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USL Weekend Preview – Week 7

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 05/05/17, 3:08PM EDT

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West takes spotlight with I-405 Derby, San Antonio showdown, potential Drogba debut

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TAMPA, Fla. – The Western Conference takes the spotlight in the seventh weekend of the 2017 USL Regular Season, which kicks off on Friday night with a rematch of the 2016 Western Conference Final, and continues on Saturday with three major contests that will bring a showdown in San Antonio, a new home opening in Orange County, and the potential for a major debut in Phoenix.

Orange County SC will open its new home at Orange County Great Park on Saturday evening as it welcomes I-405 Derby rival the LA Galaxy II for its first home game of the season. Also on Saturday, the lone undefeated team remaining in the Western Conference, San Antonio FC, returns to Toyota Field. Its visitor will be Sacramento Republic FC, which will take the next shot at defeating the conference leader for the first time this season.

The weekend kicks off at Children’s Mercy Victory Field with the first meeting between the Swope Park Rangers and Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 since the sides met in the Western Conference Final of the 2016 USL Cup Playoffs. Then, concluding the week’s action on Saturday night, all eyes will be on Phoenix Rising FC, which could see new signing Didier Drogba make his debut as the club hosts Reno 1868 FC.

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 Michael Rincon / Phoenix Rising FC

Friday, May 5
Swope Park Rangers vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2
8:30 p.m. ET, Children’s Mercy Victory Field

The Swope Park Rangers will try to snap a two-game losing streak when they play host to Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2. The Rangers – who defeated WFC2 3-0 when the sides met in the Western Conference Final of the 2016 USL Cup Playoffs – are perfect so far on home turf this season.

The Rangers (3-2-0, 9pts) lost 2-1 to Real Monarchs SLC at Rio Tinto Stadium last Saturday as the visitors were unable to come back from a two-goal halftime deficit. Kharlton Belmar scored in the second half for his team-leading third goal this season, but Swope Park will be aiming to get things back on track as they return to home turf.

Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 (2-2-2, 8pts) has gone two games without a win, but earned a 0-0 draw against Sacramento Republic FC last Saturday at Thunderbird Stadium. WFC2 won both regular-season meetings against the Rangers last season, with Ben McKendry – who leads the team this year in shots (14), shots on goal (9) and chances created (10) – scoring a standout finish at Children’s Mercy Victory Field in the equivalent contest last year.

Saturday, May 6
Ottawa Fury FC vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies
2 p.m. ET, TD Place

Ottawa Fury FC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies meet for the second time this season with both coming off victories in their most recent outings. The Rowdies took a 1-0 win at Al Lang Stadium when the two teams met in early April in the first clash this season.

Ottawa (1-2-2, 5pts) was buoyed in midweek as it took a 1-0 victory against FC Edmonton in the first leg of its Preliminary Round series of the 2017 Canadian Championship. Ryan Williams scored an 89th-minute winner for Fury FC at TD Place to give the team an edge as the series heads to Edmonton next Wednesday.

The Rowdies (4-2-1, 13pts) got back on a winning track last Saturday night with a 1-0 victory against the Richmond Kickers at Al Lang Stadium. Deshorn Brown’s scissor-kick finish – which earned the No. 1 spot on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 – was the lone goal as Tampa Bay ended a three-game winless streak.

Orange County SC vs. LA Galaxy II
8 p.m. ET, Orange County Great Park

Orange County hosts its home opener against its I-405 Derby rivals the LA Galaxy II in the second game of a home-and-home series between the clubs. The two teams played to a 1-1 draw two weeks ago at StubHub Center Track & Field Stadium as Adrian Vera earned Los Dos a point with a second-half equalizer.

Orange County (2-1-1, 7pts) made a solid start to the season in its four-game road trip, and on Saturday begins a new era with the opening of its new home. Victor Pineda has been a key figure in the team’s success, scoring once and creating five scoring chances so far from the midfield.

The Galaxy II (1-3-1, 4pts) will look to build on their draw against Orange County, which broke a three-game losing streak for the squad. Los Dos’ young squad hasn’t earned a victory since the opening weekend of the season, with Vera’s goal against OC in its last outing only the fourth goal for the club this year.

San Antonio FC vs. Sacramento Republic FC
8:30 p.m. ET, Toyota Field

San Antonio FC is on a club-record four-game winning streak and seven-game undefeated streak as it welcomes Sacramento Republic FC to Toyota Field. The Western Conference leader is also home to the USL Player of the Week after Cesar Elizondo earned the honor for Week 6 on Tuesday.

SAFC (6-0-1, 19pts) showed off its depth as it went a perfect 3-0-0 through a 10-day trip to Cascadia that saw the side earn victories against Vancouver, Seattle and Portland. Twenty different players featured in the starting lineup over the three wins, with Sebastian Ibeagha and Greg Cochrane the only two to play all 270 minutes of action over that span.

