Photo courtesy David Calvert / Reno 1868 FC
TAMPA, Fla. – Following a record-setting week that saw almost 140,000 fans attend USL regular season contests to set a single-week record for lower division soccer in the United States and Canada, Week 15 of the 2018 USL regular season brings both the return of the 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in midweek and a handful of important Eastern and Western Conference matchups as the season nears its midway point. Wednesday night brings together two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference in the Round of 16 of the Open Cup, as Louisville City FC and Nashville SC square off for a place in the Quarterfinals, while Sacramento Republic FC visits MLS expansion side Los Angeles FC, as it seeks a trip to the last eight of the competition for the first time in its history. The playoff line then comes into focus this weekend with the Eastern Conference, featuring games between the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Penn FC on Friday night, as both sides look to move back into the top eight in their conference standings and a Saturday-night meeting between longtime rivals the Charleston Battery and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC. The Western Conference also brings some crucial matchups with San Antonio FC and Reno 1868 FC separated by two points on either side of the playoff line ahead of their matchup at Toyota Field and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC set to host Fresno FC with the sides separated by a point as they both reach the midway point of their regular seasons.
All 561 regular-season games, the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs and the 2018 USL Cup can be accessed via USLSoccer.com’s Match Center.
In the USL’s 11 Things to Know, Nicholas Murray looks back at a week that saw the individual take center stage in some remarkable performances that helped lift their teams to success. From Diego Restrepo’s goalkeeping heroics for San Antonio FC to Jason Johnson’s remarkable displays for Phoenix Rising FC, the league’s top players made their mark on the biggest week of the season so far.
Photo courtesy Brett Hansbauer / FC Cincinnati
Photo courtesy John Wilkinson III / Nashville SC
The three remaining USL clubs still standing in the 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup return to action on Wednesday night, with two of the three squaring off for a place in the last eight when Louisville City FC plays host to Nashville SC. Later out on the west coast, Sacramento Republic FC visits Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles FC, as all three teams look to earn their first trip to the Quarterfinals.
Louisville City FC vs. Nashville SC
Lynn Stadium, Louisville, Kentucky | 7 p.m. ET
Louisville City FC and Nashville SC square off for the third time this season after each having claimed victory on home turf in two USL regular season contests over the first three months of the season. Louisville advanced to the Round of 16 with a thrilling 3-2 victory against the New England Revolution that saw Brian Ownby score a spectacular winner, while Nashville stifled the Colorado Rapids in a 2-0 win that saw the hosts allow its MLS visitors only three shots all game. Nashville is on an 11-game undefeated streak in all competitions after its dramatic late victory this past Saturday, while Louisville is undefeated on home turf, so one of those streaks is going to come to an end in a rare all-USL matchup at this stage of the tournament.
Los Angeles FC vs. Sacramento Republic FC
Banc of California Stadium, Los Angeles, California | 10:30 p.m. ET
Sacramento Republic FC will aim for its second victory against opposition from Major League Soccer in this season’s tournament, as it visits 2018 MLS expansion side Los Angeles FC at its state-of-the-art stadium. Republic FC advanced to the Round of 16 for a second consecutive year, as it defeated Seattle Sounders FC 2-1 in the Fourth Round thanks to Jure Matjasic’s 115th-minute goal in extra time. LAFC took victory against the USL’s Fresno FC in the previous round and will be coming off an 11-day break in action as they enter Wednesday night’s contest, but it will be without notable players such as Mexico’s Carlos Vela and Costa Rica’s Marco Ureña, both of whom are currently competing at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Photo courtesy L.E. Baskow / Las Vegas Lights FC
Wednesday, June 20
Bethlehem Steel FC vs. New York Red Bulls II
Goodman Stadium, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania | 5 p.m. ET
Bethlehem Steel FC (5-5-4, 19pts) will try to regain its place in the top eight of the Eastern Conference when it plays host to the New York Red Bulls II (5-4-5, 20pts) in an important clash for both clubs. Bethlehem swept to a 3-0 victory when the teams last met at Goodman Stadium on May 16, as Adam Najem had a goal and an assist, and Cory Burke had two assists, but Bethlehem sits a point back of its regional rival despite picking up a good point on the road in a 2-2 draw against FC Cincinnati last Wednesday night. New York is coming off a 3-0 defeat on the road against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, a result that continued the side’s struggles away from home this season as the Red Bulls II are winless (0-3-4) this season.
