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USL's Week Ahead - ESPNews Debut for NSC, Indy Highlights Busy Week’s Action

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 06/26/18, 12:37PM EDT

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Week 16 brings key games throughout week as race for USL Cup Playoffs continues to build


Nashville SC and Indy Eleven will clash for the second time this season in the USL Game of the Week on ESPNews on Tuesday night. | Photo courtesy Trevor Ruszkowski / Indy Eleven

TAMPA, Fla. – The USL Game of the Week returns to national television this week, as Tuesday night’s contest between Nashville SC and Indy Eleven on ESPNews kicks off Week 16 of the 2018 regular season and a run of six games broadcast over the air on the Worldwide Leader in Sports’ networks. A 21-game slate features high profile games throughout the week, with a top-four clash in the Eastern Conference between Louisville City FC and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC set for Wednesday night and an intriguing contest between Western Conference playoff contenders Phoenix Rising FC and Orange County SC set for Friday night at the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex. Saturday night then brings a packed day with some notable games that will affect the playoff races in both conferences, including a Western Conference meeting between Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC and San Antonio FC and the second clash of the season between Northern California rivals Fresno FC and Sacramento Republic FC at Chukchanski Park.

All 561 regular-season games, the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs and the 2018 USL Cup can be accessed via USLSoccer.com’s Match Center.

11 THINGS TO KNOW

In the USL’s 11 Things to Know, Nicholas Murray looks at the continued success of Reno 1868 FC, which now holds a 12-game undefeated streak that has set a new season-best for the league, and a week that saw late goals have a major impact on the playoff races in both conferences. Half of the contests across the 12-game slate saw game-changing moments arrive in the final five minutes to shake up contests with direct playoff implications.

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Louisville City FC is the last USL team standing in the 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and will face the Chicago Fire in the Quarterfinals. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

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USL REGULAR SEASON SPOTLIGHT | RAPID-FIRE PREVIEWS


Fresno FC and Sacramento Republic FC renew their rivalry this Saturday night at Chukchansi Park. | Photo courtesy Kiel Maddox / Fresno FC

Tuesday, June 26
Nashville SC vs. Indy Eleven

First Tennessee Park, Nashville, Tennessee | 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPNews)
The USL Game of the Week heads to the Music City for the first of six games to be broadcast on linear networks this season during the summer, with Nashville SC (6-2-5, 23pts) looking to continue its perfect record at First Tennessee Park as it faces Indy Eleven (6-4-3, 21pts) for the second time this season. Indy claimed a 2-1 victory when the teams first met at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 14, as Soony Saad scored a pair of goals, but Nashville is undefeated in eight league games since then, including a 4-0-0 record at FTP that involved a late 1-0 victory against North Carolina FC in the club’s last outing. Indy is also coming off a victory, having defeated Toronto FC II 3-1 on June 16, and the contest offers both clubs the chance to make a notable move in the standings, with second-place on offer for NSC with a win and a top-four spot available to Indy should it end Nashville’s undefeated run.

Real Monarchs SLC vs. Fresno FC
Zions Bank Stadium, Herriman, Utah | 9 p.m. ET
Real Monarchs SLC (11-3-1, 34pts) will try to add to their lead at the top of the Western Conference when they face Fresno FC (4-6-7, 19pts) in the second meeting between the clubs this season. The Monarchs claimed a 1-0 victory on May 12th when the sides squared off for the first time at Zions Bank Stadium, as Maikel Chang’s early goal sent the hosts to victory, and Real remains undefeated at its new home venue this season with an overall record of 6-0-1. The Foxes are battling to get back into the playoff mix after suffering a 1-0 defeat to Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC on Saturday night that saw the side drop four points back of the Western Conference playoff places as it reached the midway point of its inaugural season. The visitors, however, will need to break the Monarchs’ current 352-minute shutout streak on home turf if they’re to come away with points from Tuesday night’s encounter.

Wednesday, June 27
Louisville City FC vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

Slugger Field, Louisville, Kentucky | 7 p.m. ET
Two teams in pursuit of Eastern Conference-leader FC Cincinnati square off in one of the week’s biggest contests, as Louisville City FC (7-2-4, 25pts) and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (6-1-7, 25pts) meet for the first time this season. Louisville is undefeated in its past five games but has drawn its last three outings after a 2-2 draw against North Carolina FC this past Saturday that saw the defending USL Cup champion let a second-half lead slip for a second consecutive contest. Pittsburgh also played to a draw this past Saturday, as it ended scoreless against the Charleston Battery at MUSC Health Stadium and will be hoping its league-best defense that has conceded only seven goals in 14 games will again provide a solid foundation to try and claim points on the road.

