Week 1 of the 2018 USL season provided fans with plenty of great matchups and show-stopping goals.
First, New York Red Bulls II came from behind to see off Toronto FC II to win their opening game of the season for the first time in the team’s four-year history.
Swope Park Rangers traded blows with Reno 1868 FC in the snow, and came out on top with a late winner to see the visitors steal three points after 1868 FC had equalized in the 89th minute.
Lastly, the Las Vegas Lights earned a victory in their opening match over newcomers Fresno FC. LVLFC made headlines ahead of the season by promoting coach Jose Luis Sanchez Sola to technical director, but still found a way to focus and earn a result.
Let’s look at the rest of this weekend’s action:
Rio Grande Valley FC 1-1 St. Louis FC
It took 77 minutes for the Toros to open the scoring in their season debut, but STLFC found an equalizer five minutes later to earn a road win in the first season back in the western conference.
Pablo Aguilar opened the scoring with a twirling finish from the center of the box on a cross from John Montano. Aguilar did well to control the ball that was played slightly behind him and finished low past Jake Fenlason.
With eight minutes remaining, Tony Walls turned a loose ball into the net on a corner kick, rescuing the point for STLFC.
Seattle Sounders FC 2 2-1 Portland Timbers 2
The Sounders FC 2 picked up where they left off against perennial rival Timbers 2, scoring twice within the final minutes of the first half to grab another Cascadia win.
The Timbers 2 seemed to have shaken off the ghosts of Cascadia past scoring in the 30th minute. Augustine Williams scored on a low cross from Jimmy Mulligan that evaded the Sounders 2 backline. The lead would be short lived for the Timbers 2 however, as they surrendered twice in the final 15 minutes of the first half.
First, Felix Chenkman scored from the penalty spot in the 43rd minute after a foul on Ibrahim Usman in the box. Then, just two minutes later, Nick Hinds scored an audacious goal from the top of the box, looping over Timbers 2 goalkeeper Alex Mangel for the game winner.
New York Red Bulls II 2-1 Toronto FC II
It took some big saves from Evan Louro and a brace by Andrew Tinari for the Red Bulls II to come from behind to defeat TFC II in the season opener. TFC II took an early lead, scoring in the 10th minute when Matthew Srbely caught the Red Bulls II on a quick counter attack. Srbely drove into the box and finished low to the far post beating an on rushing Louro.
The Red Bulls II maintained control of the match, registering 31 shots when all was said and done. Still, it took a bit of luck for the Red Bulls II to score, with Andrew Tinari deflecting a Ben Mines shot into the net in the 62nd minute. Tinari would double his tally 10 minutes later, finishing off a nice move and cross by Florian Valot.
Evan Louro earned man of the match honors though, stopping a penalty kick in the 51st minute, and a 1-v-1 attempt from Ben Spencer later in the second half.
Louisville City FC 2-0 Nashville SC
Niall McCabe provided the fireworks for the defending champs in their win over newcomers Nashville SC. McCabe assisted on the opener on a cross to Luke Spencer in the 56th minute. Not to be outdone, McCabe found himself on the score sheet again 10 minutes later, when Oscar Jiminez found him with a low cross to the back post.
The win sets the tone from the defending champions right out of the gate, though the field conditions in Louisville should be a cause for concern.
North Carolina FC 1-3 Tampa Bay Rowdies
The Rowdies rolled over NCFC in their first USL game with goals from Leo Fernandes, Georgi Hristov, and Jack Blake.
The visitors struck first in the 23rd minute from on a long run and finish from Leo Fernandes before NCFC equalized through Steven Miller in the 38th minute.
It took the Rowdies just three minutes to respond, scoring from the penalty spot in the 41st minute. Adding insult to injury, the Rowdies scored once more in the 90th minute to put the game to bed when Jack Blake scored a highlight reel worthy goal from outside of the box.
Charlotte Independence 4-1 Ottawa Fury FC
Former San Jose Earthquakes forward Cordell Cato had a raucous debut for the Independence, powering his new club to a big victory. Cato grabbed a brace, scoring in the 41st minute on a corner kick, and again in the 58th minute after finishing a breakaway for the Independence.
Sito Seoane salvaged some dignity for the away side, blasting a left-footed shot from outside the box past Andrew Dykstra who was caught off his line. Seoane scored on his first touch of the game.
Jorge Herrera added a third from the penalty spot, and forced an own goal in the 83rd minute.
One scary moment from earlier in the game came from Greg Jordan and Kevin Oliveira in a head-to-head collision. Each player had to be treated after shedding some blood. Oliveira continued, but Jordan was subbed out following the injury.
Charleston Battery 0-1 FC Cincinnati
Blake Smith will get the headlines for scoring the game winner, but the new look backline for FCC stood tall on the road against the Battery Saturday night. After losing Mitch Hildebrandt to Atlanta United FC in the offseason, Evan Newman stepped up nicely, making 5 saves and preserving the clean sheet.
