After a nearly 30-year hiatus, professional soccer is set to make its return to Lexington, Ky. as expansion side Lexington SC (0-2-0, 12th) hosts Forward Madison FC (0-0-1, 8th) in its inaugural home opener. Lexington have struggled early with three losses across all competitions, but each loss has been by a margin of just one goal - even against USL Championship power Louisville City FC in the U.S. Open Cup - which is promising for the first-year side. Madison has played just one match in 2023 - playing Union Omaha to a 1-1 draw - and will be eager to pick up its first win of the season and spoil Lexington's homecoming on Saturday. That said, Madison has historically struggled against expansion sides, going 5-5-6 against clubs in their first League One season.
LEX - Khalid Balogun: After winning the penalty to set up Lexington’s first-ever goal in its season opener, Balogun bagged LSC’s first goal from open play in the fifth minute of the Week 3 contest against NCFC. With the score, the 24-year-old forward became the first Lexington player named to the Team of the Week.
MAD - Christian Chaney: Nominated for Player of the Month, Chaney opened his Madison account with an acrobatic 55th-minute equalizer in a 1-1 draw with Omaha. The veteran forward's 0.10 goals added from shooting led the league in March, according to American Soccer Analysis.
LEX: M - Pierre Mané (out, eligibility)
League One's pair of Tarheel State clubs will face off for the 16th time in the newly labeled Dogwood Derby, pitting North Carolina FC (1-1-0, 6th) and the Charlotte Independence (2-0-1, 1st) against each other at WakeMed Soccer Park. Both North Carolina and Charlotte made big moves in the offseason; NCFC brought in a number of All-League selections and the Jacks welcomed back some familiar faces from the side's USL Championship days. The offseason moves seemed to have paid off, as Charlotte is unbeaten atop the table and NCFC recently picked up its first win in league play a week ago. Just days after facing Loudoun United FC's arsenal of attacking players, NCFC goalkeeper Nick Holliday will have his hands full containing Charlotte's Championship-caliber goalscorers who're eager to stay unbeaten.
NC - Rafa Mentzingen: League One veteran Rafa Mentzingen scored his first goal for NCFC last week to become one of just a six players to score for three different League One clubs.
CLT - Clay Dimick: Nominated for March's Player of the Month award, veteran Charlotte defender Clay Dimick recorded his first professional goal in the 13th minute of Charlotte’s big victory in Richmond last week before netting another against Appalachian FC in Open Cup play.
CLT: D - Carson Talboys (out, injury)
The inaugural edition of the Smoky Mountain Smackdown has arrived, with Chattanooga Red Wolves SC (0-1-1, 10th) and One Knoxville SC (1-0-0, 4th) set to do battle at CHI Memorial Stadium in Chattanooga. The first all-Volunteer State clash in league history will see the Red Wolves aim to pick up their first win of the Ziggy Korytoski era and Knoxville push to remain undefeated in league play nearly a week after narrowly falling to Memphis 901 FC in the U.S. Open Cup. The 2022 league runner-up Red Wolves would certainly enjoy a victory to get their fifth season going in a positive direction, especially after a disappointing 4-1 loss to Birmingham Legion FC in Open Cup play on Wednesday. With a bit of history on its side, Chattanooga will hope to extend its dominant streak against first-year League One clubs which currently sits at 12-1-4.
CHA - Felipe Liborio: Liborio was solid in the Chattanooga midfield in Week 3 to earn Team of the Week honors, completing 91% of his passes, dishing out seven accurate long balls, earning seven recoveries and winning five duels in just his second appearance for Chattanooga.
KNX - Jimmie Villalobos: Back in Knoxville's last league outing, Villalobos netted the first professional goal in One Knox history via his 17th-minute penalty conversion and added on to Knoxville’s victory with his 93% passing accuracy and nine recoveries.
CHA: M - Christian Enriquez (out, injury), M - Felipe Liborio (questionable, injury), F - Ropapa Mensah (out, eligibility), D - Richard Rentería (out, eligibility)
A positive result in U.S. Open Cup play on Wednesday will likely boost the mood in Statesboro as South Georgia Tormenta FC (1-2-0, 7th) sets out to snap a two-match league losing streak as Greenville Triumph SC (0-1-0, 11th) comes to town. Each side's most frequent foe since kicking off in 2019, South Georgia and Greenville will meet for the 16th time across all competitions with Tormenta FC riding a series-best seven-match unbeaten streak against Triumph SC. A draw would be largely disappointing to both sides, while a victory would get things going in a positive direction for a pair of clubs experiencing slow starts to league play.
TRM - Mukwelle Akale: The only player to record multiple goals in March, the former U.S. youth international and Villarreal CF youth product scored twice in as many matches for the defending champions to be nominated for Player of the Month.
GVL - Jared Mazzola: With Ben Hale out with injury, Mazzola is set for his third professional appearance in goal. Despite the concession of two difficult goals, the 24-year-old 'keeper has made five saves through his first to matches against Richmond and Phoenix.
TRM: F - Arthur Bosua (questionable, injury), D - Jake Dengler (questionable, injury), F - Kazaiah Sterling (questionable, injury)
GVL: M - Devin Boyce (probable, injury), F - Alex Cox-Ashwood (probable, injury), D - Brandon Fricke (out, injury), D - Hassan Gabo (out, injury), M - Allen Gavilanes (probable, injury), GK - Ben Hale (out, injury), D - Nate Shultz (injury, questionable), D - Jamie Smith (doubtful, injury)
Central Valley Fuego FC (1-0-0, 5th) is set to defend its home turf and push for a second consecutive league win against a Union Omaha (0-0-1, 9th) side expecting to earn its first league win of the season. In the past two weeks, Fuego FC has faced defending Liga MX champs Pachuca CF in friendly play, USL Championship side Monterey Bay F.C. in the U.S. Open Cup and 2022 League One runner-up Chattanooga Red Wolves SC in league play. Next, the second-year side will welcome in League One power Union Omaha for its home opener. Both Central Valley and Omaha's offenses have started the season off slowly, with either side scoring just once in their opening league matches off a combined six shots on target.
CV - Alexis Cerritos: It took Cerritos eight games to score for RGVFC in 2021 and five games to score for Fuego FC in 2022; now in only his first match of the season, Cerritos opened his 2023 account with a special match-winner to be named to the Team of the Week.
OMA - Steevan Dos Santos: After making his first Union Omaha appearance as a late sub in the Owls' League One opener, Dos Santos was crucial in his side's Open Cup victory against El Paso on Wednesday. The 33-year-old forward recorded a goal and assist in Omaha's 2-0 victory over the USL Championship side.
CV: GK - Ofek Antman (out, injury), D - Abdul Cromwell (out, injury), F - Cherif Dieye (out, injury), D - François Dulysse (out, injury), D - Sam Strong (out, injury)