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USL's Week Ahead - Conference Leaders Face Important Road Tests

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 07/03/18, 3:00PM EDT

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Real Monarchs head to face Reno, Sacramento; Cincinnati visits Nashville at Nissan Stadium


Real Monarchs SLC and Sacramento Republic FC clash on Saturday night for the second time this season, with the Western Conference-leading Monarchs looking to add to its victory last time around. | Photo courtesy Real Monarchs SLC

TAMPA, Fla. – Big road contests for Western Conference leader Real Monarchs SLC and Eastern Conference leader FC Cincinnati highlight a 22-game slate of action across the upcoming seven days in the USL, with the Monarchs looking to add to their lead in the overall standings in the pursuit of a second consecutive USL Regular Season Championship. Real visits Reno 1868 FC on Tuesday night to kick off the week, with its host at Greater Nevada Field boasting the longest undefeated streak in the league this season at 13 games. The Monarchs then face Sacramento Republic FC at Papa Murphy’s Park on Saturday night in the second meeting between the Western Conference contenders this season, both of whom sit in the top three in the conference standings going into the week’s action. FC Cincinnati also faces a side that opens the week in the top three in its conference, with Nashville SC hosting its second game at Nissan Stadium this season when the two clubs meet for the first time on Saturday night.

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 looks at a weekend that saw Reno 1868 FC Head Coach Ian Russell continue to make all the right moves off the substitutes bench, a big home display by Phoenix Rising FC that capped a remarkable month of June for the club and the end of an era at Louisville City FC, which was led for the final time on Saturday by departing Head Coach James O’Connor.

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Louisville City FC's James O'Connor took charge of his final game at the club this past Saturday before making the move to Major League Soccer's Orlando City SC. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

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USL REGULAR SEASON SPOTLIGHT | RAPID-FIRE PREVIEWS


Nissan Stadium will play host to Nashville SC for the second time this season as FC Cincinnati visits for the first meeting between the two Eastern Conference contenders. | Photo courtesy John Wilkinson III / Nashville SC

Tuesday, July 3
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC vs. Orange County SC

Weidner Field, Colorado Springs, Colorado | 9 p.m. ET
Two teams vying for position in the top eight of the Western Conference square off when Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (7-8-3, 24pts) plays host to Orange County SC (8-5-3, 27pts) in the opening game of the week for both clubs. The Switchbacks remained in eighth place in the conference after a 1-1 draw this past Saturday against San Antonio FC extended their undefeated streak to three games, and the hosts have the chance to pull level on points with Orange County, as the visitors complete a two-game road trip that opened with a 1-0 defeat to Phoenix Rising FC last Friday night.

Reno 1868 FC vs. Real Monarchs SLC
Greater Nevada Field, Reno, Nevada | 10:30 p.m. ET
Western Conference-leader Real Monarchs SLC (12-3-1, 37pts) heads to face fifth-place Reno 1868 FC (7-3-7, 28pts), as the hosts look to close the nine-point gap between the clubs while also defending a season-best 13-game undefeated streak. Both sides took 1-0 victories in their most recent outings, with the Monarchs defeating Fresno FC behind Andrew Brody’s first goal of the season last Tuesday night and Reno defeating the Portland Timbers 2 on a late winner by Danny Musovski this past Saturday. The teams meet for the first time this season after Real swept all three meetings between the clubs a season ago.

Wednesday, July 4
Indy Eleven vs. Ottawa Fury FC

Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana | 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
The USL Game of the Week heads to Lucas Oil Stadium as Indy Eleven (7-4-4, 25pts) looks to replicate its last outing under the lights of national television when it hosts Ottawa Fury FC (5-7-3, 18pts). Indy claimed a 2-0 victory against Nashville SC in the USL Game of the Week last Tuesday night at First Tennessee Park and then notched a 1-1 draw with Penn FC this past Saturday, as Jack McInerney’s free kick with 10 minutes to go allowed the 10-man hosts to salvage a point and extend their undefeated streak to five games. Ottawa has lost three of its last four outings, including a 2-0 defeat to FC Cincinnati last Saturday night, and is in need of a win to push closer to the playoff places in the Eastern Conference.

Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC vs. North Carolina FC
Highmark Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania | 7 p.m. ET
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (7-1-7, 28pts) will try to cut into FC Cincinnati’s lead at the top of the Eastern Conference when it hosts North Carolina FC (5-7-3, 18pts) in the first meeting between the clubs this season. The second-place Hounds are six points back of Eastern Conference-leader FCC with two games in hand and enter having claimed victory in three of their last four outings after a 1-0 road victory against Louisville City FC last Wednesday night. NCFC is also coming off a win on the road, having defeated the Richmond Kickers 3-1 this past Saturday to boost the club’s playoff hopes, as Austin da Luz and Drew Beckie played leading roles in the victory.

Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Toronto FC II
Al Lang Stadium, St. Petersburg, Florida | 7 p.m. ET
The Tampa Bay Rowdies (5-6-4, 19pts) kick off a big week at home with their traditional Fourth of July contest that sees Toronto FC II (0-13-3, 3pts) visit Al Lang Stadium. The Rowdies rallied to claim a point in their last outing, as former PDL standout Dominic Oduro marked his debut for the club with a 90th-minute equalizer in a 2-2 draw on the road against the Charlotte Independence. Sitting 11th in the Eastern Conference, Tampa Bay will want to claim all three points against Toronto, which it defeated 4-2 at BMO Field when the sides met on May 26.

San Antonio FC vs. OKC Energy FC
Toyota Field, San Antonio, Texas | 8:30 p.m. ET
San Antonio FC (5-4-6, 21pts) will try to push closer to the playoff positions when it hosts OKC Energy FC (5-10-1, 16pts), which enters on a three-game winning streak as it looks to keep its postseason hopes alive. San Antonio remained three points back of eighth-place Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC after the sides drew 1-1 this past Saturday night at Weidner Field, but it holds games in hand on all three of the teams above it in the Western Conference, as it looks to get back into the top eight. Energy FC is in its best form of the season, though, after taking a 1-0 win against the LA Galaxy II on June 23 in its last outing and will be hoping to take points back to Oklahoma City, as the two sides meet for the first time since OKC took victory in a penalty shootout at Toyota Field in the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs.

Thursday, July 5
Seattle Sounders FC 2 vs. Swope Park Rangers

Cheney Stadium, Tacoma, Washington | 10 p.m. ET
The Swope Park Rangers (8-4-4, 28pts) will try to move into the top three in the Western Conference ahead of this weekend’s action when it visits Seattle Sounders FC 2 (3-9-2, 11pts) for the second meeting between the clubs this season. Swope Park took a 4-2 victory when the two sides met on March 24 in the Rangers’ home opener, and the visitors have taken victory in three of their last four games after a 3-2 victory against Las Vegas Lights FC in their last outing. S2 is on a two-game losing streak, meanwhile, after suffering a 5-3 defeat to the LA Galaxy II this past Sunday night in Southern California.

Friday, July 6
New York Red Bulls II vs. ATL UTD 2

MSU Soccer Park, Montclair, New Jersey | 7 p.m. ET
The New York Red Bulls II (5-5-7, 22pts) will try to move back into the playoff places in the Eastern Conference, and gain a little revenge, as ATL UTD 2 (2-8-5, 11pts) visits for the second meeting between the clubs. The Red Bulls II just missed out on victory in its last outing, as a stoppage-time goal earned Louisville City FC a 3-3 draw at Slugger Field this past Saturday night, a result that left New York in ninth place as the week’s action kicks off, as its winless streak reached four games. Atlanta has also struggled to pick up wins of late, with its victory against New York in its first game in the USL on March 24 one of only two this season for the side. After Saturday’s 3-0 loss to Nashville SC, Atlanta enters Saturday’s game on a six-game winless streak.

Penn FC vs. Bethlehem Steel FC
FNB Field, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania | 7 p.m. ET
Penn FC (5-4-7, 22pts) and Bethlehem Steel FC (6-5-5, 23pts) square off in one of the week’s key games in the race for position in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Both sides are coming in on five-game undefeated streaks, with Penn having earned a 1-1 draw on the road against Indy Eleven this past Saturday, as Lucky Mkosana scored his fifth goal in the past three games for the visitors at Lucas Oil Stadium. Bethlehem, meanwhile, took a 4-1 victory against the Charlotte Independence this past Saturday to move into the eighth and final playoff position going into this week’s action and has now scored multiple goals in each of its past three outings.

