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USL’s Week Ahead – Western Conference Battles Highlight Week’s Action

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 07/24/18, 12:59PM EDT


Monarchs, Rising FC square off in top-two clash, playoff race faces key contest throughout week

TAMPA, Fla. – The battle for position at the top and around the playoff line in the USL’s Western Conference takes center stage in Week 20 of the 2018 USL regular season. The action kicks off on Wednesday night, as 10th-place San Antonio FC hosts eighth-place Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC for the USL Game of the Week on ESPNU at Toyota Field, with ninth-place Fresno FC paying a visit to 13th-place OKC Energy FC the same night. Then on Saturday, Western Conference-leader Real Monarchs SLC will look to maintain its undefeated home record when it faces second-place Phoenix Rising FC at Zions Bank Stadium, with contests between Energy FC and San Antonio also part of a 12-game slate. The Eastern Conference offers a pair of compelling matchups on Saturday night, as Ottawa Fury FC plays host to Louisville City FC, and the Tampa Bay Rowdies face the New York Red Bulls II, as the league approaches its final third of the season.

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


In the USL’s 11 Things to Know, Nicholas Murray examines how a pair of penalty kicks dramatically turned the directions of two key games over the past weekend of action, a return to form for defending USL Cup champion Louisville City FC and an FC Cincinnati side that is placing itself at the top of the list when it comes to the favorites for the USL Regular Season Championship.


Photo courtesy Loudoun United FC



Wednesday, July 25
Nashville SC vs. ATL UTD 2

First Tennessee Park, Nashville, Tennessee | 8:30 p.m. ET
Nashville SC (7-5-6, 27pts) will try to rebound from back-to-back defeats when it plays host to ATL UTD 2 (3-9-6, 15pts) in the first of two games over the upcoming week. Nashville fell 2-0 to Ottawa Fury FC this past Saturday night at TD Place, as the side conceded a pair of goals in stoppage time. Alan Winn had missed a chance to give the visitors the lead in Canada’s capital from a penalty kick inside the final 10 minutes, but the result dropped NSC to eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta enters having picked up four points from its past two outings after a 1-1 draw with the Richmond Kickers last Saturday night that saw Jon Gallagher score a second-half equalizer at City Stadium to secure a road point.

OKC Energy FC vs. Fresno FC
Taft Stadium, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma | 8:30 p.m. ET
OKC Energy FC (6-10-4, 22pts) plays host to Fresno FC (7-7-7, 28pts) to kick off a crucial week for both clubs in the race for the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs. Energy FC rallied to earn a 1-1 draw on the road with Sacramento Republic FC last Saturday night. Christian Volesky scored a second-half equalizer to extend the team’s undefeated streak to seven games, but it still sits six points back of the playoff positions as it enters a pair of home games with two teams it is trying to chase down in the standings in ninth-place Fresno and 10th-place San Antonio FC over the span of four days. The Foxes, meanwhile, are on a three-game winning streak that has seen the side score 10 goals entering Wednesday’s contest. Coming off a bye week, Fresno will be eager to add to those numbers and create added separation between itself and Energy FC.

San Antonio FC vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Toyota Field, San Antonio, Texas | 9 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
San Antonio FC (6-5-7, 25pts) and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (8-10-4, 28pts) enter the USL Game of the Week on ESPNU with both viewing the contest as a must-win in the race for the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs, with both sides having taken high-scoring victories last time out. With only 12 games remaining in their regular season, the greater pressure will be on the Switchbacks, as they look to stave off the challenge of sides like San Antonio, which has four games in hand going into Wednesday night’s contest. Colorado Springs took a 4-2 victory against Tulsa Roughnecks FC to move back into eighth place on Saturday night, but will likely need another as it drives into its final third of the season. San Antonio also took a 4-2 victory this past Saturday, putting up its best attacking performance of the season in defeating Western Conference-leader Real Monarchs SLC. With a win, San Antonio would move level on points with Colorado Springs and take a major step forward in its pursuit of a second consecutive playoff berth.

Thursday, July 26
Bethlehem Steel FC vs. Indy Eleven

Goodman Stadium, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania | 11:30 a.m. ET
Bethlehem Steel FC (6-8-6, 24pts) and Indy Eleven (8-7-4, 28pts) will both look to get back on a winning track when they face off for a special matinee at Goodman Stadium. Steel FC is looking to gain ground on sixth-placed Indy in the Eastern Conference standings as it looks to break a four-game winless streak that continued last Wednesday night in a 2-1 defeat to the New York Red Bulls II. Indy, meanwhile, lost its second consecutive outing this past Saturday night in a 3-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rowdies, putting the side back into the middle of the battle for playoff position in the conference standings. With Bethlehem earning a 2-1 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium on May 19 when the teams first met, the Eleven would love to turn the tables and bolster their position for the playoffs in the process.

