TAMPA, Fla. – A contest that’s been highly anticipated since the start of July arrives as the centerpiece of this weekend’s slate of games to conclude Week 18 of the 2017 USL regular season. The battle at the top of the Western Conference is supplemented by a major rivalry clash and games that will have a direct bearing on the race for the playoffs in both conferences.
Real Monarchs SLC and San Antonio FC entered Week 18 sitting first and second, respectively, in the Western Conference, with the two clubs both having put together standout first halves of the season. The first of two meetings this regular season arrives on Saturday night at Toyota Park, where the Monarchs will try to at least maintain the seven-point edge they hold on SAFC after recording the second-best 17-game start to a season in league history with 14 victories and only two defeats.
Also on Saturday night, Saint Louis FC and Louisville City FC meet for the second time this season, with STLFC aiming to bring home the Kings’ Cup at Saint Louis – Toyota Stadium. The two teams met during the opening weekend of the season in Louisville, playing to a 0-0 draw, meaning a victory for either side will claim the trophy.
Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
Saturday, July 22
Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Charleston Battery
7:30 p.m. ET, Al Lang Stadium
The Eastern Conference-leading Charleston Battery will try to complete a three-game sweep of the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday night when the teams meet for the final time in the regular season.
Tampa Bay (7-5-7, 28pts) is undefeated in its last two outings and almost took back-to-back victories, but a stoppage-time penalty kick against Orlando City B last Thursday forced the club to settle for a 1-1 draw against its I-4 Derby rivals. The Rowdies enter the weekend in fourth place in the East, and on Thursday announced the addition of former Philadelphia Union midfielder Walter Restrepo to bolster their squad.
The Battery (10-3-5, 35pts) are the only visitors to emerge with a win from Al Lang Stadium this season, as Tah Brian Anunga’s late winner earned a 3-2 victory when the teams met on April 22. The Battery subsequently took a 2-0 win at MUSC Health Stadium in the most recent meeting between the clubs, but the East’s leaders are coming off a 1-0 loss to Saint Louis FC that marked the first time the side had been held scoreless this season.
Saint Louis FC vs. Louisville City FC
8:30 p.m. ET, Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis
The home of the Kings’ Cup will be decided on Saturday night when Saint Louis FC plays host to Louisville City FC at Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis, with the host coming off a morale-boosting victory, and the visitor looking to rebound from a loss in another major rivalry clash.
Saint Louis (5-7-4, 19pts) broke a five-game winless streak last Saturday with a 1-0 victory against the Charleston Battery, as Octavio Guzman’s second-half goal gave the side victory. Still outside the playoff positions in the Eastern Conference, STLFC will look to use the positive momentum of the win to claim the trophy for the first time and continue a push for the playoffs.
Louisville (8-3-5, 29pts) saw its 13-game home undefeated streak come to an end, as a club-record crowd of 11,632 saw FC Cincinnati take a 3-2 victory in the second contest for the River Cities Cup this season. STLFC’s victory against Charleston kept Louisville in touch for first place in the conference, however, and a win on Saturday would not only keep the cup with the Louisville Coopers but also get the team’s push for a first-place finish back on track.
San Antonio FC vs. Real Monarchs SLC
8:30 p.m. ET, Toyota Field
One of the biggest games of the USL regular season so far arrives on Saturday night at Toyota Field, as San Antonio FC looks to cut into Real Monarchs SLC’s lead at the top of the Western Conference and in the race for the USL Regular Season Championship.
San Antonio (10-1-6, 36pts) almost reduced the gap between the clubs to five points last Friday night in the USL Game of the Week on ESPNU, but a late goal by OKC Energy FC’s Miguel Gonzalez earned the visitors a 1-1 draw at Toyota Field to disappoint a crowd of 8,131, the second-largest in stadium history. With the Swope Park Rangers having moved into second place in the West with their win on Thursday night, SAFC will be aiming to pick up a victory to continue its 10-game home undefeated streak and regain the second spot in the standings.
The Monarchs (14-2-1, 43pts) are coming off back-to-back victories that continued the club’s remarkable run of attacking success. The Monarchs scored seven goals across the two wins and sit second in the USL with 40 goals this season. Going up against the side with the best defensive record in the league, the game should provide a compelling tactical battle and potential playoff preview for later in the year.
Tulsa Roughnecks FC vs. Phoenix Rising FC
8:30 p.m. ET, ONEOK Field
Tulsa Roughnecks FC and Phoenix Rising FC enter the weekend level on points but on opposing sides of the playoff line as they prepare to meet at ONEOK Field in a crucial contest in the race to earn a place in the USL Cup Playoffs.
