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USL’s Week Ahead – Two Perfect Starts Continue Pursuit of History

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 04/10/18, 11:28AM EDT

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Louisville, Monarchs enter week's action halfway to matching best starts in USL's modern era

TAMPA, Fla. – The United Soccer League enters Week 5 of the 2018 regular season with two teams sitting halfway to matching the best start in league history, with both Louisville City FC and Real Monarchs SLC having taken three consecutive victories to open the new season. Both teams will have the chance to make the best start since the 2012 season this week as the Monarchs visit Seattle Sounders FC 2 on Wednesday night, and Louisville hosts the Richmond Kickers on Saturday night in pursuit of the six-game winning streaks to start the regular season that currently stand as the league’s best in the modern era. Elsewhere, Saturday’s action brings a rematch of one of the best games from the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs as the Tampa Bay Rowdies visit the New York Red Bulls II, the first North Carolina Derby of the season as the Charlotte Independence host North Carolina FC and a pair of intriguing Western Conference matchups bring together Orange County SC and San Antonio FC at Toyota Park and a meeting of undefeated sides in Las Vegas Lights FC and 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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11 THINGS TO KNOW

In the USL’s 11 Things to Know, Nicholas Murray looks at two big road victories against fellow conference contenders by Louisville City FC in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Real Monarchs SLC in Phoenix, Arizona, the continued growth of Nashville SC and Orange County SC and the tough start to the year experienced by OKC Energy FC.

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Photo courtesy John Wilkinson III / Nashville SC

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Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies

Wednesday, April 11
Seattle Sounders FC 2 vs. Real Monarchs SLC

Cheney Stadium, Tacoma, Washington | 10 p.m. ET
Real Monarchs SLC (3-0-0, 9pts) will take aim at its best start to a season in club history when it visits Seattle Sounders FC 2 (1-3-0, 3pts), as the hosts look to break out of a recent funk. The Monarchs took a 1-0 victory against Phoenix Rising FC this past Saturday to match their three-game winning streak to start the 2017 season. Last season’s streak came to an end in the Monarchs’ fourth game, a 2-1 loss to Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, meaning either a win or a draw would establish a new best for Head Coach Mark Briggs’ side. Real is also halfway to the best start in USL history, with the league’s modern era twice having seen teams start the season with six consecutive victories (Richmond Kickers, 2011; Rochester Rhinos, 2012). S2 suffered a 1-0 loss in its last outing against Sacramento Republic FC, a defeat that extended the club’s losing run to three consecutive games. Seattle is 1-1-0 at Cheney Stadium this season, having taken victory in its first game at its new home venue in Week 1.

LA Galaxy II vs. Phoenix Rising FC
StubHub Center, Carson, California | 10:30 p.m. ET
Phoenix Rising FC (2-1-1, 7pts) will aim to rebound from its first defeat of the season when it squares off with an LA Galaxy II (0-2-2, 2pts) side still looking for its first win of 2018. Los Dos suffered a 3-0 defeat on Saturday night against Orange County SC in a game that saw the side reduced to 10 men, as both Jean Engola and Alex Mendez were sent off at Champions Soccer Stadium. Phoenix, meanwhile, put in a strong display in its most recent contest against Real Monarchs SLC, but it was unable to find an attacking breakthrough and fell 1-0 to the defending USL Regular Season champions. Wednesday night’s game could bring back positive memories from a season ago for Phoenix, however, with its victory against the Galaxy II on the road in 2017 marked by an incredible long-range strike from Didier Drogba, who came on as a substitute in Saturday’s defeat.

Saturday, April 14
Indy Eleven vs. Nashville SC

Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana | 12 p.m. ET
Both Indy Eleven (2-1-0, 6pts) and Nashville SC (2-1-1, 7pts) are coming off victories in their most recent outings as they meet for the first time. Indy took its second road win of the season with a 1-0 victory against North Carolina FC this past Saturday, as a first-half goal by Tyler Pasher and second-half penalty-kick save by Owain Fon Williams preserved all three points, and now the Eleven will take aim at a first home win of the season. Nashville picked up a second successive victory on Saturday night, as it knocked off the previously undefeated Charlotte Independence with a 2-0 win before 7,487 fans at First Tennessee Park. Former PDL Top Prospect Alan Winn’s first professional goal proved the winner for NSC, which should take strong travelling support north to make for another electric atmosphere in Indianapolis.

