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Gameday Report: September 29, Week 29

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 09/29/18, 9:44PM EDT

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Cincinnati sets USL record with 10th consecutive victory; Cortez reaches 50 as Phoenix downs Saint Louis


Photo courtesy Brett Hansbauer / FC Cincinnati

THREE THINGS THAT MATTERED

1. FC Cincinnati continued to rewrite the USL history book with a 3-0 victory against Indy Eleven on Saturday night before a USL regular-season record crowd of 31,478 fans at Nippert Stadium that accounted for its 10th consecutive win, breaking the record set by Real Monarchs SLC a season ago to continue its dream season. Indy gave as good as it got for a good portion of the game, and it took a five-save shutout by Evan Newton to keep the visitors off the board, but once Danni Konig broke his long goal drought with the second of the night for the hosts the party was on as FCC was awarded the USL Regular Season Championship shield following the conclusion of the contest.

2. Phoenix Rising FC pushed Saint Louis FC’s defense until it finally buckled with eight minutes to go as Billy Forbes’ goal provided the winner for the hosts at the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex that allowed them to stay within range of Orange County SC for first place in the Western Conference. Saint Louis goalkeeper Tomas Gomez had put in a solid display for most of the night until Forbes finally struck with a low finish to the right post, and Phoenix got the cherry on top in stoppage time of its 2-0 victory as Chris Cortez got to celebrate becoming only the fifth player in the USL’s modern era to notch 50 regular-season goals with an exquisitely taken free kick moments after he’d come on as a substitute.

3. North Carolina FC got an almighty scare from the Richmond Kickers, twice falling behind in the first half, but the hosts fought back to take a 3-2 victory that got the side back on track after its late defeat in midweek and in the middle of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference. Those playoff hopes were further buoyed later in the evening as Nashville SC and the New York Red Bulls II played to a 1-1 draw, keeping the race for the playoffs tight ahead of New York’s visit to face North Carolina next weekend in what promises to be one of the crucial contests in the penultimate week of the regular season that is seeing very little margin for error available to any side. 

GAME REPORTS

LAS VEGAS LIGHTS FC (0), OKC ENERGY FC (1)

LAS VEGAS – OKC Energy FC got a standout display in goal from Cody Laurendi in a 1-0 victory against Las Vegas Lights FC at Cashman Field. Lights FC had a chance in just the second minute when Raul Mendiola found space inside the left side of the penalty area only to have his shot turned away by Laurendi, and the Energy FC shot-stopper did well again in the 34th minute as Carlos Alvarez broke in for a shot from 12 yards. Las Vegas’ Daigo Kobayashi also forced a save from Laurendi five minutes before halftime with a well-hit free kick that went through the defensive wall toward the left corner, and his cross almost set up Alvarez for a goal in the opening minute of the second half as Laurendi made a tipped save to keep out a powerful header. Omar Salgado was the next to go close for the hosts in the 56th minute, and it wasn’t until beyond the hour-mark that Energy FC had its first good chance as Deshorn Brown was denied on a breakaway by Lights FC goalkeeper Thomas Olsen. The visitors again went close through Alex Dixon with 20 minutes to go as Olsen made a low save, but in the 73rd minute Brown scored his first goal for Energy FC with a volleyed finish off a deep cross from the right that tucked just inside the right post. Daniel Guzman almost pulled Lights FC level as Laurendi punched his effort away with 11 minutes to go, and six minutes later Guzman fired a long-range strike that was also parried aside. Energy FC held on to claim its victory, however, as Lights FC fell for the second time this week on home turf.

USLSoccer.com Man of the Match
Cody Laurendi, OKC Energy FC
– Laurendi recorded an 11-save shutout to keep Energy FC in the game and allow Deshorn Brown’s goal to stand as the winner in a hard-fought road victory.

