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USL Weekend Preview – Week 16

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 07/08/17, 9:21AM EDT

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Top two in the East square off, Black Gold Derby resumes in weekend slate

TAMPA, Fla. – The 2017 USL Regular Season reaches begins the second half of the season with one of the league’s biggest games of the year in the Eastern Conference, and the resumption of an in-state rivalry that could have major implications on the playoff hopes for both participants. With 13 games on the schedule after a flurry of midweek action, the race is on to reach the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs.

Eastern Conference leaders the Charleston Battery and second-place Louisville City FC meet for the second time this season at MUSC Health Stadium on Saturday night with the Battery holding a six-point edge in the standings, but City holding two games in hand as the race for first place hangs in the balance. After a thrilling 4-4 draw when the teams met for the first time this year, more fireworks could be in store in one of the biggest games of the season.

The 2017 edition of the Black Gold Derby also arrives on Saturday night, with OKC Energy FC playing host to Tulsa Roughnecks FC at Taft Stadium and plenty on the line in addition to bragging rights. With the teams level on points, and both just below the top eight in the Western Conference, a victory for either side would provide a major boost in the race for the postseason.

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


Photo courtesy Zach Bland / Charleston Battery

Saturday, July 8
Charleston Battery vs. Louisville City FC
7 p.m. ET, MUSC Health Stadium

The battle for first place in the Eastern Conference could come clearly into focus at MUSC Health Stadium on Saturday night when the Charleston Battery host Louisville City FC. The two frontrunners in the conference both posted solid victories a week ago to set up a pivotal meeting to start the second half of the season.

The Battery (10-2-4, 34pts) became the first Eastern Conference side to 10 wins this season with a 2-0 victory against the Tampa Bay Rowdies last Saturday as Romario Williams and Heviel Cordoves both found the net. But Williams – who leads the USL with 14 goals – will be absent on Saturday as he competes in the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup for Jamaica, leaving the scoring burden to be carried elsewhere.

Louisville (8-2-4, 28pts) scored once in either half to earn a 2-1 victory against Ottawa Fury FC in front of 7,814 fans at Slugger Field. Brian Ownby and Luke Spencer had the goals in the win, with Ownby continuing a strong season as the winger was nominated on Thursday for the USL’s Player of the Month award for June. City will also have an absence due to the Gold Cup, with standout young midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye selected in Canada’s squad.

Swope Park Rangers vs. Rio Grande Valley FC
8:30 p.m. ET, Children’s Mercy Victory Field

The Swope Park Rangers will try to continue their six-game undefeated streak when they host Rio Grande Valley FC at Children’s Mercy Victory Field. The Toros look to remain in the Western Conference’s top eight after eking out a victory last Saturday night.

The Rangers (8-4-2, 26pts) won their fourth game in the past five when they defeated the LA Galaxy II last Friday night, with Nansel Selbol’s goal proving the difference. Now in third in the Western Conference, Swope Park still has ground to make up on second-place San Antonio FC, which sits nine points ahead in the standings, but Saturday marks the first of two games in hand the Rangers hold on their Texas rivals.

The Toros (6-6-2, 20pts) continued their up-and-down season last Saturday as Ruben Luna scored from the penalty spot in the team’s only shot for the game against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC. But while RGVFC sits in the eighth and final playoff place currently, it could make a move to solidify a second consecutive playoff position should it get a result on the road, with multiple games in hand on the three teams sitting directly above it going into the weekend.

OKC Energy FC vs. Tulsa Roughnecks FC
8:30 p.m. ET, Taft Stadium

The Black Gold Derby kicks off for the new season at Taft Stadium, with host OKC Energy FC looking to not only maintain the upper hand on its in-state rival Tulsa Roughnecks FC, but also give its playoff hopes a major boost after a midweek defeat.

Energy FC (5-7-3, 18pts) fell 3-1 to Western Conference leader Real Monarchs SLC on Wednesday night as two goals in the final 20 minutes saw the host pull away at Rio Tinto Stadium. OKC was also dealt the blow of seeing Coady Andrews sent off, meaning the center back will be unavailable for Saturday’s clash.

