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USL Weekend Preview – Week 4

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 04/14/17, 2:47PM EDT

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Major early-season games feature Louisville and Tampa Bay, Swope Park and Sacramento

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TAMPA, Fla. – The fourth weekend of the 2017 USL Regular Season features not only two major early-season contests, but also arguably the most highly-anticipated home opener of the season.

FC Cincinnati will make its 2017 debut at Nippert Stadium on Saturday night when it plays host to Eastern Conference leader Saint Louis FC. After setting USL records for both overall and single-game attendance in its inaugural year, a massive crowd is expected to be on hand to try and spur FCC to what would be a big early-season win against an STLFC side that is undefeated in four games to start the season.

Slightly further south at Slugger Field, Louisville City FC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies will meet in another marquee matchup, with both sides undefeated and the Rowdies looking to build on three consecutive wins to start their inaugural USL season. Meanwhile in the Western Conference, the 2016 USL Western Conference champion Swope Park Rangers will host Sacramento Republic FC – which enters the weekend tied for the conference lead – aiming to continue its strong start to 2017.

Every game of the 2017 USL season will be available on the league’s Match Center, with updates from across the league also available via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

GAMES TO WATCH


Photo courtesy FC Cincinnati

Saturday, April 15
FC Cincinnati vs. Saint Louis FC
7 p.m. ET, Nippert Stadium

FC Cincinnati hosts its home opener looking to earn its second win of the season as it welcomes a Saint Louis FC side that moved top of the Eastern Conference with a midweek victory to kick off Week 4. With FCC having almost doubled its season-ticket base, passing 12,000 STMs this offseason, and announcing on Monday that more than 15,000 tickets have been sold, a raucous crowd is expected at Nippert Stadium.

Cincinnati (1-2-0, 3pts) is also looking for a bounce-back victory after falling 2-0 against Bethlehem Steel FC last Sunday to conclude a three-game road trip to start the season. FCC faces a major challenge for its first home stand of the season, with first-place Saint Louis, second-place Tampa Bay and third-place Louisville City FC all set to visit over the upcoming week.

Saint Louis (3-0-1, 10pts) moved to the top of the Eastern Conference on Wednesday night as it took a 2-1 victory against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds at Highmark Stadium. For a second consecutive game STLFC rallied for a victory to down Pittsburgh. Goals by Jose Angulo and Christian Volesky – his third of the season – saw the team to come back from an early deficit.

Louisville City FC vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies
7:30 p.m. ET, Slugger Field

Louisville and Tampa Bay meet for the first time with both teams undefeated to start the season. Louisville will host a “blackout” as it debuts its new third jersey – unveiled earlier this week – as it hopes to break the Rowdies’ three-game shutout streak to start the season.

Louisville (2-0-1, 7pts) is coming off back-to-back victories as it enters its second home game of the season after a 1-0 win on the road against the Richmond Kickers last Saturday. George Davis IV’s second goal of the season lifted City to the victory as the club recorded its second shutout in three games.

The Rowdies (3-0-0, 9pts) also earned a 1-0 victory through Georgi Hristov’s third goal of the season last Saturday night to remain perfect by defeating Ottawa Fury FC to conclude a three-game home stand at Al Lang Stadium. Tampa Bay will also visit Cincinnati on Wednesday before returning home to face the Charleston Battery in a big week ahead for the USL newcomers.

Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC vs. Real Monarchs SLC
8 p.m. ET, Weidner Field

The Rocky Mountain rivalry resumes for a third season as Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC plays host to a Real Monarchs SLC side looking to continue its perfect start to the new season. Colorado Springs is coming off a midweek loss, however, and will be looking to turn things around on its home turf.

The Switchbacks (1-1-2, 5pts) fell 3-1 to Rio Grande Valley FC on Wednesday night at H-E-B Park, leaving the side with two points from its past three games. Chris James scored his first goal for the club against the Toros, but a brace by Memo Rodriguez sent Colorado Springs to its first loss of the season.

The Monarchs (3-0-0, 9pts) took a wild 5-3 victory in their most recent outing as they defeated Reno 1868 FC last Thursday night. Sebastian Velasquez had a goal and assist to lead the side to its third consecutive victory, as Real is off to its best start to a season in club history.

Swope Park Rangers vs. Sacramento Republic FC
8 p.m. ET, Children’s Mercy Victory Field

The Swope Park Rangers host Sacramento Republic FC in their first game of April aiming to build on a two-game winning streak to start the defense of their Western Conference Championship. Republic FC had earned three consecutive wins to start the season, but fell in midweek, and will be targeting a bounce-back performance to end a three-game road spell.

The Rangers (2-0-0, 6pts) last took the field in a 1-0 win on March 29 against the Portland Timbers 2 that included Kharlton Belmar scoring his second goal in as many games. Swope Park had a bye in Week 3, but would move level on points with Republic FC with a win on home turf as it concludes a three-game home stand.

Sacramento (3-1-0, 9pts) fell in the USL Game of the Week on ESPN3 on Tuesday night against OKC Energy FC as Miguel Gonzalez’s highlight-reel goal earned the host a 1-0 victory at Taft Stadium. Republic FC sits second in the league with eight goals, however, and will hope avoid back-to-back defeats before it returns to Papa Murphy’s Park next weekend.

NUMBER CRUNCHING

14Sacramento Republic FC saw its 14-game regular-season undefeated streak come to an end against OKC Energy FC on Tuesday night. The Rochester Rhinos now hold the current league-best with an 11-game undefeated streak dating back to the 2016 season.

12 – The Tampa Bay Rowdies’ Michael Nanchoff and Sacramento Republic FC’s Danny Barrera lead the USL with 12 created chances so far this season.

