With two of the teams in the top three spots having squared off in midweek, Saturday night’s action was focused on the race for fourth place in USL League One. Here are five things we took away from the weekend’s games:
FLYING HIGH: We said on Friday that Forward Madison FC was in severe need of a victory. The Flamingos responded with the fastest goal in the league this season after just 45 seconds from Paulo Jr. and then kicked on to a 2-1 win against FC Tucson that pulled them back within touching distance of the rest of the league. With another sellout crowd of more than 4,000 fans packed into Breese Stevens Field, Madison got it done at both ends of the field as they blocked seven of Tucson’s 17 shots, allowing only three to make it on target, as the visitors recorded the last eight shots of the match – and 12 of the last 14 – in a desperate push to take something from the game. There’s still a long way to go – and facing the current top three in the standings in the next three games is going to be tough – but Madison finally got something to feel good about on Saturday night.
KEEPING IT CLEAN: We’ve mentioned before that the top two teams in League One are a study in contrasts, with first-place North Texas SC getting it done with a league-leading attack and second-place South Georgia Tormenta FC with a stifling defense. But over the last month, Tormenta FC’s defense has found another level and on Saturday night it recorded its fourth consecutive shutout in a 2-0 victory against Orlando City B that saw it conceded only two shots on goal despite allowing OCB the mammoth’s share of possession. The key to South Georgia’s success? Keep OCB at arm’s length. Orlando recorded only 12 touches inside the Tormenta FC penalty area, forcing them to record six of their nine shots from outside the area. That made life simple for goalkeeper Pablo Jara, whose shutout streak is now at 414 minutes overall.
RED WOLVES HIT STRIDE: We’ve been waiting for Chattanooga Red Wolves SC to put in a run of results all season, and after Saturday’s 2-0 victory against the Richmond Kickers it has finally arrived and has put the side on the doorstep of the playoff places as a result. With seven points from their last nine outings, the Red Wolves are up to fifth on goal differential behind fourth-place FC Tucson with a game in hand on their western rival. While the Kickers ended the game with more possession and more total shots, the Red Wolves had the better chances overall and thanks to second-half goals by Amirgy Pineda and Sito Seoane walked away with their first road win of the season. With three consecutive home games up next against sides sitting below them in the League One standings, the opportunity for Chattanooga is there to create some separation and put itself alongside the top three in the standings. The question now is can they take it?
FIRING BLANKS: On the other side, it sure feels a long time since the Kickers were putting forward their credentials as a playoff contender after a four-game undefeated run that included three victories put the side in the middle of the race on May 11. Since then Richmond has gone 0-4-1 and has been held scoreless in four of those contests, including in front of its home fans this Saturday night. In those five contests, the Kickers have recorded only 18 shots on goal on 43 chances created, while their shot conversion rate has been only 5.6 percent. With the side on a 280-minute scoreless streak since its 3-2 loss against Orlando City B on May 22, the next task of breaking South Georgia Tormenta FC’s current shutout streak looks like it might be a tall order next Saturday, but it’s something the Kickers are going to need to accomplish if they’re not to fall even further back in the postseason race.
FIT TO BE TIED: Was there anything as inevitable this weekend as the 1-1 draw between Greenville Triumph SC and Lansing Ignite FC? With Ignite FC now sitting first in the league in tied games with five and Triumph SC right behind it with four, the answer is probably no – and why I called the game as a draw in last week’s Pick ‘Em contest. In truth, Greenville probably walked away from the contest unfortunate not to have come away with all three points as it dominated the chances in the second half, but once again Triumph SC’s inability to find a winner left it with only a point to show from a positive performance and sitting two points back of the playoff positions.