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 08/12/17, 3:06PM EDT

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Rivalry matchups highlight Saturday's slate in busy weekend

TAMPA, Fla. – Four major rivalries will renew on Saturday night, headlining Week 21 action in the 2017 regular season. The race for the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs features other contests that pit teams striving for a place at the top of the standings and those looking to earn a seat at the postseason table.
 
The third and final meeting for the River Cities Cup sees Louisville City FC play host to FC Cincinnati at Slugger Field, with a potential first sellout crowd in Louisville’s history set to descend for the latest chapter in arguably the USL’s biggest rivalry. Further north, the Keystone Derby Cup will also be decided, with the Harrisburg City Islanders playing host to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in a game that will also be crucial to the playoff hopes of both.
 
The Black Gold Derby’s second edition of the season is set for ONEOK Field, as Tulsa Roughnecks FC looks to claim the coveted Supporter’s Wrench for the first time in its history after earning victory against OKC Energy FC earlier this season in Oklahoma City. Meanwhile, the Rocky Mountain showdown between Western Conference-leading Real Monarchs SLC and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC at Rio Tinto Stadium sees both teams having taken a win apiece in the series already this year.
 
Every game of the 2017 USL season will be available on the league’s Match Center, with updates from across the league also available via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

GAMES TO WATCH

Saturday, August 12
Harrisburg City Islanders vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds
7 p.m. ET
, FNB Field (Watch Live)
The City Islanders and Riverhounds meet for the final time in the regular season, with the Riverhounds holding a narrow edge in the battle for the Keystone Derby Cup. Pittsburgh’s 1-0 win in the opening game of the series at Highmark Stadium has put the Hounds in position to regain the trophy from their Pennsylvania rivals.

Harrisburg (6-11-6, 24pts) is coming off a 1-0 defeat against the Rochester Rhinos on Tuesday night, which saw the side remain outside the playoff positions as its winless streak extended to four games. The City Islanders are also looking to break a four-game goalless streak against a Riverhounds side they have yet to tally against this season.

Pittsburgh (5-8-9, 24pts) is also aiming to get back on the winning track after being held to a 1-1 draw by the Richmond Kickers at Highmark Stadium last Saturday. The Riverhounds need only a draw to claim the rivalry trophy this season, but wins are becoming crucial as the side enters its final 10 games of the regular season.

Louisville City FC vs. FC Cincinnati
7:30 p.m. ET, Slugger Field (Watch Live)
The third regular-season meeting between Louisville and Cincinnati could being the biggest crowd in City’s history to Slugger Field, with a potential sellout set to exceed the 11,632 fans that were on hand when the teams last met at the venue in July – a game FCC took victory in for its first road win in the series all-time.

Louisville (10-4-5, 35pts) is looking to rebound from a 3-1 defeat to the Charlotte Independence last Saturday night, as it returns home and needs a two-goal victory to wrest the River Cities Cup from its visitors. City has taken victory in each of the previous three losses it has suffered in the USL this season, however, a good omen as the side looks to chase down the Independence at the top of the Eastern Conference.

Cincinnati (8-7-7, 31pts) needed some late heroics to earn a 2-2 draw with Orlando City B in front of a USL regular-season record crowd of 25,308 last Saturday at Nippert Stadium, as Danni König’s stoppage-time goal earned the side a point. König was one of three players on target when FCC earned a 3-2 victory on July 15 to give the side an edge in the season series and will be hoping to help the side lift the River Cities Cup for the second time in as many years on Saturday.

Tulsa Roughnecks FC vs. OKC Energy FC
8:30 p.m. ET, ONEOK Field (Watch Live)

The Roughnecks and Energy FC meet for the second time this season with the Supporters Wrench within reach for Tulsa’s Roustabouts for the first time in the series’ history. The Roughnecks rallied to earn their first win at Taft Stadium on July 8, when goals by Juan Pablo Caffa and Joey Calistri gave the visitors victory.