New York Red Bulls II vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies
Red Bull Arena, Harrison, New Jersey | 4 p.m. ET
A rematch of one of the most memorable games of the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs sees the New York Red Bulls II (2-1-1, 7pts) and Tampa Bay Rowdies (3-1-0) both aiming to continue their strong starts to the new season when they meet at Red Bull Arena. The Red Bulls II came out on top last fall with a 2-1 victory after extra time at Al Lang Stadium that saw Stefano Bonomo score both goals for the No. 7-seed to defeat the No. 3-seed Rowdies. New York has also been solid at home so far this season in picking up two wins from two, but the Rowdies come in looking for some revenge after a 5-0 drubbing of Ottawa Fury FC that saw Leo Fernandes continue his strong start to the new season. After appearing in only 11 games a season ago due to injury, Fernandes has notched three goals in four games in 2018. That’s tied for the team-lead with Georgi Hristov, who enters Saturday’s contest only one goal behind Derek Smethurst for the title of all-time goal-scoring leader in Rowdies history.

Charlotte Independence vs. North Carolina FC
Sportsplex at Matthews, Matthews, North Carolina | 7 p.m. ET
The Charlotte Independence (2-1-1, 7pts) and North Carolina FC (0-3-0, 0pts) meet for the first time in a league setting to renew a rivalry that has taken shape in recent years through encounters in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Separated by 137 miles, the clubs have each taken victory in their previous competitive meetings, but on Saturday, they both will be looking to rebound from tough defeats last Saturday. Charlotte saw its undefeated start to the year end at the hands of Nashville SC, as the hosts took a 2-0 win at First Tennessee Park, while NCFC’s winless streak continued thanks to a late penalty-kick save by Indy Eleven goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams that earned the visitors a 1-0 win at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park. The rivalry should stoke the passions of both clubs in what should be a compelling season series.

Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC vs. Ottawa Fury FC
Highmark Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania | 7 p.m. ET
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (1-0-2, 5pts) will look to build on its first win of the regular season when it plays host to a second consecutive side from north of the border, with Ottawa Fury FC (0-2-0, 0pts) looking to improve after early defensive struggles. The tenure of new Head Coach Nikola Popovic has gotten off to a fitful start, with postponements adding to the frustrations that have seen the side fall heavily in each of its past two games. Ottawa has conceded nine goals in two outings and will be aiming to shut the door on a Riverhounds SC side that got out of the blocks in a big way in a 4-0 win against Toronto FC II this past Saturday. Neco Brett scored a hat trick for the Hounds in their first win of the season, while Pittsburgh is also one of two teams in the league alongside Louisville City FC that has yet to concede in a positive start after Head Coach Bob Lilley’s arrival at the club. 

Louisville City FC vs. Richmond Kickers
Louisville Slugger Field, Louisville, Kentucky | 7:30 p.m. ET
Louisville City FC (3-0-0, 9pts) was already off to its best start to a season in club history prior to earning its third consecutive win to open 2018 and will look to build on its great early-season form against the Richmond Kickers (1-2-1, 4pts). Cameron Lancaster’s early goal led Louisville to a 1-0 victory against River Cities Cup rival FC Cincinnati before 25,667 fans at Nippert Stadium on Saturday night to maintain the club’s flawless, which has also seen Louisville record three consecutive shutouts to start the year. Richmond has taken four points from its past two games after a 1-1 draw with the New York Red Bulls II last Saturday at City Stadium, but Louisville has won every previously meeting between the teams at Slugger Field and is 5-0-2 all-time in the series, making Saturday a big test for the Kickers.

Seattle Sounders FC 2 vs. Rio Grande Valley FC
Cheney Stadium, Tacoma, Washington | 8 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders FC 2 gets set for its second home game of the week when it welcomes Rio Grande Valley FC (0-1-2, 2pts) for the start of a two-game road trip to the Pacific Northwest for the Toros. The visitors are still looking for their first win of the season after a 2-1 defeat against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC this past Saturday and will hope to break through ahead of its visit to Portland.

