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USL’s Week Ahead – Louisville, Ottawa face MLS showdowns

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 07/17/18, 11:26AM EDT

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Queen Cities Cup featured on ESPN2 in USL Game of the Week at Nippert Stadium


Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

TAMPA, Fla. – The 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and 2018 Canadian Championship are joined by a special edition of the Queen Cities Cup that will air on ESPN2 to kick off Week 19 of the USL regular season as Wednesday night brings must-see contests across all three competitions in a big week of action around the league. Louisville City FC will try to emulate the Richmond Kickers and FC Cincinnati in becoming the third lower-division club to reach the semifinals of the Open Cup this decade as it heads to face the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park, while Ottawa Fury FC opens its two-legged semifinal with reigning MLS Cup and Canadian Championship-holders Toronto FC at TD Place hoping to claim an advantage before next week’s return fixture at BMO Field. Meanwhile, the national television spotlight arrives at Nippert Stadium as FC Cincinnati hosts the Charlotte Independence in the second Queen Cities Cup clash of the season in the USL Game of the Week on ESPN2. The contest would also currently be a playoff matchup with Cincinnati sitting on top of the Eastern Conference and the Independence sitting eighth in the standings.

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 successful weeks for both the Charleston Battery and Sacramento Republic FC, who both made big moves in their respective conferences with a pair of victories, and standard victories for both Real Monarchs SLC and FC Cincinnati as both sides remained on top of their conference standings.

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2018 LAMAR HUNT U.S. OPEN CUP


Louisville City FC will try to continue its deepest run in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup when it takes on the Chicago Fire in the tournament's Quarterfinals on Wednesday night. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

Louisville City FC will try to continue its deepest run in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday night when it heads to Toyota Park to face the Chicago Fire in the Quarterfinals. The contest is the second meeting between the clubs in the historic tournament.

The defending USL Cup champions also headed north three seasons ago in their inaugural season and went to extra time before falling 1-0 to the Fire in the Fourth Round. Louisville’s current squad includes four players who were in the gameday squad that night, with goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh, midfielders Magnus Rasmussen and Niall McCabe and forward Ilija Ilic all still with the club.

This season Louisville has already made club history in defeating its first MLS foe in the tournament, a 3-2 victory against the New England Revolution in the Fourth Round. It also defeated fellow USL side Nashville SC in the Round of 16 to advance to this stage for the first time.

Chicago has battled through on the road in this year’s edition of the tournament, defeating Columbus Crew SC 10-9 in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw between the sides in the Fourth Round, and then winning 1-0 against Atlanta United in the Round of 16. Sitting in eighth place in the MLS Eastern Conference, the Open Cup might represent the Fire’s best chance at silverware this season and after being eliminated last year by FC Cincinnati in the Round of 16, Chicago will be focused on avoiding being eliminated by USL opposition for a second consecutive year.

Should Louisville advance, however, there’s an added twist in the potential semifinal matchup, with the Philadelphia Union and Orlando City SC also squaring off on Wednesday night in another Quarterfinal. With former Louisville Head Coach James O’Connor now leading the Lions, there could be a rapid reunion between his former and current club should both sides advance.

2018 CANADIAN CHAMPIONSHIP


Ottawa Fury FC will look to claim victory against Toronto FC on Wednesday night in the first leg of their Semifinal clash in the 2018 Canadian Championship. | Photo courtesy Steve Kingsman / Freestyle Photography / Ottawa Fury FC

Ottawa Fury FC has defeated MLS opposition in the past two seasons in the semifinals of the Canadian Championship, only to see its first-leg advantage fail to pave a pathway through to the final of the competition. With defending Canadian Championship and MLS Cup-winner Toronto FC coming to TD Place on Wednesday night, Fury FC is hoping it can not only take victory again, but make that result hold up next week at BMO Field.

Ottawa advanced to the Semifinals with a 2-0 aggregate victory against AS Blainville of the Premiere Ligue du Soccer de Quebec last month and is now hoping to advance to the tournament’s final for the first time. Fury FC rallied for a 2-1 victory against Penn FC in its last league outing on Saturday afternoon, the same score-line by which it defeated Toronto a season ago on home turf in front of an energetic home crowd.

Toronto’s season has been one of struggle since it fell in a penalty shootout in the Concacaf Champions League final to Chivas de Guadalajara, with the side sitting 10th in the Eastern Conference of MLS with only 16 points from 19 games. With getting back to the CCL now a priority for the side, TFC will be focused on advancing past Ottawa for a second consecutive year in what are now two of the biggest games of the club’s season. 