Tulsa (9-9-2, 29pts) will face Energy FC after taking a 2-1 victory on Thursday night against Saint Louis FC, as goals by Juan Corrales and Calistri moved the Roughnecks level on points with Energy FC heading into the contest. A win against OKC on Saturday would not only further boost Tulsa’s playoff hopes but also claim the rivalry series for the first time in its three-season history.

Energy FC (8-8-5, 29pts) has been on a roll since its loss to Tulsa, with the club going on a five-game undefeated streak since then to move into the Western Conference playoff positions. OKC took a 2-0 victory against Real Monarchs SLC last Saturday night on a pair of goals by Alex Dixon, and has won three of its last four outings as it looks for revenge for its first loss in the series since 2015.

Real Monarchs SLC vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
9 p.m. ET, Rio Tinto Stadium (Watch Live)
The Monarchs will look to end a recent downturn in form when they welcome a Switchbacks side that has hit its stride offensively over the past two games when they decide the season series on Saturday. Colorado Springs took a 2-1 victory against Real early in the season, but a 5-2 victory for the Monarchs evened the series in their first meeting at the RioT in 2017.

Real (15-3-3, 48pts) will be hoping to regain the attacking form it showed in that performance after being held scoreless in back-to-back games for the first time since a three-game scoreless streak between April 15-26, 2016. The side will be without playmaker Sebastian Velasquez, however, due to suspension, meaning the attacking load will likely fall on USL Player of the Month for July finalist Chandler Hoffman, who sits third in the league with 13 goals.

The Switchbacks (9-8-6, 33pts) have had no problems finding the net in the past week, scoring four goals apiece in victories against the Portland Timbers 2 last Saturday and Orange County SC on Tuesday night. With three consecutive wins under their belts, the Switchbacks have solidified their place in the West’s top eight and will be hoping to continue their run against their Rocky Mountain rival.

Reno 1868 FC vs. San Antonio FC
10:30 p.m. ET, Greater Nevada Field (Watch Live)
Two of the top four teams in the USL Western Conference meet in the final game of Saturday night, with fourth-place Reno looking to close an eight-point gap on second-place San Antonio in the standings.

1868 FC (9-5-6, 33pts) earned a 3-2 victory against Tulsa Roughnecks FC last Saturday night thanks to an 84th-minute goal by Chris Wehan, who helped give Reno two wins out of three in its week-long trip to the Midwest. The hosts will be out for a little revenge on Saturday, too, after San Antonio handed Reno a 4-0 defeat when the teams met early in the season at Toyota Field.

SAFC (11-1-8, 41pts) heads west after another late concession saw the side play to a 1-1 draw with Orange County SC at Toyota Field, which left the gap to Real Monarchs SLC at the top of the conference at seven points. San Antonio has conceded in the final 10 minutes in three of its last four games to miss out on winning positions and will want to extend the gap between itself and the teams in the chasing pack in its first visit to Nevada.

NUMBER CRUNCHING

35,615 – Seattle Sounders FC hosted a tournament-record 35,615 at the 2011 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final, a total FC Cincinnati will be hoping to surpass after selling out its Semifinal against the New York on Tuesday night in this year’s edition of the tournament.
 
445 – The Tampa Bay Rowdies have not conceded a goal in 445 minutes at Al Lang Stadium, recording four consecutive shutouts over their past four home games.

53 – San Antonio FC’s Billy Forbes has completed 53 dribbles this season, 19 more than second-placed Onua Obasi of Ottawa Fury FC.

49 – Reno 1868 FC has scored 49 goals in the regular season, more than any other professional club in North American soccer so far in 2017.

28 – Real Monarchs SLC’s Chandler Hoffman has recorded 28 shots on goal from inside the penalty area, the most in the USL, scoring 13 goals in the process.

