There were a handful of firsts this weekend in USL League One, but after the three-game slate concluded there was one result that stood above the rest and set up a massive midweek contest to kick off the upcoming week of action. Here are five things we took from the past few days.
MINGOS ON THE MOVE: As we mentioned last Thursday, the biggest question of the weekend was whether Forward Madison FC would be able to end South Georgia Tormenta FC’s shutout streak and in doing so hand the title contenders their first home loss of the season. The answer proved to be an emphatic yes, with the Flamingos’ 2-1 victory highlighted by Don Smart’s fifth goal of the season and a beautiful first league goal for Oliver White. Madison capitalized on an uncharacteristic mistake in its own end by Tormenta FC’s back line to get the lead, but then put in a great shift defensively to ensure it held up with nine of South Georgia’s 14 overall shots being blocked. With three wins out of four, Madison next heads to Lansing Ignite FC on Tuesday night with the chance to move into the playoff positions.
OPPORTUNITY LOST: The side Madison is going to visit in Ignite FC earned itself a valuable road point against Chattanooga Red Wolves SC on Saturday night, but having held both the lead and a man-advantage late in the first half Lansing might well have come away from the contest thinking it should have been able to see out victory. Instead, Kevin Coiffic’s red card in the 44th minute for what the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported was a head butt lost the side its 11-on-10 advantage, and 10 minutes into the second the Red Wolves had erased its one-goal lead as Tony Walls found the net with a fine header from a corner kick. An offside flag that ruled out a potential game-winner by Elma N'For in the 68th minute might have left Lansing frustrated, but their opportunity to overtake the Red Wolves and move into third place with a win had been there for the taking before Coiffic’s letdown in composure.
HANGING IN: The Red Wolves’ undefeated streak reached six games with Saturday night’s draw as it also maintained an undefeated home record thanks to Walls’ finish. For a side that has had to battle to get up to third place in the standings, the result was one it was able to take some pride in considering the circumstances it found itself in before Coiffic’s red card. “At halftime we said this is something we can overcome,” Chattanooga Head Coach Tim Hankinson told the Times Free Press’ Patrick MacCoon. “The guys started to believe they could get it back. Tony found a gap and we had a great service. We also had better possession in the last 15 minutes but did not get consistent enough service to get the win.” That belief could be key this week as Chattanooga heads on the road for a pair of games, starting on Wednesday night against Orlando City B. With a win, the Red Wolves would be level on points with Tormenta FC for second place in the standings, and while South Georgia would have two games in hand, the hegemony that has been present at the top of the standings would have a chance to be broken.
STILL IN THE MIX: One team that will certainly be rooting for Madison on Tuesday night is FC Tucson, which sits with an identical record to the Flamingos after its 3-1 victory against Toronto FC II last Wednesday night. With Tucson set to visit Ignite FC itself on Saturday, keeping Lansing within range of being caught – even if it’s at the expense of Madison pushing itself further into the playoff discussion – would be a major plus for Tucson after one of its most impressive displays of the season. The biggest question for Tucson, though, will be whether it can break its bad habit of failing to string together victories. After each of FCT’s four wins this year, defeat has followed the following game. That’s going to have to end if its playoff pursuit is to come to fruition.
HOLDING FIRM: Greenville Triumph SC achieved a pair of notable firsts in the final game of the weekend on Sunday night as it became both the first team to hold North Texas SC without a goal this season and in doing so became the first visiting side to earn a point at Toyota Stadium. A solid display by goalkeeper Dallas Jaye played a key role, especially his one-on-one save to deny League One leading scorer Ronaldo Damus in the 50th minute. Greenville was out-possessed two-to-one over the 90 minutes, but it did well enough to win its individual battles and limit NTSC to only three shots on goal and 11 shots overall. With its season at the halfway point, Head Coach John Harkes’ side will know single points aren’t going to cut it if the side wants to reach the postseason, but Triumph SC’s confidence should continue to grow as it returns home for games with Orlando City B and FC Tucson in the next two weeks.