SACRAMENTO REPUBLIC FC (1), PORTLAND TIMBERS 2 (0)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Sacramento Republic FC moved into third place in the Western Conference standings with a 1-0 win against the Portland Timbers 2 at Papa Murphy’s Park. Hayden Partain almost put Republic FC ahead with a curling effort in the fifth minute that went just wide of the right post, but a minute later the hosts had the lead as Cameron Iwasa nodded home his 15th goal of the regular season into the left corner of the net off a cross from the right by Elliott Hord. Republic FC almost doubled its lead in the 24th minute as a floated cross from the right to the back post was headed on target by Villyan Bijev, only for T2 goalkeeper Kendall McIntosh to make a good low save, while Portland had a chance to level denied when Andre Lewis’ shot from the top of the penalty area was saved by Sacramento goalkeeper Josh Cohen. Portland again threatened through Jack Barmby in the 48th minute as Cohen got down to keep out a low shot to the right corner, while McIntosh kept out a low finish by Republic FC’s Keven Aleman midway through the second half. Portland was reduced to 10 men with 16 minutes to go when Nathan Smith was sent off for his second yellow card, and Bijev almost added an insurance goal late for Sacramento only for McIntosh to turn his shot aside. That insurance goal wouldn’t be necessary, however, as Republic FC won for the fourth time in its last five games.

USLSoccer.com Man of the Match
Elliott Hord, Sacramento Republic FC
– Hord had a stellar outing down the right side as he recorded the assist on Cameron Iwasa’s goal, recorded three key passes and completed 36 of 42 passes overall.

PHOENIX RISING FC (2), SAINT LOUIS FC (0)

PHOENIX – Phoenix Rising FC got a pair of late goals to edge past Saint Louis FC 2-0 at the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex and move back within a point of Orange County SC at the top of the Western Conference standings. Phoenix almost took the lead inside the opening minute as a cross-field pass by Didier Drogba found Shaft Brewer Jr. on the left, and the U.S. youth international found Gladson Awako for a shot to the right corner that was well saved by STLFC goalkeeper Tomas Gomez. Rising FC threatened again in the 20th minute when Solomon Asante’s shot from the right side of the penalty area was turned aside by Gomez, while Amadou Dia also forced a kick-save that saw Gomez gather safely on the second attempt. Saint Louis came into the game more as the half progressed but didn’t create any clear chances until five minutes into the second half when Wal Fall rang the right post with a first-time finish from 25 yards that caromed away to safety. Phoenix immediately countered, and Gomez had to make a good save to keep out Drogba’s effort from 30 yards. Saint Louis’ goalkeeper had to be sharp again to keep out a low shot by Asante in the 68th minute, but with eight minutes to go Phoenix found the breakthrough as second-half substitute Billy Forbes capitalized on a turnover in the Saint Louis half and laced home a low finish to the right corner that Gomez couldn’t keep out. Chris Cortez then secured all three points with a stoppage-time free kick for his 50th goal in the USL regular season.

USLSoccer.com Man of the Match
Amadou Dia, Phoenix Rising FC
– Dia put in a strong two-way performance for Phoenix, looking dangerous when he joined the attack while also recording four clearances, two tackles and one interception.

RENO 1868 FC (2), TULSA ROUGHNECKS FC (0)

RENO, Nev. – Reno 1868 FC took another step toward a return to the USL Cup Playoffs with a 2-0 victory against Tulsa Roughnecks FC at Greater Nevada Field. Reno’s Antoine Hoppenot forced an early save by Tulsa goalkeeper Fabian Cerda with a stinging shot from just inside the penalty area in the seventh minute, but midway through the first half he set up Brian Brown with a good through-ball that allowed the Jamaican to lift his finish past Cerda for his 19th goal for 1868 FC all-time, setting a club record in the process. Reno’s Duke Lacroix had a chance clawed away on the half-hour as the hosts looked to double their lead, but that goal arrived on the ensuing corner as Zach Carroll headed home Chris Wehan’s deliver from the right into the left corner. Both Lacroix and Hoppenot almost added to Reno’s lead before the halftime break, while 1868 FC midfielder Seth Casiple hit the right post in the 61st minute. Hoppenot twice went close late to adding to Reno’s advantage, forcing a pair of saves from Cerda, and the Roughnecks goalkeeper denied Brown his second from the penalty spot with a diving save to the left corner, but the hosts saw out a comfortable victory as the Roughnecks failed to register a shot on goal.