OTHER NEWS AND NOTES

- The USL welcomed Birmingham as its first expansion franchise for the 2019 season on Tuesday in a ceremony at Good People Brewing Company. The club will be led by Jeff Logan, co-owner of the Birmingham Barons baseball team, James Outland, founding and managing partner of New Capital Partners, and Lee Styslinger, III, chairman and chief executive officer of Altec, Inc.

- The USL announced on Wednesday a team would be returning to Austin, Texas, for the 2019 season after a new stadium location at the Circuit of The Americas was approved. COTA Chairman Bobby Epstein was also announced as having taken a majority stake in the club, while renderings for a modular soccer-specific stadium at the Formula 1 venue were also unveiled as the club prepares to return to action in 18 months.

- Jorge Herrera of the Charlotte Independence was named as the USL Player of the Month for July on Thursday, as the veteran Colombian recorded 66 percent of the poll conducted among the league’s fans, national media and the USL Technical Committee. Herrera recorded eight goals and two assists as the Independence went 5-0-2 in July to claim the fourth award of the season.

- FC Cincinnati announced on Wednesday the club’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Semifinal against the New York Red Bulls on Tuesday night at Nippert Stadium had sold out, with the club’s fans setting a single-day sales record for the club in the process. FCC is the first USL club to reach the historic tournament’s semifinals since the Richmond Kickers in 2011 and the first to host a semifinal since the Charleston Battery in 2008.

- The Charleston Battery (10-5-7, 37pts) play host to the New York Red Bulls II (8-11-3, 27pts) at MUSC Health Stadium on Saturday night (7 p.m. ET | Match Center), looking to snap a six-game winless streak that saw the side move down to second place in the Eastern Conference this past weekend. The Battery are 0-3-3 over their last six games and will have to rebound against a Red Bulls II side that is coming off a 2-1 victory against the Rochester Rhinos in its last outing. New York enters the weekend in eighth place in the Eastern Conference and would claim a season-series sweep of the Battery with a win after defeating Charleston 2-1 at MSU Soccer Park earlier this season.

- The Charlotte Independence (11-3-7, 40pts) complete their trip to Canada by visiting Ottawa Fury FC (6-7-6, 24pts) at TD Place on Saturday night (7 p.m. ET | Match Center). Ottawa will be looking to rebound from its first home defeat since May when it hosts the Eastern Conference leaders after falling 2-1 to Bethlehem Steel FC last Saturday night. Charlotte was on the verge of victory on Wednesday night, but a late goal by Toronto FC II’s Jordan Hamilton saw the sides settle for a 2-2 draw at BMO Field. The result saw the Independence’s undefeated streak reach 12 games, which is tied for the club record.

- The Richmond Kickers (3-11-8, 17pts) are nearing the point of must-win games as the side sits 10 points out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings with 10 games remaining in the regular season as it hosts OCB (5-6-10, 25 points) at City Stadium on Saturday night (7 p.m. ET | Match Center). The Kickers played to a 1-1 draw with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds this past Saturday night, leaving the club with only one win in its past 17 matches (1-8-8) and last in the Eastern Conference. OCB is in better shape in the playoff race, but after six consecutive draws needs to start converting victories. The side almost took a big three points this past Saturday, only for a stoppage-time equalizer to earn FC Cincinnati a 2-2 draw at Nippert Stadium. Orlando is two points out of eighth place going into the week’s action.

- Rio Grande Valley FC (7-10-4, 25pts) and Phoenix Rising FC (7-7-4, 25 points) will both look to boost their playoff hopes when they meet on Saturday night at H-E-B Park (8:30 p.m. ET | Match Center) after coming off big road victories last weekend. The Toros overcame a two-goal halftime deficit to take a 4-3 victory against Seattle Sounders FC 2 on Sunday night, a win that snapped a six-game winless streak. Phoenix stole the headlines on Saturday night, meanwhile, as Didier Drogba’s spectacular free kick against the LA Galaxy II raced around the world, and onto ESPN’s SportsCenter Top 10 that night. The goal also paved the way to an essential 2-0 victory for Rising FC, which had lost its previous two outings. Both teams enter the week a point behind OKC Energy FC and Tulsa Roughnecks FC for a playoff place in the Western Conference.

