Photo courtesy Kiel Maddox / Fresno FC
TAMPA, Fla. – Major rivalry clashes highlight Week 21 of the 2018 USL regular season as the season enters its final third with the race for the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs now in full swing for sides aiming to be part of the postseason in October. Saturday night kicks off at 7 p.m. ET with a Southern Derby meeting as North Carolina FC plays host to the Charleston Battery with NCFC on a two-game winning streak and the Battery having claimed four consecutive victories. FC Cincinnati and Nashville SC face off for the second time this season, and for the first time at Nippert Stadium, at 7:30 p.m. ET in a key game for both with FCC looking to hold its six-point lead at the top of the standings and Nashville aiming to bolster its place in the top eight. In the Western Conference, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC hosts OKC Energy FC in what is now a must-win for both clubs after defeats this past weekend, while later at Papa Murphy’s Park the Highway 99 Derby will be decided in the third meeting between Sacramento Republic FC and Fresno FC with both sides having taken a win in the prior two meetings. Sunday wraps up a big weekend of action with defending USL Cup champion Louisville City FC playing host to the Indy Eleven at Slugger Field, with Louisville looking for revenge after falling at Lucas Oil Stadium earlier this season.
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 at Louisville City FC and the Charleston Battery’s big victories on Saturday that reestablished the sides as the leading contenders to challenge FC Cincinnati at the top of the Eastern Conference and Real Monarchs SLC’s convincing win against Phoenix Rising FC in a top-two clash in the West that sent a message to the rest of the league’s contenders.
The 2018 MLS Homegrown Game presented by Energizer arrives on Tuesday night in Atlanta with a side brimming with players who’ve produced standout performances in the USL set to take on Liga MX’s Tigres UANL U20s in one of the showcase events at the 2018 MLS All-Star Game (8 p.m. ET | Twitter Sports | Univision Deportes).
Seventeen members of the 20-player squad have competed in the USL, including current standouts such as Reno 1868 FC goalkeeper J.T. Marcinkowski (San Jose Earthquakes) and LA Galaxy II midfielder Efran Alvarez, both of whom were nominated for the 2018 Fans’ Choice Midseason Young Player of the Year award earlier this month.
In all, the squad has made 355 appearances in the USL with eight of those players having made at least 20 appearances. Included in that group is current Philadelphia Union center back Auston Trusty and the likes of the New York Red Bulls II forward Ben Mines and Swope Park Rangers midfielder Wan Kuzain, both of whom have begun to make an impact at the MLS level this season.
The USL’s influence is also felt in the 2018 MLS All-Star Game squad, with players like New York Red Bulls defender Aaron Long – who in 2016 was named the USL Defender of the Year for the Red Bulls II – and Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams and Vancouver Whitecaps FC forward Alphonso Davies – both of whom signed their first professional contracts in the USL – set to take on legendary Italian club Juventus on Wednesday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta.
Photo courtesy Matt Schlotzhauer / Indy Eleven
Wednesday, August 1
Orange County SC vs. Portland Timbers 2
Champions Soccer Stadium, Irvine, California | 3:30 p.m. ET
Orange County SC (11-6-4, 37pts) will look to close the gap on Western Conference-leader Real Monarchs SLC, while the Portland Timbers 2 (10-9-2, 32pts) will also try to bolster their position in the playoff race when the sides square off for a matinee kickoff at Champions Soccer Stadium. Sitting in third in the Western Conference, Orange County will return to action on a three-game undefeated streak (2-0-1) after playing to a 2-2 draw with Saint Louis FC on July 21 in its last outing. Portland, meanwhile, is coming off a 4-3 victory against the LA Galaxy II that earned the side its second win in its last three games to move the side into sixth place in the Western Conference.