The Roughnecks (6-8-0, 18pts) are also looking to break up the standings, but got a morale-boosting 2-0 win against the same Monarchs side at ONEOK Field last Saturday. Tulsa will also be looking to send a message in its first encounter with OKC this year after Energy FC swept all four games of the regular-season series in 2016 to retain the rivalry’s four-foot pipe wrench trophy.

Sunday, July 9
FC Cincinnati vs. Richmond Kickers
6 p.m. ET, Nippert Stadium

FC Cincinnati will return home for an important league game against the Richmond Kickers at Nippert Stadium before it prepares for its Quarterfinal in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday night. Cincinnati and Richmond played to a 1-1 draw earlier in the season, continuing the tightly-contested nature of the series between the teams that has seen all three prior meetings finish level.

Cincinnati (5-5-6, 21pts) is in the middle of a busy stint of games that saw the side fall to the Tampa Bay Rowdies 2-0 on Thursday night in the USL Game of the Week on ESPNU. Now sitting eighth in the Eastern Conference going into the weekend, FCC will aim to solidify its playoff position before it attempts to become the first USL club to reach the Open Cup semifinal since the Kickers in 2011.

Richmond (2-8-6, 12pts) enters in desperate needs of a victory to boost its playoff chances, with the side coming off a 1-1 draw against Bethlehem Steel FC last Saturday evening. The Kickers are currently in their longest winless streak of the USL era at 11 games, with the team’s last victory coming on April 22 when it defeated the Pittsburgh Riverhounds 2-1 at City Stadium.

NUMBER CRUNCHING


Photo courtesy Zach Bland / Charleston Battery

240 – Sunday’s game between Bethlehem Steel FC and the New York Red Bulls II will mark the 240th game – and official halfway point – of the 2017 USL regular season.

40 – Real Monarchs SLC forward Chandler Hoffman notched his 40th and 41st career USL regular-season goals on Wednesday night, while also reaching 10 goals this season, in the Monarchs’ 3-1 win against OKC Energy FC.

30 – New York Red Bulls II forward Brandon Allen scored his 30th goal in the USL regular season and playoffs last Saturday night, and it proved the winner in a 1-0 win against Saint Louis FC.

20 – Twenty players with USL experience will suit up for the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup, with six of the league’s current players competing at the event. Louisville’s Mark-Anthony Kaye (Canada), Reno’s Junior Burgos (El Salvador) and Charleston’s Romario Williams, Bethlehem’s Cory Burke, Tampa Bay’s Damion Lowe and Rochester’s Sergio Campbell (Jamaica) were selected for the tournament, which kicks off on Friday night.

9Reno 1868 FC set a USL record on Monday night for the largest margin of victory in league history with a 9-0 win against the LA Galaxy II. Chris Wehan recorded two goals and two assists in the contest.

OTHER NEWS AND NOTES


Photo courtesy David Calvert / Reno 1868 FC

- The United Soccer League and Alianza de Futbol announced on Thursday the organizations had agreed to extend their partnership through 2017, allowing the USL and its teams access to scout and recruit during Alianza’s events across the country.

- Sitting second in the USL Western Conference, San Antonio FC plays host to Liga MX’s Santos Laguna on Saturday night in an international exhibition at Toyota Field. The contest is part of a two-week span that brings a feast of soccer to the Alamo City, culminating in the final group games between Mexico, Jamaica, El Salvador and Curaçao in Group C of the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup at the Alamodome.

- Reno 1868 FC will also square off with Liga MX opposition on Saturday night as it welcomes Club Atlas to Greater Nevada Field for the club’s first international exhibition. Reno enters the weekend in fourth place in the Western Conference after its record-setting 9-0 victory against the LA Galaxy II on Monday night, which capped a holiday weekend that welcomed more than 12,000 fans to GNF.

- The Tampa Bay Rowdies (7-5-6, 27pts) snapped a seven-game winless streak when they took a 2-0 victory against FC Cincinnati on Thursday night in front of 6,269 fans at Al Lang Stadium in the first of two USL Game of the Week broadcasts to be aired on ESPNU. Martin Paterson and Joe Cole provided the goals shortly before the game went into a 1-hour, 56-minute lightning delay just before halftime, but the Rowdies were able to hold their advantage when play resumed to move at least temporarily back into third place in the Eastern Conference.

