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USL’s Week Ahead - Conference Races Tighten as Second Half Kicks Off

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 07/10/18, 10:50AM EDT

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Conference-leaders return home looking to maintain advantage at top of standings


Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies

TAMPA, Fla. – The second half of the 2018 USL regular season gets underway in Week 18, with the races at the top of the Eastern and Western Conference both having tightened in the past week ahead of an 18-game slate of games through this Saturday night. FC Cincinnati will kick off a long homestand at Nippert Stadium with a visit from the Tampa Bay Rowdies, looking to create some separation from Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which pulled within a point of the Eastern Conference-leader ahead of its bye week with back-to-back wins in Week 17. In the Western Conference, Real Monarchs SLC’s lead is three points over Phoenix Rising FC as both sides see action this Saturday night, with the Monarchs hosting Seattle Sounders FC 2 and Rising FC visiting Fresno FC, but both those sides will also have Reno 1868 FC to contend with, as the second-year side enters its midweek clash with the LA Galaxy II on both a four-game winning streak and season-best 15-game undefeated streak that has propelled the side into contention for top spot in the conference as well.

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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Photo courtesy Michael Rincon / Phoenix Rising FC

Tuesday, July 10
Swope Park Rangers vs. Sacramento Republic FC

Children’s Mercy Park, Kansas City, Kansas | 8:30 p.m. ET
The Swope Park Rangers (9-4-4, 31pts) and Sacramento Republic FC (8-5-6, 30pts) square off for the first time since their meeting in the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs, with the Rangers looking to continue their outstanding home form this season. Swope Park has gone 5-0-1 on home turf this season, with its last defeat having occurred on July 30, 2017 to Reno 1868 FC. The Rangers have also won four of their last five outings, a contrast to Republic FC, which is winless in its last four games after Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Real Monarchs SLC. A victory for Sacramento would vault the side back above the Rangers into fourth place as it faces a two-game trip over the course of Week 18.

Wednesday, July 11
ATL UTD 2 vs. Bethlehem Steel FC

Coolray Field, Gwinnett, Georgia | 7 p.m. ET
Bethlehem Steel FC (6-6-5, 23pts) will try to regain its place in the top eight in the USL’s Eastern Conference when it visits ATL UTD 2 (2-9-5, 11pts), which continues to struggle for form in its first season. Atlanta collapsed to a 6-1 defeat against the New York Red Bulls II last Friday night to run its winless streak to seven games (0-5-2) since the side last claimed victory on May 16. Bethlehem will be aiming to continue that streak as it looks to rebound from defeat last Friday night as well when it fell 3-2 to Penn FC at FNB Field despite a pair of goals by Fabian Herbers. While sitting in 10th place to start the week, Steel FC could end the night as high as sixth in the Eastern Conference with a win in what remains a highly-congested middle of the table.

Charleston Battery vs. Indy Eleven
MUSC Health Stadium, Charleston, South Carolina | 7 p.m. ET
Separated by two points in the Eastern Conference playoff positions going into the week, the Charleston Battery (6-3-8, 26pts) square off with Indy Eleven (8-5-4, 28pts) for the second time this season to open a pair of games at MUSC Health Stadium this week. The teams played to one of the more dramatic endings in the season so far when they first met on May 30 at Lucas Oil Stadium, as Indy scored twice late on through Ayoze to take the lead before the Battery answered with the final kick of the game, as Tah Anunga’s goal earned a 3-3 draw. Indy is coming off a 2-1 comeback victory against the Charlotte Independence that saw Ben Speas score his first goal of the season and Carlyle Mitchell net the winner, while the Battery played to a 1-1 draw with North Carolina FC that saw Taylor Mueller make a crucial goal-line clearance deep in stoppage time as part of a dramatic final sequence to the game as the visitors held on for a point.