Blake Smith scored in the 18th minute for FCC, bouncing on a loose ball in the box and finishing past a prone Odisnel Cooper. The Battery had numerous opportunities to equalize, but could not beat Newman.
The Battery also ended the game down a man, when Quinton Griffith was issued a straight red after a scuffle with Danni Konig.
Reno 1868 FC 3-4 Swope Park Rangers
Kharlton Belmar stole the show for the Rangers, scoring twice and assisting twice on the way to a wild 4-3 finish over 1868 FC. After trading goals all the way up until the 89th minute, Belmar would win it for the Rangers in stoppage time.
1868 FC opened the scoring in the 23rd minute from Chris Wehan and the Rangers answered back in the 51st minute through Diego Rubio. The Rangers sprung into the lead six minutes later with Belmar scoring his first of the match. Three minutes later, it was all tied again when Brian Brown turned in a cross from Antoine Hoppenot.
With the snow falling heavily, Hadji Barry once again put the Rangers in front in the 83rd minute. 1868 FC responded by forcing Matt Lewis to give up an own goal while trying to block a low cross.
The Rangers ultimately stole all three points on the road in stoppage time when Hadji Barry found Kharlton Belmar in with a low cross from the left side of the box.
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC 2-0 LA Galaxy II
A goal in each half was enough to see the Switchbacks through in their home opener. Los Dos had no answers for goals scored by A.J. Ajeakwa, and Jordan Burt.
Ajeakwa scored in the 25th minute, curling in a shot to the top-left corner of the net from the right side of the 18-yard box. Jordan Burt added a goal from the penalty spot in the 55th minute, and it was all the Switchbacks had to do to earn the victory.
OKC Energy FC 1-0 Tulsa Roughnecks FC
OKC opened their 2018 slate with a close by scoreline alone match against the Roughnecks. Francis Atuahene scored in the 6th minute after stealing the ball in the Roughnecks half of the field, streaking down the right side, and finishing low to the near post.
OKC had a number of chances of extending their lead, but Fabian Cerda was up to the task keeping the visitors in reach of their local rival. Any chance of a comeback seemed thwarted with the dismissal of Francisco Ugarte after receiving his second yellow card in the 89th minute.
Fresno FC 2-3 Las Vegas Lights FC
LVLFC struck early in the first win in club history to defeat similarly new to the USL, Fresno FC.
Matthew Thomas scored in the 2nd minute on a feed from Daigo Kobayashi, giving the visitors a big boost for the 90 minutes that followed.
Alex Mendoza and Joel Huiqui added goals in the 57th and 63rd minutes to proper LVLFC to a 3-0 lead late in the match. FFC nearly found a way to claw back into the match, but came up short.
Jemal Johnson scored first for FFC in the 73rd minute, with Renato Bustamante adding a second for the home side in the 89th minute. The three goal lead was ultimately too difficult to overcome for FFC.
Orange County SC 1-1 Phoenix Rising FC
Alex Crognale’s loan from Columbus Crew SC paid dividends for OCSC as the defender scored a late goal to rescue a point for the home side against Phoenix Rising.
Solomon Asante opened the scoring on a back post run and finishing from a Billy Forbes assist. After the goal, Rising dropped back and attempted to see through the game with a strong defensive effort.
Ultimately, their attempt to stifle the game proved to come back and bite them when the aforementioned Crognale, a second half substitue, pounced on a loose ball at the top of the 18-yard box. The shot carried too much venom to be kept from the back of the net.
Sacramento Republic FC 2-1 San Antonio FC
Simon Elliott and Sac Republic started 2018 in style with a solid win over SAFC.
Keven Aleman put the visitors ahead in first half stoppage time. Cameron Iwasa sent a low pass into the box, finding the Aleman who held off the defender and finished first time.
Christian Eissele doubled the lead with what proved to be the game winner in the 48th minute. Villyan Bijev struck a curling shot from the left side of the box that Diego Restrepo parried directly to Eissele for an easy finish.
Mikey Lopez pulled one back for the visitors with a nice finish from the top of the box through traffic in the 68th minute. SAFC failed to find the net again, with Josh Cohen making a big save on a header from the center of the box in second half stoppage time.
Bethlehem Steel FC 4-1 Richmond Kickers
Steel FC started 2018 right, winning big over the Kickers and getting two goals from newly signed Brandon Allen.
Eric Ayuk and Derrick Jones opened the scoring for Steel FC in the first half with goals in the 24th minute and 40th minute. Ayuk pounced on a goalkeeping error on a cross. Jones beat the entire Kickers backline with a smooth run and finish from the right side of the box.
The Kickers clawed their way back into the game in the second half before Allen stole the show. A kind deflection from a shot outside of the box from Oscar Umar pulled the Kickers to within one goal.
Allen scored just seven minutes later, picking up a loose ball in the box, evading the Kickers defenders and finishing from the top of the box was his left foot. Allen doubled his tally with a well timed run to slip past the Kickers backline, rounding the keeper, and finishing from a tight angle.