It was a wild weekend of USL action featuring goals, streaking teams, and plenty of penalties. Seven teams in both conferences are carrying unbeaten streaks of four or more games as teams are beginning to find their grooves. Four other teams were able to register shutouts on the weekend while three teams netted three goals.
Leading the charge this weekend was Didier Drogba for Phoenix Rising. In his team’s match against the Swope Park Rangers, Phoenix fell behind twice and twice was rescued by a Drogba goal. They’d escape with a draw and it’s largely due to their prominent player/owner.
Sharing the spotlight are the Rochester Rhinos and Louisville City FC who are two of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference right now. After starting the season in a rut, the Rhinos are now unbeaten in eight as their defense continues to impress. They sit fourth in the East even though they have played the fewest games in the conference so the teams at the top of the table will need to keep an eye out if they continue their current form. Louisville has climbed to second in the table with two games in hand on the conference leading Charleston Battery.
Let’s take a look back at this past weekend’s action:
New York Red Bulls II 0, Bethlehem Steel FC 2
Led by a former member of the Red Bulls Academy, Bethlehem Steel pushed their unbeaten streak to four. The Steel got going early through Adam Najem’s first professional goal in the fifth minute. Red Bulls II pushed for an equalizer but Jake Maguire continued his stellar form on the season to fend off their attack. Najem became the provider in the 57th minute when he chipped a ball over the Red Bulls defense for Santi Moar to volley home for the final tally. The victory pushes Bethlehem to fifth in the Eastern Conference while dropping Red Bulls to sixth.
Portland Timbers 2 1, OKC Energy 3
Behind Andy Craven’s accuracy at the penalty spot, the Energy were able to down Timbers 2 in an away matchup. It was a chippy match as there were four called penalty kicks for each team, three of which were converted for goals. The Timbers got the scoring going in the 40th minute as Coady Andrews gave away a spot kick. Villyan Bijev would convert that for the 1-0 advantage. The Energy quickly equalized as Philip Rasmussen pounced on a rebound from a Craven shot to put it into the empty net. Craven would win and score his first penalty in the 74th minute. He quickly followed it up by converting a penalty surrendered on a handball call on Miguel Gonzalez in the 78th minute for the final tally.
Rochester Rhinos 1, Ottawa Fury 0
An early goal by Ryan Felix was enough for Rochester to take all three points from the Fury. Felix converted a corner kick from Kenardo Forbes for his first professional goal in the 19th minute. The Rhinos had the advantage in the first half but were unable to extend their lead which almost came back to bite them. Tomas Gomez almost had the equalizer in stoppage time but Felix was there for an empty net clearance to preserve all three points. The win propels the Rhinos to fourth in the Eastern Conference while extending their unbeaten streak to eight games. The Fury have fallen just below the red line to ninth in the conference.
FC Cincinnati 2, Charleston Battery 2
FC Cincinnati rescued a late draw behind the boot of Andrew Wiedeman. In a game that featured plenty of chances, the battery couldn’t hold on. Cincinnati came out of the gates gunning as they opened the scoring in the fourth minute. Djiby netted his 10th goal of the season on an empty net. That goal is also the fastest goal ever scored for the team. The Battery wouldn’t go down easily as they got one back via Romario Williams in the 63rd minute. In the 72nd minute, the Battery would go in front behind a point blank shot from Forrest Lasso. All hope wasn’t lost for Cincinnati as Weidman’s first goal of the season couldn’t have come at a better time.
Richmond Kickers 1, Tampa Bay Rowdies 1
A stoppage time equalizer from the Kickers prevented the Rowdies from ending their winless run. The Rowdies have drawn four straight after their loss to the Rochester Rhinos in late May as they’ve started to slide down the table. Tampa scored in the opener in the 64th minute from a free kick from Marcel Schafer. It seemed like that advantage would hold but like most leads for Tampa lately, it wasn’t to be. Franck Tayou, who entered in the 65th minute, made his presence known when he volleyed a shot past Matt Pickens deep into stoppage time.
Louisville City FC 3, Pittsburgh Riverhounds 0
Louisville looks to be hitting their stride while the Riverhounds continue to struggle. Louisville opened the scoring on a free kick from Cameron Lancaster in the eighth minute and didn’t look back. They controlled the game throughout but it took until the 64th minute for Louisville to tack on to their lead. Following a pass from Brian Ownby, Lancaster doubled his tally and victory looked almost certain for Louisville. The final nail in the coffin was produced in the 78th minute as Niall McCabe scored an absolute strike. That secured the third straight win for Louisville while also propelling them to second in the Eastern Conference.
Rio Grande Valley FC 0, LA Galaxy II 1
The three-game losing streak is finally over for Los Dos as they narrowly defeated the Toros. Los Dos could have opened the scoring early but Calle Brown stood on his head in net for the Toros saving almost anything that came his way. But in the 70th minute, Galaxy II were able to find their breakthrough. It came as Justin Dhillon played Jonah Estrada through to the top of the box. Estrada came through burying the shot for the 1-0 advantage. It was a special one for the 16-year-old academy product too as it was his first ever goal for Los Dos.
San Antonio FC 3, Tulsa Roughnecks FC 1
Another game, another win for San Antonio as their unbeaten streak has now stretched to 14 games. Billy Forbes played Kris Tyrpak through in the fourth minute to open the scoring and it looked like it may be a long night for the Roughnecks. To their credit, the Roughnecks didn’t roll over as they leveled the score in the 27th minute with a Joaquin Rivas tap-in. Tyrpak would complete his brace in the 33rd minute and San Antonio wouldn’t look back as Devin Vega scored the insurance goal in the 76th minute. With this win, San Antonio has matched their win total from the entire 2016 season with most of the league schedule still in front of them.
Sacramento Republic FC 2, Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 1
Sacramento Republic was able to earn the come from behind victory thanks to Agustin Cazarez. The Whitecaps got things going in the fifth minute as Sacramento left Terran Campbell unmarked and he made them pay by converting his chance for an early 1-0 lead. The lead didn’t last long as Sacramento was able to equalize in the 12th minute via Sammy Ochoa. The goal was his fifth of the season. Cazarez secured the victory in the 74th minute after strong build-up play by the team gave him an open shot from outside of the box. He put it away to score in his second straight game for Sacramento.
Swope Park Rangers 2, Phoenix Rising FC 2
Drogba is here and he’s ready to make an impact for Phoenix Rising. Scoring in his second straight game, the forward collected a brace to earn a draw for Phoenix. Kevin Oliveira opened the scoring for the Rangers in the 26th minute from the penalty spot. Drogba would punch back in the 57th following a pass from Shaun Wright-Phillips. That didn’t last long as Nansel Selbol converted another spot kick into another goal for the Rangers. But Drogba would save the day. Forward Omar Bravo drew a foul in the box and Drogba buried the penalty kick that followed for the 87th minute equalizer.