USLSoccer.com Man of the Match
Antoine Hoppenot, Reno 1868 FC
– Hoppenot was consistently active in attack, finishing with five shots on goal out of eight total and providing the assist on Brian Brown’s opening goal of the game.

REAL MONARCHS SLC (0), COLORADO SPRINGS SWITCHBACKS FC (2)

HERRIMAN, Utah – Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC continued Real Monarchs SLC’s struggles as it took a 2-0 victory behind a pair of second-half goals at Zions Bank Stadium. The Monarchs almost took the lead in the 27th minute on a dipping shot by Masta Kacher that was tipped over the crossbar by Colorado Springs goalkeeper Moise Pouaty, while the Switchbacks’ best chance of the first half came to Saeed Robinson with a powerful shot to the top-left corner that Real goalkeeper Jake Leeker did well to turn away. Pouaty made another big save in first-half stoppage time to turn wide a shot by Sebastian Velasquez, and again inside the opening minute of the second half after Chandler Hoffman had been played through on goal by Jack Blake. The Monarchs again went close when Charlie Adams curled a free kick that came back off the crossbar and rebounded eventually back to Pouaty to claim, while Velasquez also hit the crossbar with a strike from 20 yards in the 56th minute. But the Switchbacks took the lead just past the hour-mark as A.J. Ajeakwa wove past his defender in the left side of the penalty area and tucked a low shot into the right corner of the net. The Monarchs tried to hit back and Kacher had a low shot denied by Pouaty but in the first minute of stoppage time the Switchbacks claimed victory as Marty Maybin put home a first-time finish from Shane Malcolm’s cutback from the right to seal victory in the Rocky Mountain rivalry clash.

USLSoccer.com Man of the Match
Moise Pouaty, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
– Pouaty recorded a six-save shutout, and also got a little help from his woodwork – to keep the visitors on level terms before A.J. Ajeakwa’s opening goal.

SAN ANTONIO FC (3), SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC 2 (1)

SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio FC kept its playoff chances alive with a 3-1 victory against Seattle Sounders FC 2 at Toyota Field. SAFC threatened in the 17th minute after a turnover in the defensive end that was curled wide of the left post by Jose Escalante, but two minutes later San Antonio took advantage of a poor goal kick as Ever Guzman set up Lance Laing for a simple finish into an open net. Laing almost set up Darnell King for a second for the hosts as the defender’s flicked header went just over the crossbar in the 23rd minute, but Laing played a role in the second for SAFC on the night as his cross was met by a perfect volley from Ethan Bryant that caromed in off the underside of the crossbar and in. S2’s Marlon Vargas had a chance to pull a goal back for the visitors only to be denied by San Antonio goalkeeper Matt Cardone, but a reply came from Azriel Gonzalez in the final minute of the first half as his seeing-eye shot from the top of the penalty area picked out the bottom-right corner. San Antonio almost added to its lead seven minutes into the second half when Guzman shot wide of the left post after a low cross by Laing, but with 18 minutes to go S2 was reduced to 10 men as Rodrigue Ele was sent after bringing down Kyle Murphy on a breakaway. San Antonio took advantage in stoppage time as Murphy again got in behind the defense, and while his initial shot was saved, Maxi Rodriguez was on hand to put home the rebound and ensure San Antonio’s playoff hopes lived on.

USLSoccer.com Man of the Match
Ever Guzman, San Antonio FC
– Guzman was smart with his build-up play and contributed an assist and three key passes while linking up nicely with his teammates before being substituted in the second half.

