It’s not always talked about out loud, but in the aftermath of a player’s arrival at a new club there’s always the hope they’ll take to their new environs quickly.
Judging by Antoine Hoppenot’s reaction to scoring the game-winner for Louisville City FC in its 2-1 victory against Nashville SC on Saturday night in his first appearance for the club at Slugger Field after his arrival from the Tampa Bay Rowdies, there was a certain element of that at play in the back of the former All-League selection’s mind.
“After I scored, I think I blacked out for a little bit because that’s probably one of my top goals in terms of emotional goals,” Hoppenot told reporters. “Coming here and starting off like this it's emotional for me, to hear the crowd go wild it is fantastic.”
After going without a goal in league play during his short stint with the Rowdies, the emotional release of not only finding the net but doing so in spectacular fashion off a picture-perfect cross from Brian Ownby is almost certainly going to do Hoppenot a world of good. Reuniting with Head Coach John Hackworth provided a scenario that could help Hoppenot regain the form that had made him such an attractive free agent after two successful seasons in Reno, but there’s nothing like immediate results to push the process along.
“I couldn’t draw it up any better,” said Hackworth of the goal, although he could just as easily have been talking about the bigger picture of Hoppenot’s goal in his home debut.
In winning its opening game of the second half of the season against one of its two biggest rivals in such style, the door now appears wide open for Louisville to push on for another high finish in the Eastern Conference.
Here’s this week’s 18.
1. It was notable in Louisville’s 1-1 draw against Indy Eleven a week ago, but once again the side showed how positive it has become in the second half of contests as it rallied back to hand Nashville its first loss after NSC had held a lead this season. According to Opta, Louisville has recorded more Chances Created in the second half of games, 124, than any other club in the Championship so far this season.
2. That hasn’t always translated to goals – Louisville’s 16 goals and +4 goal differential lag behind league-leaders Phoenix Rising FC and the New York Red Bulls II, each of whom have scored 23 goals after the break to the tune of a +16 goal differential while sitting second and third to LouCity in Chances Created – but it does feel like a positive sign that Louisville is rarely going to be out of a contest with its ability to put pressure on opponents as they tire.
3. Of course, the big storyline going into the night a Slugger Field was the return of Cameron Lancaster to face his former club. Unfortunately, that night was cut short inside the opening half-hour as an injury forced the 2018 Championship Gold Boot-winner from the field. It was a tough night for Nashville in that regard, with Daniel Rios also having to fight through after scoring a superb opening goal and other key players suffering. “We had a very strange evening with regards to injuries,” said NSC Head Coach Gary Smith. “We had four injuries. Daniel [Ríos] played the last 25 minutes with an injury, we had two other injuries and an injury to Michael Reed. It’s been a weird evening. Certainly not excuses, but it was unsettling. I still felt as though we had more than enough to get something out of this game.”
4. Rios’ goal was his 11th of the season, keeping him on course to potentially reach 20 goals for a second consecutive campaign. He and Lancaster were usurped as the leading scoring double-act in the Eastern Conference on Sunday, however, as both Sebastian Guenzatti and Juan Tejada found the net in the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ 3-1 victory against the Swope Park Rangers. The two players have now combined for 17 goals this season, with Guenzatti the fifth to reach double-digits this campaign individually.
5. Guenzatti and Tejada sit in third place in the league with the Western Conference duos of Phoenix Rising FC’s Solomon Asante and Adam Jahn and New Mexico United’s Kevaughn Frater and Santi Moar leading the pack overall.
Through July 7, 2019
Phoenix Rising FC – Solomon Asante & Adam Jahn, 21 goals
New Mexico United – Kevaughn Frater & Santi Moar, 20 goals
Tampa Bay Rowdies – Sebastian Guenzatti & Juan Tejada, 17 goals
Nashville SC – Daniel Rios & Cameron Lancaster, 16 goals
6. As importantly, the duo’s finishes helped secure a third consecutive victory and a five-point lead at the top of the Eastern Conference. The Rowdies have been remarkably consistent against all competition in the league this season, but Sunday’s win moved them to 7-0-2 against teams currently sitting outside the playoff positions. While other clubs can occasionally play down to their opposition and suffer the consequences, Tampa Bay is making sure it consistently picks up victories to keep pressure on the rest of the conference to keep up.
7. There’s nothing like being an unexpected hero, right? While Fresno FC’s Diego Casillas was always going to be ready if his number was called, he wasn’t exactly expecting that call to come in the Foxes’ visit to Sacramento Republic FC last Wednesday night. “I didn’t think I was going to play; the match was very tight,” Casillas said after the game. “Once I came in, we got a red, so I figured our game plan would become more defensive to protect the zero-zero.”
