Photo courtesy FC Cincinnati
TAMPA, Fla. – On- and off-field records were set as the league’s fans and a 15-year-old Canadian led the way. Here’s what we learned from Week 8 in the USL:
1. USL RISING: Now in the league’s sixth season, the USL’s transformation since its rebrand just over a year ago continued over the past seven days as the league’s fans set a new weekly attendance record of 74,627, obliterating the previous mark by more than 9,000. With FC Cincinnati as one cornerstone, and Sacramento Republic FC as the other, the league’s visibility both nationally and internationally reached a new level, as the league’s strategic expansion plan continued to pay massive dividends.
2. CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT: FC Cincinnati’s USL all-time, single-game attendance record of 23,375 as the side hosts the Pittsburgh Riverhounds marked a new high for a club that has exceeded even its own expectations since being awarded a USL franchise last year. The genuine passion brought by the fans at Nippert Stadium was a sight to behold, as the club continued its remarkable inaugural season.
3. PUSHING HIGHER: As impressive as the club’s attendance has been, FC Cincinnati’s play on the field is giving rise to the thought that Coach John Harkes’ side is going to be a contender at the end of the season. Cincinnati now sits in a tie for second place on 17 points with the side it will visit this Saturday, the Charlotte Independence, in a massive midseason contest.
4. YOUTH IS SERVED: While the USL and FC Cincinnati were setting records off the field, Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 prodigy Alphonso Davies made league history on Sunday with his first professional goal. The 15-year-old has shown maturity beyond his years, and made clear why the Whitecaps’ management think so highly of him. His record as the youngest goal-scorer in USL history could last a very long time.
5. BRIGHT NORTHERN LIGHTS: Davies is just one of the bright young Canadian standouts that are clearly benefitting from the experience and competitiveness being in the USL is providing them. Marco Bustos was again scintillating in WFC2’s 4-3 win against the LA Galaxy II on Sunday as the side moved top of the Western Conference, while in the Caribbean the efforts of players like Toronto FC II leading scorer Raheem Edwards saw the Canada U23s take an impressive 5-1 win against Guyana’s full national team.
6. SEPARATION IN THE EAST: If not for Bethlehem Steel FC’s dramatic late rally against FC Montreal on Sunday afternoon, the split between the group that look solid playoff contenders and those on the outside looking in in the Eastern Conference would look even more stark. Even so, the top seven in the East hold at least a five-point cushion on the teams tied for ninth as of now, which will leave teams like Wilmington and Toronto feeling they need to get on a good run of results sooner rather than later.
7. TOMMY, CAN YOU HEAR ME: It was clear how much Tommy Thompson enjoys making the trip on loan from San Jose to compete for Sacramento Republic FC on Saturday night, and his brilliance was the difference as Republic FC took a second consecutive 2-0 win to move back into the top four in the Western Conference. The 20-year-old has been wonderful to watch in his games for Sacramento not only this year, but previously, and appears to have helped light a spark under the side as it retains its defensive solidity.
8. FORTRESS MUSC: Teams in the USL’s Eastern Conference had better hope the Charleston Battery don’t figure out a way to solve their problems picking up results on the road anytime soon, because the Battery yet again returned home and picked up all three points on Saturday to extend their home undefeated streak to 29 games with a 2-0 win against Toronto FC II. Romario Williams’ sixth goal of the season paved the way, with the Jamaican loanee from the Montreal Impact proving a more than adequate replacement for Dane Kelly so far with some clinical finishing.
9. SWITCHBACKS FIND A WAY: While it definitely wasn’t the prettiest performance, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC’s win on Friday night in the ESPN3 USL Game of the Week against the Portland Timbers 2 was the sort of performance that will prove very valuable at the end of the season. The Switchbacks are now third in the Western Conference, and looking very much like a side that could fill a top-two position at the end of the season.
10. BLUEGRASS BOUNCE: Former University of Kentucky standout and three-time All-USL selection George Davis IV will have found a measure of relief to open his account for Louisville City FC on Saturday as the host claimed a victory in the first game of the King’s Cup rivalry against Saint Louis FC at Slugger Field. For Louisville’s upcoming opponents, though, the fact that City is top of the Eastern standings already without much contribution from Davies should be cause for concern as James O’Connor dusts off another attacking weapon at his disposal for what has been an already potent team.
11. TIP YOUR WOODWORK: If finding a way to win at home is imperative for success in this sport, then finding a way to get points on the road is certainly its equal in that regard. For Arizona United SC on Saturday, it was definitely a matter of “better lucky than good” against Orange County Blues FC as the host hit the post or crossbar five times in a 1-1 draw at Anteater Stadium. United will need to be better to earn a first playoff berth, for sure, but won’t mind the good fortune that resulted in a point in Irvine, Calif.