TAMPA, Fla. – Two of the top three teams in the USL Eastern Conference square off on Saturday night in the biggest game of Week 20 in the 2017 regular season, highlighting a weekend where every team in the 30-team league is in action, including 14 games on Saturday, the busiest day of the season.
The Charlotte Independence and Louisville City FC square off for the second time this season on Saturday night at the Sportsplex at Matthews separated by just a point in the Eastern Conference standings. The Independence are on a 10-game undefeated streak going into the contest on their home turf – which is the back half of a doubleheader with the 2017 Premier Development League Championship – but Louisville has a game in hand and claimed victory when the teams first met this season.
The Western Conference also sees a trio of key games in the Midwest on Saturday night, with OKC Energy FC’s clash with conference-leader Real Monarchs SLC, Tulsa Roughnecks FC’s meeting with Reno 1868 FC and San Antonio FC’s contest with Orange County SC all promising to shape the race for first place, and for a place in the USL Cup Playoffs.
Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
Saturday, August 5
Charlotte Independence vs. Louisville City FC
7 p.m. ET, Sportsplex at Matthews
The second-place Charlotte Independence and third-place Louisville City FC square off at the Sportsplex at Matthews for a crucial game in the race for first place in the USL Eastern Conference, with the Independence holding a one-point edge in the standings, but Louisville holding a game in hand on its host on Saturday night.
The Independence (10-3-6, 36pts) are on a 10-game undefeated streak after a 4-0 win on the road against Bethlehem Steel FC last Saturday night, which saw Lewis Hilton score twice to lead the side to victory. Jorge Herrera also found the net for his 12th goal of the season, eight of which came in July, as Charlotte moved a point behind the conference-leading Charleston Battery.
Louisville (10-3-5, 35pts) also took victory in its last outing as it defeated the New York Red Bulls II in front of a crowd of 10,017 at Slugger Field, the second-highest attendance for the club this season. City continues to have the best defensive record in the USL Eastern Conference, conceding only 17 goals in 18 games, and will be looking to replicate its 1-0 win when the teams met at Slugger Field on June 7, which also marked the last time the Independence lost.
OKC Energy FC vs. Real Monarchs SLC
8:30 p.m. ET, Taft Stadium
OKC Energy FC will look to build on an important midweek victory when it plays host to USL Western Conference-leader Real Monarchs SLC, with OKC aiming to continue its run toward a place in the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs. The Monarchs could take a season-sweep of the series, however, and will be aiming to at least maintain its eight-point lead in the conference.
Energy FC (7-8-5, 26pts) moved into the eighth and final playoff place in the West on Wednesday night as Jose Angulo scored the only goal in a 1-0 win against Reno 1868 FC. Angulo’s goal was his third since joining OKC on loan from Saint Louis FC on June 11, which has seen the side go undefeated in its last four contests.
The Monarchs (15-2-3, 48pts) were held to a scoreless draw on Monday night by Tulsa Roughnecks FC at Rio Tinto Stadium in their last outing, which extended the side’s undefeated streak to five games. While the game ended even, it also saw the return to the starting lineup for Real of Sebastian Velasquez after injury, a timely boost to the side’s drive toward the USL Regular Season Championship.
San Antonio FC vs. Orange County SC
8:30 p.m. ET, Toyota Stadium
The Western Conference’s second-placed San Antonio FC will try to build on a big road victory last weekend that saw the side return to its stellar defensive form this season when it hosts ninth-place Orange County SC, which fell in midweek to end a seven-game undefeated streak.
SAFC (11-1-7, 40pts) got a four-save shutout from Diego Restrepo as it scored late from the penalty spot through Rafa Castillo to earn a 1-0 win against Phoenix Rising FC last Saturday night. The win broke a five-game winless streak for the club, and saw San Antonio move back into second place in the Western Conference. Restrepo’s shutout was his eight of the season, moving him into a tie for the league lead with the Rochester Rhinos’ Tomas Gomez.
Orange County (7-5-4, 25pts) suffered a 1-0 defeat to the LA Galaxy II on Wednesday night to slip out of the top eight in the West. OCSC had won three of four prior to its loss to its 405 Derby rival, but now enters a stretch that sees it play six teams above it in the standings in the next seven games which will prove crucial to its playoff hopes.
