Rio Grande Valley FC players and staff celebrate after defeating top-seeded Phoenix Rising FC in a penalty shootout on Saturday night in the 2021 USL Championship Playoffs, presented by TwinSpires. | Photo courtesy Ashley Orellana / Phoenix Rising FC
TAMPA, Fla. – After a 2020 postseason defined by convention, the USL Championship’s Western Conference returned to its wild ways on the opening weekend of the 2021 USL Championship Playoffs, presented by TwinSpires, as Oakland Roots SC and Rio Grande Valley FC recorded upset victories on the road against pre-postseason favorites El Paso Locomotive FC and Phoenix Rising FC to break the bracket wide open.
Making its first postseason appearance in the Championship, Oakland began the surprises on Friday night as it broke El Paso’s 25-game home undefeated streak at Southwest University Park in a 1-0 win that saw Jeremy Bokila score the only goal in the second half (Full Report | Box Score). Then on Saturday night, the Toros advanced against defending Western Conference title holder Rising FC 4-3 in a penalty shootout after the sides played to a dramatic 3-3 draw after regulation and extra time at Wild Horse Pass (Full Report | Box Score), the first postseason victory in Rio Grande Valley’s history.
The results set up two in-state matchups in the Western Conference Semifinals, with Oakland set to visit Orange County SC after its 1-0 win against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC on Saturday night (Full Report | Box Score). The Toros, meanwhile, will square off against South Texas Derby rival San Antonio FC after the club from the Alamo City eliminated San Diego Loyal SC and Head Coach Landon Donovan with a 2-0 win on Friday night (Full Report | Box Score).
By contrast, convention held sway in the Eastern Conference as the top four seeds advanced from the opening weekend, led by defending conference title holder the Tampa Bay Rowdies, who romped to a 6-2 victory against FC Tulsa at Al Lang Stadium (Full Report | Box Score). The hosts recorded a goal a minute into the second half that set off a scoring festival after the break that saw Tampa Bay find the net five times and Tulsa’s Joaquin Rivas and Dario Suarez pull out a pair of world-class finishes for the visitors in response.
Central Division winner Louisville City FC also advanced with a 1-0 win against Miami FC (Full Report | Box Score), and will now play host to the Charlotte Independence, who took their first postseason victory in club history with a 3-1 win against Memphis 901 FC that saw former Premier League title winner Christian Fuchs among the scorers (Full Report | Box Score). The Rowdies will host Birmingham Legion FC, which advanced past Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC after multiple covered persons from the Riverhounds organization tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the cancellation of the contest scheduled for Sunday evening.
(All times Eastern; home team listed first)
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Saturday, Nov. 13
Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Birmingham Legion FC, 7 p.m. ET, Al Lang Stadium
Louisville City FC vs. Charlotte Independence, 7:30 p.m. ET, Lynn Family Stadium
Western Conference Semifinals
Saturday, Nov. 13
San Antonio FC vs. Rio Grande Valley FC, 9 p.m. ET, Toyota Field
Orange County SC vs. Oakland Roots SC, 10 p.m. ET, Championship Soccer Stadium