The Roughnecks (7-8-1, 22pts) are on a three-game undefeated streak following a 2-2 draw with the LA Galaxy II last Thursday, with the comeback point on the road sliding the side into the eighth and final playoff position. Tulsa will welcome playmaker Juan Pablo Caffa back to the lineup after a one-game suspension against LA, and his role could be crucial in earning a win.
Ninth-placed Rising FC (6-5-4, 22pts) also staged a comeback in its last outing, but did so to claim a 2-1 victory against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC behind a pair of goals by halftime substitute Jason Johnson. Undefeated in its last six outings, Phoenix would move into the playoff positions with a win, and potentially be poised for more, as big guns Didier Drogba and Omar Bravo lead the side in pursuit of its second road win of the season.
Photo courtesy Canada Soccer
3,175 – Players with USL experience accounted for 3,175 minutes of action across 46 combined games in the group stage at the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
122 – Sacramento Republic FC defender James Kiffe has won 122 duels this season – the most of any player in the league.
77.5 – Real Monarchs SLC has recorded an assist on 77.5 percent of its 40 goals – totaling 31 as a team – and is the only team to have three players with at least five assists this season.
50 – The Charlotte Independence’s Jorge Herrera became the second player to score 50 goals in the USL regular season last Saturday against the New York Red Bulls. He also scored in Tuesday night’s 1-1 draw with the Harrisburg City Islanders and now has seven goals in his past four games.
46 – San Antonio FC’s Billy Forbes has completed 46 dribbles this season – the most of any player in the USL.
- The Las Vegas City Council on Wednesday approved the City of Las Vegas’ agreement with Las Vegas Soccer, LLC, which would allow a United Soccer League team to compete at Cashman Field beginning in 2018.
- The Louisville Coopers and the Butchertown Neighborhood Association hosted a citizen/supporter rally in support of Louisville City FC’s new stadium plans at Copper & Kings on Thursday night, giving the club another boost as it seeks approval for a new soccer-specific venue in the district.
- The Richmond Kickers welcomed 8,119 fans to City Stadium on Wednesday night as the club hosted the Premier League’s Swansea City AFC in an international exhibition. The Swans claimed a 2-1 victory in the second meeting between the clubs, which drew almost 1,000 more fans than when they met in 2016.
- USL leading scorer Romario Williams scored the game-winning goal as Jamaica defeated Canada 2-1 in the Quarterfinals of the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup on Thursday night. Williams, who has scored 14 goals for the Charleston Battery this season, scored a great curling finish five minutes into the second half. The 22-year-old is one of four current USL players in the squad. The Tampa Bay Rowdies’ Damion Lowe and Bethlehem Steel FC’s Cory Burke also featured in Thursday’s win, while the Rochester Rhinos’ Sergio Campbell was on the bench.
- The Harrisburg City Islanders (6-8-5, 23pts) and Charlotte Independence (9-3-5, 32pts) played to a 1-1 draw on Tuesday night at FNB Field, ending the Independence’s six-game winning streak. Ropapa Mensah gave the hosts the lead in first-half stoppage time before Jorge Herrera equalized six minutes into the second half for the Independence, who missed out on the chance to close within a point of the Charleston Battery at the top of the Eastern Conference with a win.
- The Swope Park Rangers (12-4-2, 38pts) ran their winning streak to seven games on Thursday night after a 2-0 victory against Seattle Sounders FC 2 (7-10-2, 23pts) at Starfire Stadium. Lebo Moloto scored early in the second half, and Nansel Selbol added an insurance goal with seven minutes to go, as the Rangers recorded their fifth consecutive shutout to continue their push toward the top of the Western Conference.
- OKC Energy FC (5-8-4, 19pts) plays host to Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (6-7-6, 24pts) on Saturday night at Taft Stadium (8:30 p.m. ET | Match Center), looking to build on its last-gasp draw against San Antonio FC last Friday night. Miguel Gonzalez scored in the fourth minute of stoppage time in front of 8,131 fans at Toyota Stadium, as OKC grabbed a point on the road. Energy FC will aim to build on that momentum against one of the teams it is chasing for a place in the USL Cup Playoffs. Colorado Springs entered the week in sixth place in the Western Conference but is winless in its last three outings after a 2-1 defeat against Phoenix Rising FC on Saturday night.
