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USL’s Week Ahead – Busiest Week of Season Brings Pivotal Playoff Race Contests

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 08/21/18, 10:34AM EDT

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Week features 24 games that will help shape the race for the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs


Sacramento Republic FC and Reno 1868 FC will renew their rivalry on Saturday night at Greater Nevada Field. | Photo courtesy Sacramento Republic FC

TAMPA, Fla. – The 2018 USL regular season arrives at its busiest week with 24 games that will help shape the race for the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs on tap, including a 15-game Saturday night slate that ranks among the biggest in the league’s modern history. The USL Game of the Week on ESPN3 features two strong playoff contenders, as Phoenix Rising FC plays host to San Antonio FC. Also, that night, Western Conference playoff contenders the Portland Timbers 2 and Orange County SC also square off in a matchup that features two leading contenders for the USL Golden Boot, with OCSC’s Thomas Enevoldsen (14 goals) currently leading a trio of players that includes T2’s Foster Langsdorf on 13 goals. Saturday night sees a pair of playoff rematches, as the Charleston Battery host the New York Red Bulls II, and Eastern Conference-leader FC Cincinnati visits the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the second game of a two-game swing through the Southeast, while in the Western Conference, the Donner Pass Derby is set to conclude, as Reno 1868 FC plays host to Sacramento Republic FC. 

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

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FC Cincinnati and the Tampa Bay Rowdies meet on Saturday night at Al Lang Stadium in a rematch from the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs. | Photo courtesy Brett Hansbauer / FC Cincinnati

Tuesday, August 21
New York Red Bulls II vs. North Carolina FC

MSU Soccer Park, Montclair, New Jersey | 7 p.m. ET
The New York Red Bulls II (9-7-8, 35pts) and North Carolina FC (8-9-6, 30pts) meet in a crucial game for the playoff hopes of both sides as they each look to rebound from defeat last time out. The Red Bulls II have taken all nine of their victories this season on home turf but are coming off a 6-4 defeat to Louisville City FC on Aug. 10 in their most recent outing. New York still sits in the top eight in the Eastern Conference, however, while 10th-place North Carolina sits five points back after its late 3-2 defeat to Indy Eleven that saw the visitors concede in the 90th minute at Lucas Oil Stadium, making victory on the road the goal to push closer to the playoff positions for Head Coach Colin Clarke’s side.

Wednesday, August 22
Bethlehem Steel FC vs. Ottawa Fury FC

Goodman Stadium, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania | 5 p.m. ET
Fifth-place Bethlehem Steel FC (10-10-6, 36pts) and seventh-place Ottawa Fury FC (10-10-5, 35pts) enter separated by just a point, but both are under pressure to take victory in the tightly-packed Eastern Conference standings as they meet for the second time this season. Ottawa took a 1-0 win when the teams met on May 25 at TD Place, as Kevin Oliveira’s goal after just 42 seconds proved the difference. Fury FC has taken four points from its past two outings after a 0-0 draw with Indy Eleven this past Saturday, as Maxime Crepeau recorded his 12th shutout of the season. Bethlehem, meanwhile, has won four of its last five games including a 2-0 win against Toronto FC II last Thursday night that moved the side into its current position.

ATL UTD 2 vs. FC Cincinnati
Coolray Field, Gwinnett, Georgia | 7 p.m. ET
Eastern Conference-leader FC Cincinnati (15-3-6, 51pts) will look to continue its 13-game undefeated streaks as it kicks off its two-game trip with a visit to ATL UTD 2 (3-12-7, 16pts). Cincinnati extended its lead at the top of the conference standings to seven points after a 3-0 win against the third-place Charleston Battery this past Saturday as Emmanuel Ledesma moved into a tie for the team-high with his 11th goal of the season. Atlanta narrowly lost to the Battery in its last outing on August 11 at MUSC Health Stadium but has struggled for goals over its current five-game winless streak, scoring only three times in that span as it sits in 16th place in the Eastern Conference.

Indy Eleven vs. Toronto FC II
Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana | 7 p.m. ET
Indy Eleven (10-7-6, 36pts) will try to add to its recent four-game undefeated streak and bolster its position in the Eastern Conference playoff places when it hosts Toronto FC II (2-17-3, 9pts). The Eleven played to a 0-0 draw against Ottawa Fury FC on Saturday afternoon and enter the week in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. The side also bolstered its ranks on Monday, announcing the return of midfielder Dylan Mares for his second stint at the club. Toronto has alternated wins and losses in its last four contests, falling 2-0 to Bethlehem Steel FC last Thursday night, and will be looking to reverse its 3-1 defeat when these sides first met on June 16.

Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies
Highmark Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania | 7 p.m. ET
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (12-3-8, 44pts) plays host to the Tampa Bay Rowdies (7-10-6, 27pts), looking to at least keep pace with FC Cincinnati in the Eastern Conference standings after a frustrating time in its last outing. Riverhounds SC was held to a 0-0 draw by the Charlotte Independence this past Saturday night, despite playing the final half-hour with a man-advantage, a result that dropped the second-place Hounds seven points behind FCC in the Eastern Conference. The hosts should get a solid test from the Rowdies, however, with the visitors in major need of a victory to jumpstart its playoff hopes after going winless in its last four outings. Sitting eight points out of the playoff positions with 11 games to go, Tampa Bay needs to make its move if it’s to make a second consecutive postseason visit.

Charlotte Independence vs. Louisville City FC
Sportsplex at Matthews, Matthews, North Carolina | 7:30 p.m. ET
Both the Charlotte Independence (7-9-8, 29pts) and Louisville City FC (11-4-7, 40pts) enter off scoreless draws. Louisville was held at home by Nashville SC in John Hackworth’s first game in charge of the club, as a five-save shutout by NSC goalkeeper Matt Pickens kept the hosts from finding a way to all three points. City FC will be hoping to emulate its 4-1 win when the sides met in July, but the Independence battled to a 0-0 draw on the road with Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC last Saturday and needs a victory on home turf to reenergize its push for the playoffs as it enters six points out of the top eight with 10 games to go in its regular season.

Phoenix Rising FC vs. San Antonio FC
Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex, Phoenix, Arizona | 10 p.m. ET (ESPN3)
The USL Game of the Week brings together two playoff contenders in the Western Conference, as Phoenix Rising FC (13-6-5, 44pts) looks to snap a recent run of up-and-down form when it hosts San Antonio FC (9-7-7, 34pts). Phoenix has alternated wins and losses in its past seven games but can hope to build on a 2-0 victory this past Saturday night against Las Vegas Lights FC that saw Solomon Asante record his 11th goal of the season. San Antonio had been on a strong run of form to move into the playoff positions, but back-to-back losses – including a 2-1 setback to the Portland Timbers 2 last Wednesday night, have the side looking for a return to the win column as it sits in the eighth and final playoff place going into this week’s action.

Portland Timbers 2 vs. Orange County SC
Merlo Field, Portland, Oregon | 10 p.m. ET
The Portland Timbers 2 (13-10-3, 43pts) and Orange County SC (14-6-5, 47pts) have each won their last three contests as they square off in a top-five Western Conference clash at Merlo Field. Both teams include contenders for the USL Golden Boot, with Portland’s Foster Langsdorf having scored three goals in T2’s two victories over the past week to move to 13 goals for the season. Langsdorf sits one goal behind Orange County’s Thomas Enevoldsen, who has also scored in back-to-back games and recorded assists in three consecutive outings to sit on 14 goals and eight assists this season. In addition to Enevoldsen, though, OCSC has gotten big performances in its last two outings from Jamaican international Michael Seaton, who has scored four goals and recorded two assists over the past two games to help Orange County move into second place in the Western Conference.

LA Galaxy II vs. Rio Grande Valley FC
StubHub Center Track and Field Stadium, Carson, California | 10:30 p.m. ET
The LA Galaxy II (7-12-5, 26pts) will shoot for a third consecutive victory, as they play host to Rio Grande Valley FC (3-9-11, 20pts), which is looking to break a three-game losing streak as it heads west for a pair of games. Los Dos took a 4-1 victory against Sacramento Republic FC this past Saturday at Papa Murphy’s Park to claim their first win against their northern California rivals since the 2015 USL Cup Playoffs, as Ethan Zubak recorded his 10th goal of the season and Frank Lopez extended his goal-scoring streak to five games. The Toros fell for only the second time at home this season this past Saturday in a 4-2 loss to OKC Energy FC at H-E-B Park but are still in search of their first road win of the season as they head to California looking to rebound. 

Saturday, August 25
ATL UTD 2 vs. Indy Eleven

Coolray Field, Gwinnett, Georgia | 7 p.m. ET
Indy Eleven heads to face ATL UTD 2 in the second outing for both sides this week, with Indy looking to emulate its 2-0 victory when the sides met at Lucas Oil Stadium on June 9. Matt Watson and Carlyle Mitchell scored in that previous meeting for the Eleven, who will be trying to add to five away victories so far this season, tied for seventh in the league at the start of Week 24.