USL REGULAR SEASON SPOTLIGHT | RAPID-FIRE PREVIEWS


Second-place Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC and the third-place Charleston Battery square off on Saturday night at Highmark Stadium in a big Eastern Conference clash. | Photo courtesy Zach Bland / Charleston Battery

Wednesday, July 18
New York Red Bulls II vs. Bethlehem Steel FC

MSU Soccer Park, Montclair, New Jersey | 7 p.m. ET
The New York Red Bulls II (7-5-7, 28pts) and Bethlehem Steel FC (6-7-6, 24pts) square off for the third and final time this season with Bethlehem looking to gain ground on its Eastern Conference rival in the race for the USL Cup Playoffs. Steel FC is 1-0-1 so far this season against New York, having rallied late to take a 2-2 draw when the sides last met on June 20 at Goodman Stadium. Bethlehem is undefeated in its last four outings against the Red Bulls II overall going back to their first meeting in the 2017 season, but New York enters this contest having scored 11 goals over its past two games to move into sixth place in the Eastern Conference with back-to-back victories. Another win for the Red Bulls II would not only even the season series between the two, but also provide the hosts a major boost in their playoff aspirations.

FC Cincinnati vs. Charlotte Independence
Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio | 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
The USL Game of the Week heads to Nippert Stadium for the second and final Queen Cities Cup meeting of the season between Eastern Conference-leader FC Cincinnati (11-3-5, 38pts) and the Charlotte Independence (7-6-6, 27pts). While FCC sits on top of the Eastern standings, the Independence claimed a 4-1 victory when the sides first met on May 12 as four different players found the net for the hosts at the Sportsplex at Matthews. Charlotte is also coming off a morale-boosting victory against Nashville SC in its last outing that moved it into eighth place in the Eastern Conference to start Week 19, but it will need to put in a big display on the road against an FCC side that is on an eight-game undefeated streak (5-0-3) after its 2-0 victory against the Tampa Bay Rowdies last Saturday. Both Emmanuel Ledesma and Danni König found the net in that contest, moving each player to nine goals this season, which puts them tied for third in the league alongside Charlotte’s Jorge Herrera.

Swope Park Rangers vs. Orange County SC
Children’s Mercy Park, Kansas City, Kansas | 8:30 p.m. ET
Separated by one place and two points in the Western Conference playoff positions, the sixth-place Swope Park Rangers (9-6-4, 31pts) and fifth-place Orange County SC (10-6-3, 33pts) square off in one of the bigger games in the Western Conference this week. Swope Park is looking to bounce back not only from back-to-back defeats in Week 18, but also its first loss at home since July, 2017 after its 3-1 loss on home turf last Tuesday night to Sacramento Republic FC. Orange County arrives for the start of a two-game road trip in better spirits after a 3-0 victory against San Antonio FC last Saturday solidified its place in the playoff positions. Orange County also went 1-0-1 a season ago against the Rangers, taking a 1-1 draw on the road in its last visit to Kansas City.

Friday, July 20
Phoenix Rising FC vs. Seattle Sounders FC 2

Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex, Phoenix, Arizona | 10:30 p.m. ET
Phoenix Rising FC (10-4-5, 35pts) will look to rebound from its first defeat in more than a month when it hosts Seattle Sounders FC 2 (3-12-2, 11pts). Phoenix suffered its heaviest defeat of the season this past Saturday as it fell 4-0 to Fresno FC and slipped to fourth place in the Western Conference standings in the process, six points back of conference-leader Real Monarchs SLC. Rising FC will be hopeful of getting back on a winning track against an S2 side that is on a five-game losing streak since its victory against OKC Energy FC on June 10. Seattle fell 2-0 to the Monarchs this past Saturday night to remain in last place in the Western Conference standings.

Saturday, July 21
North Carolina FC vs. Toronto FC II

Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, North Carolina | 7 p.m. ET
North Carolina FC (5-8-5, 20ts) will try to get back on a winning track and boost its postseason hopes when it plays host to Toronto FC II (0-14-3, 3pts). North Carolina played to a second consecutive draw this past Saturday as it ended 1-1 with Bethlehem Steel FC at Goodman Stadium, but now sits seven points out of the Eastern Conference playoff positions in 13th place in the standings. That means picking up all three points against Toronto FC II is a must for the hosts, but NCFC is one of three teams the Red have picked up points against this season as the teams played to a 0-0 draw at BMO Field on April 18.