- The New York Red Bulls II (6-10-3, 21 points) are looking to jumpstart their playoff hopes when they host Toronto FC II (3-9-5, 14 points) on Friday night at MSU Soccer Park (7 p.m. ET | Match Center). New York suffered a third consecutive loss this past Saturday to the Charlotte Independence and has conceded seven goals in that span. Toronto is coming off its third win of the season, which saw the Reds earn a 1-0 victory against its Battle of Ontario rival Ottawa Fury FC on July 8. Luca Uccello scored the goal in that contest for his team-high third of the season.
- Orange County SC (5-4-4, 19pts) and Rio Grande Valley FC (6-7-3, 21pts) will conclude a home-and-home series at Orange County Great Park on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET | Match Center) after having played to a 1-1 draw at H-E-B Park on Wednesday night in the USL Game of the Week on ESPN3. A pair of first-half goals left the sides level in Texas, with Dusan Stevanovic opening the scoring for OCSC in the 17th minute before Eric Bird equalized from the penalty spot for the Toros 10 minutes later. Orange County is undefeated in its last three home games (1-0-2), while the Toros have won twice in seven games on the road this season.
- FC Cincinnati (7-6-6, 27pts) will look to build on a two-game winning streak against the Harrisburg City Islanders when they meet on Saturday night at Nippert Stadium (7 p.m. ET | Match Center). Saturday’s game was originally scheduled for July 26, but with both teams having an open weekend, and Cincinnati set to host an international exhibition with La Liga’s Valencia CF on Monday, July 24, the game was moved to Saturday. Cincinnati took its first victory at Slugger Field in its history last Saturday, as it gained the upper hand against Louisville City FC in the River Cities Cup rivalry series with a 3-2 win that saw Djiby Fall record his 10th regular-season goal of the season.
- Sacramento Republic FC (7-6-4, 25pts) returns to league action on Sunday night when it plays host to Seattle Sounders FC 2 at Papa Murphy’s Park (11 p.m. ET | Match Center). Republic FC was in action this past Saturday, as it welcomed Liga MX and 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League winner C.F. Pachuca for an international exhibition that also brought a piece of club history. In Sacramento’s starting lineup was 16-year-old Roberto Hategan, who recently became the youngest signing in club history. S2 could also feature a 16-year-old in its squad, with U.S. Youth international Azriel Gonzalez becoming the youngest signing in Sounders history on Monday.
- The Rochester Rhinos (6-3-7, 25pts) play host to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds (5-7-6, 21pts) for the first meeting of the season at Capelli Sport Stadium on Saturday evening (6:05 p.m. ET | Match Center). Both teams are coming off draws in their last outings. Rochester was close to earning a valuable road win against Ottawa Fury FC, as Jochen Graf scored early at TD Place, but a late equalizer put those hopes to rest, forcing the Rhinos to settle for a point. The Riverhounds also took the lead in their most recent contest against Bethlehem Steel FC, but after Chevy Walsh notched his third goal this season, Steel FC hit back quickly as the Keystone State rivals finished all square.
- Reno 1868 FC (7-4-5, 26pts) returns home to host the Portland Timbers 2 (1-15-2, 5pts) on Saturday night at Greater Nevada Field looking to continue a four-game undefeated streak (2-0-2) and bolster its position in the top four of the Western Conference (10:30 p.m. ET | Match Center). Reno played to a 1-1 draw last Saturday on the road against Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2. Brian Brown opened the scoring with less than 20 minutes to go, but the host earned a point, as it equalized soon after at Thunderbird Stadium. T2 is looking to break a string of eight losses in its last nine outings (0-8-1), as it tries to take its second road win of the season. Portland fell 1-0 to the Swope Park Rangers on Sunday in its last outing after having scored six goals across its previous two outings.
- Bethlehem Steel FC (8-6-3, 27pts) will try to extend its undefeated streak to nine games when it visits the Richmond Kickers (2-10-6, 12pts) on Saturday night at City Stadium (7:45 p.m. ET | Match Center). Bethlehem and Richmond played to a 1-1 draw when they met at Goodman Stadium on July 1, with Luis Fernando opening the scoring for the Kickers before Aaron Jones hit back in the second half for Steel FC. Bethlehem’s recent undefeated streak (5-0-3) has moved it into fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings, while the Kickers are still at the bottom of the Eastern Conference after suffering a 1-0 loss to the Harrisburg City Islanders in their last league outing that extended their winless streak to 12 games.