8. You can argue the Foxes did become more defensive, but only after Casillas’ first professional goal had given them the lead on the road against their Highway 99 Derby rival with 13 minutes to go. Connecting with former Fresno Fuego teammate Elijah Martin on a perfectly delivered cross, Casillas continued the Foxes’ winning streak and rewarded Head Coach Adam Smith’s faith in the rookie. “I just felt Diego is a player that gives us energy and causes problems, and tonight he did that and I’m delighted for him that he got on the score sheet,” said Smith.
9. Sacramento’s back-to-back losses have put the club back into a tight spot when it comes to playoff positioning. Republic FC is now 10th in the Western Conference after being jumped by Real Monarchs SLC on Saturday night. And while it has the chance to jump up the standings quickly if it takes advantage of its games in hand, consecutive shutout defeats to its two biggest rivals can’t feel good within the club’s camp.
10. It took almost four months to arrive, 6,726 fans that were at AutoZone Park on Saturday night can say they were witnesses to two pieces of history; Memphis 901 FC’s first home victory in the USL Championship, and on top of that the first hat trick in club history thanks to Elliot Collier.
11. “It feels amazing,” said Collier, who in one night more than doubled his league goal total for the season. “We’ve been so close in so many games. We’ve had like 12 games decided by a goal, so to go out and put the two away early was great. We were a little upset about the one we gave up, but we came back in the second half and put the game to bed. I’m really happy for all the boys.”
12. This should be a big feel-good moment for everyone associated with 901 FC, which has done a tremendous job in engaging the Memphis community and making its presence felt in the city. The innovative off-field ideas the club has come up with to make its mark continued Friday as it launched its own clothing line, but there’s no feeling like one of success on the field. The playoffs might be out of reach this year, but the chance to build a platform for 2020 starts now. “I think we are going to see some very strong performances moving forward,” said Head Coach Tim Mulqueen.
13. Of course, a month ago you would have realistically said the playoff chances for the Charlotte Independence were pretty much done with only one win in the club’s first 13 games under former Head Coach Jim McGuinness. But now the club is undefeated in its last six games (3-0-3) after its 1-0 victory against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC on Sunday night. The Independence are now only one point off the playoff places in the Eastern Conference and picking up some steam with Mike Jeffries back on the sideline.
14. The biggest number the Independence are going to have to overcome in their pursuit of a return to the playoffs is 19, which is the number of games the side has now played in its regular season. That’s the most games played of any side in the Eastern Conference at this point of the season – by contrast Loudoun United FC has played only 14 times thanks to a backloaded schedule that accommodated its move into its new soccer-specific venue. The pressure is going to remain on the Independence to maintain this form, but a potential average of two points per game – which it currently sits on under Jeffries – would carry the side to 50 points, which would have been enough to make the playoffs last season even when it was only an eight-team field.
15. There’s always a question as to how a side will react to a coaching change, especially when it’s like that undergone by Real Monarchs SLC with Martin Vasquez’s decision to leave the club coming as a surprise to most outsiders. Despite that, the Monarchs produced a 1-0 win against New Mexico United on Saturday night in a tightly fought contest at Zions Bank Stadium that was decided by Maikel Chang’s penalty kick.
16. After suffering a 5-1 defeat to New Mexico when the teams first met at Isotopes Park back in April, there was definitely a feeling of satisfaction in picking up not only a victory, but also a shutout against one of the league’s best attacks. “They are a quality side,” said Monarchs defender Kalen Ryden. “They attack with numbers, they have good players, good technical players, and one-on-one players, credit to the fellas out here tonight. Everyone bought into the game plan and we executed well.”
17. The Monarchs are now on a four-game winning streak that has pushed them back into the playoff positions at the end of the week’s action. Maybe as impressively, the club continues to make Zion’s Bank Stadium one of the toughest places to play in the league. Since it was opened on April 20, 2018, the Monarchs have gone 17-4-3 in the regular season on their home turf, the most regular season wins of any side in that span.
18. If there was a silver lining for New Mexico in the loss it was the return to action of Josh Suggs from injury as a second-half substitute. Suggs hadn’t appeared for United since being substituted off on May 25 in the club’s 3-1 win on the road against Austin Bold FC. New Mexico has gone winless in the league since that game (0-3-2) to drop to seventh in the Western Conference standings, but with the club’s Quarterfinal clash with a strong Minnesota United FC side coming up on Wednesday night in the 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the potential return of Suggs to the club’s starting lineup might have arrived at just the right time.