- The Swope Park Rangers (12-5-3, 39pts) will try to end a two-game winless streak when they host Orange County SC (7-6-5, 26pts) at Children’s Mercy Victory Field on Saturday night (8:30 p.m. ET | Match Center). Orange County takes to the field after suffering a 4-0 defeat on Tuesday night against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, which kept the side outside the postseason positions. The Rangers, meanwhile, are coming off a 0-0 draw against Saint Louis FC that saw goalkeeper Darrin MacLeod save a penalty kick from STLFC’s Octavio Guzman to earn his side a point. Sitting two points back of second-place San Antonio, the Rangers will be hoping a win will be enough to jump the side back ahead as both pursue conference leaders Real Monarchs SLC.

- Bethlehem Steel FC (9-8-3, 30pts) will look to build on a big road victory when it hosts Toronto FC II (4-12-6, 18pts) at Goodman Stadium on Sunday evening (5 p.m. ET | Match Center). Bethlehem rallied from an early deficit against Ottawa Fury FC this past Saturday to take a 2-1 victory at TD Place, breaking a two-game losing streak in the process. Steel FC now has a five-point gap to the teams outside the playoff positions in seventh place in the Eastern Conference and will try to add to that gap. It hosts a TFC II side that rallied late to earn a 2-2 draw with the Charlotte Independence on Wednesday night thanks to Jordan Hamilton’s stoppage-time goal.

- Sacramento Republic FC (9-6-4, 31pts) will try to continue its six-game undefeated streak when it visits the Portland Timbers 2 (2-16-3, 9pts) at Providence Park on Sunday afternoon (5 p.m. ET | Match Center). Sacramento earned a 1-0 victory against Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 on Saturday night thanks to a late penalty kick by Jeremy Hall. The victory kept Sacramento solidly in the playoff positions in the Western Conference as it extended its home undefeated streak to eight games. The last road team to claim victory at Papa Murphy’s Park, however, was T2, which took a 2-0 victory on April 22 for one of its two wins in the league this season. Portland also took victory in its last home outing, a 2-1 win against Rio Grande Valley FC, which could mean a stronger test for Sacramento than the two clubs’ records might indicate.

- Saint Louis FC (6-8-5, 23pts) returns home looking to rebound from a 2-1 defeat against Tulsa Roughnecks FC on Thursday night, as it plays host the Tampa Bay Rowdies (10-5-7, 37pts) on Sunday evening at Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis (8:30 p.m. ET | Match Center) for the second meeting of the season between the clubs. The Rowdies enter the game on a hot streak, having gone 4-0-1 over their last five games while outscoring opponents 10-1 in that span and earning four shutout victories at home. The Rowdies’ road form has been an issue this season, though, with the side going only 1-4-5 away from Al Lang Stadium this season. Saint Louis earned a draw in its visit to Tampa Bay earlier this season. A victory on home turf would be a welcome boost to the club’s playoff hopes.

- Cascadia rivals Seattle Sounders FC 2 (7-13-2, 23pts) and Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 (4-11-6, 18pts) will both try to bounce back from disappointing defeats when they meet for the third and final time in the regular season at Starfire Stadium on Sunday evening (9:30 p.m. ET | Match Center). Seattle took victory in the most recent meeting on July 1 with a 2-0 win at Thunderbird Stadium, but it is coming off a 4-3 defeat to Rio Grande Valley FC this past Sunday that saw the side surrender a two-goal lead at halftime at Starfire Stadium. That loss put another dent in the side’s playoff hopes, as did a 1-0 defeat for WFC2 last Saturday night against Sacramento Republic FC. Vancouver took a 3-0 win in the first meeting of the season between the teams on April 8 and is in major need of a victory to break a 10-game winless streak (0-6-4) to give the side a chance at a place in the postseason.

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