NASHVILLE SC (1), NEW YORK RED BULLS II (1)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Nashville SC and the New York Red Bulls II played to a 1-1 draw on Saturday night at First Tennessee Park as the hosts were unable to take advantage of the Red Bulls II being down to 10 men for more than a half. The Red Bulls II struck in the fifth minute as an attack down the left saw the ball return to Jared Stroud, whose low cross found Amando Moreno for a simple close-range finish. Nashville almost hit back two minutes later as Ish Jome used his speed to outpace the defense but see his shot from the right side of the penalty area be saved by New York goalkeeper Evan Louro. New York could have added to its lead in the 14th minute from the penalty spot only for Nashville goalkeeper Matt Pickens to deny Tom Barlow's low shot to the left corner, and then the Red Bulls II were reduced to 10 men in the 24th minute when Jose Aguinaga was sent off, and from the ensuing free kick Michael Reed shot home a low finish that curled around the wall and in at the left post. Louro got off his line quickly to keep out a chance for NSC's Tucker Hume 11 minutes before halftime, while New York almost regained the lead just before the hour-mark when a ball over the top by Chris Lema released Barlow, only for his lifted finish to miss the target as the game remained level. New York defender Hassan Ndam subsequently pulled off a remarkable goal-line clearance to keep out what would have been an own goal in the 63rd minute. Nashville made a final big push to find a winner and Louro had to pull off a big late save to keep out a header by Ropapa Mensah in stoppage time. From the ensuing corner kick Louro again made a big save to deny Liam Doyle, and Justin Davis was offside as he turned in the rebound to leave honors even between the sides.

USLSoccer.com Man of the Match
Evan Louro, New York Red Bulls II
– Louro made a clutch pair of stoppage-time saves to preserve a point for his side on the road despite being down to 10 men.

RIO GRANDE VALLEY FC (2), FRESNO FC (1)

EDINBURG, Texas – Rio Grande Valley FC scored a late winner as it took a 2-1 victory against Fresno FC at H-E-B Park. Fresno almost took the lead in the eighth minute on a near-post header by Myer Bevan that was cleared off the line on a corner kick from the left, but a minute later the Toros struck to take the lead as a cross from the left by Jesus Enriquez rebounded back to him off an attempted clearance, allowing Enriquez to sneak home a header at close range. The lead was short-lived as Agustin Cazarez powered home a header in the 16th minute off a cross from the right by Zachary Ellis-Hayden, but the Toros almost regained the lead moments later as Carlos Small was unable to control his finish off a corner kick from the right by Todd Wharton. The hosts also went close 10 minutes before halftime as Enriquez looked for his second of the night, only for his shot to the right corner to be turned away by Fresno goalkeeper Mark Pais. The visitors got the first good look of the second half as Jemal Johnson’s low shot was saved by Tyler Deric, while Aldo Quintanilla clipped the top of the crossbar moments after coming on for the Toros in the 62nd minute. The Foxes again went close with 17 minutes to go when Don Smart found the outside of the right side-netting with a cleanly-struck finish, but Small put the Toros ahead with six minutes to go as he slipped past his defender after a controlled header by Enriquez and finished low past Pais into the net.

USLSoccer.com Man of the Match
Jesus Enriquez, Rio Grande Valley FC
– Enriquez scored an opportunistic opening goal and picked up the assist on Carlos Small’s game-winner, one of four key passes on the night for the playmaker.

