At long last, the 2018 USL schedule has finally been released! We can see the light at the end of the tunnel as the season is nearly upon us. Today, we take a look through each month at the top matches to watch, and which will have the biggest impact on the title chase.
Louisville City FC v Nashville SC, March 17th
This is one match I have had my eye on since the home openers were released, because of how competitive these two sides could be in the title race. Louisville City opens their USL championship defense hosting expansion Nashville SC. The Tennessee club’s first match in USL will be a baptism of fire, but it will provide a good chance to see where it stands among the top clubs of the Eastern Conference.
Las Vegas Lights FC v Reno 1868 FC, March 24th
Las Vegas’ first home match will come against another club from Nevada, as Reno will make the trip down south in what will be the first match between these two sides. Antoine Hoppenot will look to continue his scoring prowess for Reno in 2018, after bagging 12 goals last season.
Indy Eleven v FC Cincinnati, March 31st
Indy Eleven joins USL this season, making the NASL exodus in the off-season alongside North Carolina FC. Indy’s home opener comes against regional opponent, FC Cincinnati. This match will be one to watch for the action on and off pitch as supporters for both clubs should be out in full force.
FC Cincinnati v Louisville City, April 7th
A rejuvenated FC Cincinnati opens their 2018 home fixtures with a bout against their Ohio River rivals, Louisville City. Cincy has made waves this off-season in signing a gaggle of excellent players, including USL All-League First Team defender Forrest Lasso, and Tommy Heinemann, who won the 2017 NASL championship with the now-defunct San Francisco Deltas. Louisville returns practically the entire core of last season’s title-winning squad, so appear to be just as strong this season.
Phoenix Rising FC v Swope Park Rangers, April 21st
There were a combined 13 goals scored in the three matches between these two sides in 2017, including when they met in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs —which saw Swope Park Rangers advance on penalties. Last year’s leading goalscorer for Phoenix, Jason Johnson, returns to the club, as Swope Park will look to Hadji Barry, who led Orlando City B in goals in 2017, to bolster their attack.
Tampa Bay Rowdies v Real Monarchs SLC, April 21st
Could we see a potential USL Final match-up in April? Real Monarchs have built a roster in the off-season that looks poised to remain at the top of the West. Monarchs’ 2017 leading goalscorer, Chandler Hoffman, returns to the club as Justin Portillo headlines a group of impressive off-season signings. On the other side, Tampa Bay looks to challenge Louisville for Eastern Conference supremacy, with the likes of Geogri Hristov, Marcel Schafer and Joe Cole all returning for the Rowdies this season.
*I also wanted to make a quick note of LA Galaxy II v New York Red Bulls II happening on April 22nd, as this was also a similar conference crossover match from last season, in which the Baby Bulls hosted that fixture. This match will likely occur after the LA Galaxy host Atlanta United in MLS action at the StubHub Center the same day.
Charleston Battery v Charlotte Independence, May 5th
The first meeting between these Southern Derby rivals in 2018 will provide an interesting look at the tactics of Charlotte and Charleston. With departures of notable players on both sides—Cody Mizell in goal from Charlotte and Forrest Lasso, Justin Portillo and Maikel Chang all leaving Charleston—we be seeing some new faces looking to make their mark in the next chapter of this derby.
FC Cincinnati v Atlanta United 2, May 5th
Picture this. It’s the first meeting between FC Cincinnati and Atlanta United’s newest MLS 2 team. The crowd has packed Nippert Stadium, another sellout. The atmosphere is electric. The clubs make their way onto the pitch, and out walks former FCC keeper Mitch Hildebrandt, making an unexpected return to Cincinnati for the match, suiting up for ATL UTD 2. Now, that was entirely speculation, as Atlanta have Brad Guzan and Mitch Hildebrandt likely competing for the starting job, but just imagine how soccer Twitter would melt down at Hildebrandt facing his former club.
Portland Timbers 2 v Real Monarchs SLC, May 26th
A meeting of last year’s regular season champion, Real Monarchs, and wooden spoon recipient, Portland Timbers 2, on May 26th will be the second time these two clubs have faced each other in 2018, but I believe we can learn a lot about parity from this match, and it will be a way of seeing how the top and bottom clubs of the Western Conference have progressed from the last season.
Saint Louis FC v Swope Park Rangers, June 2nd
Saint Louis FC had their annual conference switch in the off-season, and make the move back to the West for 2018. This particular fixture in June should be an exciting one, as they welcome two-time reigning Western Conference champion—and former in-state rival after their move to play matches in Kansas—Swope Park Rangers. Anthony Pulis has done a fantastic job at assembling players this in the past couple months, managing to sign Corey Hertzog, who netted 14 goals for Pittsburgh last year, and Wal Fall, who was second in goals for Rochester with 9.