Charleston Battery vs. New York Red Bulls II
MUSC Health Stadium, Charleston, South Carolina | 7 p.m. ET
The Charleston Battery (11-4-10, 43pts) will try to rebound from the end of an 11-game undefeated streak, as the club returns home after its loss to FC Cincinnati this past Saturday but will need to do so against a New York Red Bulls II side that it has gone winless against in the past five meetings between the clubs. New York is 4-0-1 against Charleston since the Battery’s last win in the series midway through the 2016 season, including a 4-0 victory at MUSC Health Stadium in the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs and a 5-2 victory when the sides met earlier this season at Red Bull Arena.

North Carolina FC vs. Charlotte Independence
Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, North Carolina | 7 p.m. ET
North Carolina FC and the Charlotte Independence return to action for the second time this week for the second edition of the North Carolina Derby and a game that could be critical to the playoff hopes of both sides. NCFC took a 2-0 victory when the teams met on April 14 at the Sportsplex at Matthews, as Daniel Rios and Marios Lomis both found the net for the visitors, giving North Carolina the chance to wrap up the regular season series before the sides meet for the final time on the final weekend of the regular season.

Ottawa Fury FC vs. Penn FC
TD Place, Ottawa, Ontario | 7 p.m. ET
Ottawa Fury FC returns home after its midweek trip to Pennsylvania to play host to another club from the Keystone State as Penn FC (6-9-8, 26pts) visits, looking to get back into the win column and revive its postseason hopes. Penn suffered its third consecutive defeat and saw its winless streak reach six games overall as it fell 3-2 to the Richmond Kickers last Saturday night at City Stadium. Penn scored twice from the penalty spot through Lucky Mkosana and Walter Ramirez but conceded a late winner and now enters the week nine points out of the playoff places with 11 games to go in the regular season.

Richmond Kickers vs. Louisville City FC
City Stadium, Richmond, Virginia | 7 p.m. ET
The Richmond Kickers (6-15-3, 21pts) will try to build on a victory last time out when they face the challenge posed by Louisville City FC, as the defending USL Cup champion completes its two-game road trip over the week. The Kickers claimed a 3-2 victory against Penn FC last Saturday night at City Stadium, as Fred Owusu Sekyere scored the game-winner, but Richmond has never claimed victory in eight prior meetings with Louisville, which has gone 6-0-2 in the all-time series after a 2-1 win at Slugger Field on April 14 that saw George Davis IV score a 91st-minute winner for the host.

Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. FC Cincinnati
Al Lang Stadium, St. Petersburg, Florida | 7:30 p.m. ET
The Tampa Bay Rowdies and FC Cincinnati both return to action for the second time in the week, as the Rowdies look to maintain their undefeated record against FCC at Al Lang Stadium in three prior meetings between the clubs at the venue. If this season is a measure, however, Cincinnati could be poised to turn the tables on the Rowdies, who took victory both in the regular season and USL Cup Playoffs a season ago against FCC. Having claimed victories at venues including Charleston’s MUSC Health Stadium and New York’s Red Bull Arena for the first time in 2018, and a 2-0 win when it hosted Tampa Bay on July 14, Cincinnati will be looking to add another small piece of history to its record book.

Nashville SC vs. Bethlehem Steel FC
First Tennessee Park, Nashville, Tennessee | 8:30 p.m. ET
Nashville SC (9-6-8, 35pts) kicks off a final stretch of seven home games in its final 11 games overall when it welcomes fellow Eastern Conference playoff hopeful Bethlehem Steel FC to First Tennessee Park, as Steel FC enters its second high-pressure contest of the week. Nashville is undefeated in its last three games (1-0-2), including a 0-0 draw with Louisville City FC this past Saturday that kept the side in ninth place in the Eastern Conference but with games in hand on three of the four clubs directly above it in the standings. After taking a 1-0 victory on March 31 when the teams first met, NSC will be looking to complete a season sweep and make a major move in its pursuit of a postseason berth.

OKC Energy FC vs. Seattle Sounders FC 2
Taft Stadium, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma | 8:30 p.m. ET
OKC Energy FC (9-12-5, 29pts) will shoot for its fourth consecutive victory, as it plays host to Seattle Sounders FC 2 (5-15-2, 17pts) in the second contest between the clubs this season. S2 took a 2-1 victory at Cheney Stadium in that previous meeting, as David Estrada scored twice late to rally his side to the win, but recent form has been decidedly in Energy FC’s favor as it kept its playoff hopes alive with a 4-2 win this past Saturday against Rio Grande Valley FC. Both Energy FC’s Christian Volesky and Alex Dixon are on three-game goalscoring streaks going into Saturday’s contest, while S2 is hoping to rebound from a 4-1 loss to the Portland Timbers 2 this past Sunday that saw the side fall to 2-8-0 since its victory against Energy FC in June.