Toronto FC II vs. FC Cincinnati
Lamport Stadium, Toronto, Ontario | 7 p.m. ET
Eastern Conference-leader FC Cincinnati (9-3-3, 30pts) heads north of the border to take on last-place Toronto FC II (0-12-2, 2pts), looking to add to a four-game undefeated streak that has seen the side win three contests over that span to open a five-point lead at the top of the conference standings. FCC put in arguably its best performance of the season in its last outing, a 4-0 victory against a season-high crowd of 28,026 fans at Nippert Stadium that saw Emmanuel Ledesma score a pair of goals. Toronto, meanwhile, is on an eight-game losing streak after a 3-1 defeat to Indy Eleven on June 16 and hasn’t picked up a point in a contest since a 0-0 draw with the New York Red Bulls II on April 28.

Charlotte Independence vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies
Sportsplex at Matthews, Matthews, North Carolina | 7:30 p.m. ET
The Charlotte Independence (6-4-5, 23pts) play host to the Tampa Bay Rowdies (5-6-3, 18pts), looking to break a four-game winless streak and bolster their playoff credentials when the sides meet for the first time this season. The fifth-place Independence recorded a third consecutive draw this past Saturday night, as they ended 1-1 with the Richmond Kickers, and are in the middle of a tightly-packed Eastern Conference that sees the gap between second place and 10th sit at just five points going into this week’s action. Charlotte could be hopeful of victory against Tampa Bay, however, which has struggled on the road this season and is coming off its first home defeat of 2018 after a 2-1 loss to Penn FC last Friday night in a game that marked the departure of German midfielder Marcel Schäfer from the Rowdies.

Tulsa Roughnecks FC vs. LA Galaxy II
ONEOK Field, Tulsa, Oklahoma | 8:30 p.m. ET
Tulsa Roughnecks FC (0-8-7, 7pts) will be hoping a change on the sideline brings a change in performance as it hosts the LA Galaxy II (3-8-4, 13pts), with Los Dos wrapping up its trip to the Sooner State. The Roughnecks announced on Monday the club had appointed Michael Nsien as its interim Head Coach for the remainder of the season after a 6-1 defeat against Orange County SC proved the final chapter for David Vaudreuil as the club’s sideline leader. The Galaxy II are also coming off a defeat on Saturday night, having conceded a late goal in a 1-0 defeat to OKC Energy FC despite having outshot its hosts at Taft Stadium.

Friday, June 22
Phoenix Rising FC vs. Orange County SC

Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex, Phoenix, Arizona | 10:30 p.m. ET
Phoenix Rising FC (9-3-5, 32pts) and Orange County SC (8-4-3, 27pts) meet for the second time this season in a top-five Western Conference clash that is among the bigger games of the week’s action. The teams played to a 1-1 draw on the opening weekend of the 2018 regular season, as Orange County’s Alex Crognale scored a 90th-minute equalizer to earn his side a point at Champions Soccer Stadium, and both sides have since made themselves playoff contenders in the West, with Phoenix sitting just two points back of conference-leader Real Monarchs SLC at the top of the standings. Orange County has two games in hand on Phoenix, however, and could make a run at challenging the Monarchs itself should it come away with a big road victory that would narrow its gap to Phoenix to just two points.

Saturday, June 30
Bethlehem Steel FC vs. Charlotte Independence

Goodman Stadium, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania | 5 p.m. ET
Bethlehem Steel FC (5-5-5, 20pts) will try to reclaim a place in the Eastern Conference’s playoff positions when it plays host to a Charlotte Independence side that returns to action for a second time in Week 16 after its midweek clash with Tampa Bay. Steel FC sits two places and one point out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference going into this week’s action after mounting a dramatic rally that saw it score twice in the final five minutes – including a 94th-minute equalizer by James Chambers – to earn a 2-2 draw with the New York Red Bulls II last Wednesday evening. The draw was Bethlehem’s third in a row, as the side has posted a 3-1-4 record at Goodman Stadium overall this season.