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC vs. Richmond Kickers
Highmark Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania |7 p.m. ET
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (9-3-7, 34pts) will try to rebound from its first two-game losing streak of the season when it returns home to face the Richmond Kickers (5-11-3, 18pts). Riverhounds SC suffered a late 2-1 defeat to North Carolina FC on Saturday night as the hosts scored a stoppage-time winner to send the Hounds down to fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings. Pittsburgh will be hopeful of rebounding against a Kickers side that is winless in its last three outings after a 3-0 defeat to the Charleston Battery this past Saturday night. Sitting 10 points out of the playoff positions with 15 games to go in the regular-season, the pressure is on for Richmond to put together a run of victories to get back into the postseason picture.
LA Galaxy II vs. Swope Park Rangers
StubHub Center Track and Field Stadium, Carson, California | 10:30 p.m. ET
The Swope Park Rangers (9-7-5, 32pts) will try to snap a four-game winless streak as they visit the LA Galaxy II (5-11-4, 19pts) in hopes of reestablishing their playoff credentials. The Rangers played to a 0-0 draw with Rio Grande Valley FC on July 22 in their last outing thanks to a seven-save shutout by Christian Herrera. Swope Park has slid to seventh place in the Western Conference thanks to its recent downturn in form and has been held scoreless in its last two contests, something it will be hoping to change against a Galaxy II side that has conceded eight goals in back-to-back defeats over its past two contests. Los Dos fell 4-3 to the Portland Timbers 2 this past Saturday, and now sit in 15th place in the Western Conference, 12 points out of the playoff positions.
Friday, August 3
New York Red Bulls II vs. Penn FC
MSU Soccer Park, Montclair, New Jersey | 7 p.m. ET
The New York Red Bulls II (8-6-8, 32pts) will try to add to its current three-game home winning streak as it plays host to Penn FC (6-6-8, 26pts), which needs a victory to gain ground in its pursuit of a playoff position. The Red Bulls II are coming off a 2-2 draw with the Tampa Bay Rowdies this past Saturday night that saw Brian White score his eighth goal of the season, and the side now returns home where it has outscored opponents 13-3 over its past three outings. Penn played to a 1-1 draw with the Charlotte Independence this past Saturday to extend the club’s winless streak to three games, but while the side is currently sitting in 13th place in the Eastern Conference it only trails the eighth-place Independence by two points going into this weekend’s action in the tightly-packed conference standings.
Ottawa Fury FC vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies
TD Place, Ottawa, Ontario | 7 p.m. ET
Ottawa Fury FC (8-9-3, 27pts) and the Tampa Bay Rowdies (7-8-5, 26pts) face a crucial contest in the race for the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs with both sides sitting outside the top eight in the Eastern Conference as they square off for the second time this season. The Rowdies claimed a 5-0 win in the first meeting at Al Lang Stadium as the hosts ran over Ottawa with all five goals coming in the final 30 minutes. Tampa Bay has regained its scoring touch in its past two games, with recent addition Stefano Bonomo scoring three goals in the past two games as the side has picked up four points to push back into the playoff picture. Ottawa is coming off a 3-0 defeat to Louisville City FC this past Saturday, but prior to that had taken back-to-back home victories against Penn FC and Nashville SC and will be aiming for a big bounce-back performance.
Saturday, August 4
North Carolina FC vs. Charleston Battery
Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, North Carolina | 7 p.m. ET
The Southern Derby rivals meet for the second time this season at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park with both in good form as North Carolina FC (7-8-5, 26pts) enter having claimed back-to-back wins and the Charleston Battery (10-3-8, 38pts) on a four-game winning streak. The sides played to a 1-1 draw when they first met this season on July 7, a draw that marked the only game in the past month that the Battery didn’t take all three points from as Daniel Rios scored an 81st-minute equalizer for the hosts. With Charleston chasing FC Cincinnati at the top of the Eastern Conference and NCFC chasing a place in the postseason, both teams will be eager to put one over their regional rival.