Sacramento (3-3-1, 10pts) is looking to break out of a scoring slump in Texas, having been held scoreless for a fourth consecutive game in a 0-0 draw against Vancouver last Saturday. When Republic FC last had a four-game scoreless streak in league play, however, it ended the LA Galaxy II’s undefeated start to the 2016 season, a parallel that won’t be lost going into Saturday’s game.

Phoenix Rising FC vs. Reno 1868 FC
10:30 p.m. ET, Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex

Former Chelsea and Ivory Coast legend Didier Drogba could make his debut for Phoenix Rising FC on Saturday night as the club looks to build on a two-game winning streak. Reno, meanwhile, is hoping to spoil the party, which would also earn the club its first win in its inaugural season.

Rising FC (2-2-0, 6pts) welcomed Drogba at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport on April 21, and was introduced prior to the club’s 4-3 victory against the Swope Park Rangers on April 23, which was also its last league outing. Joining former Chelsea teammate Shaun Wright-Phillips and former Mexico international Omar Bravo in Phoenix, Drogba is available for selection.

Reno (0-3-2, 2pts) was moments away from its first win in club history in its last outing, but a late goal by Colorado Springs’ Shane Malcolm resulted in a 2-2 draw at Greater Nevada Field. After a bye week, 1868 FC will be looking to go one step further as its attack led by USL all-time leading scorer Dane Kelly looks to press the Rising FC defense.

NUMBER CRUNCHING


Photo courtesy Steven Christy / OKC Energy FC

3,497 – The Tampa Bay Rowdies currently lead the USL with 3,497 total passes this season, and sit second in accuracy rate at 82 percent.

331Toronto FC II had a club-record shutout streak of 331 minutes – which included three consecutive shutouts – brought to an end in its 1-0 defeat against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on Wednesday.

23Danny Barrera leads the USL with 23 chances created this season, but has recorded only one assist for Sacramento Republic FC.

8 – The Swope Park Rangers will look to add to an eight-game home winning streak that dates back to the 2016 regular season at Children’s Mercy Victory Field on Saturday night when they host Sacramento Republic FC.

4 – The Pittsburgh Riverhounds’ Victor Souto became the fourth USL player in April to earn a place on the ESPN SportsCenter Top 10 with his long-range finish on Wednesday against Toronto earning the No. 2 position.

OTHER NEWS AND NOTES


Photo courtesy Nashville SC

- Nashville Soccer Holdings LLC and businessman John R. Ingram announced on Thursday it had acquired a majority interest in DMD Soccer, owner of 2018 USL expansion franchise Nashville Soccer Club.

- Saturday night’s scheduled contest between Saint Louis FC and the Rochester Rhinos was postponed on Wednesday evening after severe flooding from the Meramec River left conditions at Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis unplayable this weekend.

- The Pittsburgh Riverhounds (3-3-2, 11pts) earned back-to-back victories for the first time since 2015 with a 1-0 win against Toronto FC II (1-3-3, 6pts) at Highmark Stadium. The victory moved the Riverhounds into fourth place in the Eastern Conference entering this weekend’s action.

- The Charleston Battery (4-1-1, 13pts) will look to continue their three-game undefeated streak when they host Bethlehem Steel FC (2-3-0, 6pts) at MUSC Health Stadium on Saturday night (7 p.m. ET | Match Center). Steel FC is coming off a 1-0 victory against FC Cincinnati, while the Battery drew 2-2 with Ottawa Fury FC in their last outing.

- Tulsa Roughnecks FC (2-2-0, 6pts) will look to pick up back-to-back road victories when it visits Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (2-2-3, 9pts) on Friday night at Weidner Field (9 p.m. ET | Match Center). The Roughnecks earned a 1-0 win against Rio Grande Valley FC two weeks ago in their last contest, while the Switchbacks are coming off a 3-2 defeat against Seattle Sounders FC 2.

- The New York Red Bulls II (2-2-2, 8pts) will try to earn a little revenge against the Harrisburg City Islanders (2-2-1, 7pts) when the two teams meet for the second time this season at MSU Soccer Park on Saturday evening (4 p.m. ET | Match Center). The City Islanders eked out a 1-0 win at Red Bull Arena in the first meeting between the clubs this season last month.

- Seattle Sounders FC 2 (3-4-0, 9pts) will try to pick up its second win this season against the Portland Timbers 2 (1-6-0, 3pts) when the Cascadia rivals meet at Starfire Stadium on Friday night (10:30 p.m. ET | Match Center). S2 is 8-1-0 all-time against T2 in the USL regular season, including a 2-1 victory in the first meeting between the teams this season, which was also at Starfire.

- The Richmond Kickers (2-4-0, 6pts) and FC Cincinnati (2-3-2, 8pts) will both try to rebound from 1-0 defeats last time out when they meet at City Stadium on Saturday night (7 p.m. ET | Match Center). The Kickers suffered a defeat against the Tampa Bay Rowdies last Saturday, while FCC conceded a late goal against Bethlehem Steel FC in its third loss of the season.

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