USL Championship Final Preview: what you need to know
The end is in sight
The USL 2023 season – across all divisions – is down to one last game and the survivors are something of a surprise, especially on the Western side of the bracket. However, ther are also a couple of other games to hold your interest this weekend.
Charleston Battery v. Phoenix Rising (Sunday, 6:00pm, ESPN 2)
Once the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and Tampa Bay Rowdies exited in the first round, it became rather less surprising for the Battery to make it to this stage for what is already the biggest single season turnaround in league history. In 2022 Charleston finished 12th in the East, beating only Atlanta United 2 and the New York Red Bulls II with a meager 25 points. 59 points, 3rd in the East and heading to the final this year. Not bad. The last step was besting Louisville City 2-1, although they needed two set piece goals to do it. They took an early lead in the 5th minute on a goal direct from a free kick (thanks to Brian Ownby, who also hampered himself for the game with a yellow card) and followed that up with a penalty in the 58th. Lou City looked dead in the water when Carlos Moguel was sent off for a second yellow in the 86th minute, but City got one back on a corner kick in the 90th, but couldn’t get any closer. A tight game overall, but the Battery did have a couple of other good chances that could have put it away.
Far more of a shock is Phoenix Rising, who were the 6th seed in the West and had to make three trips to California to earn the cross-country trip to South Carolina. And they did in entirely dramatic fashion. Having scored the game-winners in the first two rounds in the dying moments of the second half of extra time, this time around they spotted Sacramento Republic an lead on a Russell Cicerone goal, they managed to come back in the second half, tying the gamer on an unfortunate Conor Donovan own goal but getting the winning goal on a long-range golazo by Emil Cuello 2 minutes into second half stoppage time. Not quite as late, but damn close.
The Battery should be the favorites in this game, bringing the cup to the East for the first time since 2018, but the Rising have shown they cannot be discounted. IT should be a good one.
Back in the Old Country
The Blues finally got a point under Wayne Rooney last week, but should have taken all 3. They controlled the game early and were up 2-0 after 51 minutes, only to blow the lead in the final 11 minutes to allow Ipswich Town to share the spoils 2-2. Still, it was a good performance against the #2 team in the table and they inched up to 15th. This week they head to Sunderland (Saturday, 6:30am, ESPN+), who sit in 8th. Another challenging game.
FIFA U-17 World Cup
Yes, there’s a World Cup going on. It started today, in fact. The U-17 men’s cup is being held in Indonesia, so the game times are almost as bad as they were for the Women’s Cup in Australia and New Zealand. The US is in the competition, of course, and our very own Matthew Corcoran is on the roster after a strong showing in the CONCACAF qualifiers. The US is in Group E, along with Burkina Faso, France and South Korea. I have absolutely no idea how the teams rank, but France and South Korea should be the tougher opposition given how the groups were established (based on prior performance in the competition). The US plays South Korea first (Sunday, 6:00am, all games FS1), then Burkina Faso (Wednesday, 3:00am) and finishes group play against France next Saturday (6:00am). Note also that the U-17 World Cup is usually a biennial event, not a quadrennial one, but 2021 was skipped due to COVID.