Conference Semifinal matchups set for USL Championship Playoffs
TAMPA, Fla. – A packed night of action opened the 2020 USL Championship Playoffs on Saturday night as eight teams advanced to the Eastern and Western Conference Semifinals after four of the eight games required extra time and one a penalty shootout to decide a winner.
Two major rivalry matchups, and a meeting between the two clubs that finished the season with the best record in the regular season, are now on the slate for next weekend.
Louisville City FC will continue its quest to reach a fourth consecutive USL Championship Final as it hosts Kings’ Cup rival Saint Louis FC at Lynn Family Stadium, while the Tampa Bay Rowdies will face the Charleston Battery at Al Lang Stadium in the Eastern Conference. Out West, El Paso Locomotive FC will welcome New Mexico United to Southwest University Park, while Reno 1868 FC will play host to Phoenix Rising FC at Greater Nevada Field.
Conference Quarterfinals Recaps
HARTFORD, Conn. – Joaquin Rivas scored a stoppage-time winner to lead Saint Louis FC to its first postseason victory in club history as it defeated Hartford Athletic at Dillon Stadium.
Saint Louis got a sterling performance from goalkeeper Kyle Morton, who posted a five-save shutout including a key save to deny Aidan Mesias midway through the first half as the Athletic looked the more likely to score early.
Morton came up with another crucial stop with 15 minutes to go as Markus Naglestad got in behind the defense only to have his shot denied, but moment before the game appeared set to go to extra time a through ball was stabbed away from STLFC’s Mour Samb, only to go straight to Rivas, who surged into the right side of the penalty area and fired home a finish at the near post.
MATTHEWS, N.C. – Arthur Bosua scored in the first period of extra time to send the Charleston Battery past their Southern Derby rival the Charlotte Independence in what will stand as the Independence’s final game at the Sportsplex at Matthews before the club moves into its new downtown stadium in 2021.
The Battery got out to a flying start in the third minute as Zeiko Lewis’ through-ball from the halfway line picked out Mauro Cichero breaking into the right channel, and while the Venezuelan was crowded out by a pair of defenders he was able to slip a pass to Nicque Daley to finish into the left corner of the net. The Independence replied midway through the second half as a free kick from the right by Jake Areman was redirected on goal as a crowd of players competed for a header. Battery goalkeeper Joe Kuzminsky made the initial save, but Hugh Roberts was on hand to tuck home the rebound.
Charleston regained the lead off a set piece of its own in the 101st minute, however, as a long free kick by Jarad van Schaik from near the halfway line drew Independence goalkeeper Brandon Miller off his line, and Bosua beat him to the ball to head into the vacant net. The Independence tried to find another equalizer, but the Battery’s defense held firm to earn their first Conference Semifinals berth since 2016.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Louisville City FC began its pursuit of a fourth consecutive trip to the USL Championship Final with victory against fellow contender Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC as Cameron Lancaster and Corben Bone each found the net at Lynn Family Stadium.
Pittsburgh had an early chance to grab the lead in the 13th minute only for Albert Dikwa to be denied by LouCity goalkeeper Ben Lundt and Steevan Dos Santos to shoot wide of the right post on the rebound. Instead, Louisville took the lead in the 17th minute as he swept home a first time finish off a low cross by Oscar Jimenez from the left into the right corner of the net.
LouCity limited Pittsburgh’s opportunities to equalize in the second half, although the Hounds almost found the net with eight minutes to go as Kenardo Forbes curled a free kick just over the top-right corner of the net. But with four minutes remaining Bone put the game away as he was played into the Pittsburgh half by Jason Johnson and fired a skidding shot that spun off the hands of Hounds goalkeeper Danny Vitiello and found the back of the net.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Rowdies let a two-goal lead slip in the second half but then got goals from Lucky Mkosana and Leo Fernandes to see off Birmingham Legion FC at Al Lang Stadium.
The Rowdies got out to an ideal start as a set play from a corner on the right saw Zach Steinberger pick out Jordan Doherty for a strike at the top of the penalty area that flew into the top-left corner of the net in the eighth minute. Tampa Bay doubled its lead seven minutes before halftime as Sebastian Dalgaard created space on the right side to deliver a low cross that captain Sebastian Guenzatti fired home from close range to make it a two-goal game at the break.
Birmingham came out brightly to start the second half, however, and pulled a goal back in the 57th minute as Prosper Kasim volleyed home just inside the right post after delivery intended for Alex Crognale had been sent high into the air in the Rowdies’ penalty area. Five minutes later, Legion FC pulled level as the visitors turned over possession just inside Tampa Bay’s half and got the ball quickly forward to Neco Brett in the left channel. He found Bruno Lapa breaking forward centrally for a first-time finish into the right corner.
The Rowdies regained the lead with 12 minutes to go as second-half substitutes Malik Johnson and Lucky Mkosana combined, Johnson delivering a cross from the right that the Zimbabwe international headed in off the right post from the center of the penalty area. Two minutes later Fernandes wrapped up the win as he got into the left side of the area and fired a low shot just past his defender and into the right corner of the net.