Friday, June 22
Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Penn FC
Al Lang Stadium, St. Petersburg, Florida | 7:30 p.m. ET
The Tampa Bay Rowdies (5-5-3, 18pts) and Penn FC (4-4-6, 18pts) will both try to boost their postseason hopes when they meet for the second time this season. The game will mark the return to Al Lang Stadium for Penn Head Coach Raoul Voss, who was an assistant coach for the Rowdies prior to his offseason move to the helm at Penn. He’ll be bringing with him two forwards in Tommy Heinemann and Lucky Mkosana looking to strike against their former club. Penn is on a three-game undefeated streak after its impressive comeback to take a 3-3 draw on the road against Louisville City FC this past Saturday and will be hoping for more of the same as it looks to break Tampa Bay’s home regular season undefeated streak that stretches back more than a year. After suffering a 3-0 defeat at FNB Field earlier this season, though, the Rowdies will be eager for revenge after going 1-0-3 in their last four outings.
Saturday, June 23
Charleston Battery vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
MUSC Health Stadium, Charleston, South Carolina | 7 p.m. ET
The Charleston Battery (5-3-6, 21pts) return home to host Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (6-1-6, 24pts), looking to break a five-game winless streak (0-1-4) that has seen the Battery slide to seventh place in the Eastern Conference going into this week’s action. Charleston was held to a 1-1 draw this past Saturday by the Charlotte Independence to conclude a four-game road trip, but with a six-game undefeated streak (4-0-2) at home the Battery could be hopeful of getting back in the win column. Riverhounds SC enters on a solid run of form itself, though, having handed the New York Red Bulls II a 3-0 defeat this past Saturday. The Hounds also claimed victory in Charleston a season ago, the only side to beat the Battery on their home turf in the 2017 regular season. Sitting six points back of FC Cincinnati at the top of the Eastern Conference with two games in hand, a win would be a major boost for Pittsburgh in its pursuit of top spot.
North Carolina FC vs. Louisville City FC
Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, North Carolina | 7 p.m. ET
North Carolina FC (4-7-2, 14pts) will try to rebound from a devastating late defeat when it plays host to Louisville City FC (7-2-3, 24pts), as the defending USL Cup champion comes off its midweek Open Cup matchup. North Carolina fell just short of an impressive road draw against Nashville SC this past Saturday, but Nashville scored in the 94th minute to take a 1-0 victory at First Tennessee Park. Now, NCFC sits six points back of eighth place going into this week’s action. Louisville will be coming off a meeting with Nashville as well on Wednesday night in the Open Cup, but it will also see this game as important, as it looks to take advantage of its three games in hand on FC Cincinnati. Louisville is looking to bridge a six-point gap at the top of the standings.
Richmond Kickers vs. Charlotte Independence
City Stadium, Richmond, Virginia | 7 p.m. ET
The Charlotte Independence (6-4-4, 22pts) will try to match the result from their first visit of the season to face the Richmond Kickers (4-8-1, 13pts) when the two sides meet at City Stadium. The Independence took a 3-1 victory on May 26 behind the duo of Cordell Cato and Yann Ekra, who combined on all three goals for the visitors. Charlotte is coming off back-to-back draws that leave it still in range of the sides sitting just outside the playoff positions in the Eastern Conference, which would make a second victory in Richmond a welcome boost to the club’s pursuit of a third consecutive playoff berth. The Kickers, meanwhile, are in need of a serious boost after having lost four of their last five games after this past Saturday’s 4-0 defeat against FC Cincinnati.
OKC Energy FC vs. LA Galaxy II
Taft Stadium, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma | 8:30 p.m. ET
OKC Energy FC (4-10-1, 13pts) will try to continue its recent run of form, as it hosts the LA Galaxy II (3-7-4, 13pts) in what will be a key game for the playoff aspirations of both clubs. Energy FC is coming off back-to-back victories for the first time this season after defeating both the Portland Timbers 2 and Rio Grande Valley FC in Week 14, with Jaime Siaj scoring in each contest. Those wins have pulled Energy FC up to 13th place, still seven points back of the playoff positions, and level on points with Los Dos, which returns to action for the first time since a 1-0 defeat to Orange County SC on June 10. The Galaxy II had won each of their previous two outings, however, as an attack led by Ethan Zubak’s seven goals began to come to life over the past month.
San Antonio FC vs. Reno 1868 FC
Toyota Field, San Antonio, Texas | 8:30 p.m. ET
Two teams separated by two points in the Western Conference meet at Toyota Field, as San Antonio FC (5-3-5, 20pts) and Reno 1868 FC (5-3-7, 22pts) compete for the second time this season. Reno claimed a 2-1 victory when the teams met at Greater Nevada Field on May 26, part of an 11-game undefeated streak (5-0-6) that continued this past Saturday in a 2-2 draw against Orange County SC. That run has moved Reno into seventh place in the West to start the week, but San Antonio would jump past its visitors should it claim a third consecutive win. SAFC got a massive nine-save shutout from goalkeeper Diego Restrepo in a 1-0 victory against Sacramento Republic FC this past Saturday to move into ninth place in the standings and will be hoping to find more balance in its performance as it welcomes one of the league’s leaders in shots to its home turf.
