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USL’s Week Ahead – Rivalries Come to Fore in Big Week

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 05/09/18, 8:52AM EDT

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Three of the league’s major rivalries take center stage on Saturday night


Photo courtesy Sacramento Republic FC

TAMPA, Fla. – After seven days that saw the USL break its single-week attendance record, three of the league’s major rivalries take center stage in Week 9, as the league enters the second quarter of its 2018 regular season with a 19-game slate that features a big Wednesday night of action before the weekend arrives. The battle for position in the Western Conference is in the spotlight on Wednesday night with five games that include the USL Game of the Week’s first visit to expansion side Fresno FC, as the Foxes take on Rio Grande Valley FC on ESPN3. The night also sees OKC Energy FC play host to Phoenix Rising FC and a top-five clash, as Real Monarchs SLC welcomes the Swope Park Rangers to Zions Bank Stadium. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC will put its undefeated start to the season on the line on Friday, as Indy Eleven visits Highmark Stadium, and then Saturday sees the renewal of the Queen City Cup rivalry between FC Cincinnati and the Charlotte Independence, the South Texas Derby between Rio Grande Valley FC and San Antonio FC and the Donner Pass Derby, as Sacramento Republic FC hosts Reno 1868 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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In the USL’s 11 Things to Know, Nicholas Murray examines FC Cincinnati’s three-game winning streak that has moved the side into first place in the Eastern Conference, Louisville City FC’s first loss of the season to a tough Indy Eleven side and a thrilling comeback victory for Phoenix Rising FC that featured another memorable moment from legendary forward Didier Drogba.

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Photo courtesy Brett Hansbauer / FC Cincinnati

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Photo courtesy Rio Grande Valley FC

Wednesday, May 9
Toronto FC II vs. Penn FC

Monarch Park Stadium, Toronto, Ontario | 11 a.m. ET
Toronto FC II (0-5-2, 2pts) will look to claim its first win of the season as it plays host to Penn FC (1-3-4, 7pts), with the visitors facing their third game in the past week for a School Day matinee kickoff. TFC II fell 2-1 to Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC in its last outing on Saturday night, as a late goal by Shaan Hundal, his first of the season, wasn’t enough to rally back against the undefeated Hounds. Penn is looking for a quick bounce-back from a late 1-0 loss on Monday night to another Canadian side in Ottawa Fury FC, but the side did pick up its first win of the season recently in a 3-0 victory against the Tampa Bay Rowdies that earned Head Coach Raoul Voss his first win on the Penn sidelines.

OKC Energy FC vs. Phoenix Rising FC
Taft Stadium, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma | 8 p.m. ET
Phoenix Rising FC (4-1-3, 15pts) kicks off its trip to Oklahoma with a visit to face OKC Energy FC (1-7-0, 3pts), with its hosts looking to snap a seven-game losing streak. Energy FC fell to its longest run without a point in club history on Saturday night, as a late penalty kick gave the Swope Park Rangers a 1-0 victory in a game that saw Energy FC held scoreless for a fourth consecutive outing. Phoenix, meanwhile, is on a four-game undefeated streak after a dramatic 4-3 victory against the LA Galaxy II last Friday night, as it welcomed a club-record sellout crowd of 7,332 to the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex. Jason Johnson scored twice, while Didier Drogba had a memorable assist and the game-winning goal from the penalty spot to lift Rising FC to victory. Tuesday night’s game is the second meeting of the season between the clubs, with Phoenix’s 4-1 victory on March 24 having served as the first game of OKC’s current streak.

Tulsa Roughnecks FC vs. Reno 1868 FC
ONEOK Field, Tulsa, Oklahoma | 8 p.m. ET
Tulsa Roughnecks FC (0-3-4, 4pts) will again look for its first win of the season as it plays host to Reno 1868 FC (2-3-3, 9pts) in the first meeting between the teams in 2018. The Roughnecks have recorded four consecutive draws, the most recent of which arrived on Friday night, as Joaquin Rivas had a happy homecoming against Las Vegas Lights FC. A former high school and college standout in Vegas, Rivas scored the equalizer in a 1-1 draw at Cashman Field for his fourth goal of the season. Reno is on a four-game undefeated streak as well, having played to back-to-back draws in Week 8 after a battling performance against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC this past Saturday night that saw it emerge from Weidner Field with a 0-0 draw. Reno is currently in the middle of a four-game road trip that concludes on Saturday in Sacramento.

