USL Week 5 Recap: Eastern Leaders Win Big, Western Giants Slide

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by ANTHONY J. MERCED

Week 5 in the USL showed us clear favorites in the Eastern Conference with both Louisville City FC and New York Red Bull II pulling away from the pack. Both sides had hard-fought wins and have proven to be vastly improved from their 2015 performances. New York in particular, has not allowed a goal in four weeks and, despite being in second place, have to be considered an early favorite for the Eastern Conference title.

In the West, the situation is a bit more complicated. Early success has become early failure for the Sacramento Republic who lost their second consecutive game, this time at Bonney Field. Rio Grande Valley also performed a bit of an upset, traveling to Salt Lake and defeating the Monarchs. The newcomers have been impressive this season and look to continue their momentum into the hot summer months.

New York Displays Unbeatable Defense

It has now been four straight games and nine halves since New York Red Bull II surrendered a goal. It isn’t just their twin tower defense with the likes of Schmoll, M’Baye and Carroll guarding goal. Now in Wilmington, Rafael Diaz showed that he can hold his own between the wickets if called upon. The 24 year-old back up keeper was impressive in a few starts in 2015 but now that he has to do some lifting for the often injured Ryan Meara, his skills are prominently on display. Not only is he capable of stopping a ball but also well versed in communicating with his backline as was on display in North Carolina on Friday night.

New York has had a dream start to 2016 having surrendered only two goals and finding a way to¬†finish their own opportunities. The win against Wilmington not only put an end to another team’s momentum, but continued to prove that New York is a force to be reckoned with.

Sacramento Has Lost Its Way

The situation has certainly taken a turn for the worst in Sacramento. Despite attendance being at an all-time high and interest in moving up the ranks to MLS, the 2016 campaign has been stop-and-start to say the least.

The past two weeks have been huge setbacks as the Republic have dropped consecutive 1-0 games to Portland and now St. Louis FC. Both are teams that didn’t start the season strong and certainly appeared to be much easier prospects for Paul Buckle and his men.

The most concerning part is that the Republic have only scored two goals all season long. The drought, which is now past the three game mark, has to be keeping the team on edge as the schedule heats up. It is on the counterattack where Sacramento has been most vulnerable and it was exploited by St. Louis to perfection on Sunday night. Mike Ambersley provided the only strike of the game after a corner kick for the Republic was brought back the other way.

Currently, Sacramento has dropped to eighth place in the Western Conference as the need for goals and results becomes paramount before the season escapes their grasp.

Louisville City Proving They Don’t Need Fondy

No Fondy, no problem.

It was expected that Louisville City FC would have an offensive drop-off after losing Matt Fondy, USL 2015 MVP and all-time single season goal scorer. It may have been a bit difficult early in the season but James O’Connor has his team firing on all cylinders on offense. After handing FC Cincinnati a 3-2 loss in front of the biggest crowd in USL history, team purple turned around and put up another three-spot against the Harrisburg City Islanders.

Louisville is finding the goals in different areas now that Matt Fondy is gone. Players like Chandler Hoffman and Mark-Anthony Kaye have stepped up big time to provide the thunder for the team. While the team’s defense is certainly lacking, the offense is enough to have Louisville City in first place, just one point ahead of the undefeated New York. Can they maintain the results with a defense that bleeds goals? We’ll have to wait for Week 6 to find out for sure.

Week 5 Results:

Portland Timbers 2: 0
Orange County Blues: 1

Orlando City B: 2
Pittsburgh Riverhounds: 1

New York Red Bull II: 1
Wilmington Hammerheads: 0

Louisville City FC: 3
Harrisburg City Islanders: 2

Richmond Kickers: 2
Charlotte Independence: 3

Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2: 2
LA Galaxy II: 2

San Antonio FC: 0
Colorado Springs Switchbacks: 1

FC Montreal: 1
Rochester Rhinos: 2

Portland Timbers 2: 2
Tulsa Roughnecks: 0

Swope Park Rangers: 0
OKC Energy FC: 1

Rio Grande Valley FC: 1
Real Monarchs SLC: 0

St. Louis FC: 1
Sacramento Republic FC: 0

Charleston Battery: 0
Bethlehem Steel FC: 0

FC Cincinnati: 2
Toronto FC II: 1


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