Week 3 of the 2018 USL season promises to showcase attacking talent from coast to coast with some big early season matchups.
The last game of the weekend could be the best, as Las Vegas Lights FC and Swope Park Rangers. The Rangers have been scoring at will thanks to big performances from Kharlton Belmar. Can he keep up the pace in week 3? If he does, the Lights could see a show produced by an opponent in their home park
Eastern Conference leaders Tampa Bay Rowdies travel to Louisville City FC in a bid to stake their claim to the top spot as their own against the defending champions. The Rowdies have shown just how good they are on both sides of the ball in the first two weeks of the season, but Louisville is arguably their biggest test thus far.
Midweek matches saw Fresno FC get their first win, defeating Seattle Sounders FC 2 1-0 on a goal from Jemel Johnson in the 82nd minute.
Orange County SC also got their first win of 2018 midweek, defeating OKC Energy FC. Former Danish international Thomas Enevoldsen’s 13th- minute goal was enough for OCSC as they hung on to win 1-0.
Let’s take a look at the rest of the weekend’s matches:
Saturday, March 31st
New York Red Bulls II v. Charleston Battery
The Charleston Battery erased the memory of their opening day loss with a solid 1-0 effort over Penn FC, but they need to be careful against a dangerous offense when they travel to New York to take on New York Red Bulls II. While the Red Bulls had a rough outing against Atlanta United FC 2 last weekend, don’t expect a repeat performance from the defense.
Bethlehem Steel FC v. Nashville SC
Bethlehem Steel are an improved team from their 2017 version, but they still have some work to do to join the teams at the top of the East. A visit from upstarts Nashville SC should help regain their footing, but don’t expect the visitors to just lie down.
While Nashville has not won a game yet, it has shown that its defense can keep it in matches while it patiently attacks. This will be a chess match between two teams finding their identity.
Real Monarchs SLC v. Portland Timbers 2
Real Monarchs need to start faster than they did against the Tulsa Roughnecks so they don’t have to rely on goals in the final minutes of matches to get all three points. Chandler Hoffman and Corey Baird are still going to provide the offensive spark, but the Monarchs have to hope that Alex Horwath can be a strong replacement for Matt Van Oekel.
Timbers 2 are playing with house money. After winning last weekend, they are just two wins away from their 2017 total, and there is reason for optimism as they showed they can hold onto a clean sheet, something that was hard to come by last year.
Louisville City FC v. Tampa Bay Rowdies
Defending champion Louisville has its hands full when the Rowdies come to town. So far, the Rowdies are 2-0-0 and have outscored their opposition 5 to 1. Louisville has a defense capable of shutting down the Rowdies, but needs to stay sharp to see out an important home match.
Tulsa Roughnecks FC v. Orange County SC
The Roughnecks were minutes from earning their first victory of 2018 when the Monarchs came screaming back and stole all three points on the road. A tired Orange County side might be the perfect tonic for the Roughnecks after a hard-fought midweek game.
A win is important to get the Roughnecks off the bottom of the West standings, as they are the only team with no points through the first two weeks of the 2018 season.
Richmond Kickers v. North Carolina FC
The Richmond Kickers look set to repeat their 2017 season in which they finished bottom of the table with victories few and far between. With just a single goal scored in 2018, one that came on a deflected shot, things are looking rather grim.
The good news? North Carolina FC is still adjusting to life in the USL, though don’t expect them to take long to figure it out against the Kickers. Austin da Luz could pick apart the Kickers backline and make it a long 90 minutes for the home side.
Saint Louis FC v. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Saint Louis FC has a good chance to pick up three points against the inconsistent Colorado Springs Switchbacks. STL FC nearly picked up points against a strong San Antonio FC side last weekend, and the challenge of the Switchbacks shouldn’t phase them a bit.
The Switchbacks’ loss to Timbers 2 should rightfully be in the rearview, but it is hard to argue the loss as a stumble if they lose a second straight game, even if it is on the road. A single win over Los Dos is all that props the Switchbacks up in the top half of the table, and a fall may be coming.
LA Galaxy II v. San Antonio FC
LA Galaxy II are in for a tough match against San Antonio. The youth in the Los Dos side are certainly capable of catching teams, but a savvy veteran side like SAFC should be able to dispatch them easily, even if the match is on the road.
Mikey Lopez and Kris Tyrpak have shown they can be a force offensively for San Antonio, and the better they are together, the better the visitors will feel about their chances.
Charlotte Independence v. Atlanta United FC 2
The Charlotte Independence are the only team that have looked better than the Rowdies through two matches, but ATL 2 should offer a significant challenge to their southern rivals.
After Jon Gallagher put on a clinic against NYRBII last weekend, teams are on notice. Just like their MLS side, Atlanta 2 can score in bunches if teams aren’t careful. This one could be a shootout.
Indy Eleven v. FC Cincinnati
A one-goal win over the Richmond Kickers shouldn’t inspire too much confidence in the Indy Eleven, but home cooking against a rival should yield better results.
FC Cincinnati had a week off to prepare for another road match to start the season. FCC have to feel good about their chances with the team rested and ready to charge up the standings ahead of their home opener next weekend.
Pittsburgh Riverhounds v. Penn FC
The first intra-state clash between the Riverhounds and newly rebranded Penn FC should be a fun one. The Riverhounds looked a little lost in the attack in their draw against Nashville SC, but expect for them to settle into 2018 a bit better this week. Penn FC shouldn’t feel to bad about their loss to Charleston Battery last weekend. Finding a way to get their first goal of 2018 must be a priority for visitors against a side that will prove hard to break down thanks to Bob Lilley.
Reno 1868 FC v. Phoenix Rising FC
After a disappointing draw in Week 1, Phoenix Rising were off to the races thanks to Chris Cortez against OKC Energy. Will they be able to turn in a repeat performance against a Reno1868 FC side desperate to get their first win of 2018? Time will tell.
Reno suffered a hangover draw from their Week 1 loss to Swope Park Rangers, and rightfully so. They dropped a point in the waning moments of the match and have yet to recover. Their defense remains a question mark, and Phoenix Rising might feast this weekend.
Rio Grande Valley FC v. Sacramento Republic FC
Rio Grande Valley FC won’t like their chances against a strong Sacramento Republic side, but they should be able to provide plenty of defensive support for an offense that struggled in Week 1.
The Toros held Saint Louis to just two shots on goal in Week 1, and unfortunately, still gave up a goal. The Republic have been so strong for so long that they won’t likely waste the minimal chances they get, and the Toros will likely be looking down the schedule for the first win in 2018.
Fresno FC v. OKC Energy FC
Frenso FC earned three points midweek, and there is no reason to think they can’t add to the win column against OKC Energy. Phoenix Rising and Orange County both did a great job of keeping OKC from causing much danger, and with the exception of the opening hour against the Lights, the Foxes have been as good as you could hope for defensively. Tip this one in favor of the home side.
Las Vegas Lights FC v. Swop Park Rangers
The Lights are in for a tough outing against the Rangers. Kharlton Belmar ran rampant in the first two weeks of the season, scoring four goals and adding two assists for a Rangers side that is rolling offensively.
Though the defensive effort hasn’t quite been there for the Rangers yet, they could well outscore most all competition in the west, and the Lights haven’t shown enough defensive prowess to inspire much hope against the top western conference sides. Belmar, Hadji Barry, and Rodrigo Saravia are an attacking force that should not be underestimated.