Real Monarchs SLC vs. Swope Park Rangers
Zions Bank Stadium, Herriman, Utah | 9 p.m. ET
Real Monarchs SLC (5-1-1, 16pts) will look to build on its first win at newly-opened Zions Bank Stadium when it hosts fellow top-five side in the Western Conference the Swope Park Rangers (4-1-3, 15pts) in a fascinating matchup between the two playoff contenders. The Monarchs grabbed a late victory last Friday night, as Juan Mare scored in stoppage time for a 2-1 win against Orange County SC – a contest that also saw Real’s Maikel Chang etch his name in the history books as the first goal-scorer at the Monarchs’ new soccer-specific stadium. The Rangers are undefeated in their last five games coming in, however, as a late penalty kick by Hadji Barry saw the side edge past OKC Energy FC last Saturday to remain firmly in contention near the top of the Western Conference.

Fresno FC vs. Rio Grande Valley FC
Chukchansi Park, Fresno, California | 10 p.m. ET (ESPN3)
Fresno FC (2-2-5, 11pts) will try to rebound from its first loss since March last Saturday night when it hosts Rio Grande Valley FC (1-3-3, 6pts) in the USL Game of the Week at Chukchansi Park. The Foxes had been on a seven-game undefeated streak, but despite an outstanding goal by Jemal Johnson, the run came to an end in a 2-1 loss to San Antonio FC at Toyota Field. The Toros have taken four points from their past two games, meanwhile, as the club’s defense has solidified in front of goalkeeper Nico Corti, who posted a five-save shutout last Wednesday in a 0-0 draw with Reno 1868 FC. RGVFC will be looking to hand the Foxes their second loss at home this season in what looks set to be an entertaining clash between the two sides.

LA Galaxy II vs. Saint Louis FC
StubHub Center, Carson, California | 10:30 p.m. ET
Saint Louis FC (3-1-4, 13pts) will try to extend its club-record six-game undefeated streak when it kicks off its trip to Southern California against the LA Galaxy II (0-5-3, 3pts). STLFC went close to grabbing victory against the Portland Timbers 2 this past Saturday night but had to settle for a 0-0 draw, as the side remained in the top eight in the Western Conference. Saint Louis has conceded only one goal in its past four contests, a run that included a 1-0 victory against Los Dos at Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis on April 14. The Galaxy II are still looking for their first win of the season having been denied in their visit to Phoenix Rising FC last Friday night that saw the visitors hold a two-goal halftime lead before succumbing to a 4-3 defeat. Both 15-year-old Efrain Alvarez and 16-year-old Ulysses Llanez scored against Rising FC, showing the major potential that Los Dos have in their squad.

Friday, May 11
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC vs. Indy Eleven

Highmark Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania | 7 p.m. ET
The last remaining undefeated side in the USL this season, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (4-0-3, 15pts) will put its record on the line against Indy Eleven (4-2-1, 13pts), which knocked Louisville City FC from the ranks of the undefeated in its last outing. The Eleven took a 1-0 win against Louisville this past Saturday, as Ayoze’s penalty kick with 12 minutes to go earned Indy its most impressive victory to date at Lucas Oil Stadium. Indy will now try to break down a Hounds defense that is among the best in the league. Riverhounds SC has yet to concede at Highmark Stadium this season, while Neco Brett scored his fifth goal of the season in a 2-1 victory against Toronto FC II this past Saturday at Marina Auto Stadium in Rochester, New York, to sit tied for second in the race for the USL Golden Boot.

Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC vs. Las Vegas Lights FC
Weidner Field, Colorado Springs, Colorado | 9 p.m. ET
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (3-5-2, 11pts) will try to snap a four-game winless streak (0-2-2) when it hosts Las Vegas Lights FC (2-1-4, 10pts) in the first meeting between the clubs. The Switchbacks were held at bay by Reno 1868 FC this past Saturday in a 0-0 draw at Weidner Field and will be looking for their first win since April 14 when they welcome the side from the entertainment capital of the world. Lights FC is also winless in its last four (0-1-3) after recording a 1-1 draw with Tulsa Roughnecks FC this past Saturday night. With both teams sitting just outside the top eight in the Western Conference standings, a victory would go a long way for either side in what should be an up-tempo matchup.