Indy Eleven vs. Penn FC
Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana | 7 p.m. ET
Indy Eleven returns home after its midweek contest to play host to Penn FC (5-4-6, 21pts), which enters as one of the hotter teams in the league having claimed three wins over a four-game undefeated streak as it completes a three-game road trip. Penn took its second victory of the season against the Tampa Bay Rowdies last Friday night, as Lucky Mkosana scored twice in a 2-1 victory at Al Lang Stadium, the Rowdies’ first home loss of the season. Mkosana has now scored four goals in the past two games to move the side into ninth place in the Eastern Conference. Depending on how Indy has fared in Nashville on Tuesday night, the visitors could have the chance to overtake their hosts if they continue an impressive run of form in the first meeting between the two clubs.

Richmond Kickers vs. North Carolina FC
City Stadium, Richmond, Virginia | 7 p.m. ET
Both the Richmond Kickers (4-8-2, 14pts) and North Carolina FC (4-7-3, 15pts) will be looking to kick-start a run at the playoff positions when the regional rivals square off for the second time this season at City Stadium. The Kickers claimed a 2-1 victory when the sides first met on March 31, as goals in the final 15 minutes by Yudai Imura and Raul Gonzalez saw the hosts rally from a halftime deficit. Both teams are coming off draws in their most recent outings, with the Kickers having played to a 1-1 result against the Charlotte Independence last Saturday and North Carolina having rallied to earn a 2-2 score against Louisville City FC, a contest that saw NCFC forward Daniel Rios score both goals for the hosts at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park to move to eight goals in the regular season overall.

FC Cincinnati vs. Ottawa Fury FC
Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio | 7:30 p.m. ET
FC Cincinnati returns home for its second contest against Canadian opposition this week, as Ottawa Fury FC (5-6-3, 18pts) visits Nippert Stadium looking for revenge after the first meeting between the clubs this season. FCC took a comprehensive 3-0 victory when the sides first met on April 28 in a contest that featured one of the best goals of the USL season so far on Kenney Walker’s 50-yard volleyed finish early in the second half. Ottawa went on a six-game undefeated streak following that contest, however, and took a 3-0 victory this past Sunday against the New York Red Bulls II, as 18-year-old Adonijah Reid scored the first hat trick in the club’s professional history. Sitting three points out of the playoff places to start the week, Fury FC will be hoping to come away with something from Nippert Stadium, where Cincinnati has gone 3-2-2 so far this season.

Louisville City FC vs. New York Red Bulls II
Slugger Field, Louisville, Kentucky | 7:30 p.m. ET
Louisville City FC takes to the field for the second time in Week 16 in a rematch of the Eastern Conference Final of the past two USL Cup Playoffs, as the New York Red Bulls II (5-5-6, 21pts) try to snap a three-game winless streak in their first visit to Slugger Field since last postseason. New York suffered a 3-0 defeat to Ottawa Fury FC this past Sunday to cap a nine-day run that saw the side conceded eight goals over three games (0-2-1), as it slid to eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings. The Red Bulls II have won two of three prior regular-season trips to Slugger Field, however, and will be aiming for a little revenge after their penalty shootout defeat in Louisville last November that brought an end to the defense of their 2016 USL Cup.

Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC vs. San Antonio FC
Weidner Field, Colorado Springs, Colorado | 8 p.m. ET
Two teams on opposing sides of the playoff line in the Western Conference square off when eighth-place Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (7-8-2, 23pts) hosts 10th-place San Antonio FC (5-4-5, 20pts) in one of the weekend’s biggest games in the race for the USL Cup Playoffs. The Switchbacks are coming off back-to-back victories after Shane Malcolm’s late goal earned a 1-0 victory against Fresno FC, while San Antonio fell 2-0 to Reno 1868 FC at Toyota Field in its most recent outing. With three games in hand on the Switchbacks, San Antonio has a potential edge in getting back into the top eight in the conference standings, but it will want to take at least a point back to the Alamo City and avoid allowing the three-point gap between the clubs to widen even more.

Nashville SC vs. ATL UTD 2
First Tennessee Park, Nashville, Tennessee | 8:30 p.m. ET
Nashville SC continues its four-game home stand when it plays host to ATL UTD 2 (2-7-5, 11pts) for the first meeting between the clubs. Atlanta is looking for its first victory since a 5-4 win against Toronto FC II on May 16 after its most recent clash with Ottawa Fury FC was abandoned due to heavy rain and thunderstorms on June 16. The visitors have claimed draws in two of their last three outings, including a 1-1 draw with the Charlotte Independence on June 9, but have yet to claim victory on the road in their inaugural season.