SAN ANTONIO – Chris Wehan scored the only goal in the first period of extra time to send New Mexico to its first victory in the USL Championships as San Antonio FC suffered its first home defeat of the season at Toyota Field.
Both teams had chances in regular time as Josh Suggs might have done better with a chance in the 15thminute after a low cross from the right by Amando Moreno found him alone in the left side of the box only for his finish to go wide. NMU goalkeeper Cody Mizell then twice had to pull off big saves to keep San Antonio’s Jordan Perruzza from opening the scoring, the second an outstanding reflex stop off a flicked header from a corner just before halftime.
The second half saw fewer chances as the game went to extra time, but in the 101st minute a ball to the right by Juan Guzman found David Najem for a cushioned header toward Wehan in the right side of the penalty area. Wehan got a kind bound as he tried to turn past his defender and squeezed a low left-footed shot that tucked just inside the right post. SAFC put on the pressure in the second period of extra time, but United’s defense withstood it impressively as Mizell was not forced into a save in the final 30 minutes.
RENO, Nev. – Corey Hertzog had two goals and one assist to lead Reno 1868 FC to its first home playoff victory in club history as the hosts comfortably defeated the LA Galaxy II at Greater Nevada Field.
Reno got on the board in just the fourth minute as Kevin Partida intercepted a pass 30 yards from goal as the Galaxy II tried to play out of the back off a goal kick. Los Dos leveled six minutes later as U.S. youth international Mauricio Cuevas delivered a good free kick from the left that Jalen Neal headed home at the top of the six-yard area.
1868 FC maintained the upper hand when it came to momentum, though, and could have regained the lead before Hertzog notched his first of the night 10 minutes before halftime as he controlled a pass by Haiti international Christiano Francois, cut onto his right foot and shot low into the left corner of the net. Hertzog then set up Foster Langsdorf for his 11th goal of the season eight minutes into the second half with a through-ball that Langsdorf lifted into the right corner of the net, and six minutes later Hertzog scored his second from the penalty spot after being upended in the penalty area to put the game away.
EL PASO, Texas – El Paso Locomotive FC came out on top 4-2 in a penalty shootout against FC Tulsa after a thrilling contest that saw both sides lead in regulation before ending in a 2-2 draw through 120 minutes at Southwest University Park.
Locomotive FC took the lead in the 19th minute as Leandro Carrijo scored his first goal for the club after a moment of miscommunication in the Tulsa defense allowed him to seize an opportunity and finish. The visitors hit back seven minutes before halftime, however, as a low cross from the right by Marlon eluded El Paso goalkeeper Logan Ketterer and was simply tapped home by Rodrigo Da Costa.
Tulsa then took the lead in the 68th minute as Callum Chapman-Page headed home a long ball by Lebo Moloto after an initial free kick from the right had been blocked, but Carrijo answered with his second of the game as he flicked home a corner kick from the right by Dylan Mares with a header to the left corner.
El Paso almost grabbed victory in second-half stoppage time as Josue Aaron Gomez hit the crossbar from the left side of the penalty area after outpacing his marker to a through-ball. Gomez would be the biggest threat in extra time, too, as he first had a low shot to the right corner saved by Tulsa’s Sean Lewis and then hit the crossbar again in the first period. Tulsa was reduced to 10 men in the 100th minute as Chapman-Page was sent off, and that spurred the hosts on further. Gomez was twice more denied by Lewis in the second period, while Dylan Mares also had a late chance kept out as Lewis put in an eight-save performance, five of which came in extra time to send the game to a penalty shootout.
There, however, Ketterer came up big. After the sides each scored in the first round, Tulsa’s Lebo Moloto sent his side’s second shot over the crossbar, and after Bryam Rebellon had scored for El Paso to give his side an edge, Ketterer made a diving save to deny Ariel Martinez’s shot to the left corner to open the third round. Richie Ryan and Saeed Robinson then converted their shots in the third and fourth round to send the hosts through.
PHOENIX – Solomon Asante scored the lone goal with six minutes remaining to send Phoenix Rising FC past Sacramento Republic FC after extra time at Southwest University Park.
Both teams went close in the first half to finding the lead. Asante rang the outside of the left post with a free kick in the fifth minute that narrowly missed finding the top-left corner of the net, while Sacramento’s Dariusz Formella was denied brilliantly by Rising FC goalkeeper Zac Lubin after a low first-time finish off a cross by Villyan Bijev from the right.
Chances were few and far between overall in regulation, however, but Formella had a big chance to open the scoring five minutes into extra time as a cushioned header by Kharlton Belmar off a cross from the left by Drew Skundrich set up a volley that the Polish playmaker fired just over the crossbar. With six minutes to go, however, Phoenix grabbed the lead as Santi Moar cut in from the left side and fired a shot goalward that was redirected into the bottom-left corner of the net by Asante to send his side on.
2020 USL Championship Playoffs Schedule
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Saturday, October 17
Louisville City FC vs. Saint Louis FC, 7:30 p.m. ET
Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Charleston Battery, 7:30 p.m. ET
Western Conference Semifinals
Saturday, October 17
Reno 1868 FC vs. Phoenix Rising FC, 9 p.m. ET
El Paso Locomotive FC vs. New Mexico United, 9:30 p.m. ET