The full 2017 USL regular season schedule was announced on Tuesday, with the league’s seventh season set to be the biggest in its history. With 480 games across 30 weeks, the schedule is dotted with games that will grab attention, led by historic and more recently developed rivalries that will also play a major role in determining which teams will reach the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs. Here are 10 such games that fans will want to keep an eye on this season.
The first meeting between expansion side Reno 1868 FC and the newly-branded Phoenix Rising FC should provide insight into the potential both teams have for the new season, and could serve as a budding new rivalry as they look to gain strong footholds in their respective markets. Phoenix Head Coach Frank Yallop has had a busy offseason building a squad that will take aim at the club’s first postseason berth, but Reno has also made a splash with USL veterans like Dane Kelly, which could put the newcomer on the map in short order.
Arguably the first fixtures both Battery and Kickers fans look for every year are the derby games between the longtime rivals, but this year promises to be extra-special with both clubs celebrating their 25th seasons. The first meeting arrives at MUSC Health Stadium in June, by which time we should know plenty about both sides. With the Battery having held the upper hand in the past two years, going 4-0-3 over that span, the Kickers will want to earn their first victory against Charleston since the 2014 postseason.
With the two cities separated by less than 300 miles, the opportunity for a strong rivalry to emerge between the Rhinos and Fury FC is apparent, and their mid-season meeting at Capelli Sport Stadium could also be a critical one in terms of the Eastern Conference playoff race. The game will also offer added intrigue with a pair of former Rhinos standouts – forward Steevan Dos Santos and defender Onua Obasi – set to return to upstate New York for the first time since their departure to Canada’s capital.
The midweek encounter will be the first league meeting between the Riverhounds and Rowdies, but won’t be the first time the two clubs have squared off competitively at Highmark Stadium. Two seasons ago the clubs met in the Third Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, when the Riverhounds took a dramatic 1-0 victory behind Rob Vincent’s stoppage-time winner. The likes of Tampa Bay’s Matt Pickens, Tam Mkandawire and Georgi Hristov were in the Rowdies side that night, and could take a piece of revenge in their first trip back to the Steel City.
The Roughnecks had a rough go of it in 2017, particularly in the Black Gold Derby where they fell in all four meetings with in-state rival Energy FC. That more than anything stung for Tulsa, and brought about a change in Head Coach with Dave Vaudreuil being brought in to try and turn the ship around. We should know plenty about how good the Roughnecks are this season by July, but their first shot to earn the Roustabouts some bragging rights comes at Taft Stadium in what should be a must-see contest.
The two teams meet for the first time on April 22, but the first game between the River Cities Cup rivals at Slugger Field could have a greater degree of spice. This offseason, two key pieces from Louisville’s success over the past two seasons made their way to the other side of the rivalry. The reception FC Cincinnati additions Kadeem Dacres and Aodhan Quinn receive from City’s supporters will be fascinating to see, and should heighten the temperature even more on what has become a vibrant rivalry already.
With Saint Louis FC’s return to the Eastern Conference this season, the battle between the Missouri clubs is now an inter-conference clash, but that is unlikely to diminish the rivalry between the two teams as they battle for vital points in their respective push for the playoffs. While changes have arrived at both clubs this offseason, the identity of both should be well formed by the time they meet in front of what should be a raucous crowd at World Wide Technology Soccer Park. The home fans will be hoping for a repeat of STLFC’s 3-0 victory on home turf when the two teams met for the first time in 2016.
The Red Bulls II took victories in both meetings between these clubs a season ago, which helped provide the platform for their USL Regular Season Championship. A 2-1 comeback victory at Nippert Stadium served as one of the most dramatic games featured in the USL Game of the Week on ESPN3 in its inaugural season. With this contest being FCC’s home finale, the game should bring more drama on the field, and could also serve as the final push as FCC takes aim at raising the number on its USL single-season attendance record of a season ago.
The Switchbacks and Republic FC were two of the top three teams in the Western Conference a season ago, and their meeting at Switchbacks Stadium on the penultimate weekend of the season could have massive implications on playoff position as both strive for another strong year. The Switchbacks edged out Sacramento 1-0 a season ago in the equivalent fixture, and their high-altitude advantage will likely pose a challenge for visiting opponents again throughout the season.
The final weekend of the regular season brings together the two Texas rivals for a showdown at Toyota Field, which could both serve as the decider in the regular season series between the two clubs, and also have an impact on the playoff hopes of both, as it did last season. The roles were reversed a season ago with the Toros hosting SAFC, and their 3-0 victory at H-E-B Park put an end to San Antonio’s playoff hopes. Chances are good there’ll be just as much on the line in this encounter.