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The 18 – USL Championship Week 10

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 05/13/19, 11:48AM EDT

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1868 FC’s league dominance in Sacramento continues ahead of Open Cup rematch

If previous evidence wasn’t enough, Saturday night’s 4-1 victory for Reno 1868 FC against Sacramento Republic FC at Papa Murphy’s Park showed us one big thing.

Reno has made its rival’s home its own.

1868 FC has now taken three consecutive road victories in league play in Sacramento since the Donner Pass Derby rivalry began, scoring nine goals in the process. A brace by Corey Hertzog saw the visitors overcome a stunning opening strike by Mitchell Taintor this past Saturday as their finishing was simply more clinical than Republic FC’s. Reno finished with eight shots on goal to Sacramento’s four, even while the hosts held the lead in total shots, as the absence of Republic FC leading scorer Cameron Iwasa to injury stood out.

“Definitely a really good win on the road,” said Reno Head Coach Ian Russell. “Both teams had some really good chances, we just ended up finishing ours. We scored some good goals tonight.”

While that was the case, the fact is that Reno can now show up to Papa Murphy’s Park not hopeful of success, but expectant of it. That will carry forward to Wednesday night when the teams meet again at the same venue in the Second Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

If there’s any silver lining for Sacramento, it’s that it has had the upper hand over Reno in each of the previous two Open Cup meetings between the clubs.

After Saturday night’s defeat, though, it’s going to take a major response from Republic FC’s players to turn this thing around.

Here’s this week’s 18.

1. Reno pushed into the top four with its victory, and after riding Brian Brown’s scoring to start the season it’s now been Hertzog’s turn to pick up the mantle with a brace in each of his past two games. After a struggle in 2018 with Saint Louis FC, Hertzog seems to have found his range again. If that’s the case, and Brown maintains his solid scoring pace after notching his sixth goal of the season on Saturday, Reno is going to be a fixture at the top of the Western Conference for a while.

2. El Paso Locomotive FC’s Jerome Kiesewetter also notched a two-goal outing on Sunday evening in his side’s rivalry clash with New Mexico United to give him four goals over the past two outings as well. There was a clear bedding-in period for the former United States international in El Paso, but now that Kiesewetter’s teammates are starting to get a feel for his movement it might not be long before he’s approaching the top of the Golden Boot race.

3. As well as El Paso played to remain undefeated in its last four outings, you have to think the side will be disappointed to not have come away with victory against NMU after the visitors rallied twice with goals from unexpected sources to earn a 2-2 draw at Southwest University Park. That said a lot to me about United’s credentials at the top of the West, this side simply finds ways to avoid defeat and keep its points total ticking over.

4. While his side might not have held on for all three points, Locomotive FC Head Coach Mark Lowry was bullish on its display. “We played brilliantly. The possession the chances we created; it was superb,” he said after the game. “We had another great performance tonight against New Mexico, who are a great team. We controlled that game and restricted them.”

5. You’d think a solid 3-1 victory that included a confidence-boosting brace by Adam Jahn would have left Phoenix Rising FC in a good mood on Friday night, but there was still some dissatisfaction for Head Coach Rick Schantz after a flat start to the second half that could have let Rio Grande Valley FC back into the game.

6. “I was a little disappointed. You know at this point in the season you hope that things will start to get better as far as the quality and the sharpness,” said Schantz. “Overall the quality just wasn’t good enough.”

7. You could take exception to some of the chances Phoenix gave up, but for me there was big reason for optimism, especially after Jahn’s performance. Forget the magical Panenka penalty kick that had Toros goalkeeper Michael Nelson grasping for a moment and focus on Jahn’s opening goal. That angled first-time finish off Junior Flemmings’ cross from the right was a difficult one to pull off with that level of precision and could be a very good sign that Jahn is rounding into form.

8. You all saw the postgame stat on Phoenix’s broadcast that Rising FC is 10-0-0 now on $1 Beer Night? Well, Las Vegas Lights FC Head Coach Eric Wynalda – whose side takes on Phoenix in league action next Saturday at Casino Arizona Field – had an idea for Las Vegas to counter Phoenix’s drinks mojo. “I think what we need to do is $2 tequila night,” Wynalda said after his side’s victory on Saturday. “That might be something that we run up the flagpole, see if it works.”