Tulsa Roughnecks FC vs. Reno 1868 FC
8:30 p.m. ET, ONEOK Field
Reno 1868 FC completes its three-game trip to the Midwest with a second meeting of the season with Tulsa Roughnecks FC, with the teams separated by four points in the Western Conference standings. 1868 FC enters the contest in fourth place and Tulsa in seventh.
The Roughnecks (8-8-2, 26pts) are on a five-game undefeated streak after their 0-0 draw with Western Conference-leader Real Monarchs SLC on Monday night at Rio Tinto Stadium. After earning a valuable road point, Tulsa will look for its third consecutive home win against Reno, and gain a little revenge for the 4-0 defeat it was handed at Greater Nevada Field in the first meeting between the teams on May 24.
1868 FC (8-5-6, 30pts) is 1-1-0 on its road trip trip so far, with a 4-1 victory against the Swope Park Rangers last Sunday being followed by a 1-0 defeat to OKC Energy FC in the USL Game of the Week on ESPN3 on Wednesday night. Reno’s Dane Kelly scored against the Rangers – for whom he played in 2016 – to move into a tie for the lead in the race for the Golden Boot with 14 goals, and will be looking for more as Reno aims to remain in the West’s top four.
Photo courtesy LA Galaxy II
5,529 – The LA Galaxy II signed Efrain Alvarez on Thursday, who became the youngest professional signing in USL history at 15 years and 44 days, or 5,529 days.
529 – FC Cincinnati’s shutout streak in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup reached 529 minutes on Wednesday night as the side defeated Miami FC 1-0 to continue its magical run into the Semifinals of this year’s tournament.
81 – Pittsburgh Riverhounds defender Taylor Washington has recorded a league-high 81 interceptions defensively this season, and holds a double-digit lead over his closest challenger, FC Cincinnati’s Harrison Delbridge on 69.
65 – Portland Timbers 2 goalkeeper Kendall McIntosh leads the USL with 65 saves this season, including a pair of penalty kicks saves against Rio Grande Valley FC last Saturday that earned T2 a 2-1 victory, and McIntosh USL Player of the Week honors.
12 – OKC Energy FC has hit the post or crossbar a league-leading 12 times this season, with Miguel Gonzalez and Alex Dixon both hitting the woodwork three times apiece. The side has scored 26 goals this season.
Photo courtesy FC Cincinnati
- FC Cincinnati became the first USL club to reach the Semifinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup since 2011 on Wednesday night when Djiby Fall’s fourth goal of the tournament earned a 1-0 win against Miami FC at Riccardo Silva Stadium. FCC will host the New York Red Bulls on August 15 at Nippert Stadium as they seek to become the first USL club to reach the final since the Charleston Battery in 2008.
- The USL announced on Thursday the expansion of the league’s schedule for the 2018 season, with each team set to play 34 regular season contests over 31 weeks. The league also announced it will retain a two-conference format in 2018, and a 16-team playoff structure across the two conferences.
- Three players with USL experience have been named to New Zealand’s World Cup Qualifying series against the Solomon Islands in September. Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2’s Deklan Wynne and Myer Bevan and Reno 1868 FC loanee Kip Colvey were all named in the All Whites’ squad, with Bevan’s selection his first for the full national team after starring at the FIFA U20 World Cup earlier this year.
- United States Men’s National Team forward Dom Dwyer of Sporting Kansas City became the first former USL loanee to score in the MLS All-Star Game on Wednesday night as the MLS All-Stars played to a 1-1 draw with La Liga’s Real Madrid at Soldier Field in Chicago. Dwyer shared the USL Golden Boot, was an All-League First Team selection and the 2013 USL Cup Final MVP for Orlando City SC four seasons ago.
- Real Monarchs SLC’s Chandler Hoffman, the Charlotte Independence’s Jorge Herrera and Enzo Martinez, the Rochester Rhinos’ Tomas Gomez and FC Cincinnati’s Djiby Fall were the nominees for the USL Player of the Month for July, which were announced on Thursday afternoon.