Saturday, May 12
Ottawa Fury FC vs. ATL UTD 2

TD Place, Ottawa, Ontario | 2 p.m. ET
Ottawa Fury FC (1-4-2, 5pts) will look to build on its first win of the season as it returns home to host ATL UTD 2 (1-3-3, 6pts), which enters on a six-game winless streak. Atlanta hasn’t taken victory since its opening game of the season on March 24 and is coming off a 4-2 defeat to FC Cincinnati this past Saturday that saw the side battle back twice to get within a goal of the Eastern Conference-leaders but end up on the wrong end of the result. Ottawa finally found a breakthrough on Monday night as an 87th-minute goal by Colin Falvey earned the side a 1-0 win against Penn FC at FNB Field and now will look to claim its first victory on home turf since a 4-0 victory against FC Cincinnati on October 8, 2017.

Real Monarchs SLC vs. Fresno FC
Zions Bank Stadium, Herriman, Utah | 3 p.m. ET
Real Monarchs SLC and Fresno FC will both take to the field for the second time this week in a Saturday matinee that wraps up a four-game home stand for the Monarchs at Zions Bank Stadium. The Monarchs remain at home after a Wednesday-night clash with the Swope Park Rangers, while the Foxes will head to Utah for the first time after hosting the USL Game of the Week on Wednesday night against Rio Grande Valley FC at Chukchansi Park.

Charleston Battery vs. Bethlehem Steel FC
MUSC Health Stadium, Charleston, South Carolina | 7 p.m. ET
The Charleston Battery (4-2-2, 11pts) will look to add to a three-game winning streak when they play host to Bethlehem Steel FC (2-3-2, 8pts) in the second meeting between the clubs this season. The Battery and Steel FC played to a 1-1 draw at Goodman Stadium on April 8, as both teams scored late in the first half, with Cory Burke’s goal for Bethlehem leveling the score after Skylar Thomas had given Charleston the lead with his first goal for the club. That result began the Battery’s five-game undefeated streak, and Charleston hasn’t conceded a goal in its past three games after a 2-0 win this past Saturday against the Charlotte Independence that saw Ataulla Guerra score his fourth goal of the season. Bethlehem is also coming off a positive result, having taken a 3-1 victory against the Richmond Kickers that marked Steel FC’s first win since the opening weekend of the regular season, as Santi Moar notched a goal and assist.

Richmond Kickers vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies
City Stadium, Richmond, Virginia | 7 p.m. ET
The Richmond Kickers (2-4-1, 7pts) and Tampa Bay Rowdies (4-4-0, 12pts) will both try to rebound from road defeats the last time out when they meet for the first time this season. The Kickers fell for the second time in the past three games this past Sunday in a 3-1 loss to Bethlehem Steel FC that saw Heviel Cordoves open the scoring for the visitors before Steel FC rallied strongly to take the victory. The Rowdies also conceded three times in their last outing, as Penn FC handed its visitors a 3-0 defeat on Friday night at FNB Field. The Rowdies have now lost four consecutive road outings to slide to seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings, having been shut out on all four occasions.

Charlotte Independence vs. FC Cincinnati
Sportsplex at Matthews, Matthews, North Carolina | 7:30 p.m. ET
FC Cincinnati (5-1-2, 17pts) will try to claim its first four-game winning streak in league play in its history when it visits the Charlotte Independence (2-3-2, 8pts) in the first meeting for the Queen City Cup this season. Cincinnati claimed its third consecutive victory and ran its undefeated streak to five games overall, with a 4-2 victory against ATL UTD 2 this past Saturday before a crowd of 22,532 at Nippert Stadium, as the club’s attack continued to click. FCC has scored 12 goals in its last three games, with Corben Bone, Emmanuel Ledesma, Danni Konig and Kenney Walker each having scored multiple goals in that span. The Independence are looking to snap a five-game winless streak, meanwhile, that was extended this past Saturday in a 2-0 defeat to the Charleston Battery. Charlotte is winless since opening the season with back-to-back victories.