FC CINCINNATI (3), INDY ELEVEN (0)

CINCINNATI – FC Cincinnati set a new USL record with its 10th consecutive victory as it defeated Indy Eleven 3-0 at Nippert Stadium. Indy’s Reiner Ferreira went close to giving his side the lead in the 10th minute with a deflected long-range effort that FCC goalkeeper Evan Newton did well to turn over as its trajectory dipped toward the top-right corner. Dylan Mares also forced a good save by Newton with a powerful finish from the left side of the penalty area 10 minutes later, while at the other end Cincinnati’s Danni König had a volleyed effort saved by Indy goalkeeper Owain Fôn Williams on the first good look for the hosts. Jimmy McLaughlin went close in the 28th minute for Cincinnati with a low effort that curled just wide of the right post and Fôn Williams made a good save to keep out Russell Cicerone a few minutes later, but 11 minutes before halftime the hosts went in front when Fanendo Adi fired home from 25 yards for his third goal this season. The Eleven threatened to level five minutes later on a bouncing finish from 25 yards by Elliot Collier than Newton turned wide of the right post, and the hosts believed they were denied a penalty kick three minutes into the second half when a shot appeared to come off the arm of Matt Bahner and be cleared, only for the referee to allow play to continue. Cincinnati then doubled its lead with 25 minutes to go as a long ball forward by McLaughlin found Danni König, who fought off defenders to finish for his 11th goal of the season, and with 16 minutes to go a cross by Cicerone deflected off Indy defender Carlyle Mitchell and into the back of the net to wrap up the history-making victory for the USL Regular Season champions.

USLSoccer.com Man of the Match
Jimmy McLaughlin, FC Cincinnati
– McLaughlin recorded assists on the opening two goals and completed 30 of 33 passes in a sharp display in the midfield and attacking thirds.

NORTH CAROLINA FC (3), RICHMOND KICKERS (2)

CARY, N.C. – Kyle Bekker had two goals and one assist as North Carolina FC rallied back to defeat the Richmond Kickers 3-2 at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park to get its playoff hopes back on track. North Carolina almost took the lead in the fourth minute as a curling shot from the top of the penalty area by Bekker was just tipped over the crossbar by Kickers goalkeeper Trevor Spangenberg, but the Kickers hit the front on the half-hour as a driving run down the left by Austin Yearwood saw him cut the ball back from the byline to find Prince Agyemang for a driven finish into the left corner of the net. North Carolina leveled before halftime as Bekker scored from close range after a deflected cross from the right took a redirection at the near post that set up a simple finish, but the Kickers quickly regained the lead as Heviel Cordoves fired home a first-time finish off Brian Shriver’s through-ball from the left side of the penalty area. NCFC almost hit back early in the second half as Donovan Ewolo headed a corner kick just wide of the left post from Bekker’s near-post corner kick, while Spangenberg produced a good low save to keep out a deflected shot by North Carolina’s Aaron Guillen soon after, but The pressure paid off in the 61st minute when Bekker’s corner kick from the right was headed in by Austin da Luz to level the contest again. The Kickers almost regained the lead immediately as Shriver got in behind the defense but didn’t get enough on his lifted finish over NCFC goalkeeper Alex Tambakis which allowed defender D.J. Taylor to recover and clear a yard from the goal line, and with 17 minutes to go Bekker gave North Carolina the lead for the first time on the night with a curled shot from the left side outside the penalty area that caromed in off the right post. Richmond was reduced to 10 men when Heviel Cordoves was sent off for his second caution of the game, but the Kickers almost leveled with nine minutes to go when a turnover set up a chance for Yudai Imura that Tambakis did well to keep out as it headed toward the right corner. North Carolina saw the game out from there, however, as it took a crucial three points toward its playoff push.

USLSoccer.com Man of the Match
Kyle Bekker, North Carolina FC
– Bekker struck twice – including the game-winning goal – and also had an assist among three key passes on the night to rally North Carolina to victory.

