Some quick thoughts on the unpredictable, action-packed USL Championship conference quarter-finals.
The field of clubs remaining has been cut from 16 to eight as the USL Championship conference quarters took place yesterday across the country. We offer quick thoughts on each matchup.
#1 Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC 7, #10 Birmingham Legion FC 0
In usual Bob Lilley-style, the Riverhounds were an offensive juggernaut last night vs. an overmatch Birmingham. Yes, I am being sarcastic about the defensive-minded manager, but the blowout win is important. If Riverhounds SC can score goals early (three in the first half-hour yesterday), they will be able to really lock down defensively and they will be tough to beat. Scoring seven goals with only seven shots on target is absolute madness as they benefited from an own goal and two penalty kicks.
#2 Nashville SC 3, #9 Charleston Battery 1
The number two seed did what they needed to do against a well-coached Charleston side that was not an easy out. Despite a sizable advantage in shots for Nashville, the Battery hit the post on a potential equalizer and were contesting this match deep into the night until Derrick Jones slammed the door shut. His solo effort on that insurance goal was excellent and reminded everyone why expectations and optimism have been high surrounding the 22-year-old.
#3 Indy Eleven 1, #6 New York Red Bulls II 0
It only took one goal for Indy to send home the Baby Bulls and it was a magnificent one. A great cross to a great first-time chip pass to a great first-time finish. That was the only shot on goal for the Eleven on the night and they limited NYRB2 to the same amount of shots on target, despite them having nearly double the total shots. It wasn’t a perfect performance or a particularly attractive one, but it was a first playoff win for the club in USL play after they were blown out 4-1 last year.
#4 Louisville City FC 2, Tampa Bay Rowdies 1
If you didn’t enjoy the visual quality of the match stream or the players slipping for each side, you can follow Milli Vanilli’s suggestion and blame it on the rain. With the field conditions already under scrutiny, the steady downpour during the match didn’t help and the two-time reigning champions advanced. Magnus Rasmussen scored a brace with goals coming in back-to-back minutes in the first half and Tampa Bay’s leading scorer Sebastian Guenzatti’s goal late in the second half was the only score the visitors could muster.
#1 Phoenix Rising FC 0 (8), #8 Austin Bold FC 0 (7)
This one didn’t go as a lot of people expected. The high-scoring regular season champions were blanked through extra time against an expansion side that needed to win a play-in game to get here. While Phoenix had the edge in possession, the shot totals were almost identical and credit to Bold FC for being prepared to go face-to-face with the massive favorites. Diego Restrepo’s save to keep things level was remarkable. With the penalties level at seven apiece, MLS veteran Jermaine Taylor fired one directly at Zac Lubin before A.J. Cochran sent Rising through.
#7 Sacramento Republic FC 3, #2 Reno 1868 FC 1
A mistake led to an early goal for 1868 FC and a dream start for the home side. But, an experienced Sacramento side answered minutes later and scored two more unanswered goals to score the biggest upset of this playoffs so far. A combination of quality defending and poor shooting, Reno only finished with five shots on target out of their 20 total efforts. Republic FC, the newly announced MLS expansion side, look like they may be a surprise contender out West after they struggled down the stretch in the regular season.
#6 El Paso Locomotive FC 3, #3 Fresno FC 2
This was a match of runs. After El Paso opened the scoring early, Fresno bounced back with two goals of their own to take the lead. They should have added a third, but Hiroki Kurimoto would put an open chance from close-range wide of the goal. That miss would come back to haunt the hosts because El Paso pulled things level in the 77th minute before a Sebastian Velasquez 83rd-minute penalty pushed Locomotive FC ahead. A red card for Fresno’s Sam Strong minutes later contributed to an ineffective late push to equalize.
#4 Real Monarchs SLC 6, #5 Orange County SC 2
With the scoreline 2-1 at the break, this was shaping up to be a close contest as both sides took turns controlling the first-half action. But, a 49th-minute red card for OC’s Harry Forrester changed the dynamic as Monarchs SLC put four more goals on the board and blew this match wide open. There were five different goalscorers for the Real Salt Lake affiliate with only captain Jack Blake scoring more than once.
Highest attendance: Phoenix vs. Austin, 6,642
Lowest attendance: Real Monarchs vs. Orange County, 2,749
Most shots (team): Reno 1868 FC, 20
Most possession (team): Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, 62.5%
Most shots (excluding PHX-AUS due to extra time) (match): Reno vs. Sacramento, 33
Fewest shots (match): Indy vs. RYRB2, 14