Saint Louis FC vs. LA Galaxy II
Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis, Fenton, Missouri | 8:30 p.m. ET
Saint Louis FC (1-1-2, 5pts) will look to build on a two-game undefeated streak on home turf when it welcomes the LA Galaxy II to the Midwest, with Los Dos seeing its second action of the week after hosting Phoenix Rising FC on Wednesday night. Saint Louis was held to a 1-1 draw by Fresno FC in its last outing as Corey Hertzog’s first goal for the club was cancelled out by an equalizer early in the second half by the Foxes. Saturday’s game will be the first visit of Los Dos to Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis, with the only previous meeting between the teams coming at StubHub Center when the Galaxy II took a 3-0 win early in the 2016 season.

San Antonio FC vs. Orange County SC
Toyota Field, San Antonio, Texas | 8:30 p.m. ET
San Antonio FC (1-1-2, 5pts) will take on one of the surprising frontrunners in the Western Conference when it hosts Orange County SC (3-1-1, 10pts) at Toyota Stadium. Orange County is on a three-game winning streak that has seen the side record nine goals and concede none to move into first place in the conference on goal difference. New England Revolution loanee Mark Segbers was at the center of OCSC’s most recent win, scoring twice in a 3-0 victory against the LA Galaxy II this past Saturday. San Antonio took a 1-1 draw against the Swope Park Rangers last Saturday, as Pecka scored for the hosts. SAFC is 1-0-1 against Orange County in the two prior meetings between the clubs at Toyota Field, including a 1-1 draw a season ago.

Reno 1868 FC vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Greater Nevada Field, Reno, Nevada | 10 p.m. ET
Reno 1868 FC (0-2-1, 1pt) takes aim at its first win of the new season when it plays host to Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (2-3-0, 6pts) after a bye in Week 4. A stoppage-time penalty kick by Phoenix Rising FC saw Reno suffer a 1-0 defeat in its most recent outing on March 31. Both meetings between the sides finished as high-scoring draws a season ago, as the teams ended 2-2 at Greater Nevada Field and 3-3 at Weidner Field. The Switchbacks are coming off their second win of the season, a 2-1 victory against Rio Grande Valley FC that snapped a three-game losing streak. Colorado Springs has yet to score away from home this season, however, offering Reno a hope that its week off will see it break out for a first win.

Las Vegas Lights FC vs. Sacramento Republic FC
Cashman Field, Las Vegas, Nevada | 11 p.m. ET
Two undefeated sides square off when Las Vegas Lights FC (2-0-1, 7pts) plays host to Sacramento Republic FC (3-0-1, 10pts) in the first meeting between the two clubs. Lights FC had a bye in Week 4 after claiming its first home win of the season in a 2-1 victory against the Swope Park Rangers on March 31 in front of 7,888 fans at Cashman Field. Another rousing reception is expected for the visit of Republic FC, which edged to a 1-0 victory against Seattle Sounders FC 2 this past Saturday behind a penalty kick from Adam Moffatt. Sacramento is off to its best start to a season under new Head Coach Simon Elliott and will be hoping to be the first team to knock off Lights FC as it heads to the Entertainment Capital of the World.

Sunday, April 15
Bethlehem Steel FC vs. FC Cincinnati

Goodman Stadium, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania | 3 p.m. ET
Bethlehem Steel FC (1-2-1, 4pts) plays host to FC Cincinnati (2-1-0, 6pts) with both teams aiming to get back into the win column. FCC suffered its first loss of the season this past Saturday when it fell 1-0 to River Cities Cup rival Louisville City FC before 25,667 fans at Nippert Stadium, a crowd that set a USL record for home-opener attendance. Bethlehem got back on track slightly with a 1-1 draw against the Charleston Battery as Cory Burke scored in first-half stoppage time but is looking for its first win since the opening weekend of the regular season. Steel FC won both time the teams met at Goodman Stadium a season ago, but FCC holds a 3-2-0 edge all-time in the series between the teams.

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