Charlotte Independence vs. Nashville SC
Sportsplex at Matthews, Matthews, North Carolina | 7:30 p.m. ET
The Charlotte Independence (6-6-6, 24pts) will try to get their playoff hopes back on track as they return home after back-to-back road defeats but will get a strong test from Nashville SC (7-3-6, 27pts) as the visitors look to bolster their position in the top five of the Eastern Conference. Charlotte’s 2-1 defeat to Indy Eleven on Saturday night dropped the side to ninth place in the conference standings and moved the club’s winless streak to seven games, with its last victory coming on June 2 against Ottawa Fury FC. Despite that it would move level on points with Nashville with a win, but the visitors enter having previously claimed a 2-0 victory when the sides first met this season and with one of the best defensive records in the league. NSC goalkeeper Matt Pickens is tied for the league-lead with nine shutouts, while Nashville has conceded only 10 times in 16 outings this year.

OKC Energy FC vs. Las Vegas Lights FC
Taft Stadium, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma | 8 p.m. ET (ESPNews)
The USL Game of the Week visits historic Taft Stadium, as OKC Energy FC (5-10-3, 18pts) and Las Vegas Lights FC (5-6-5, 20pts) meet for the first time in their history, with both looking to boost their playoff prospects. Energy FC took back-to-back draws against San Antonio FC and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC in the past week to remain seven points back of the playoff positions, but the side is undefeated in its last five games, having taken three consecutive victories prior to Week 17’s outings. Las Vegas, meanwhile, is hoping it can translate its home form to the road after it claimed a third consecutive victory at Cashman Field on Saturday night thanks to Raul Mendiola, whose goal earned a 1-0 victory against Saint Louis FC. With a record of only 1-4-2 away from home, and that lone victory having come in the opening game of the season against Fresno FC on March 17, picking up all three points and their hosts expense would be big for the visitors.

LA Galaxy II vs. Reno 1868 FC
StubHub Center, Carson, California | 10:30 p.m. ET
The hottest team in the USL, Reno 1868 FC (9-3-7, 34pts), will try to continue its season-best 15-game undefeated streak and add to its four-game winning streak when it visits the LA Galaxy II (5-9-4, 19pts), who have proven a tricky opponent in some recent outings for clubs higher up the Western Conference standings. Reno rallied for a 2-1 victory against Seattle Sounders FC 2 this past Sunday, as goals by Brian Brown – his sixth in as many games – and Seth Casiple saw 1868 FC rally from a halftime deficit despite being down to 10 men. Los Dos are coming off back-to-back victories of their own, however, after upending local rival and playoff contender Orange County SC 3-0 on Saturday night. The Galaxy II are also 3-1-0 in their last three home outings and will be hoping to spring a surprise and end Reno’s epic run.

Friday, July 13
New York Red Bulls II vs. Richmond Kickers

MSU Soccer Park, Montclair, New Jersey | 7 p.m. ET
The New York Red Bulls II (6-5-7, 25pts) will try to build on their biggest attacking night of the season last time out when they play host to the Richmond Kickers (5-9-2, 17pts). The Red Bulls II recorded a 6-1 victory against ATL UTD 2 last Friday night that saw six different players find the back of the net, a result that moved New York into the league-lead in goals scored with 36 this season. New York has been particularly irresistible at home, where it has scored 28 goals in nine games, by far the most by any side on home turf this season. The Kickers are coming off a 2-1 victory against Penn FC on Monday night, however, a victory that marked the club’s first under new Head Coach David Bulow as the historic club looks to get back into the playoff picture.

Saturday, July 14
Ottawa Fury FC vs. Penn FC

TD Place, Ottawa, Ontario | 2 p.m. ET
Ottawa Fury FC (6-8-3, 21pts) will try to get their push for the playoffs back on track when it hosts Penn FC (6-5-7, 25pts), which will be looking to rebound from its first defeat in seven games when the teams square off for the second time this season. Fury FC took a 1-0 victory when the teams met at FNB Field earlier this season behind a goal from Colin Falvey, but of late, it has alternated wins and losses to remain outside the top eight in the standings, most recently falling 1-0 to Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC this past Sunday. Penn is coming off seeing its six-game undefeated streak come to an end on Monday night, as it fell 2-1 to the Richmond Kickers despite Lucky Mkosana recording his seventh goal in the past five games. Penn’s visit to Ottawa kicks off a seven-game road trip that stretches into September as it looks to hold onto the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference standings.

