Western Conference sides jockey for position with 2-0-0 Seattle idle this week
The third week of the 2015 USL season incorporates its first group of midweek games as league play runs for four consecutive days starting Wednesday, when the Austin Aztex host Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2. The April 1-4 stretch features 11 games, and the Aztex and Tulsa Roughnecks FC have two matches during this span. Tulsa has the quickest turnaround, hosting Saint Louis FC on Thursday and then welcoming Austin on Saturday.
With Western Conference-leading Seattle Sounders FC 2 (2-0-0) idle this week, the likes of Arizona United SC, Austin, the Portland Timbers 2 and Sacramento Republic FC will have an opportunity to challenge for the top spot.
GAMES TO WATCH
Portland Timbers 2 vs. Sacramento Republic FC
Thursday, 10 p.m. ET, Merlo Field
The Portland Timbers 2 continue their homestand against defending USL champion Sacramento Republic FC, and both teams have some momentum on their side heading in. Portland opened its first season with a 3-1 victory against Real Monarchs SLC on Sunday, carried by a brace from T2 striker Kharlton Belmar, who earned USL Team of the Week honors. Republic FC’s Rodrigo Lopez tallied a game-winning goal in stoppage time to earn a 3-2 road victory against the LA Galaxy II. Second-year Republic FC is 1-1-0 this season, and Octavio Guzman leads the club with three goals – two penalty-kick conversions against Los Dos and a late tally in the opening 4-2 loss to Seattle Sounders FC on March 21. Lopez returns to familiar territory, having played for the Timbers from 2009-11.
LA Galaxy II vs. Arizona United SC
Thursday, 10:30 p.m. ET, StubHub Center
United looks ahead to its second of a four-game road trip to open the season. The visitors met their first challenge with a 2-1 victory against Orange County Blues FC last week. Los Dos are still in search of their first win of the season and coming off a last-minute 3-2 loss against Sacramento Republic FC. The LA Galaxy II enter the match with an unbeaten mark against Arizona United, posting a 2-0-2 record in 2014 and outscoring United by a 9-6 margin.
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC vs. OKC Energy FC
Saturday, 3 p.m. ET, Sand Creek Stadium
Colorado Springs is set for its home opener and looks to rebound from a season-opening 2-0 loss against the Austin Aztex last week. OKC Energy FC, which posted a 1-1 road draw against Tulsa Roughnecks FC, has some positive takeaways following its opening match of the season. Defender Cyprian Hedrick earned USL Team of the Week honors, Michael Thomas gave Oklahoma City a 1-0 lead heading into halftime and goalkeeper Evan Newton had four saves.
Richmond Kickers vs. Louisville City FC
Saturday, 5 p.m. ET, City Stadium
The Kickers’ home opener against expansion Louisville City will serve as a good test for both sides in this Eastern Conference clash. Richmond heads into the game with a well-earned point after rallying from a two-goal deficit for a 2-2 road draw against Wilmington Hammerheads FC. Louisville City had a memorable USL debut, treating its 6,000-plus fans at Louisville Slugger Field to a 2-0 victory against Saint Louis FC, but the setting will be far different during Louisville City’s first road contest. Last year, Richmond posted an impressive 13-game unbeaten streak (8-0-5) at home before dropping its final regular-season home match against Orlando City.
NEWS AND NOTES
– Three players lead the USL with three goals this season: Seattle Sounders FC 2’s Darwin Jones and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds’ Kevin Kerr, who both recorded hat tricks in Week 2, and Sacramento Republic FC’s Octavio Guzman, who has combined for three goals in two games. Kerr is already one goal away from matching his 2014 season total of four.
– Last week, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds scored five goals in a 5-2 victory against the Harrisburg City Islanders to set the USL season high so far. The five goals also matched the Riverhounds’ highest scoring output since a 5-2 win against the Real Salt Lake Reserves on July 25, 2014.
– The Charleston Battery (2-0-0) have an opportunity to become the first team to three wins this season when they host the Harrisburg City Islanders on Saturday at Blackbaud Stadium. The Eastern Conference leaders are off to a far faster start than 2014, when they did not earn their first victory until the seventh game of the season, a 4-0 win against Harrisburg on May 2.
HOW TO FOLLOW
Every game of the 2015 USL season can be seen live on YouTube (www.Youtube.com/USL), with updates from throughout the league also available via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.