9. Whether or not that happens, Las Vegas is rolling into the new week having continued its impressive performances at home after defeating Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC 3-0 at Cashman Field as Irvin Parra once again led the way. While the New York Red Bulls II might have one more home win so far this season, it’s hard to argue against Lights FC as the best home team in the league right now. The side is 4-0-1 at Cashman Field with a +11-goal differential after scoring 13 goals in its last four home outings.

10. Lights FC’s road form is still going to have to improve it it’s going to be a serious contender for the top of the Western Conference, but the unity the side is showing on home turf is looking impressive. “We're all on the same page and you see it on the scoreboard and we just take it day-by-day to get better,” said forward Sammy Ochoa, who also notched a goal against the Switchbacks. “We just got to keep working and enjoying our time because you never know next what's going to happen. Hopefully we keep winning and staying strong at home.”

11. After coming so close to a signature win on Wednesday, only to be denied by a stoppage-time equalizer, Ottawa Fury FC got the result as well as the performance it was looking for on Sunday afternoon against North Carolina FC with a 2-1 win that moved Fury FC into the playoff positions in the Eastern Conference. Now well into the second year of the project that General Manager Julian de Guzman and Head Coach Nikola Popovic undertook in the 2018 offseason, Fury FC seems to be starting to punch with the contenders in the Eastern Conference.

12. Ottawa has now taken three wins and 10 points from its last four games, and stymied North Carolina for much of the contest. What might have been most impressive about Fury FC’s victory, though, was its ability to rebound from NCFC’s equalizer with a solid response from Kevin Oliveira only four minutes later to regain the lead. “We have to congratulate and show our appreciation to our players,” said Popovic. “After only three days of rest, they came here, gave everything and they performed a fantastic game. It was another fantastic performance.”

13. The Charleston Battery’s clash with Saint Louis FC was never likely to be a high-scoring affair, but the chess match that played out tactically made the 0-0 draw between the sides at MUSC Health Stadium a fascinating one to see. Neither side was able to take advantage of the chances they created with Saint Louis producing good opportunities early and late, but the Battery felt like they missed out on their window late in the first half before STLFC adjusted to reduce the space just in front of the back line.

14. “We had them in the first half, and we attacked them, but they adjusted at halftime,” said Battery Head Coach Mike Anhaeuser. “We couldn’t break them down after that and some of our guys got heavy legs towards the end. We missed a few good chances, but they played very well.”

15. Look for that refrain of heavy legs to be a common one this week, by the way. With Open Cup matches arriving on Tuesday and Wednesday night – and no matter the level of opponent, those things always tend to have a way of being tough affairs – and only two teams on a bye next weekend, the squad rotations are going to be worth keeping an eye on as coaches look to ensure their sides advance in the cup while still keeping a competitive lineup available for their next league game, especially for teams that will be on the road for both contests.

16. After the tough outing its forwards experienced against the Tampa Bay Rowdies in midweek, you couldn’t have expected much more from Nashville SC in way of response against the Swope Park Rangers on Saturday night. And while Daniel Rios’ two-goal, one assist performance might have drawn the headlines, seeing Kharlton Belmar finally get off the mark in a Nashville jersey could take a lot of weight off the shoulders of the tremendous attacking player.

17. “I’m delighted for him,” said Nashville Head Coach Gary Smith. “He put so much into his game. He’s a very genuine guy. All for the physical attributes are there for everyone to see, but he’s certainly taken on board a lot of information in a new group, and he’s adapted very well. … His record tells us that he’s more than capable, and hopefully it gives him a shot in the arm and a real confidence boost to push on.”

18. We’ve seen in the past what Belmar can do at the top of his game. His goal against former club Swope Park was his 41st in the Championship all-time, having put together three previous double-digit campaigns in his career. If this is a starting point to reaching that level, Nashville is going to be very well set moving forward.

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