- The New York Red Bulls II (7-11-3, 24pts) will try to rebound as they host the Rochester Rhinos (8-3-8, 32pts) on Saturday afternoon at MSU Soccer Park (4 p.m. ET | Match Center). The Red Bulls II fell 2-1 to Louisville City FC on Saturday night in front of 10,017 fans at Slugger Field, and remain in the eighth and final playoff position to start the weekend. The side has lost four of its last five outings, however, and is under pressure from five teams directly below it, all but one of which have more games remaining. The Rhinos are comfortably in the playoff positions after a 3-2 win against FC Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium last Saturday that extended the team’s undefeated streak to six games (3-0-3). Rochester is five points behind Eastern Conference leader the Charleston Battery.
- The Charleston Battery (10-4-7, 37pts) will try to snap a five-game winless streak when they head north of the border to take on Toronto FC II (3-12-5, 14pts) at the Ontario Soccer Centre on Saturday afternoon (4:30 p.m. ET | Match Center). Charleston recorded back-to-back draws in Week 19 as it tied the Pittsburgh Riverhounds 2-2 at Highmark Stadium and Orlando City B 0-0 at MUSC Health Stadium. The Battery remain on top of the Eastern Conference by one point going into this weekend, but have played two games more than the second-place Charlotte Independence and three games more than third-place Louisville City FC, leaving the side in a precarious position. Toronto, meanwhile, is on a three-game losing streak that returned it to bottom position in the conference after a 2-0 defeat against Ottawa Fury FC last Saturday night.
- FC Cincinnati (8-7-6, 30pts) will return home to host Orlando City B (5-6-9, 24pts) on Saturday night at Nippert Stadium (7 p.m. ET | Match Center) after its victory against Miami FC in the Quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday night. Cincinnati enters the weekend’s action in sixth place in the USL Eastern Conference after a 3-2 defeat to the Rochester Rhinos last Saturday at Nippert Stadium ended a three-game winning streak. FCC will be looking for some revenge, and to even the regular-season series, after OCB took a 2-0 win in the first meeting between the teams at Nippert Stadium this season on May 13, part of Orlando’s impressive 4-4-2 road record this season. Orlando also earned a 1-1 draw in the second meeting of the season on July 1 at Orlando City Stadium, which marked the start of a run of five consecutive draws that continued on Wednesday night after a 0-0 draw with the Harrisburg City Islanders.
- Ottawa Fury FC (6-6-6, 24pts) will look to build on a strong attacking display when it hosts Bethlehem Steel FC (8-8-3, 27pts) at TD Place on Saturday night (7 p.m. ET | Match Center) in a game that could prove crucial to the playoff hopes of both teams. Ottawa took a 2-0 victory against Toronto FC II last Saturday in the third and final Battle of Ontario this regular season as 19-year-old Ugandan forward Azake Luboyera scored on his debut. The victory ended a four-game winless streak for Fury FC, and moved it level with the eighth-place New York Red Bulls II in the conference standings. Bethlehem is three points above Ottawa in seventh place, but needs a turnaround after falling in two successive outings. Steel FC fell 4-0 to the Charlotte Independence on Saturday at Goodman Stadium, its heaviest loss of the season. Saturday’s game is the second between the clubs this season after they played to a 1-1 draw in Bethlehem on June 4.
- The Pittsburgh Riverhounds (5-8-8, 23pts) and Richmond Kickers (3-11-7, 16pts) are both coming off defeats as they meet at Highmark Stadium on Saturday night (7 p.m. ET | Match Center) looking to boost their playoff hopes. The Riverhounds fell 2-0 to the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday night at Al Lang Stadium to break a sequence of four consecutive draws that kept the side in the mix for a place in the Eastern Conference playoff positions, but the side has gone only 3-5-2 at home this season and needs to start picking up wins to make a return to the postseason. The Kickers have an even bigger hill to climb after a 1-0 loss to Saint Louis FC last Saturday at City Stadium, with the side now eight points out of a playoff place with 11 games remaining. Richmond did take a 2-1 victory when the teams first met this season on April 22 at City Stadium, however, and will be hoping to take its first road win of the season in its visit to the Steel City.