6 – Six players sit tied for the league lead with three goals, including Saint Louis FC’s Christian Volesky, who joined the group in STLFC’s midweek victory.

4 – Phoenix Rising FC forward Didier Drogbawho was officially announced as having signed with the club on Wednesday – claimed the Premier League crown four times with Chelsea FC.

1 – OKC Energy FC’s Miguel Gonzalez earned the No. 1 spot on ESPN’s SportsCenter Top 10 on Tuesday night for his remarkable bicycle kick finish that earned OKC its first win of the season.

OTHER NEWS AND NOTES

- Phoenix Rising FC unveiled the latest high-profile signing in the USL on Wednesday when it announced former Ivory Coast international and UEFA Champions League winner Didier Drogba had joined the club. Drogba joins former Chelsea teammate and England international Shaun Wright-Phillips and Omar Bravo – the leading goal scorer in Chivas de Guadalajara’s history – in Rising FC’s squad for this season.

- The USL announced on Wednesday the launch of the USL Television Network, with 17 national markets and more than 10 million households being covered by local partnership agreements with the league’s clubs. The network will transmit more than 300 games during the 2017 USL season. Network affiliates will broadcast regular-season games for local USL teams with Spanish-language broadcasts available, and have the opportunity to receive exclusive content, including select nationally-syndicated games, short-form USL features and weekly programming.

- Louisville City FC announced on Wednesday it had undertaken an option on tracts of land in the city’s Butchertown Neighborhood, where the club plans to transform 40 acres into a 10,000-seat, soccer-specific stadium and adjacent development including space for offices, hotels and retail. In partnership with HOK Design, the club also unveiled renderings of its new home, which is located a few blocks from club’s current home at Louisville Slugger Field. The new stadium is planned to open in 2020.

- Nashville SC announced its Head Coach for the club’s inaugural season in the USL in 2018 this week, with former MLS Cup winner Gary Smith taking the helm. Smith led the Colorado Rapids to a victory in the MLS Cup in 2010 and will now help guide the club as it builds toward its first professional season.

- Rio Grande Valley FC (2-2-0, 6pts) took its first win at newly-opened H-E-B Park on Wednesday night as two goals by Memo Rodriguez and another by 18-year-old Colombian Camilo Monroy earned the club a victory against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC.

- The New York Red Bulls II (1-2-1, 4pts) kick off the weekend’s action when they host Orlando City B (1-2-1, 4pts) at MSU Soccer Park on Friday night (7 p.m. ET | Match Center). The Red Bulls II have lost back-to-back games for only the fifth time in their history, and will be aiming to avoid their first three-game losing streak ever when it faces an OCB side that has taken four points from its past two games visits.

- The Richmond Kickers (1-2-0, 3pts) and Ottawa Fury FC (0-2-0, 0pts) will both look to bounce back from defeats in their last outings when they meet at City Stadium on Saturday evening (5 p.m. ET | Match Center). Ottawa has suffered two one-goal defeats to open its inaugural season, while Richmond has suffered back-to-back 1-0 losses after winning its opening game of the season.

- The Charleston Battery (2-1-0, 6pts) host the Rochester Rhinos (1-0-1, 4pts) in a meeting of two four-time USL champions at MUSC Health Stadium on Saturday night (7 p.m. ET | Match Center). The Battery suffered their first loss of the season at the hands of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds last Saturday, while the Rhinos played to a 0-0 draw with Toronto FC II last Friday to remain undefeated this season.

- San Antonio FC (2-0-1, 7pts) aims to continue its undefeated start when it hosts expansion side Reno 1868 FC (0-2-1, 1pt) at Toyota Field on Saturday night (8:30 p.m. ET | Match Center). Reno is still looking for its first regular-season win in club history after falling 5-3 to Real Monarchs SLC last time out, while SAFC earned a 1-1 draw thanks to an outstanding finish by Kris Tyrpak last Friday to remain near the top of the Western Conference.

- The Harrisburg City Islanders (1-1-0, 3pts) host their home opener at FNB Field on Saturday night (7 p.m. ET | Match Center) when they face Bethlehem Steel FC (1-1-0, 3pts). Both teams are coming off their first wins of the season. The City Islanders claimed a 1-0 win against the New York Red Bulls II thanks to Manolo Sanchez’s goal last Wednesday, while Bethlehem got a pair of goals from USL Player of the Week Seku Conneh to defeat FC Cincinnati this past Sunday.

- The LA Galaxy II (1-2-0, 3pts) will try to bounce back from back-to-back losses when they host Seattle Sounders FC 2 (1-2-0, 3pts) on Saturday night at StubHub Center Track & Field Stadium (10:30 p.m. ET | Match Center). Los Dos fell 2-1 on the road against Phoenix Rising FC last Saturday, while S2 lost 3-0 against Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2.

- The Charlotte Independence (0-1-1, 1pt) will take aim at their first win of the season when they host the Pittsburgh Riverhounds (1-2-0, 3pts) on Saturday night at Eagle Field (7 p.m. ET | Match Center). Charlotte earned its first point in a 1-1 draw with Orlando City B last Saturday, while the Riverhounds fell in midweek as the side missed out on a chance for back-to-back wins for the first time since 2015 in a 2-1 loss to Saint Louis FC.

- The Portland Timbers 2 (0-4-0, 0pts) will try to get off the bottom of the Western Conference on Sunday afternoon when they welcome Cascadia rival Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 (1-1-1, 4pts) to Providence Park ( 5 p.m. ET | Match Center). T2 has lost four one-goal games so far this season, while WFC2 is coming off its first win of the season, a 3-0 triumph against Seattle Sounders FC 2.

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