Chattanooga Red Wolves SC return home on Saturday night looking for a reset on a season that has seen it win just twice in eight league outings so far. | Photo courtesy Jim Myers / Chattanooga Red Wolves SC
With North Texas SC and Orlando City B having already picked up big midweek wins to kick off the week’s action, a three-game slate awaits us as Toronto FC II makes its 2019 home debut and Saturday brings two fascinating matchups. Here’s what we’re watching for as the regular season approaches the end of its second month.
RED WOLVES NEED RESET: With the level of experience brought in by Chattanooga Red Wolves SC both on the sideline in Head Coach Tim Hankinson and within its squad, the club’s current four-game winless streak has raised plenty of questions as to whether this side is really a playoff contender. As the Red Wolves enter Saturday night’s contest with Greenville Triumph SC back on home turf at David Stanton, though, there’s a great chance for a reset as the side enters the second quarter of its season. The reality remains that a win would push Chattanooga level on points with both third-place Greenville and the fourth-place Richmond Kickers, which suffered a 3-2 loss on Wednesday against OCB. If the Red Wolves are going to assert themselves, this is the moment they need to find the level of play we expected to see in preseason.
GOOD HOME COOKING: For the first three games of the season, Toronto FC II looked as though it had turned the page from its first four seasons in the USL Championship as it accumulated seven points and posted two shutouts in road victories against Orlando and Lansing Ignite FC. The last three games of its season-opening road trip have seen a major regression, however, as the side slid to defeat in all three outings and conceded eight goals in the process. Now sitting at the bottom of the League One standings the side kicks off its home slate on Friday evening against FC Tucson looking for a turnaround in fortune. There’s clear talent in this group – midfielder Noble Okello was named to the 40-man roster for Canada’s Gold Cup this week – but it needs to avoid slipping into the sort of elongated winless run that made it an also-ran in previous seasons.
TAKE IT ON THE ROAD: FC Tucson recorded the widest margin of victory in League One’s inaugural season last Saturday night in its 4-0 victory against Chattanooga, a win that moved the side into fifth place in the standings, but now it needs to find a way to carry its strong home form on the road. Since victory in its opening game of the season against Orlando City B, Head Coach Darren Sawatzky’s side has fallen twice on the road, and while there’s no shame in suffering defeat to either South Georgia Tormenta FC or the Richmond Kickers at their home venues, picking up road points is likely what will separate the contenders from the pretenders when it comes to the crunch in the race for the playoff places. A victory in Toronto would provide a solid boost for Tucson and set it up nicely ahead of back-to-back home games in the next two weeks.
Coming off the biggest win of the League One season last Saturday night, FC Tucson will need to find similar form on the road this Friday evening against Toronto FC II. | Photo courtesy FC Tucson
CLEANING UP IN FRONT: That sigh of relief you heard emanating from Legacy Early College last Saturday when Jake Keegan found the net just before halftime for Greenville Triumph SC against the Richmond Kickers came from both the technical area and from the club’s fans. It’s no secret that goals have been hard to come by for Triumph SC this season with a shot conversion rate that sits last in the league at just six percent. Greenville hasn’t lacked for effort, it sits third in the league with 103 shots overall at an average of almost 13 per game and according to Opta it has the most Chances Created (77) in League One so far this season, a sign that Triumph SC is doing a lot of things right when it comes to the final third. Now – whether it’s Keegan, Travis Ward, Chris Bermudez or someone else – the side must find a higher level of sharpness to make those chances count.
BEAT THE STREAK: On the face of it, the last thing a team mired in a five-game winless run could want is a trip to South Georgia Tormenta FC, which has gone a perfect 3-0-0 on home turf at Erk Russell Park this season to help cement it as one of the two title favorites through the opening quarter of the season. That’s the challenge facing Lansing Ignite FC on Saturday night, a task made all the more difficult due to the absence of both forward Alex Bruce – sent off in stoppage time against North Texas SC last Saturday – and defender Grant Stoneman, who had played every minute of the season before picking up his fifth caution of the season last Saturday. If there’s been a silver lining for Ignite FC during its recent run it’s that it has held leads in two of its last three outings, only to see victory slip away in the late stages of both contests to leave it with three consecutive draws. If Lansing can get a lead against Tormenta FC, expect a high level of fight to avoid the same thing happening again.