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC vs. Toronto FC II
Highmark Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania | 7 p.m. ET
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC returns to action for a second time in the week to play host to Toronto FC II (1-15-3, 6pts) as the visitors enter off their first win of the 2018 season. Toronto claimed a 2-0 victory against Nashville SC this past Saturday night as Luca Uccello and Matt Srbely scored either side of halftime. Toronto has suffered defeats in each of its prior two meetings this season with the Hounds, though, falling 4-0 at Highmark Stadium earlier this season before a 2-1 defeat at Marina Auto Stadium in Rochester on May 5.
Richmond Kickers vs. Bethlehem Steel FC
City Stadium, Richmond, Virginia | 7 p.m. ET
The Richmond Kickers return home after their midweek visit to Pittsburgh to play host to another side from the Keystone state as Bethlehem Steel FC (7-9-6, 27pts) looks to complete a three-game sweep of the season series between the clubs. Bethlehem took a 4-1 win against the Kickers on the opening weekend of the season and then a 3-1 win when the sides last met on May 6 at Goodman Stadium. Steel FC is coming off a 4-1 win against ATL UTD 2 this past Sunday when Aidan Apodaca, Brenden Aaronson and Faris all scored their first professional goals for the side, and with the club in hot pursuit of a place in the USL Cup Playoffs the visitors will be eager to add another three points in their visit to City Stadium.
FC Cincinnati vs. Nashville SC
Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio | 7:30 p.m. ET
FC Cincinnati (13-3-5, 44pts) and Nashville SC (8-6-6, 30pts) will square off for the second time this season with both sides hoping to take a victory after a scoreless draw in the first meeting between the clubs last month. FCC is on a 10-game undefeated streak and a three-game winning streak coming into Saturday’s game after claiming a 2-1 win against the New York Red Bulls II in its most recent league outing on July 21. Nashville, meanwhile, is looking to find an improvement in its road form, where the side has taken only two wins this season after falling 2-0 to Toronto FC this past Saturday. Sitting with a three-point cushion on ninth-place Ottawa Fury FC and 10th place Bethlehem Steel FC going into the weekend, taking something from its first trip to Cincinnati would certainly be welcome for NSC.
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC vs. OKC Energy FC
Weidner Field, Colorado Springs, Colorado | 8 p.m. ET
Both Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (8-12-4, 28pts) and OKC Energy FC (6-11-5, 23pts) find themselves in serious need of victory as they renew their rivalry at Weidner Field. The Switchbacks suffered a pair of defeats in its road trip to Texas last week, falling 1-0 on a late goal against Rio Grande Valley FC this past Saturday to slide to 10th place in the Western Conference standings with only 10 games to go in its regular season. Energy FC also finds itself in a tough spot after falling 2-1 to San Antonio FC on Saturday, a loss that moved the side eight points out of the playoff positions with 12 games remaining. While the sides played to a 1-1 draw in their most recent meeting on July 7, this matchup is looking like a must-win for both in the race for the USL Cup Playoffs.
Saint Louis FC vs. Seattle Sounders FC 2
Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis, Fenton, Missouri | 8:30 p.m. ET
Saint Louis FC (6-6-8, 26pts) will try to build on a comeback victory when it hosts Seattle Sounders FC 2 (4-13-2, 14pts), which also took a win in its last outing. STLFC broke a six-game winless streak with its 2-1 victory against Reno 1868 FC this past Saturday as Wal Fall had a goal and assist and Sam Fink scored a stoppage-time game-winner for the visitors at Greater Nevada Field. Saint Louis will now be looking to take advantage of home games against S2 and Las Vegas Lights FC, both of which sit below it in the Western Conference, as it pushes for a trip to the postseason, but S2 is coming off a 3-0 win against Las Vegas to gain a big boost in confidence as it heads on the road.
San Antonio FC vs. LA Galaxy II
Toyota Field, San Antonio, Texas | 8:30 p.m. ET
San Antonio FC (8-5-7, 31pts) will try to add to its season-best three-game winning streak when it plays host to the LA Galaxy II, which returns to action for the second time in Week 21. San Antonio picked up three wins in eight days to move into the Western Conference playoff positions last Saturday night as it defeated OKC Energy FC 2-1 at Taft Stadium which saw Mikey Lopez and Ever Guzman find the net for the visitors. San Antonio and LA played to a 0-0 draw when they met for the first time this season on March 31, a result SAFC will be hoping to improve on this time around.