Saturday, July 7
Indy Eleven vs. Charlotte Independence

Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana | 7 p.m. ET
Indy Eleven returns to action for a second time to play host to the Charlotte Independence (6-5-6, 24pts), who will try to break out of a six-game winless streak as it heads to Indianapolis. The Independence had recorded four consecutive draws before this past Saturday’s 4-1 defeat to Bethlehem Steel FC, a result that saw the side slip to seventh place in the Eastern Conference. Charlotte will be aiming for its first win since June 2 as it visits the Eleven, which will see former Indy forward Eamon Zayed return to face his former club after the teams played to a 0-0 draw in their first meeting on April 28.

North Carolina FC vs. Charleston Battery
Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, North Carolina | 7 p.m. ET
North Carolina returns home for its second game of the week as it welcomes Southern Derby rivals the Charleston Battery (6-3-7, 25pts) for what shapes up as an important game for both clubs. NCFC visits Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC in midweek before its first league meeting with the Battery since 2009, with Charleston aiming to build on a 4-0 victory against Toronto FC II this past Sunday that saw the club’s attack erupt for four second-half goals at BMO Field.

Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Louisville City FC
Al Lang Stadium, St. Petersburg, Florida | 7:30 p.m. ET
Louisville City FC (7-3-5, 26pts) visits the Tampa Bay Rowdies for its first game since the departure of Head Coach James O’Connor to Major League Soccer’s Orlando City SC, with the trio of players Luke Spencer, Paolo DelPiccolo and George Davis IV taking interim charge of the club as it looks to break a five-game winless streak in league play. Louisville grabbed a late equalizer from Magnus Rasmussen in a 3-3 draw against the New York Red Bulls II this past Saturday and will be hoping it can replicate its 1-0 victory against the Rowdies when they met for the first time this season on March 31 to start the club’s new era on the right foot.

Nashville SC vs. FC Cincinnati
Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee | 8:30 p.m. ET
Nashville SC (7-3-5, 26pts) returns for its second game at Nissan Stadium – home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans – this season as it squares off with Eastern Conference-leader FC Cincinnati (10-3-4, 34pts) for the first time. Nashville bounced back from its first home defeat of the season in a 3-0 victory against ATL UTD 2 this past Saturday night, as Alan Winn had a goal and assist, and both Brandon Allen and Lebo Moloto recorded their fifth goals of the season. Cincinnati enters on a six-game undefeated streak (4-0-2) that has seen it open up a six-point lead in the Eastern Conference to open the week and has taken a league-best six road wins so far this season.

OKC Energy FC vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Taft Stadium Oklahoma City, Oklahoma | 8:30 p.m. ET
OKC Energy FC and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC both see their second action of the week, as they renew a rivalry that dates back to the 2015 USL Cup Playoffs clash between the clubs. Energy FC took a 1-0 victory when the sides first met this season (May 19) on an 82nd-minute goal by Callum Ross, and with both sides battling for position in the Western Conference standings, another tight encounter could be on the cards.

Rio Grande Valley FC vs. Tulsa Roughnecks FC
H-E-B Park, Edinburg, Texas | 8:30 p.m. ET
Tulsa Roughnecks FC (1-8-8, 11pts) will try to continue its undefeated run under new Head Coach Michael Nsien when it visits Rio Grande Valley FC (1-6-9, 12pts). The Roughnecks are 1-0-1 under Nsien’s leadership after defeating the LA Galaxy II last Wednesday night and earning a 2-2 draw with Las Vegas Lights FC this past Saturday. They will visit a Toros side that leads the league in draws with nine after its 0-0 encounter with Saint Louis FC last Saturday night.

Orange County SC vs. LA Galaxy II
Champions Soccer Stadium, Irvine, California | 10 p.m. ET
Orange County SC returns to action for a second time in the week, as it renews the 405 Derby with the LA Galaxy II (4-9-4, 16pts), who will be looking to avoid a season-sweep in the series as they visit Irvine’s Champions Soccer Stadium. Orange County has taken victory in the two previous meetings this season, winning 3-0 on home turf on April 7 and then 1-0 at StubHub Center on June 10. Los Dos are coming off a 5-3 victory against Seattle Sounders FC 2 this past Saturday, however, and will be hoping the club’s potent attack led by 16-year-old phenom Efrain Alvarez can continue to fire and put a wrench in Orange County’s playoff push.