Seattle Sounders FC 2 vs. Portland Timbers 2
Cheney Stadium, Tacoma, Washington | 8 p.m. ET
One night before the Sounders and Timbers meet for the 100th time in the storied rivalry’s history, Seattle Sounders FC 2 (2-5-1, 7pts) and the Portland Timbers 2 (4-3-2, 14pts) meet for the first time this season and the 12th time since the clubs joined the USL in 2015. S2 has held the upper hand throughout that time, posting a 10-1-0 record against T2, but Portland is the side in form coming into this contest with three wins in its last five games (3-1-1) after a hard-fought 0-0 draw against Saint Louis FC this past Saturday night. Seattle, by contrast, has won just once in its last five games (1-3-1) after suffering a 2-1 defeat to Sacramento Republic FC on Sunday in its most recent outing.

Tulsa Roughnecks FC vs. Phoenix Rising FC
ONEOK Field, Tulsa, Oklahoma | 8 p.m. ET
Tulsa Roughnecks FC plays host to Phoenix Rising FC, as the visitors wrap up their two-game trip to Oklahoma in the first meeting between the teams this season. The teams split the regular-season series a season ago, with the Roughnecks taking a 3-0 victory on home turf the last time they met at ONEOK Field. Both teams are in action on Wednesday night prior to this contest, as the Roughnecks play host to Reno 1868 FC and Rising FC visits OKC Energy FC.

Rio Grande Valley FC vs. San Antonio FC
H-E-B Park, Edinburg, Texas | 8:30 p.m. ET
Rio Grande Valley FC returns home from its midweek contest to host San Antonio FC (3-2-3, 12pts) in the first South Texas Derby of the new season, with San Antonio looking to build on its positive momentum from the past two outings. SAFC is coming off back-to-back victories after it snapped Fresno FC’s seven-game undefeated streak this past Saturday with a 2-1 win that saw 19-year-old Alex Bruce score his first professional goal for the club. The victory moved SAFC into the top eight in the Western Conference, a position Rio Grande Valley is hoping it will be in position to reach after its Wednesday-night clash in Fresno against the Foxes in the USL Game of the Week.

Orange County SC vs. Saint Louis FC
Champions Soccer Stadium, Irvine, California | 10 p.m. ET
Orange County SC (5-3-1, 16pts) will look to rebound from a late defeat last time out as it hosts Saint Louis FC, which completes its trip to Southern California after facing the LA Galaxy II on Wednesday night. Orange County fell for the second time in three games last Friday night as a stoppage-time goal by Juan Mare earned Real Monarchs SLC a 2-1 victory at Zions Bank Stadium against its visitors. Orange County has gone 2-1-1 at home this season but took victory in each of its last two outings at Champions Soccer Stadium, defeating the LA Galaxy II and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC. A win would bolster the club’s challenge for top spot, as the club currently sits in second place in the Western Conference.

Sacramento Republic FC vs. Reno 1868 FC
Papa Murphy’s Park, Sacramento, California | 10:30 p.m. ET
Sacramento Republic FC (5-1-3, 18pts) plays host to the first Donner Pass Derby of the 2018 season, as it welcomes a Reno 1868 FC side that will complete a four-game road trip with a rivalry clash after its Wednesday night game against Tulsa Roughnecks FC. Reno claimed the rivalry series in its first year with a 2-0-1 record in league action that included a 2-1 victory at Papa Murphy’s Park. Sacramento enters the week sitting on top of the Western Conference; however, after its 2-1 victory against Seattle Sounders FC 2 this past Sunday and is an impressive 3-0-1 on home turf so far this season under new Head Coach Simon Elliott.

Sunday, May 13
Nashville SC vs. Louisville City FC

First Tennessee Park, Nashville, Tennessee | 6 p.m. ET
Nashville SC (2-2-3, 9pts) and Louisville City FC (5-1-1, 16pts) meet for the second time this season and the first time in Nashville with both teams looking to get back in the win column after the past weekend’s action. Nashville earned its second consecutive draw last Sunday afternoon in a 1-1 draw with the New York Red Bulls II that saw Ropapa Mensah score his team-leading third goal of the season at Red Bull Arena. Louisville dropped its first game of the season last Saturday as it fell 1-0 to Indy Eleven at Lucas Oil Stadium but enters having taken a 2-0 victory against NSC when the teams met in the opening weekend of the season at Slugger Field, Luke Spencer and Niall McCabe having been on target on that occasion for Louisville.

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