Joe Cole, Didier Drogba, and the USL? Yes. In case you didn’t know, both legends play in the USL. What a time to be alive in the U.S. of A. But forget about these former Premier League stars and Chelsea Blues, its Carolina native Nazdi Alabawi who should grab your attention and praise. (And maybe a USMNT call up for a junk friendly someday?)

It’s time for another edition of the USL Round-Up, recapping each matchday’s action in the wilds of U.S. lower league soccer.

If you haven’t read it yet, you might want to start with my inaugural piece for this series, which covers the basics for getting to know America’s vast lower league.

Three Storylines

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  • Sacramento Republic FC won a huge road match 1-3, featuring sides #2 and #3 in the Western Conference standings, thus ruining Didier Drogba’s 500th club appearance celebration in front of a sold out Phoenix crowd. Drogba’s penalty attempt was blocked, the rebound was ruled no goal, and his nasty freekick attempt was saved. Just not the legend’s night.
  • FC Cincinnati won a statement match 4-1 at home, thanks to some brilliant Nazdi Albadawi play. After last week’s horrible 4-1 loss at Charlotte, East-leading Cincinnati needed a big win to stay atop the Eastern Conference standings, since the top four clubs are separated by only 3 points. Cincy won in style, keeping the defending champs Louisville at bay in the standings, setting up a mouth-watering #1 vs. #2 matchup for next matchday’s Ohio River derby.  
  • Pittsburgh is the still the only undefeated USL side, after surviving a 2-2 draw at Tampa Bay Rowdies’ infamous Al Lang Stadium. The match involved two lead changes and a tense final 30 minutes with the score knotted 2-2 and both sides pressing hard for the winning the goal. The draw showcased Pittsburgh’s resilience, as the ‘Hounds persisted despite conceding a 3’ opening goal. The rest of the East has been put on alert!

Match highlights of the Week

Sultry humid nights in St. Petersburg at the Rowdies Al Lang Stadium are hellish for visitors. The undefeated Pittsburgh Riverhounds hoped to avoid the Florida dark magic (Tampa hasn’t lost at home in over a year).

It looked like a night of misery was in store for the ‘Hounds when the Rowdies scored the opener at 3’. However, Pittsburgh scored back-to-back goals, taking a precious on-the-road lead. But Tampa’s mighty Joe Cole (yes, that Joe Cole) leveled things with a rocket at 59’. The remaining 30 minutes were tense with Tampa looking very dangerous, then Pittsburgh, who refused to cave-in on the road.

The match had fun moments: two lead changes; a weird own goal, allowing Pittsburgh to equalize 1-1; a Romeo Parkes double-flip goal celebration; and a Joe Cole rocket blast.

Goal of the Week

 

In front of 22,000+ at Nippert Field, FC Cincinnati’s Nazbi Albadawi scored a brace against his former team, North Carolina FC (from NC’s research triangle area). His first goal of the match earns my goal of the week honors:

Top shelf, left corner, from distance, off a slashing dribble through the midfield. Lovely, and a powerful way to start the match for Cincinnati, who won 4-1, rebounding convincingly from its second loss of the season last week.

Remember “Naz.” A FourFourTwo piece even called him USL’s top American lower league talent. The North Carolina native is known as the league’s premier central midfield, but showed us on Saturday that he’s got a wicked shooting boot.

Your Las Vegas Lights (FC) Flash

This weekend, Vegas had the honor of hosting conference leaders, Real Monarchs. And plopped down a 0-2 home loss stinker. (Shout out to Laborers Local  #282 and its bright yellow pitchside banner!) Good golly though, Vegas grabbed 60% possession and outshot SLC 26-8, but hilariously only had 7 shots on target. Come on, Lights.

But so many Lights’ moments were on target this week. Where do I begin? The Lights’ attempt at the world’s largest scarf? Chelis mania? Or the Vegas version of the crossbar challenge with, good lord, an Elvis demo and bare-footed dude:

 

You can’t go wrong this week. Our year-long soccer party in Vegas rolls on.

Top 5 Standings

No movement at the very top, but the defending champs Louisville leapfrog Charleston, and hello Bethlehem at #5. Meanwhile, all five top clubs in the West remain the same in the standings, but Sacramento improved its GD. Once again, Pittsburgh stays undefeated in the East and the only unbeaten USL side, but can’t gain ground on the top three (too many draws!) after conceding the lead and drawing 2-2 at the always difficult Al Lang Stadium in Tampa—the USL’s OG cauldron.

Eastern Conference

Place Club Matches GD (+/-) Points
1 FC Cincinnati 10 +7 20
2 Louisville City FC 10 +4 19
3 Charleston Battery 10 +4 18
4 Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC 9 +7 17
5 Bethlehem Steel FC 10 +3 14

 

Western Conference

Place Club Matches GD (+/-) Points
1 Real Monarchs SLC 10 +11 25
2 Phoenix Rising FC 11 +10 21
3 Sacramento Republic FC 11 +4 21
4 Portland Timbers 2 11 +8 20
5 Orange County SC 10 +9 17