Bethlehem Steel FC vs. North Carolina FC
Goodman Stadium, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania | 5 p.m. ET
Bethlehem Steel FC returns home after its midweek game in Atlanta to host North Carolina FC (5-8-4, 19pts), which will be looking to gain ground on the top eight after taking just one win in its last four outings. North Carolina came close to earning all three points in its most recent contest but saw a pair of efforts by Tiyi Shipalane be first cleared off the line and then come back off the right post late in stoppage time as the club’s contest with the Charleston Battery ended in a 1-1 draw. NCFC is six points out of the playoff positions as it kicks off its second half of the season and will be hoping to reverse a 2-1 victory by Steel FC when Bethlehem visited Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park on June 2, when the sides first met.

Charleston Battery vs. Louisville City FC
MUSC Health Stadium, Charleston, South Carolina | 7 p.m. ET
The Battery return for their second meeting with an Eastern Conference playoff contender in Week 18, as Louisville City FC (8-3-5, 29pts) visits for the first meeting between the clubs this season. Louisville entered its new era under player-coaches Luke Spencer, George Davis IV and Paolo DelPiccolo with a victory last Saturday night, as Cameron Lancaster’s ninth goal of the season – a perfectly-placed free kick into the top-right corner from 25 yards – earned a 2-1 away win against the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Louisville enters the week six points back of FC Cincinnati in third place in the Eastern Conference with two games in hand and will be hoping it can close the gap on Saturday night.

FC Cincinnati vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies
Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio | 7:30 p.m. ET
Eastern Conference-leader FC Cincinnati (10-3-5, 35pts) kicks off a six-game homestand with a visit from the Tampa Bay Rowdies (6-7-4, 22pts), with both sides needing to pick up victories for differing reasons. For Cincinnati, the club’s lead at the top of the Eastern Conference has shrunk to one point after the recent surge of Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, making picking up all three points at home important. FCC has never defeated Tampa Bay, however, with the Rowdies having claimed a 3-0 victory when the teams met last in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs. Tampa Bay is struggling for form this season, however, having taken only one win in its last five games after a 2-1 defeat to Louisville City FC that left the side in 11th place in the conference standings, which means taking something from Saturday’s game would be big for the Rowdies’ playoff hopes.

Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC vs. Sacramento Republic FC
Weidner Field, Colorado Springs, Colorado | 8 p.m. ET
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (7-9-4, 25pts) will try to snap a three-game winless streak when Sacramento Republic FC visits Weidner Field for its second outing of the week. The Switchbacks took one point from two games in Week 17 after playing to a 1-1 draw with OKC Energy FC last Saturday night but are still precariously placed in eighth position in the Western Conference standings. Republic FC took a 2-1 victory when the teams met earlier this season, as Cameron Iwasa and Villyan Bijev scored second-half goals at Papa Murphy’s Park, which stood as Sacramento’s first victory in the all-time series between the clubs after Colorado Springs had gone 3-0-2 over their previous five meetings.

Rio Grande Valley FC vs. Las Vegas Lights FC
H-E-B Park, Edinburg, Texas | 8:30 p.m. ET
Rio Grande Valley FC (1-6-10, 13pts) will try to snap a streak of three consecutive draws when it plays host to Las Vegas Lights FC for the first meeting between the clubs, as Las Vegas completes its two-game Week 18 trip. The Toros recorded their league-high 10th draw of the season last Saturday night, as Jesus Enriquez’s goal with 15 minutes to go was canceled out by Tulsa Roughnecks FC’s Paris Gee two minutes later in a 1-1 result between the squads. RGVFC is now only four draws back of Ottawa Fury FC’s league record of 14 ties in one season with half the regular season to go.

