Let’s talk about schedules. A very sexy topic, I know. But get this, USL schedules are weirdly sexy in a wonky way. Basically, the USL schedule is all over the place, much like Major League Baseball, or the English Premier League post-Boxing Day.

You know what I’m talking about: the whole “having a game (or two!) in hand” phenomenon. And in the USL’s case, it’s sometimes having three games in hand. Yes, the schedule is that weird. For example, in the Eastern Conference, FC Cincinnati has played 21 matches and Pittsburgh only 18. Then you have clubs who’ve played 19 and 20 matches. That’s a range between 21 and 18. The range is even larger in the Western Conference: 22 matches to 18 matches.

Keep this dynamic in mind when perusing the USL table, because appearances can be deceiving.

But now it’s on to the matchday in the wild, weird, and wonderful world of the USL!

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

  • Playing more. In the Western Conference, the top 9 clubs have all played 20 matches or more this season, unlike the Eastern Conference. All the clubs who’ve played 18 or 19 matches dwell in the West’s bottom half, which makes me wonder if a club currently in, say, places 10-12, could make a late run into the conference’s top 5 based on having a couple games in hand.
  • Popping up. Last week, USL announced two new clubs to begin USL play in 2019: Loudoun United FC (greater D.C. area) and Hartford Athletic, the league’s 6th and 7th expansion clubs for 2019 (!). We’ll have a host of new faces to track next season.
  • Heartbreakers. As if losing FC Cincinnati wasn’t enough, Nashville SC packed in 19,000 fans for the match against Cincy to remind us USLers that in 2020, we will be losing Nashville to the MLS. So in back-to-back seasons, USL will be losing its biggest drawing sides. Huge holes to fill, folks.

Match of the Week

Forget about the Keystone Cup matches for Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC. It’s Charleston Battery who’s been the ‘Hounds real rival these past seasons. Ignore the 0-1 scoreline, Pittsburgh hosting Charleston was the match of the week. The result had big implications for the Eastern Conference standings, sending Pittsburgh down to 3rd and Charleston up to 2nd. Moreover, this was only Pittsburgh’s 2nd loss for the entire season—and a home one to boot.

The match itself was a classic “game of two halves.” The ‘Hounds shelled Charleston for the first 45’, hitting the woodwork twice and narrowly missing other chances. Momentum shifted in the second half, as the visitors dictated the tempo. However, Pittsburgh’s star Neco Brett missed a soft penalty, and the ‘Hounds defence collapsed in front of goal during a fluky sequence as Charleston scored at 88’. The USL needs matches like this: tense, tight, and surprising.

Goal of the Week

San Antonio FC won a 4-2 shocker against the West’s #1 side, Salt Lake City Monarchs. However, it was the visitors’ Sebastian Velasquez, a Colombian, who scored a brace and dazzled with my goal of the week pick. Velasquez worked the endline tightrope with some nifty dribbling and buried his shot off a tight angle into a tighter space. Ah, the fine margins of soccer!

Top 5 Standings

Since last time we checked in, the Riverhounds came with three points of first place Cincinnati, only to lose their match of the season to Ottawa. This opening allowed Charleston, who’ve won 4 of 5, to seize 2nd place. Louisville slides further down to 4th, while New York RB II sneaks past Indy Eleven into the top 5.

In the West, SLC still remains at #1, but still with only a 3 point lead. Phoenix is keeping pace at 2nd place, doing just enough to push Salt Lake City. However, all of Orange County (W-L-W-W-D) Reno (five straight wins!) and Sac-Town (L-D-W-W-W) are breathing down Phoenix’s neck, only a single point away. The West is tiiiiiight, baby.

Eastern Conference

Place Club Matches GD (+/-) Points
1 FC Cincinnati 21 +19 44
2 Charleston Battery 20 +9 35
3 Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC 18 13 34
4 Louisville City FC 18 +9 32
5 New York Red Bulls II 21 +11 31

 

Western Conference

Place Club Matches GD (+/-) Points
1 Real Monarchs SLC 21 +11 41
2 Phoenix Rising FC 20 +16 38
3 Orange County SC 21 +21 37
4 Reno 1869 FC 20 +10 37
5 Sacramento Republic FC 22 +5 37