- The Tampa Bay Rowdies (9-5-7, 34pts) welcome a second consecutive side from the Keystone State to Al Lang Stadium as the Harrisburg City Islanders (6-9-6, 24pts) complete their two-game road trip to Florida on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET | Match Center). The Rowdies recorded a 2-0 victory against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds last Saturday night to extend their undefeated streak to four games (3-0-1) and keep the side in solid contention at the top of the Eastern Conference. Tampa Bay is now three points back of the first-place Charleston Battery, and is 8-1-2 at home this season, among the best home records in the league. The City Islanders played to a 0-0 draw with Orlando City B on Wednesday night. Saturday’s game will be the first meeting between the two clubs.
- Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (7-8-6, 27pts) will try to build on a victory in its last outing when it hosts the Portland Timbers 2 (2-15-3, 9pts) at Weidner Field on Saturday night (6 p.m. ET | Match Center). Colorado Springs gave its playoff prospects a major boost last Saturday night when it handed a 2-1 defeat to fellow playoff contender Seattle Sounders FC 2 as Shane Malcolm led the goal-scorers. The Switchbacks ended a four-game winless streak (0-3-1) with the victory, which moved the side into sixth place in the Western Conference. T2, meanwhile, got just its second win of the season on Saturday as it defeated Rio Grande Valley FC 2-1 thanks to a pair of penalty kick saves by Kendall McIntosh. The teams played to a 0-0 draw at Providence Park when they first met this season.
- Saint Louis FC (6-8-4, 22pts) and the Swope Park Rangers (12-5-2, 38pts) meet in the first game of their home-and-home interconference series at Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis on Saturday night (8:30 p.m. ET | Match Center) with STLFC looking to build on a big win in its last outing. New signing Emmanuel Appiah scored on his debut in a 1-0 win against the Richmond Kickers for STLFC on Saturday, and will get to face his former club as the Rangers visit having helped Swope Park claim the Western Conference championship a season ago. The Rangers will be looking for a bounce-back display after seeing both a seven-game winning streak and shutout streak snapped at 472 minutes last Sunday in a 4-1 loss to Reno 1868 FC. The defeat saw the Rangers slip back into third place in the Western Conference, while Saint Louis enters the week in 13th place in the East, two points back of the eighth-place New York Red Bulls II.
- Phoenix Rising FC (6-7-4, 22pts) will try to rebound from a tough late defeat in its last outing when it visits the LA Galaxy II (5-11-4, 19pts) on Saturday night at StubHub Center Track & Field Stadium (10:30 p.m. ET | Match Center). The Galaxy II face their second game of the week after defeating local rival Orange County SC 1-0 on Wednesday night. Phoenix will look to break a two-game losing streak. The loss kept Rising FC on the outside of the Western Conference playoff positions, where the side now sits four points back of OKC Energy FC entering the weekend’s action.
- Sacramento Republic FC (8-6-4, 28pts) returns to action as it hosts Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 (4-10-6, 18pts) on Saturday night at Papa Murphy’s Park (11 p.m. ET | Match Center). Sacramento is on a five-game undefeated streak (4-0-1) after taking a 2-0 victory against Seattle Sounders FC 2 in its last outing on July 22. Sitting in fifth place in the Western Conference entering the weekend’s action, Sacramento holds a 1-0-1 edge in the season series over WFC2 in 2017 after a 2-1 win at Papa Murphy’s Park when the teams last met on June 17. Vancouver (4-10-6, 18pts) is coming off a 3-3 draw with Rio Grande Valley FC that saw Myer Bevan notch his second goal since joining the side.
- Rio Grande Valley FC (6-10-4, 22pts) completes its trip to the Pacific Northwest with a visit to Seattle Sounders FC 2 (7-12-2, 23pts), which is mired in its longest losing streak in club history as it hosts the Toros at Starfire Stadium (9:30 p.m. ET | Match Center). Seattle fell for a fifth consecutive game on Saturday against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC as an own goal by Francisco Narbon proved decisive in the 2-1 defeat. S2 is only two points out of the Western Conference playoff positions as it begins Week 20, but must start getting victories again as it looks to break through in a tight race for the postseason.