Ottawa Fury FC vs. Nashville SC
TD Place, Ottawa, Ontario | 7 p.m. ET
Ottawa Fury FC (7-8-3, 24pts) will return to league action after its Canadian Championship contest in midweek looking to pull level on points with Nashville SC (7-4-6, 27pts) in the Eastern Conference standings. Fury FC recorded its first comeback victory of the season this past Saturday as it defeated Penn FC 2-1 at TD Place and will be hoping to claim consecutive victories for the first time since late May to keep pace with the sides above the playoff line in the East. Nashville is coming off a 1-0 defeat to the Charlotte Independence in its most recent outing last Wednesday night, and is now 1-1-2 over its last four games as it heads to face Fury FC for the first time in its history.

Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC vs. Charleston Battery
Highmark Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania | 7 p.m. ET
Two of the top three teams in the Eastern Conference square off at Highmark Stadium on Saturday night as Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (9-1-7, 34pts) puts its six-game undefeated streak on the line against a recently resurgent Charleston Battery (8-3-8, 32pts). Riverhounds SC has won each of its past three games and currently sports a 487-minute shutout streak having recorded five consecutive shutouts. The Battery will try to test that record after claiming back-to-back victories in the past week against Indy Eleven and Louisville City FC to move into third place in the East, with Ataulla Guerra among the scorers in Saturday’s 2-1 victory against Louisville to move into a tie for the league-lead with 10 goals this season.

Richmond Kickers vs. ATL UTD 2
City Stadium, Richmond, Virginia | 7 p.m. ET
Two teams in must-win positions square off when the Richmond Kickers (5-10-2, 17pts) play host to ATL UTD 2 (3-9-5, 14pts) for the first meeting between the clubs in their histories. Atlanta is coming off its first win since May in its most recent outing, a 2-1 victory against Bethlehem Steel FC last Wednesday night, but is still a long-shot to make the playoffs in its first season as it sits 13 points out of the playoff positions going into the week. The odds are similarly long for Richmond, which suffered a 5-1 defeat to the New York Red Bulls II last Friday night to derail any momentum the club might have found in its victory against Penn FC earlier in Week 18.

FC Cincinnati vs. New York Red Bulls II
Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio | 7:30 p.m. ET
FC Cincinnati and the New York Red Bulls II return to action for the second time in Week 19 after both featuring on Wednesday night, with Cincinnati looking to pick up its second win of the season against New York. The teams last met at Red Bull Arena on June 2 when FCC rallied to take a 2-1 victory behind goals from Emmanuel Ledesma and Danni König after New York had taken the lead on an early goal by Amando Moreno. The teams have previously split their two regular-season meetings at Nippert Stadium, with the Red Bulls II taking a 2-1 victory in 2016 before Cincinnati won 4-2 in its home finale a season ago.

Louisville City FC vs. Charlotte Independence
Louisville Slugger Field, Louisville, Kentucky | 7:30 p.m. ET
Louisville City FC (8-4-5, 29pts) will return to league action from its Open Cup clash in Chicago with a visit from the Charlotte Independence, who wrap up their two-game trip after previously facing FC Cincinnati on Wednesday night. Louisville will be looking to pick up its first home victory since a 2-1 win against ATL UTD 2 on May 19 in the contest, having gone 0-1-2 in its last three games at Slugger Field, and all three points would be very welcome as the defending USL Cup champion looks to rebound from a 2-1 defeat against the Charleston Battery in its last league outing.

Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Indy Eleven
Al Lang Stadium, St. Petersburg, Florida | 7:30 p.m. ET
The Tampa Bay Rowdies (6-8-4, 22pts) and Indy Eleven (8-6-4, 28pts) renew their rivalry in the first meeting between the clubs since the 2016 season with the Rowdies in major need of a victory on home turf to boost their playoff hopes. Tampa Bay suffered a 2-0 defeat against FC Cincinnati this past Saturday at Nippert Stadium for its second consecutive loss and now sits in 12th place in the Eastern Conference standings after going 1-3-3 in its last seven outings. Indy is also looking to rebound from a loss in its last outing to the Charleston Battery last Wednesday night, but is still sitting in the top eight in the Eastern Conference. The Eleven won 3-2 in their last visit to Al Lang Stadium in October, 2016, and will be hoping for a repeat performance to widen the gap between the two clubs this time around.

Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC vs. Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Weidner Field, Colorado Springs, Colorado | 8 p.m. ET
After slipping out of the Western Conference playoff positions this past weekend, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (7-10-4, 25pts) is in serious need of a victory as Tulsa Roughnecks FC (1-8-9, 12pts) visit Weidner Field. The Switchbacks dropped to ninth place in the West after a 1-0 defeat to Sacramento Republic FC this past Saturday night, and are now winless in their last four contests. Tulsa, meanwhile, is undefeated in its last three outings (1-0-2) after its contest this past Saturday night against Saint Louis FC was postponed due to lightning and heavy rain.

Saint Louis FC vs. Orange County SC
Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis, Fenton, Missouri | 8:30 p.m. ET
Saint Louis FC (5-6-7, 22pts) will hope for better weather as it looks to get its push for the playoffs back on track against an Orange County SC side that will be completing its weeklong trip to the Midwest on Saturday night. Saint Louis saw its contest with Tulsa Roughnecks FC last Saturday night postponed by lightning and heavy rain and is now six points back of eighth-place Fresno FC in the Western Conference standings. STLFC has three games in hand on the Foxes, but will need to break a four-game winless streak if it is to take advantage this weekend.

San Antonio FC vs. Real Monarchs SLC
Toyota Field, San Antonio, Texas | 8:30 p.m. ET
The top two teams in the Western Conference a season ago find themselves in very different situations this season when San Antonio FC (5-5-7, 22pts) plays host to conference-leader Real Monarchs SLC (13-4-2, 41pts). As they did a season ago, the Monarchs lead the Western Conference after taking a 2-0 victory against Seattle Sounders FC 2 last Saturday night as Charlie Adams and Sebastian Velasquez found the net at Zions Bank Stadium. San Antonio, by contrast, is fighting to get back into the playoff picture after a 3-0 defeat to Orange County SC left the side six points out of the eighth and final playoff place in 11th position in the conference standings. SAFC is winless in its last four outings (0-2-2), and while it has four games in hand on eighth-place Fresno FC it has yet to put together a winning streak longer than two games this season.

Sacramento Republic FC vs. OKC Energy FC
Papa Murphy’s Park, Sacramento, California | 11 p.m. ET
Sacramento Republic FC (10-5-6, 36pts) will try to build on its back-to-back road victories in Week 18 when it plays host to OKC Energy FC (6-10-3, 21pts), which is on its best run of form this season as it heads west. Energy FC took a wild 6-4 victory against Las Vegas Lights FC last Wednesday night as Alex Dixon recorded two goals and an assist. The win extended OKC’s undefeated streak to six games as the club continues to try and dig out of its early-season hole and get into the playoff picture in the Western Conference. Sacramento has relatively few concerns about its playoff position after it defeated both the Swope Park Rangers and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC last week to move into third place in the West, with Cameron Iwasa starring in the victory against the Rangers with two goals and one assist to move him to nine goals for the season overall.

Sunday, July 22
Portland Timbers 2 vs. Las Vegas Lights FC

Providence Park, Portland, Oregon | 5 p.m. ET
The Portland Timbers 2 (9-8-2, 29pts) will try to build on their first victory in more than a month as it looks to solidify its place in the top eight of the Western Conference as Las Vegas Lights FC (5-8-5, 20pts) visits. T2 claimed a 2-1 victory against the Swope Park Rangers last Saturday night as Marvin Loria recorded a goal and assist at Merlo Field to keep the side in seventh place in the conference standings. Another victory would continue to keep the chasing pack at arm’s length and also supply another hit to Las Vegas’ playoff hopes after Lights FC suffered back-to-back defeats on the road in Week 18. Now eight points out of eighth place in the Western Conference, Las Vegas is in serious need of a victory to help boost the side back toward the top eight.

Swope Park Rangers vs. Rio Grande Valley FC
Children’s Mercy Park, Kansas City, Kansas | 5 p.m. ET
The Swope Park Rangers return to action for the second time this week when they play host to Rio Grande Valley FC (2-6-10, 16pts), which claimed its second victory of the season in its most recent outing. The Toros took a 2-0 win against Las Vegas Lights FC on Saturday night at H-E-B Park thanks to goals by Conor Donovan and Jesus Enriquez and have now taken six points from their last four outings. The Rangers and Toros played to a 0-0 draw when they met for the first time this season at H-E-B Park on May 19 when Swope Park goalkeeper Eric Dick saved a penalty from RGVFC’s Todd Wharton to keep the game scoreless.

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