Breaking down USL Championship’s strong Saturday schedule for May 8th

It’s only Matchweek 3 of the 2021 USL Championship season, but tomorrow is already shaping up to be a big day across the league. There are seven fixtures on the schedule and there are some intriguing matchups and perennial powers squaring off.

Indy Eleven vs. FC Tulsa, 7 PM Eastern

FC Tulsa have come out of the gates on fire this season. On opening weekend, they picked up a 3-1 Black Gold Derby win over OKC Energy FC, which included the first USL Goal of the Week, courtesy of Joaquin Rivas. The veteran-laden club followed that up with a 2-0 win vs. Sporting Kansas City II.

Indy Eleven narrowly missed the playoffs in 2020 and got off on the right foot in 2021 with a 1-0 victory over Birmingham Legion FC. Tomorrow will be an exciting home opener for Indy as they return to Michael A. Carroll Stadium at IUPUI, where they played their home matches before moving to Lucas Oil Stadium from 2018-2020.

Players to Watch

Indy: Jordan Hamilton

The former Toronto FC standout came off the bench in the season opener, but he should be expected to be a primary goalscorer for Indy.

Tulsa: Jorge Corrales

A star on the Tulsa backline, Corrales has two assists already this season and will be key on both ends of the pitch for Michael Nsien’s side.

Prediction

2-1, FC Tulsa

Louisville City FC vs. Birmingham Legion FC, 7:30 PM Eastern

Back on April 24th, Louisville City FC defeated ATL UTD 2 at Lynn Family Stadium. Days later, championship-winning head coach John Hackworth suddenly left the club by mutual consent. Danny Cruz is now the interim head coach for Lou City and he will make his managerial debut tomorrow against a formidable Birmingham side.

A playoff side in 2020, Legion FC started the season with a 1-0 loss vs. Indy Eleven. They will look to get things back on track when they head north to face Louisville, unfortunately without star striker JJ Williams, who is suspended following a red card vs. Indy.

Players to Watch

Louisville: Cameron Lancaster

One of the best strikers in the league, Lancaster will look to open his 2021 account in front of the home crowd after not scoring in the season-opening win.

Birmingham: Neco Brett

Without JJ Williams, Brett will need to step up and provide some firepower for Birmingham if they want to keep up with Lou City.

Prediction

2-2, Draw

Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC. 7:30 PM Eastern

The reigning Eastern Conference champions kept their 2020 form going with a 3-0 win vs. Charlotte Independence. Sebastian Guenzatti made the USL Team of the Week after scoring a brace and assisting on the third goal.

One of the perennial powers in the Eastern Conference, Riverhounds SC will be making their season debut and looking to show they are still one of the teams to beat in the East. They made the playoffs last season, finishing third on the conference table, one spot ahead of Tampa Bay.

Players to Watch

Tampa Bay: Sebastian Guenzatti

After that monster performance vs. Charlotte, Guenzatti will be expected to play a key role for the Rowdies as they look to break down a Bob Lilley defense.

Pittsburgh: Todd Wharton

A new arrival this season, Wharton will need to use his passing ability to control the tempo in the midfield to make sure this match is played at Pittsburgh’s preferred pace, not Tampa Bay’s.

Prediction

1-0, Tampa Bay Rowdies

The Miami FC vs. Hartford Athletic, 7:30 PM Eastern

After a rough debut season in the USL Championship, The Miami FC kicked off 2021 with a 2-1 win over Loudoun United. They rebuilt their roster in the offseason and added established stars like Paco Craig, Christiano Fran├žois, and Speedy Williams.

Hartford Athletic was one of the surprise stories of last season. They finished second on the Eastern Conference table and started this season with a 3-2 win over New York Red Bulls 2. 31-year-old Harry Watling is in his first season as head coach after holding coaching jobs in the Chelsea, Millwall, and West Ham United academies.

Players to Watch

Miami: Paco Craig

The former championship-winning defender for Louisville City, Craig scored the opening goal for Miami vs. Loudoun and he will need to have his defense locked in vs. an explosive Hartford side.

Hartford: Juan Carlos Obregon Jr.

After dashing the United States’ Olympic dreams while playing for Honduras in the offseason, Obregon Jr. scored in his Hartford debut vs. NYRB2.

Prediction

3-3, Draw

San Antonio FC vs. Real Monarchs SLC, 8:30 PM Eastern

San Antonio FC won Group D in the 2020 season before being eliminated in their first match of the postseason. To start the 2021 season, USL Player of the Week Santiago Patino scored a hat trick to lead SAFC past Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC.

2020 was a down year for Real Monarchs after they won the USL Cup Final in 2019. They will look to start their 2021 campaign with a win on the road at Toyota Field under head coach Jamison Olave.

Players to Watch

SAFC: Santiago Patino

After a dream of a debut for San Antonio, all eyes will be on Patino to see what tricks he has up his sleeve this week.

Real Monarchs: Kyle Adams

The 2019 RGVFC captain was signed by the Houston Dynamo for the 2020 season and will look to bring leadership to the Monarchs’ back line.

Prediction

2-0, San Antonio FC

El Paso Locomotive FC vs. New Mexico United, 9:30 PM Eastern

Under Mark Lowry, El Paso have made the Western Conference Final in both of their seasons in existence. Tomorrow will be their season opener as they look to protect their home-field advantage at Southwest University Park.

Last season, they finished second behind El Paso in Group C and were eliminated by them in a penalty shootout in the playoffs. NMU started this season with a 1-0 defeat on the road vs. RGVFC.

Players to Watch

El Paso: Logan Ketterer

He’s been a star in goal during the 2019 and 2020 seasons for Locomotive FC. He finished tied for second in the league in clean sheets last season and eighth in saves.

NMU: Devon Sandoval

The veteran forward scored in three of the four regular season matches vs. El Paso last season.

Prediction

1-0, El Paso Locomotive FC

Phoenix Rising FC vs. Oakland Roots SC, 10:30 PM Eastern

Last Friday, Phoenix Rising FC hammered San Diego Loyal SC, 4-1, in the national TV Match of the Week. Santi Moar (one goal, two assists) and Kevon Lambert both made the USL Team of the Week following the blowout win.

Oakland Roots SC will make their USL Championship debut against the powerhouse in Phoenix. After the club surprisingly parted ways with Dario Pot before he even managed a match, Jordan Ferrell took over as the interim head coach while also serving as technical director.

Players to Watch

Phoenix: Solomon Asante

He has won back-t0-back league MVP awards and surprisingly didn’t pick up a goal or assist in the season-opening win. You can expect him to be involved in a goal or two this week.

Oakland: Wal Fall

A physical presence in the midfield, Fall will be crucial to Roots SC slowing down the Phoenix attack and he is also dangerous on set pieces.

Prediction

3-0, Phoenix Rising FC

Author

Carson A Merk

Reporting live from Sin City, I have covered both RGVFC and Las Vegas Lights FC since their inceptions. I also write profiles to highlight players from the NCAA to USL to NWSL and everywhere in between.