CHARLOTTE INDEPENDENCE (2), PITTSBURGH RIVERHOUNDS SC (2)

MATTHEWS, N.C. – Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC scored in the fourth minute of stoppage time through Ben Zemanski to take a 2-2 draw with the Charlotte Independence at the Sportsplex at Matthews. Riverhounds SC took the lead in just the fourth minute when Romeo Parkes created space by cutting back on his defender twice before firing a low shot home from the left side of the penalty area. The Independence hit back in the 19th minute, however, as a clever piece of interplay with Alex Martinez set up Jorge Herrera for a good finish to the right corner from just inside the top of the penalty area. Herrera went close to a second 16 minutes later with a chipped finish that went just high from the right side of the penalty area, while Pittsburgh’s Neco Brett fired just wide of the left side of the net three minutes before halftime. Neither side was able to create good chances for much of the second half, but with four minutes to go as Cordell Cato’s cross from the left was flicked on by Herrera for second-half substitute Eamon Zayed to head home and put the Independence on the verge of victory, but those hopes were dashed by Zemanski, whose first-time finish off a layoff by Hugh Roberts in the penalty area following a corner from the left picked out the right corner of the net to leave honors even.

USLSoccer.com Man of the Match
Jorge Herrera, Charlotte Independence
– Herrera provided a goal and assist for the hosts, which was almost enough to secure an impressive home victory against one of the top sides in the Eastern Conference.

CHARLESTON BATTERY (1), TORONTO FC II (2)

CHARLESTON, S.C. – Toronto FC II rallied to take a 2-1 victory and snap the Charleston Battery’s 15-game undefeated streak at MUSC Health Stadium. Battery forward Victory Mansaray forced a good early save from Toronto goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell in the third minute, and the hosts almost took advantage of a defensive lapse in the fifth minute but lifted his finish high from just outside the six-yard area. Toronto had a goal ruled out for offside three minutes before halftime when Ayo Akinola’s was caught by the Battery’s back line before he found the net, while Charleston hit the woodwork on a flicked header by Okonkwo a minute later that had Patterson-Sewell beaten but came back off the crossbar and was cleared. Okonkwo had more luck seven minutes into the second half, however, when a pass by Guerra set up a precise low shot to the left corner from the top of the penalty area. Toronto hit back quickly, however, as Matthew Srbely’s good low cross from the right was tapped home by Akinola at the back post, and the visitors then took the lead in the 65th minute when Jordan Hamilton headed home a cross from the left by Terique Mohamed. That proved to be the difference as the visitors saw out the remaining minutes with Patterson-Sewell and his defense holding firm against the Battery’s late pressure.

USLSoccer.com Man of the Match
Ayo Akinola, Toronto FC II
– Akinola connected well with his teammates throughout the night and scored the goal that sparked Toronto’s comeback for a memorable road victory.

ATL UTD 2 (1), LOUISVILLE CITY FC (4)

GWINNETT, Ga. – Louisville City FC cruised to a 4-1 victory against ATL UTD 2 at Coolray Field as the visitors struck three times in the first half. Louisville’s Cameron Lancaster almost gave the visitors the lead in the 15th minute only for his shot from the right side of the penalty area to find the side-netting at the near post, while four minutes later Atlanta went close as Romario Williams’ free kick from 20 yards was tipped over the crossbar by LouCity goalkeeper Tim Dobrowolski. The visitors took the lead in the 24th minute, however, as a near-post corner by Oscar Jimenez was flicked on at the near post by Niall McCabe and turned into his own net by Atlanta defender AJ Cochran. Louisville then gained control of the game with two goals in four minutes when first Kyle Smith fired home a left-footed finish from 14 yards into the left corner and George Davis IV headed in a chipped cross from the left by Brian Ownby before the halftime break. Jimenez went close to adding a fourth for Louisville 11 minutes into the second-half with a long-range shot that was tipped over the crossbar by Atlanta goalkeeper Paul Christensen, but the visitors added to their lead after a pinball sequence in the penalty area that caromed off Cochran for a second own goal on the night. Atlanta pulled a goal back immediately as Williams got in on a breakaway after turning his defender well before shooting low into the right corner, but that would be all for the hosts as Louisville moved back into second place in the Eastern Conference.

USLSoccer.com Man of the Match
Niall McCabe, Louisville City FC
– McCabe was active in the attacking third consistently for Louisville, setting up Kyle Smith’s finish and also having a hand in the opening goal of the night in a comprehensive victory.

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