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USL Power Rankings: East stays strong, love in Sacramento & more from Week 7

After seven weeks of USL Championship action, we're ranking every team in the league.

23 min read
Design: Peyton Gallaher

All 24 USL Championship teams were in action on Saturday, and it was a match day filled with big storylines. Rhode Island FC got their first-ever win. Sacramento made a statement in a battle at the top of the Western table. Two clubs scored jaw-dropping goals from the halfway line.

What defined the week for every club, and how does it impact their standing as a contender? Let’s dig in.

1. Charleston (No change) 

Result: 4-2 win at Tulsa

There may not be a hotter player in American soccer right now than Nick Markanich. The winger has seven goals and two assists in about a month of action, and he put on a show against FC Tulsa to add to those tallies this weekend.

Markanich's bread and butter is cutting in from the right wing to shoot on his stronger left foot, but the threat goes so much deeper. He's an instinctual poacher around the box, lethal when he can pick up a rebound or make a later-arriving run into space. Markanich can also get gritty; his assist in Oklahoma was a aerial win flicked on to striker MD Myers.

The 24-year-old's ability to slide inside adds a layer to Charleston in a few ways. There's the obvious offensive threat with the ball at Markanich's feet, but that tendency also liberates Mark Segbers to overlap from right back or for midfielder Emilio Ycaza to make a surprise run into the right channel. It's a hydra-like attack that no one has stopped in 2024.

Throw in a stout 4-2-3-1, a fearsome counterpress, and Ben Pirmann's impressive strategic abilities, and it's clear why Charleston is rounding into form so impressively.

2. Louisville (No change) 

Result: 1-0 win at Loudoun

After downing top-of-League One Greenville in the Open Cup with their best XI, Danny Cruz and Louisville ran it back at the weekend against a potentially tricky Loudoun team. LouCity has been the most explosive club in the USL season, but they went somewhat conservative, often dropping winger Ray Serrano into the midfield without the ball to create a stout 3-5-2. Beyond adding steel, the shape shift also helped to lighten up the press for what must've been tired legs.

With more men deep, Louisville could get clever when manipulating their midfield. Elijah Wynder took particular advantage, regularly weaving into attack on the ball to combine with the forwards and put Loudoun between a rock and a hard place. Wynder didn't technically create a chance in the game, but his movement between the lines and availability as a hockey assister was paramount.

The big change came at halftime, when Cruz subbed both of his wing backs, with Amadou Dia proving especially good in the second half. 70% of LouCity's chances came in the latter 45 minutes, and Dia's varied movement — inside, outside, deep in combination with a high-moving Wynder — powered that offensive outburst. The winning goal came off a scramble forced by Dia's service.

Dominant it wasn't, but Louisville did what was needed to bank points. For a team that's won easily all season, it's confidence-inducing to see that grit.

3. Detroit (No change)

Result: 3-1 win v. Oakland

It took Detroit about 90 minutes to get their winner against the Michigan Stars on Tuesday night. Less than 10 minutes into their return to USL action on Saturday, they held an edge through Ben Morris' opening goal. Le Rouge hadn't lost in any competition in 2024, and this week was no different.

The standout aspect over the weekend was a shifted defensive shape. Detroit has usually used a 4-4-2 without the ball, pushing attacking midfielder Maxi Rodriguez — the match-winner against the Stars — into the forward line. Instead, Rodriguez hedged deep with Oakland in town, moving the shape into a 4-1-4-1 that proved impenetrable in the middle of the park.

The other revelation came on the left wing, where little-used Alex Villanueva had a breakout night. Villanueva was once a hot prospect in the Seattle Sounders system who became a regular at Orange County SC only to fall out of favor when they changed coaches in early 2023. Having moved to Detroit over this offseason, the 21-year-old showed off his stellar work rate and smart movement to regularly burn the Roots in the channels.

It was ultimately an easy win when it was all said and done, especially with Oakland going down a man in the second half. Still, that level of control has never been seen in Detroit's prior two USL campaigns, and it makes you think that this team may just have the weapons to go the distance.

4. Sacramento (+1)

Result: 2-0 win at Orange County

Rodrigo Lopez is the closest thing to a legend that exists in USL history, a midfielder with more than 80 total goal contributions across about a decade in USL Pro and the USL Championship. Lopez is an original member of the Sacramento Republic who helped guide the club to a title in their inaugural season, and he's beloved in that community. This week, Republic teammate Luis Filipe started a public fundraiser for Lopez's son, Roman, who will undergo heart surgery next month. The response? An initial goal of $20,000 was met almost immediately.

Lopez's status has been earned in the Sacramento community and in the lower division soccer world at large because of his lovable personality and excellent play, and the latter was instantly on show against Orange County this Saturday.

Lopez took the ball away in the midfield, streaked to the right side, and whipped in an assist within 16 seconds of the opening whistle. It was a classic example of Sacramento's 3-4-3 press-into-attack principles, but it was also a moment of magic for Lopez after what must've been an emotional week.

Elsewhere on the pitch, Sacramento's back line was impregnable. Orange County regularly tried to play longer passes over the press into the space in front of the three Republic center backs, but they rarely came off; Conor Donovan, Jared Timmer, and Lee Desmond combined for 11 interceptions as a defensive trio.

Up top, at the back, and in the heart of the field via Lopez, Sacramento were rampant. This is the performance this team has been waiting for in 2024, one that ought to spark plenty more wins to come.

5. San Antonio (+1)

Result: 3-1 win at Hartford

Conservatism and timidity have never been in Alen Marcina's vocabulary, and that fact held true against a fiery Hartford team this weekend. Rather than absorb pressure, Marcina used the wing backs and outside defenders in his 3-5-2 to double-team the opposing wingers with a vengeance, and it mostly shut down what had been Hartford's primary source of offense to date.

Naturally, there were gaps. If Hartford could get out on the break or rotate cleverly on a longer goal kick, they were in business beyond those elevated outside defenders.

Still, San Antonio mostly controlled possession, largely due to another masterclass in hold-up play from Juan Agudelo up top. The striker regularly dropped low for touches, allowing partner Machop Chol to do the running and chasing further ahead. Agudelo's rotation with No. 10s Jorge Hernandez and Luke Haakenson was tremendous, giving San Antonio a persistent edge between the lines.

The wobbles were balanced out, too, with Kevon Lambert positioned deeper as the No. 6 in the second half to lend an extra hand against those transitional opportunities. Hartford still got a few half chances in the channels, but they largely lacked any outlet past Marcina's press.

With that primary fault addressed, San Antonio kicked into another offensive gear. Forward Lucho Solignac, a star in the 2020 season who came back this winter, had a particularly good spell in the Agudelo "second striker" spot off the bench, and he helped to galvanize two late strikes to seal the deal. It's the balance this team has long needed, and it could mean good things for Marcina's soft rebuild going forward.

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