Saint Louis FC vs. Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis, Fenton, Missouri | 8:30 p.m. ET
Saint Louis FC (5-6-7, 22pts) will try to get its playoff push back on track as it takes on Tulsa Roughnecks FC (1-8-9, 12pts), which will aim to continue its undefeated run under new Head Coach Michael Tsien, as it heads to Missouri. STLFC is on a four-game winless streak after suffering a 1-0 defeat to Las Vegas Lights FC last Saturday night at Cashman Field and has now been held scoreless in three of its last four outings. Saturday marks the start of five home games out of six for the side, which sits three points back of eighth-place Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC as the week begins. The hosts might get a stronger test than in the first meeting between the clubs, which Saint Louis won 3-0 on June 9, as the Roughnecks moved to 1-0-2 under Nsien after a 1-1 draw with Rio Grande Valley FC. With the playoffs now a longshot, Tulsa’s role as spoiler could come into effect this weekend.

Fresno FC vs. Phoenix Rising FC
Chukchansi Park, Fresno, California | 10 p.m. ET
Fresno FC (6-7-7, 25pts) will look to add to its back-to-back victories when it plays host to Phoenix Rising FC (10-3-5, 35pts) in the second meeting between the clubs this season. The teams played to a 1-1 draw on April 28 at the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex when a 90th-minute goal by Alessandro Riggi earned 10-man Rising FC a point. Phoenix is in its best run of form this season currently, sitting in second place in the Western Conference after going undefeated through June without conceding a goal after taking a 1-0 victory against Orange County SC in its last outing on June 29. Fresno took its second consecutive win this past Sunday, as it recorded a 4-2 victory against the Portland Timbers 2 that saw Juan Pablo Caffa secure two goals and one assist. The Foxes enter the week level on points with eighth-place Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, as they make a push for a playoff berth in their inaugural season.

Orange County SC vs. San Antonio FC
Champions Soccer Stadium, Irvine, California | 10 p.m. ET
Orange County SC (9-6-3, 30pts) play host to San Antonio FC (5-4-7, 22pts), with both teams looking to get back on a winning track in their second meeting of the season. Orange County pulled away late in a 3-0 victory when it visited Toyota Field on April 14, as USL co-leading scorer Thomas Enevoldsen had a goal and an assist inside the final 10 minutes to put the game away for the visitors. OCSC is coming off a defeat by the same score to the LA Galaxy II in its last outing, a result that kept the side outside the top four in the Western Conference. San Antonio, meanwhile, is looking to get a place in the top eight after playing to a 1-1 draw with OKC Energy FC last Wednesday night that ran the club’s winless streak to three games. SAFC still has games in hand on its rivals but needs to start taking advantage of them if it’s to make a second consecutive trip to the postseason.

Portland Timbers 2 vs. Swope Park Rangers
Merlo Field, Portland, Oregon | 10 p.m. ET
The Portland Timbers 2 (8-8-2, 26pts) will try to avoid slipping out of the top eight in the Western Conference as they host the Swope Park Rangers, who head to the Pacific Northwest for the second time in as many weeks for its second game of Week 18. T2 fell to its fourth consecutive defeat last Sunday afternoon, as Fresno FC took a 4-2 victory at Merlo Field, a result that saw Portland slide to seventh place in the Western Conference just a point ahead of both the Foxes and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC. T2 has conceded 11 goals over its four-game losing streak, a run of form that is currently only matched in the league by last-place Western Conference side Seattle Sounders FC 2.

Real Monarchs SLC vs. Seattle Sounders FC 2
Zions Bank Stadium, Herriman, Utah | 10 p.m. ET
Real Monarchs SLC (12-4-2, 38pts) will try to rebound from a tough week on the road when it faces last-place Seattle Sounders FC 2 (3-11-2, 11pts) to open a key run of three home games in its next four outings. The Monarchs suffered a 3-0 defeat to Reno 1868 FC to open their road trip last Tuesday night, and then played to a 0-0 draw with Sacramento Republic FC on Saturday in a contest that saw the hosts miss a penalty kick at Papa Murphy’s Park. The two games marked the second time this season Real has been held scoreless in back-to-back contests, but if there’s a silver lining for the Monarchs, it’s that the side followed its scoreless outings on April 21 at Tampa Bay and April 30 vs. Las Vegas with a four-game winning streak that helped solidify its place at the top of the Western Conference.

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