Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
First, an acknowledgement. With 33 home openers to choose from, there are going to be some notable omissions from the list below, hence the bonus contests to watch at the bottom of the piece.
But goodness me, there is some choice viewing for fans of the USL lined up over the first four weekends of the 2018 season in the list of home openers announced today.
Leading the way are the old and new rivalries that will get things off to a rousing start for all involved, with the league’s newcomers getting some tremendous matchups to herald their arrival to the USL. With that in mind, here are five picks for games that should be a must-see when the new season arrives.
Defending champions Louisville City FC not only gets to open the defense of its title at home, but on top of that gets to welcome one of its new regional rivals in Nashville SC in what should be one of the best games of the opening Saturday of the season. Louisville’s deep squad is set to return almost all of its key parts, but the side that Nashville has already started to put together looks impressive on paper. NSC Head Coach Gary Smith and his players will be hoping that translates on the field in what will be a very stern test in front of a raucous atmosphere backing Louisville Head Coach James O’Connor and his side.
Two of the Western Conference’s heavy hitters will meet to open the season at Papa Murphy’s Park in what should be a fascinating opening contest as Sacramento Republic FC looks to get its new season off to a strong start against a San Antonio FC side that had the best defensive record in the league last season. Republic FC will also be looking to continue its perfect record in home openers at its home stadium, where it is 3-0-0 all-time since falling in its inaugural home opener at Hughes Stadium in 2014, but San Antonio certainly could spoil that having won both of its prior two road openers, including last year’s win against Rio Grande Valley FC.
OK, so it wasn’t quite on the opening weekend of the season as Governor Sandoval was hoping for, but the first Silver State Showdown – can that be its name, please? – will also serve as Las Vegas Lights FC’s first regular-season home game at Cashman Field. With Lights FC Owner Brett Lashbrook and Head Coach El Chelis promising attacking, entertaining soccer and 1868 FC coming off a record-setting regular season in its inaugural year, the potential for fireworks between the Nevada rivals is high, which should make for a memorable night in the entertainment capital of the world.
When Indy Eleven’s arrival in the USL was announced earlier this month, the conversation quickly moved to the regional rivals it will square off against for the first time this year. Well, the Brickyard Battalion and Slaughterhouse 19 won’t have long to wait for the first of those encounters with FC Cincinnati – and both The Pride and Die Innenstadt – scheduled to visit for the Eleven’s home opener. As passionate as both fanbases are, it should create an outstanding backdrop for a contest between two teams that will be hoping their offseason moves pay off handsomely on the field.
The River Cities Cup has quickly become a must-see series each year, but for the first time in 2018 it will also serve as FC Cincinnati’s home opener at Nippert Stadium, which should crank things up a few more notches. After Louisville’s victory in the series a year ago, say nothing of the club’s status as defending USL Cup champion, Cincinnati’s new-look squad will be looking to gain the upper hand both in the rivalry, and in early positioning in the Eastern Conference.
North Carolina FC vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies, March 17: NCFC’s debut in the USL will see the side welcome a familiar face as it renews its rivalry with the Rowdies in what should be a great litmus test for both clubs as they start the new season.
OKC Energy FC vs. Tulsa Roughnecks FC, March 17: After the Roughnecks claimed the season series for the first time a year ago, there would be no better way for new Energy FC Head Coach Steve Cooke to get his rein started on the right foot with a victory on home turf against his club’s cross-state rival.
Nashville SC vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds, March 24: Nashville’s inaugural home opener sees a re-tooled Riverhounds’ squad led by Head Coach Bob Lilley come to town for what should be a memorable day for the Music City.
Phoenix Rising FC vs. OKC Energy FC, March 24: Two teams that surged strongly in the second half of the 2017 season, and have a heated long-distance rivalry, should make for a fascinating contest at the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex.
Real Monarchs SLC vs. Portland Timbers 2, March 31: The defending regular-season champion Monarchs will open Zions Bank Stadium with a visit from Portland with the aim of matching, or even bettering, their league-leading 12 home wins a season ago in their new state-of-the-art venue.
Tag(s): Features Nashville San Antonio FC OKC Energy FC Phoenix Rising FC Portland Timbers 2 Real Monarchs SLC Reno 1868 FC Sacramento Republic FC Tulsa Roughnecks FC FC Cincinnati Louisville City FC Pittsburgh Riverhounds Tampa Bay Rowdies USL Top Five Las Vegas Lights FC North Carolina FC Indy Eleven