From USL Reports
The Pittsburgh Riverhounds season ended last week, but the top eight teams in the USL’s Eastern Conference met in the quarterfinals this weekend, and two experienced clubs, Charleston and Rochester showed why they’ve been near the top of the USL year-in and year-out, while to no one’s surprise, the New York Red Bulls II blitzed Orlando City B for a 4-0 win and second year Louisville City FC needed OT to surge past a gritty effort from USL mainstay Richmond.
Hats off to FC Cincinnati on a monumental season and for shattering all kinds of attendance records — including a USL all-time and playoff record 30,187 at Nippert Stadium to see FCC fall to Charleston 2-1.
The Eastern Conference Semifinals are set for next weekend, with NYRBII hosting Rochester in what should be a great match-up between the USL’s defending champions and the team with the best record this past regular season; and in the other semifinal, Charleston will travel to Louisville.
Here are the recaps from this weekend’s quarterfinals:
EXPERIENCED BATTERY RALLY FOR 2-1 WIN BEFORE RECORD CROWD
The Charleston Battery, in the midst of their sixth consecutive postseason, rallied past expansion side FC Cincinnati for a 2-1 victory Sunday in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in front of a USL postseason-record crowd of 30,187 on Sunday at Nippert Stadium. The attendance broke the previous mark of 20,886 held by Orlando City SC during the 2013 USL Cup Final at the Citrus Bowl, when Orlando defeated the Charlotte Eagles 7-4.
Cincinnati’s home base was in high spirits with Eric Stevenson’s 30-yard tally in the 19th minute, but Charleston responded well as Chris Tsonis found the equalizer in the 40th minute. Then in the 65th minute, Zach Prince’s shot from a Maikel Chang corner kick was deflected by Tyler Polak and into his own net as Charleston took the 2-1 advantage. Prince was credited with the winning score and his Battery will face either second-seeded Louisville City FC or the seven-seeded Richmond Kickers in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals next weekend. Those two sides kicked off later Sunday evening.
TEN-MAN RICHMOND TAKES LOU CITY, BUT FALL IN OT, 2-0
Louisville City FC needed overtime, but took a 2-0 victory against a Richmond Kickers side that had to play most of the game down to 10 men in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 USL Cup Playoffs on Sunday night in front of 5,467 fans at Slugger Field.
The Kickers absorbed an early blow when Samuel Asante was sent off in just the fourth minute for a high challenge on Louisville’s Magnus Rasmussen, but almost took the lead in the 13th minute as Louisville goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh had to save well from William Yomby’s header off a corner.
Louisville’s first good chance also came off a set piece, as a free kick by Cameron Lancaster from the left was dummied at the near-post by Tarek Morad, but Kickers goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra punched clear as he quickly shifted to save. Louisville stepped up the pressure at the start of the second half, and almost took the lead five minutes after the break when Kadeem Dacres’ volleyed shot from 25 yards forced a big save from Dkystra. Aodhan Quinn also sent a shot to the bottom-right corner just past the hour-mark that was turned wide, while Yudai Imura headed off the line from a header by Paco Craig. Dykstra continued to stand tall as Louisville pressed, sending the game to overtime scoreless as Ilija Ilic had his shot saved, but George Davis IV struck for the hosts with a low shot to the right corner early in the first extra period. Chandler Hoffman doubled Louisville’s lead in the 102nd minute as a pass into the penalty area by Dacres gave him the angle to slip around Dykstra and find the back of the net, and that proved the decisive blow to send Louisville through.
RED BULLS II ROLL PAST OCB
One of the keys to the New York Red Bulls II’s success this season has been the team’s ability to break out of the gate fast, get their opponents out of their rhythm with high pressure upfield, and close out games strongly.
All three facets were on display as the USL regular season champions side opened their 2016 USL Cup Playoffs campaign with a 4-0 victory against Orlando City B on Sunday evening at Red Bull Arena.
“I thought we were pretty dominant from the first minute to the last,” said center back Aaron Long.
“We’ve been working on high-pressure, and I don’t think they could handle it.”
Long scored twice off set pieces to lead the way for the Red Bulls II on Sunday, as he matched a regular-season goal total that included a tally on the road against Orlando in June.
The big center back, who has also recently featured for the Red Bulls in the CONCACAF Champions League, hammered home a close range finish in the first half, and then capped the scoring with 13 minutes to go off a precise free kick by Vincent Bezecourt.
ROCHESTER SHOWS PLAYOFF SAVVY – TOP INDEPENDENCE
Offered an early opportunity to give his side the lead, Rochester Rhinos’ fullback Wal Fall took aim, and fired.
From a full 30 yards out, his right-footed shot curled around the wall, and past the despairing dive of Charlotte Independence goalkeeper John Berner, and kick-started the Rhinos’ USL Cup defense as they took a 3-1 victory in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at Rhinos Stadium on Saturday night.
“I took the free kick. I got the goal,” Fall said.
“I just felt so good in this game.”
The free kick had come through a foul by Bilal Duckett on Steevan Dos Santos, as the Independence defender got turned around in a one-on-one situation with the rangy Rhinos’ striker. Duckett was handed no favors by teammate Joel Johnson midway through the half, either, as a loose pass allowed Dos Santos to pressure and steal possession, and his shot from 20 yards dipped under Berner’s body and into the net for a 2-0 lead.
After being held to a 0-0 draw by the Independence when the teams first met at Rhinos Stadium this season, the early finishes were a big boost for a Rhinos’ side that is now on a 10-game undefeated streak.
“The early goal was good,” said Dos Santos. “They gave me space to get the next one and it brought us to a good lead.”
While the Independence defense struggled after a stellar regular season that had seen it concede less than a goal-per-game, the Rhinos’ back line then held firm. The Independence used three halftime substitutions – including those of forwards Jorge Herrera and Aly Hassan – to spark a good start to the second half, but when the Rhinos scored again off another Charlotte defensive error, there was no way back for the visitors.
“We played well,” said Rhinos Coach Bob Lilley. “We definitely asserted ourselves early. It was important to get the early goals. The third just cushioned us. Charlotte is a good team and they played well. We played well and deserved it.”