- The Charlotte Independence (7-3-4, 25pts) will try to set a new club record with a fifth consecutive win on Saturday night when they play host to Saint Louis FC (4-6-4, 16pts) at the Sportsplex at Matthews (7 p.m. ET | Match Center). The Independence defeated the Pittsburgh Riverhounds 3-1 on Tuesday at Highmark Stadium to continue their strong recent run as Jorge Herrera scored twice.

- Real Monarchs SLC (13-2-1, 40pts) welcomes Seattle Sounders FC 2 (7-7-2, 23pts) to Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday night (9 p.m. ET | Match Center) looking for a second win this week to extend its lead at the top of the Western Conference. The Monarchs defeated OKC Energy FC 3-1 on Wednesday, while S2 enters the contest having alternated wins and losses in its past five games after a 2-0 win against Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 last Saturday.

- Bethlehem Steel FC (7-6-2, 23pts) and the New York Red Bulls II (6-7-3, 21pts) will meet for the second time this season on Sunday evening at Goodman Stadium (5 p.m. ET | Match Center) with both looking to build on positive recent results. Steel FC is undefeated in its past six outings after a 1-1 draw with the Richmond Kickers last Saturday, while the Red Bulls II earned a 1-0 win against Saint Louis FC to move back into the playoff positions. The visitors will be hoping to reverse Steel FC’s victory at MSU Soccer Park earlier this season, and jump ahead in the standings in the process.

- Orange County SC (4-4-2, 14pts) hosts Phoenix Rising FC (5-5-3, 18pts) on Saturday evening at Orange County Great Park (8 p.m. ET | Match Center) with both teams coming off draws in their past outings. Orange County got a stoppage-time equalizer from Gustavo Villalobos in a 3-3 draw with the Portland Timbers 2 last Saturday, while Phoenix remained undefeated in its past four games with a 0-0 draw against Reno 1868 FC thanks to a six-save shutout by Josh Cohen.

- The Eastern Conference’s two Canadian squads meet for the second time this season when Toronto FC II (2-9-5, 11pts) hosts Ottawa Fury FC (5-5-5, 20pts) at the Ontario Soccer Centre on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET | Match Center). The first meeting between the teams resulted in a scoreless draw, but Fury FC will be hopeful of earning a win after slipping out of the playoff positions following last Saturday’s loss to Louisville City FC.

- The Harrisburg City Islanders (4-7-4, 16pts) visit the Rochester Rhinos (5-3-6, 21pts) looking to continue their two-game winning streak on Saturday night at Capelli Sport Stadium (6:05 p.m. ET | Match Center). The City Islanders took a thrilling 4-3 victory against Toronto FC II last Saturday as Pedro Ribeiro notched his second goal in as many games, earning USL Player of the Week accolades in the process. Another win would push Harrisburg closer to the playoff positions. Rochester played to a 0-0 draw on Wednesday night against Saint Louis FC in its last outing, and sits in the eighth and final playoff place in the East going into the weekend.

- Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (6-6-5, 23pts) and Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 (4-8-3, 15pts) will both try to rebound from defeats last time out when they meet at Weidner Field on Saturday evening (8 p.m. ET | Match Center). The Switchbacks held a 15-1 advantage in shots against Rio Grande Valley FC last Saturday, only to go down 1-0, while WFC2 fell 2-0 to Cascadia rival Seattle Sounders FC 2 to move five points out of the playoff positions.

- Orlando City B (5-6-5, 20pts) and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds (5-7-4, 19pts) square off at Orlando City Stadium on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET | Match Center) with both looking to make the jump into the top eight in the Eastern Conference. OCB earned a 1-1 draw with FC Cincinnati in its past outing, while the Riverhounds fell 3-1 to the Charlotte Independence on Tuesday night in their first home game before the start of a run of four road games out of five over the remainder of July.

- The Portland Timbers 2 (1-13-2, 5pts) host the LA Galaxy II (3-11-2, 11pts) in a meeting between the bottom two teams in the Western Conference on Sunday afternoon at Providence Park (5 p.m. ET | Match Center). T2 almost grabbed its second win of the season last Saturday, only for a stoppage-time equalizer to earn Orange County SC a 3-3 draw, while the Galaxy II are coming off the biggest loss in USL history after Reno 1868 FC took a 9-0 win this past Monday night.

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