Las Vegas Lights FC vs. Saint Louis FC
Cashman Stadium, Las Vegas, Nevada | 11 p.m. ET
Las Vegas Lights FC (4-6-5, 17pts) and Saint Louis FC (5-5-7, 22pts) are both in need of a victory to boost their playoff chances when the sides meet for the first time this season. Saint Louis is on a three-game winless streak after playing to a 0-0 draw against Rio Grande Valley FC this past Saturday, a result that saw the side slip to 10th place in the Western Conference. Lights FC was also held by one of the lower clubs in the Western Conference, as a missed penalty kick by Sammy Ochoa proved crucial in a 2-2 draw with Tulsa Roughnecks FC this past Saturday, but after scoring four goals in each of the club’s last two outings at Cashman Field, Lights FC will be hopeful it can get back on a winning track.

Sacramento Republic FC vs. Real Monarchs SLC
Papa Murphy’s Park, Sacramento, California | 11 p.m. ET
Sacramento Republic FC (8-5-5, 29pts) returns home for one of the biggest matches of its season, as it looks to gain ground on Western Conference-leader Real Monarchs SLC, which completes its week-long road trip that kicks off in Reno on Tuesday night. Republic FC is coming off a 2-0 defeat to Fresno FC this past Saturday that evened the Highway 99 Derby series this season at one win apiece and will be looking to break a three-game winless streak overall as it returns to Papa Murphy’s Park looking for its first home league win since June 2. The Monarchs took a 1-0 victory when the sides met for the first time this season on May 29 at Zions Bank Stadium, however, and will be hoping to complete the season sweep and extend its lead in the conference standings.

Sunday, July 8
Ottawa Fury FC vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

TD Place, Ottawa, Ontario | 1 p.m. ET
Ottawa Fury FC and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC both take to the field for the second time this season, with the Hounds looking to add to the victory it claimed over Fury FC when the sides first met this season. Pittsburgh recorded a 1-0 win thanks to a late winner by Tobi Adewole at Highmark Stadium on April 14 and also claimed victory the last time it headed to TD Place in May, 2017.

Seattle Sounders FC 2 vs. Reno 1868 FC
Cheney Stadium, Tacoma, Washington | 4:30 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders FC 2 continues its homestand with a visit from Reno 1868 FC, as both teams see their second action of the week. Reno and S2 played to a 1-1 draw at Greater Nevada Field on May 19, as Seattle’s David Estrada scored with 19 minutes to go in answer to Jerry van Ewijk’s opening goal for the hosts, a result that moved 1868 FC to 1-0-2 all-time against S2.

Portland Timbers 2 vs. Fresno FC
Merlo Field, Portland, Oregon | 5 p.m. ET
The Portland Timbers 2 (8-7-2, 26pts) will try to break a three-game losing streak as it hosts Fresno FC (5-7-7, 22pts), which enters looking to close the gap again on T2 in the Western Conference standings. The Foxes moved into ninth place to start Week 17 thanks to a 2-0 victory against Highway 99 Derby rivals Sacramento Republic FC and will now try to continue Portland’s recent struggles that have seen T2 slide out of the top three in the Western Conference standings. Now in seventh place, Portland suffered a late 1-0 defeat to Reno 1868 FC this past Saturday and will need a response to solidify its place in the Western Conference’s top eight.

Monday, July 9
Penn FC vs. Richmond Kickers

FNB Field, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania | 7 p.m. ET
Penn FC wraps up its two-game homestand with the opening game of Week 18, as the Richmond Kickers (4-9-2, 14pts) visit looking to claim their first victory under new Head Coach David Bulow. The Kickers took an early lead in Bulow’s Head Coaching debut this past Saturday at City Stadium but eventually fell 3-1 to North Carolina FC to remain off the pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The contest will see Penn look for its second victory against Richmond, with the hosts having taken a 2-1 victory when the sides met at FNB Field on June 12.

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