The NASL Reunion Tour: Indy Eleven v Tampa Bay Rowdies and North Carolina FC v Ottawa Fury FC, June 13th
I wanted to pair these matches together because I found a neat coincidence that all four NASL defectors would be playing on the same day in June - against one another.
Fresno FC v Sacramento Republic FC, June 13th
The first fixture for Sacramento Republic against their newest in-state foe, Fresno FC, comes in the middle of June, with a rematch between the two sides occurring at the end of the month. Former Quails Mickey Daly and Agustin Cazarez, who featured in 30 matches for Sacramento last year, lead the Foxes’ off-season acquisitions.
Reno 1868 FC v Real Monarchs SLC, July 3rd
Another Western Conference matchup that featured lots of goals. Through their three fixtures last year, we saw a combined 14 tallies, including a thrilling 5-3 win for SLC in April of last season. With the attacking power that will be returning for the Monarchs, do we get an encore offensive showcase in 2018? An interesting note, July 3rd was also the date last year when Reno scored 9 goals on LA Galaxy II.
Nashville SC v FC Cincinnati, July 7th
The first meeting between Nashville and FCC will definitely be one to watch, especially if Cincinnati joins Nashville in winning an MLS expansion bid. Then it might just be the origin story of a potential new rivalry that will follow the two sides into the top flight.
San Antonio FC v Real Monarchs SLC, July 21st
After finishing first and second respectively in the West table last year, Real Monarchs and San Antonio face off for the first time this season in July. San Antonio took pride in ending Real Monarch’s home unbeaten run last year, and with USL Goalkeeper of the Year for 2017, Diego Restrepo returning to SAFC, San Antonio looks to cement their place at the top of the West with a win.
Louisville City v Indy Eleven, August 5th
Louisville welcomes their other neighbors from north of the Ohio River at Slugger Field for the first time this season. I am curious as to how both Indy Eleven and North Carolina FC transition to USL this season. This match against Louisville could go a long way, especially in the back half of the season, in determining the success of Indy’s maiden USL season.
Tulsa Roughnecks FC v OKC Energy FC, August 8th
This late-season Black Gold Derby could be an intriguing one for the playoff race in the West. After an abysmal 2016, Tulsa rebounded in 2017 to qualify for the playoffs as the 7th seed in the conference, before bowing out in the opening round versus San Antonio. Last year, OKC got hot at just the right moment, winning their four regular season matches and getting two upsets in the playoffs en route to the Western Conference final, before losing to Swope Park Rangers on penalties. Look for both of these sides to be in the heart of the playoff race this season.
Bethlehem Steel FC v Pittsburgh Riverhounds, August 10th
Bethlehem posted three wins over in-state opponents Pittsburgh and
Harrisburg Penn FC last season, while Pittsburgh equaled that tally with three wins over Pennsylvania sides in 2017 as well. This match in the middle of August could help decide who will reign supreme in the Keystone State in 2018.
San Antonio FC v Phoenix Rising FC, September 8th
Billy Forbes and Devin Vega, who combined for 13 goals last season, make their homecoming to San Antonio, suiting up for Phoenix this time around. With the playoff race heating up this month, I could see both of these clubs in the midst of a race for top-four seeding in the West.
Pittsburgh Riverhounds v Louisville City FC, September 15th
Bob Lilley has made remarkable moves for the Riverhounds this off-season, signing a plethora of former Rochester Rhinos, including Kenardo Forbes and Jordan Dover, to the Steel City for 2018. Chevaughn Walsh and Kevin Kerr are also returning for the Riverhounds, as they combined for eight goals and seven assists last season. This late-season test against Louisville could go a long way in determining playoff seeding in the East.
Charlotte Independence v New York Red Bulls II
Last season, a 5-1 comeback win for Charlotte helped spark a good run of play throughout the summer that saw the Independence go through 16 consecutive matches with just one loss. This late in the season, could Charlotte do something similar to the Baby Bulls and make the push to clinch a playoff spot?
Atlanta United 2 v Charleston Battery, October 7th
I believe this match will be conclusive on how well Atlanta United 2 did this season, when compared to Atlanta’s former affiliate Charleston. Will Atlanta be in a playoff spot by now, or on the bubble? Plus what will we make of the Battery’s season at this point? Will the club be already out of playoff contention, or will they make an improbable return to postseason play?
Sacramento Republic FC v Las Vegas Lights FC, October 13th
While three matches are being played on Sunday, October 14th, it will be Decision Day for many sides around the USL on the 13th. Sacramento will close out their regular season hosting Las Vegas in the Nevada club’s only appearance at Papa Murphy’s Park this year. With 13 matches being played, it will be a thrilling conclusion to the regular season.
What matches are you most looking forward to in 2018? Do you agree with any of our matches above? Any predictions for the upcoming season? Let us know in the comments down below!