USL Championship Playoffs Round of 16 Recap
The USL Championship Playoffs are in full swing! We saw four exciting games in the play-in round (if you didn’t catch that I have another blog post up about it!) and in the Round of 16 last weekend there was a ton of action. We had shutouts, PKs, upset, YOU NAME IT USL CHAMPIONSHIP HAD IT! So I feel like I should recap those matches for you all and look at what is ahead. Let’s dive on in!
Out in the Western Conference the big dawgs, Phoenix Rising FC, had their blood pressure levels rising as they were forced in PKs in their #1 vs #8 game against Austin Bold. Phoenix’s defense played out of their minds, but the offense never truly generated a good chance on goal. Center-back pairing Corey Whelan and AJ Cochran, along with LB Amadou Dia held down the fort for the top seeded Rising FC. Then in PKs obviously it was the goalkeepers time to shine and Zac Lubin got big in net and was able to push his squad over Austin and into the USL Championship Quarterfinals. To give some credit to Austin’s guys, they played well on defense all game. Slowing attacks and not letting their big names run at them hard. Jermaine Taylor, Josue Soto, and Sean McFarlane held the Rising attack back. With no goals in the run of play, a 0-0 game that was finished in PKs is something that Austin should be proud of. Phoenix now goes on to face Real Monarchs who handled themselves like Phoenix did all season long.
The Monarchs led by Jamieson Olave DESTROYED Orange County SC 6-2. The #4 seeded Monarchs had leaders step up on every line from their defenders, midfielders, and up in the attack. Left wing-back Tate Schmitt and CB Erik Holt got on the score sheets and were able to play a strong game in front of David Ochoa. Schmitt more specifically scored a goal this game but also racked up 3 assists! In the midfield the star of the show was attacking midfielder Jack Blake. Blake was the controller in this one. Running at the OCSC backline, distributing out, and making that pass before the pass kind of plays. Blake would finish this game with 2 goals to his credit. Finally, I think the performance from Maikel Chang stood out to me. Chang has been around this Monarchs squad for a few years now and was a leader last Saturday. Chang scored like he usual does, but was able to set others up and finished with 2 assists. A poor game from OCSC’s Walker Hume, Kevin Alston, and a gross red card from Harry Forrester didn’t help OCSC come close to a win in this one. Now #1 seeded Phoenix Rising FC will square off against the #4 seeded Real Monarchs on Friday 11/1. Make sure you tune into this one because there should be a TON of goals!
In the other Western Conference games we saw two big upsets. #3 seeded Fresno FC faced #6 seeded El Paso Locomotiv. El Paso was able to win this one 3-2 and due in large part to long time USL standout Sebastian Velasquez. Velasquez only was able to score a PK in this game, but his presence was felt all of the field. He controlled the flow and possession for El Paso. Their left side of the team was big in this game too. LB James Kiffe and LM Josue Gomez had strong games up and down that left sideline, each scoring a goal as well. Fresno’ had a poor defensive game. They allowed El Paso’s midfield to control the game, gain possession, and move that line of confrontation up and up. El Paso will now move on with a shocking home game as a 6 seed.
In the #2 seeded Reno 1868 vs #7 seed Sacramento Republic game, Sac Rep is continuing to stay hot. Getting MLS announcements, beating New Mexico in the play-ins, and now beating Reno. This game finished 3-1 and we saw the big names for Sac Republic shine. The attacking three of Cam Iwasa, Thomas Enevoldsen, and Sam Werner were FEELING it once again. All three ended up with a goal in this game breaking down that Reno defense numerous times. Mitchell Taintor and Jose Barahona lead the defense and even got on the score sheet (with a Barahona assist). Sacramento Republic are hot and I would be scared to play them. They have been scoring goals, they have been slowing opposing offenses, and their names are performing well. We will see if they can stay hot as they face the #6 seeded El Paso Locomotiv who will be home for this weekend’s quarterfinal game. On Friday 11/1 make sure you check out this game to see who’s Cinderella run will continue!
Where we saw two upsets in the West… we had zero in the East. So we can run down these games with zero surprises? Well you tell me if you were surprised by anything. #1 seeded Pittsburgh Riverhounds hosted the #10 seeded Birmingham Legion and the Bob Lilley lead squad OBLITERATED Birmingham 7-0. I don’t have any deep dive on this game or much to say. Pittsburgh is very good. Birmingham is very bad. Neco Brett scored four goals… let’s move on.
In the Eastern Conference Playoffs seeing Lou City win is like seeing a new Pokemon game come out. We know what to expect, we know it’ll be good, and we want more. #4 seeded Lou City came out and beat a tough #5 seeded Tampa Bay Rowdies side 2-1. Lou City controlled this one and with a first half brace from Magnus Rasmussen sealed the deal. Even though Tampa Bay would get one back the game was controlled by the tough back four of Oscar Jimenez, Paco Craig, Sean Totsch, and Pat McMahon. Tampa Bay really just seemed to lack the energy and confidence to step up in this game. Lou City will have to play like Lou City again as they now have to travel to Pittsburgh to face those Lilley and Brett Riverhounds. This has the makings of a great game. Even with a lack of some upset in the past in the East, when Lou City is involved I wouldn’t count them out.
In the other Eastern Conference games we saw the #3 seed Indy Eleven face the always tough #6 seed New York Red Bulls II. Indy stepped up big and controlled the hell out of this game. Winning balls in the midfield, holding possession, and at the end their strong defense gave them the win. Center-back Karl Ouimette was the player of the game on defense and he scored the game winning goal on a set piece in the 27th minute. The Red Bulls looked uncharacteristically bad. Mathias Jorgensen and Vincent Bezecourt had poor games and the rest of the squad couldn’t get an attack going. Indy now moves on to face the winner of Nashville SC and Charleston Battery which was won by….
NASHVILLE SC! The #2 seeded Nashville easily handled #9 seeded Charleston 3-1. Nashville had their attack flowing and with strong games from left winger Taylor Washington and striker Daniel Rios they broke down the poor Charleston defense for the easy win. To me Nashville seems like a Western Conference USL side. They play open, quick, and they score goals. But that tough attack has a different challenge next week. Nashville SC moves on to face the tough defense of the Indy Eleven. A good defense vs a strong attack? Who wouldn’t want to watch that?