Rio Grande Valley FC vs. Phoenix Rising FC
H-E-B Park, Edinburg, Texas | 8:30 p.m. ET
Phoenix Rising FC (9-3-4, 31pts) will continue its pursuit of top spot in the Western Conference as it visits Rio Grande Valley FC (1-6-7, 10pts) in the first meeting between the clubs this season. Rising FC is coming off back-to-back victories in Week 14 that saw Jason Johnson score three goals in two games to give him 20 over the past two regular seasons for the club. Phoenix enters three points back of Western Conference leader Real Monarchs SLC but has played a game more, making victory on the road important as the side looks to keep up the pressure on Real. RGVFC is coming off a third consecutive defeat, as it fell 3-1 to OKC Energy FC this past Saturday night to slip down to 15th place in the Western Conference and needs a big turnaround for what looks like it will be a very big test.
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC vs. Fresno FC
Weidner Field, Colorado Springs, Colorado | 9 p.m. ET
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (6-8-2, 20pts) and Fresno FC (4-5-7, 19pts) will both look to provide a major lift to their postseason aspirations as they reach the midpoint of their respective seasons in the first meeting between the clubs. The Switchbacks moved just above the playoff line this past Sunday, as Jordan Burt powered a 4-1 victory against the Portland Timbers 2 that broke a two-game losing streak for the club. Fresno also claimed a 4-1 victory on Sunday evening, as it romped to its biggest win of the season against the Swope Park Rangers thanks to Christian Chaney’s goal and assist. With all of the sides surrounding the eighth-place Switchbacks and 10th-place Foxes holding games in hand on the two, the pressure will be on to deliver in an important game for both sides.
Orange County SC vs. Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Champions Soccer Stadium, Irvine, California | 10 p.m. ET
Orange County SC (7-4-3, 24pts) will look to bolster its playoff position as it plays host to Tulsa Roughnecks FC (0-7-7, 7pts), which remains the lone winless side in the Western Conference this season. Orange County rallied to take a second-half lead, as Thomas Enevoldsen scored his eighth goal of the season to move into a tie for the league-lead this past Saturday night but was pegged back to a 2-2 draw by Reno 1868 FC on home turf. Tulsa, meanwhile, suffered a 3-0 defeat to Phoenix Rising FC this past Saturday night that saw the side’s losing streak reach three games as it drifted further out of playoff contention.
Sacramento Republic FC vs. Saint Louis FC
Papa Murphy’s Park, Sacramento, California | 11 p.m. ET
Sacramento Republic FC (8-4-4, 28pts) returns home after its midweek matchup in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup to play host to Saint Louis FC (5-5-5, 20pts), which heads west looking to rebound from a tough home defeat last time out. Saint Louis saw its two-game winning streak come to an end in a 1-0 loss to Real Monarchs SLC this past Saturday despite outshooting its visitors 18-11 at Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis. Sacramento suffered a similar fate in its last league outing as it outshot San Antonio FC 37-8 – recording the most shots in a game this season in the process – only to come away with a 1-0 defeat at Toyota Field. With a 4-1-2 record at Papa Murphy’s Park in the league this season, Republic FC will be hopeful of a solid rebound back in front of its home fans.
Sunday, June 24
New York Red Bulls II vs. Ottawa Fury FC
MSU Soccer Park, Montclair, New Jersey | 5 p.m. ET
The New York Red Bulls II return home for its second game of the week as it plays host to Ottawa Fury FC (4-6-3, 15pts) as its visitors look to snap a two-game losing streak. Fury FC’s last outing was postponed due to major thunderstorms in Atlanta this past Saturday, which left Ottawa looking to get back on track after a 4-2 defeat last Wednesday night against North Carolina FC. After the sides played to a 0-0 draw when they met for the first time this season, New York will be hoping to break through against Fury FC goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau this time around after he posted a seven-save shutout to keep them from victory on May 2.
Swope Park Rangers vs. Las Vegas Lights FC
Children’s Mercy Park, Kansas City, Kansas | 5 p.m. ET
The Swope Park Rangers (7-4-4, 25pts) and Las Vegas Lights FC (4-5-4, 16pts) meet for the second time this season with the Rangers both looking for revenge after their defeat in Nevada at the start of the season and to rebound from a disappointing loss last time out. The Rangers suffered a 4-1 defeat to Fresno FC in its most recent outing this past Sunday, which was all-the-more disappointing after the 3-2 victory last Wednesday night against Western Conference-leader Real Monarchs SLC that preceded it. Las Vegas, meanwhile, is coming in off a 4-1 victory of its own against Seattle Sounders FC 2 this past Saturday that saw Sammy Ochoa score twice at Cashman Field.