Saint Louis FC vs. Rio Grande Valley FC
Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis, Fenton, Missouri | 8:30 p.m. ET
Saint Louis FC (5-5-6, 21pts) will try to build off a late comeback in its most recent outing when it returns home to face Rio Grande Valley FC (1-6-8, 11pts) to kick off a run of three home games in the next four contests. STLFC got a dramatic late equalizer by Wal Fall in a 2-2 draw against Sacramento Republic FC that moved the side into ninth place in the Western Conference standings. The side has been up and down at home this season, though, with a 3-2-2 record at Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis, and it needed a late equalizer by Tony Walls when it faced the Toros for the first time in 2018 on the opening night of the season. RGVFC took its league-leading eighth draw of the season in its last outing, as rookie goalkeeper Michael Nelson recorded a six-save shutout in a 0-0 draw with Phoenix Rising FC and is currently on a nine-game winless streak (0-3-6) with its last victory having come against Orange County SC on April 28.

Tulsa Roughnecks FC vs. Las Vegas Lights FC
ONEOK Field, Tulsa, Oklahoma | 8:30 p.m. ET
Tulsa Roughnecks FC returns to action for the second time this week at ONEOK Field, as it faces Las Vegas Lights FC (4-6-4, 16pts) in the second meeting between the clubs this season. When the sides last met on May 5, Tulsa forward Joaquin Rivas – a Las Vegas native – scored the equalizer in a 1-1 draw between the clubs at Cashman Field. Both sides are off the pace in the race for the USL Cup Playoffs entering Saturday’s game, however, with Las Vegas falling 3-2 to the Swope Park Rangers this past Sunday, as they missed a penalty kick in stoppage time to squander the opportunity to take a point from the contest with the playoff contender at Children’s Mercy Park.

Fresno FC vs. Sacramento Republic FC
Chukchansi Park, Fresno, California | 10 p.m. ET
Fresno FC returns home for its second contest of the week, which is also the second meeting with Northern California rival Sacramento Republic FC (8-4-5, 29pts) at Chukchansi Park this season. Sacramento took a 1-0 victory when the teams first squared off this season, as a first-half goal by Luis Espino was enough to lift the visitors to victory. Republic FC is coming off a 2-2 draw with Saint Louis FC in which it let a two-goal lead slip in the final 20 minutes at Papa Murphy’s Park, a result it will be looking to rebound strongly from as it continues its pursuit of first place in the Western Conference.

Reno 1868 FC vs. Portland Timbers 2
Greater Nevada Field, Reno, Nevada | 10:30 p.m. ET
Two teams that sit side-by-side in the Western Conference playoff positions meet for the second time this season, as seventh-place Reno 1868 FC (6-3-7, 25pts) hosts the Portland Timbers 2 (8-6-2, 26pts). Reno rallied to take victory when the teams met at Merlo Field on April 21, as two goals by Danny Musovski in the final 15 minutes earned the visitors a 2-1 win. That victory kicked off Reno’s current undefeated streak, which reached 12 games this past Saturday in a 2-0 win on the road against San Antonio FC. Portland, meanwhile, had last week off to regroup after it suffered back-to-back defeats for the first time this season to slip out of the top four in the Western Conference standings. After the manner of its loss the first time around to 1868 FC, T2 will certainly be out for some revenge this time around.

Sunday, July 1
Toronto FC II vs. Charleston Battery

BMO Field, Toronto, Ontario | 8 p.m. ET
Toronto FC II returns to action for the second time this season as it plays host to the Charleston Battery (5-3-7, 22pts), who will be looking to break a six-game winless streak as it heads north of the border. The Battery have drawn four of their last five games, including a 0-0 draw with Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC last Saturday night that saw the sides combine for two shots on goal. Toronto hasn’t always been a happy hunting ground for Charleston, though, with TFC II having taken victory in two of the prior three meetings in Ontario.

LA Galaxy II vs. Seattle Sounders FC 2
StubHub Center, Carson, California | 8:30 p.m. ET
The LA Galaxy II return home for their second outing of the week, as they host Seattle Sounders FC 2 (3-8-2, 11pts), which is aiming for an upswing in form after inconsistent results over the last four games. S2 has gone 1-2-1 over that span, which included a victory against OKC Energy FC but also saw the side fall 4-1 to Las Vegas Lights FC in its most recent outing on June 16. With both sides sitting well outside the playoff positions going into the week’s action, earning all three points is going to be critical for both as they meet for the first time this season.

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