Saint Louis FC vs. Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis, Fenton, Missouri – 8:30 p.m. ET
Saint Louis FC (9-7-8, 35pts) will try to rebound from the end of a four-game winning streak, as it returns home to face Tulsa Roughnecks FC (2-11-10, 16pts). STLFC suffered a 1-0 defeat to Fresno FC this past Saturday to fall for the first time in August but is still sitting in seventh place with 10 games remaining in its regular season and well-positioned for a first trip to the playoffs. Tulsa rallied back to level the score with Western Conference-leader Real Monarchs SLC last Saturday, only to fall 3-2 on a late penalty kick at Zions Bank Stadium and has lost three of its last five outings overall to remain at the bottom of the Western Conference.

San Antonio FC vs. Swope Park Rangers
Toyota Field, San Antonio, Texas | 8:30 p.m. ET
San Antonio FC returns home from its midweek visit to Arizona to take on the Swope Park Rangers (9-9-7, 34pts), who will be trying to end an eight-game winless streak as they visit Texas. The Rangers played to a 3-3 draw in their last outing with Reno 1868 FC this past Saturday in a contest that saw both sides hold the lead, but Swope Park needed a stoppage-time goal by Hadji Barry to claim a point and stay in touch with the playoff positions. With this the second of three meetings between the clubs this season, the outcomes of both could have a major say on the makeup of the postseason field.

Orange County SC vs. Rio Grande Valley FC
Champions Soccer Stadium, Irvine, California | 10 p.m. ET
Orange County SC returns home from its midweek trip to Portland to host Rio Grande Valley FC, which concludes its trip to Southern California after meeting the LA Galaxy II earlier in the week. Orange County will be aiming for a reversal of its trip to South Texas earlier this season in the contest after the Toros took a 2-0 victory when the sides met on April 25, thanks to goals by Memo Rodriguez and Aldo Quintanilla.

Real Monarchs SLC vs. LA Galaxy II
Zions Bank Stadium, Herriman, Utah | 10 p.m. ET
Real Monarchs SLC (16-6-2, 50pts) will try to claim its 11th consecutive victory at Zions Bank Stadium when it plays host to the LA Galaxy II, which returns to action after its midweek contest with Rio Grande Valley FC. The Monarchs claimed their 10th consecutive victory on home turf this past Saturday but were made to work in a 3-2 win against Tulsa Roughnecks FC that saw Justin Portillo score a late winner from the penalty spot to make Real’s lead at the top of the Western Conference three points at the start of Week 24.

Phoenix Rising FC vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex, Phoenix, Arizona | 10:30 p.m. ET
Phoenix Rising FC continues its homestand after the midweek visit from San Antonio FC with contest against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (9-13-4, 31pts), which needs a road victory to boost its playoff hopes after losing three of its last four contests. The Switchbacks fell 2-1 to Tulsa Roughnecks FC in their last outing on Aug. 11 and subsequently slid to 12th place in the conference standings, three points out of the playoff positions with eight games to go in the regular season, leaving the side little margin for error if it is to return to the postseason.

Reno 1868 FC vs. Sacramento Republic FC
Greater Nevada Field, Reno, Nevada | 10:30 p.m. ET
Sixth-place Reno 1868 FC (10-5-8, 38pts) will try to pull closer to fourth-place Sacramento Republic FC (12-7-7, 43pts) in the second and final meeting of the season between the Donner Pass Derby rivals, as both teams look to return to the win column. Reno was minutes away from taking all three points this past Sunday against the Swope Park Rangers, as it rallied to take a late lead through Jerry van Ewijk’s sixth goal of the season, only to concede in stoppage time in a 3-3 draw at Children’s Mercy Park. Republic FC, meanwhile, suffered a 4-1 defeat to the LA Galaxy II that saw it become the first side this season to concede four goals in a first half. Sacramento has won six road games this season, however, and will be hoping to reverse a 3-2 loss when the sides met earlier this season at Papa Murphy’s Park that saw Reno score all three goals in the span of five minutes to rally from a two-goal halftime deficit.

Las Vegas Lights FC vs. Fresno FC
Cashman Field, Las Vegas, Nevada | 11 p.m. ET
Fresno FC (8-9-9, 33pts) will try to build on a crucial victory last time out when it visits Las Vegas Lights FC (7-12-5, 26pts) in the second meeting between the expansion clubs this season. Lights FC took a 3-2 victory on the opening weekend of the season at Chukchansi Park when the teams first met but will be looking to break a three-game losing streak this Saturday after falling 2-0 to Phoenix Rising FC at Cashman Field in its last outing. The Foxes, meanwhile, kept their playoff hopes alive with a 1-0 win against Saint Louis FC this past Saturday that saw Zach Ellis-Hayden score his first goal of the season to move the side within a point of the playoff positions with eight games to go in the regular season.

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