Seattle Sounders FC 2 vs. Las Vegas Lights FC
Cheney Stadium, Tacoma, Washington | 10 p.m. ET
Las Vegas Lights FC (6-5-8, 23pts) will try to build on an opening victory in its trip to Cascadia as it visits Seattle Sounders FC 2 (3-13-2, 11pts). Lights FC moved into 11th place in the Western Conference as it took a 2-1 victory against the Portland Timbers 2 on Sunday afternoon, as Omar Salgado scored the winner – his first goal for the club since arriving on loan from 2019 USL expansion side El Paso USL. Seattle continued to struggle last Friday night, as it fell 1-0 to Phoenix Rising FC and is now looking to break a six-game losing streak as it looks to move off the bottom of the Western Conference.

Saturday, July 28
Ottawa Fury FC vs. Louisville City FC

TD Place, Ottawa, Ontario | 2 p.m. ET
Both Ottawa Fury FC (8-8-3, 27pts) and Louisville City FC (9-4-5, 32pts) will look to build on victories last time out when they meet for the first time this season in Canada’s capital. Ottawa moved into the playoff positions in the Eastern Conference, as it struck twice in stoppage time through Tony Taylor and Kevin Oliveira last Saturday night to take a 2-0 victory against Nashville SC, the club’s third in its last four league outings. Louisville rebounded to take its second win in its last three league games on Saturday night in a 4-1 victory against the Charlotte Independence that saw Ilija Ilic record a goal and assist and four different players find the net. With Louisville looking to push closer to Eastern Conference-leader FC Cincinnati and Ottawa looking to solidify its position in the top eight, both teams will be going hard for all three points.

LA Galaxy II vs. Portland Timbers 2
StubHub Center Track & Field Stadium, Carson, California | 4 p.m. ET
The LA Galaxy II (5-10-4, 19pts) play host to the Portland Timbers 2 (9-9-2, 29pts) in a rematch of one of the highest-scoring games in the league this season, as both sides look to rebound from defeat in their last outings. T2 claimed a 7-3 victory at Providence Park earlier this season, tied for the most goals in a game this season, but after a defeat to Las Vegas Lights FC on Sunday afternoon is in major need of a victory to keep its pursuit of a place in the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs on track. Los Dos suffered a 4-1 loss to Reno 1868 FC in its last outing July 11 but had shown some improvement prior to that in a 3-0 victory against Orange County SC as it looks to play spoiler to the playoff hopes of others.

Toronto FC II vs. Nashville SC
Marina Auto Stadium, Rochester, New York | 6 p.m. ET
Toronto FC II (0-15-3, 3pts) hosts its third game this season at Rochester’s Marina Auto Stadium, as Nashville SC heads north in its second outing of the week. Toronto suffered a 3-1 defeat to North Carolina FC last Saturday night despite taking a first-half lead through Shaan Hundal, and the team continues to search for its first victory of the season. Nashville will return to action after playing host to ATL UTD 2 on Wednesday night to open the week.

Charleston Battery vs. Richmond Kickers
MUSC Health Stadium, Charleston, South Carolina | 7 p.m. ET
The long-standing rivalry between the Charleston Battery (9-3-8, 35pts) and Richmond Kickers (5-10-3, 18pts) sees its second edition of the season, with the Battery looking to maintain its second-place position in the Eastern Conference. Charleston took its third consecutive victory last Saturday night in a late 1-0 win against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC that saw Ataulla Guerra score his 11th goal of the season. The Battery are on a seven-game undefeated streak overall but suffered their most recent loss to the Kickers on June 9 at City Stadium when former Charleston striker Heviel Cordoves struck for Richmond in a 2-0 victory. That win has proven one of the lone bright spots for the Kickers this season, however, with the side coming off a 1-1 draw with ATL UTD 2 that kept it nine points out of the playoff positions in the Eastern Conference.

North Carolina FC vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, North Carolina | 7 p.m. ET
North Carolina FC (6-8-5, 23pts) will try to build in its first victory in July and keep its drive toward the playoff positions moving as it plays host to Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (9-2-7, 34pts), which will look to rebound from only its second loss of the season. The third-place Hounds suffered a late 1-0 defeat to the Charleston Battery last Saturday night to slide one place in the conference standings but will be hoping for a repeat of their 2-0 victory against North Carolina when the sides met on July 4. Both teams will be hoping for better weather than at Highmark Stadium on that occasion, when lightning and heavy rain saw the game conclude past midnight, while North Carolina will be aiming to pick up back-to-back victories for the first time this season after defeating Toronto FC II 3-1 last Saturday night behind a goal and an assist apiece for Daniel Rios and Kyle Bekker.

Charlotte Independence vs. Penn FC
Sportsplex at Matthews, Matthews, North Carolina | 7:30 p.m. ET
The Charlotte Independence (7-8-6, 27pts) and Penn FC (6-6-7, 25pts) will both try to reinvigorate their playoff hopes when they meet for the first time this season. The Independence suffered their fourth defeat in the past five games to slide out of the playoff positions this past Saturday night after a 4-1 loss to Louisville City FC. The night’s only silver lining was a 10th goal of the season for Jorge Herrera, who is expected to make his 100th regular-season appearance for the Independence this Saturday alongside fellow Independence original Bilal Duckett. Penn had a week off after suffering a 2-1 loss to Ottawa Fury FC on July 14, which saw the side suffer back-to-back defeats for the first time this season. Sitting two points back of the Independence in the Eastern Conference, a victory on the road would provide a major boost for Penn’s playoff chances.

Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. New York Red Bulls II
Al Lang Stadium, St. Petersburg, Florida | 7:30 p.m. ET
The Tampa Bay Rowdies (7-8-4, 25pts) will try to build on an impressive home victory, as they play host to the New York Red Bulls II (8-6-7, 31pts), and also look for a little revenge after suffering a heavy defeat when the sides met earlier this season. New York handed Tampa Bay a 5-0 defeat on April 14 at Red Bull Arena, a contest in which Stefano Bonomo scored for the host. Now a member of the Rowdies, Bonomo scored this past Saturday, as Tampa Bay took a 3-1 victory against Indy Eleven that also saw former Red Bulls II standout Junior Flemmings notch a goal and two assists, a win the Rowdies will need to build on if their playoff hopes are to come through.

OKC Energy FC vs. San Antonio FC
Taft Stadium, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma | 8:30 p.m. ET
OKC Energy FC and San Antonio FC return to action for the second time this week in another crucial game for both in the race for the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs. The sides have met once previously this season, playing to a 1-1 draw at Toyota Field on July 4 that kept Energy FC undefeated all-time against San Antonio, but both teams will be in need of all three points on Saturday night, as they look to push above the playoff line.

Rio Grande Valley FC vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
H-E-B Park, Edinburg, Texas | 8:30 p.m. ET
Rio Grande Valley FC (2-6-11, 17pts) will be looking for better luck as it plays host to Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, which completes its trip to Texas after its midweek clash with San Antonio FC. The Toros were held to a 0-0 draw on Sunday afternoon against the Swope Park Rangers, as they hit the woodwork twice and saw SPR goalkeeper Christian Herrera record a seven-save shutout to deny them victory. Now with 11 draws this season, the Toros are within three of the single-season league record of 14 set by Ottawa Fury FC a season ago with 15 games to go in their regular season.

Tulsa Roughnecks FC vs. Fresno FC
ONEOK Field, Tulsa, Oklahoma | 8:30 p.m. ET
Tulsa Roughnecks FC (1-9-9, 12pts) will try to rebound from the first defeat under Head Coach Michael Nsien when they play host to Fresno FC, which completes its trip to Oklahoma after visiting OKC Energy FC on Wednesday night. The Roughnecks took the lead midway through the first half this past Saturday against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, only to fall 4-2 at Weidner Field, as the side remained in 16th place in the Western Conference. Tulsa is now 1-1-2 since Tsien took over ahead of its game on June 27 against the LA Galaxy II and will hope a return to home turf will allow the side to at least match the 2-2 draw that occurred when it visited Fresno on April 18.

Real Monarchs SLC vs. Phoenix Rising FC
Zions Bank Stadium, Herriman, Utah | 10 p.m. ET
The top two teams in the Western Conference will square off for the second time this season when first-place Real Monarchs SLC (13-5-2, 41pts) plays host to Phoenix Rising FC (11-4-5, 38pts). The Monarchs took a 1-0 victory when the teams met at the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex earlier this season, as Sebastian Velasquez scored the only goal, and Velasquez is coming into Saturday’s game off a two-goal outing against San Antonio FC. The Monarchs suffered a 4-2 defeat in that contest, however, which allowed Phoenix to pull within three points after a 1-0 victory on Friday night that saw Chris Cortez score his ninth goal of the season. Rising FC will need to hand Real its first home loss of the season if it’s to pull level on points, however, with the Monarchs currently 8-0-1 this season on home turf.

Reno 1868 FC vs. Saint Louis FC
Greater Nevada Field, Reno, Nevada | 10:30 p.m. ET
Owners of the longest undefeated streak in the league this season, Reno 1868 FC (10-3-7, 37pts) will attempt to maintain its momentum after a bye week when it hosts Saint Louis FC (5-6-8, 23pts), looking to add to a 16-game run. Reno took a 4-1 victory against the LA Galaxy II in its last outing on July 11, as Antoine Hoppenot scored his first goal of the season to add to his eight assists and now sits in fourth place in the Western Conference after posting five consecutive victories. Saint Louis is in major need of all three points as it opens the week five points out of the playoff places in the Western Conference after a 2-2 draw with Orange County SC this past Saturday night, with the club now winless in its last five outings.

Sunday, July 29
Bethlehem Steel FC vs. ATL UTD 2

Goodman Stadium, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania | 5 p.m. ET
Both Bethlehem Steel FC and ATL UTD 2 return to action for the second time this week with Steel FC looking to reverse the result when the sides met on July 11, as they look to boost their playoff hopes in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta took a 2-1 victory at Coolray Field behind goals from Brandon Vasquez and Oliver Shannon, a result that contributed to Bethlehem’s four-game winless streak as Week 20 begins.

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