Orange County SC vs. Swope Park Rangers
Champions Soccer Stadium, Irvine, Calif. | 10 p.m. ET
Orange County SC and the Swope Park Rangers return to action for the second time in Week 21 as the Rangers complete their two-game trip to Southern California. The meeting will be the second within the span of a month for the sides, with Orange County having taken a 4-0 victory at Children’s Mercy Park on July 18 last time around, a defeat the Rangers will be hoping to get some revenge for as it looks to bolster its position in the top eight of the Western Conference.
Las Vegas Lights FC vs. Rio Grande Valley FC
Cashman Field, Las Vegas, Nevada | 11 p.m. ET
Las Vegas Lights FC (6-9-5, 23pts) will try to kickstart its pursuit of a place in the USL Cup Playoffs and also try to take a little revenge on Rio Grande Valley FC (3-6-11, 20pts) as the sides meet for the second time this season. The Toros took a 2-0 victory when the teams met at H-E-B Park on July 14, a victory that is part of a six-game undefeated streak for RGVFC as it enters Saturday’s contest. While still a long way from playoff contention, the Toros took a 1-0 victory against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC this past Saturday to continue their recent improvement. Las Vegas, meanwhile, has lost three of its last four games, including a 3-0 loss to Seattle Sounders FC 2 last Thursday night that saw a pair of players get sent off just before halftime. Now eight points out of the playoff places with 14 games remaining, Las Vegas needs to take victory on Saturday to boost its postseason prospects.
Sacramento Republic FC vs. Fresno FC
Papa Murphy’s Park, Sacramento, California | 11 p.m. ET
Sacramento Republic FC (10-5-7, 37pts) and Fresno FC (7-7-9, 30pts) enter the third and final regular season meeting in the Highway 99 Derby having each claimed a win in the prior two meetings, putting the season series on the line in the first meeting between the clubs at Papa Murphy’s Park. Sacramento enters the contest on a four-game undefeated streak after playing to a 1-1 draw with OKC Energy FC on July 21st in its last outing, a result that put it in fifth position in the Western Conference. The Foxes, meanwhile, are undefeated in their last five games, but back-to-back draws last week saw the side overtaken by San Antonio FC and sitting in ninth place as the week begins, making a victory on the road key to the club’s postseason hopes.
Sunday, August 5
Louisville City FC vs. Indy Eleven
Slugger Field, Louisville, Kentucky | 5 p.m. ET
Louisville City FC (10-4-5, 35pts) will try to build on back-to-back victories as it plays host to regional rival Indy Eleven (9-7-4, 31pts) in the second meeting between the clubs this season. Louisville has shown a strong return to form over the past two weeks, scoring seven goals in its two victories to move back into third place in the Eastern Conference standings. The hosts will be looking for payback on the Eleven, who handed Louisville its first loss of the season back on May 5 when a penalty kick by Ayoze with 12 minutes to go decided the contest at Lucas Oil Stadium. Indy is coming off another 1-0 victory in its most recent outing as it defeated Bethlehem Steel FC last Thursday afternoon, and sitting in sixth place in the conference standings the Eleven will be hoping to pick up at least a point on the road to maintain its course for the postseason.
Portland Timbers 2 vs. Phoenix Rising FC
Providence Park, Portland, Oregon | 5 p.m. ET
The Portland Timbers 2 return to action for the second time this week as they host Phoenix Rising FC (11-5-5, 38pts), which is looking for an improvement on the road after suffering back-to-back away defeats in its last two trips. Phoenix fell 4-1 to Real Monarchs SLC this past Saturday in a top-two clash in the Western Conference but remained in second place after Reno 1868 FC also fell over the weekend. With a six-point gap to make up on the Monarchs in the conference standings, Phoenix will be hoping to take all three points in the first meeting between the clubs this season.