The USL often talks about participating in the global transfer market and allowing players to move overseas, but that trend isn’t limited to the field. With the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ manager Neill Collins taking over as the coach of Barnsley in the English League One and the Sacramento Republic’s owner Kevin Nagle purchasing Huddersfield Town, the league is increasingly making headway on the sideline and in the boardroom.
The deepening links between the USL and the English pyramid could lead to player movement and create a virtuous cycle, but they symbolize the league’s growing financial heft at a bare minimum. At all levels, American soccer is more prepared than ever to throw its weight around on a global stage, and that can only be a good thing if it leads to more opportunities for star talents in this country.
On the pitch, Week 18 in the USL Championship was busy beyond the managerial churn. Let’s get down to it.
1.) Pittsburgh (No change)
Result: D 0-0 v. Sacramento
The Riverhounds are the masters of playing a plodding, tight-run game, a quality that sets them up well against other elite USL teams. Running and gunning can leave you vulnerable, but Pittsburgh never seem to give up an inch.
Against Sacramento, who ran with a very speedy front three, that meant dropping the wingbacks in the 5-1-3-1 very low as a counterpunch to that pace. That choice also had offensive benefits. The guests had to push their own wingbacks up to close down Pittsburgh's Langston Blackstock and DZ Harmon, opening space for long balls into the channels.
That 5-1-3-1 tended to be more defensive as well. Danny Griffin or another higher midfielder would often drop next to Marc Ybarra, solidifying the middle of the park against a Republic team that tends to drop forwards into the hole to create overloads. The outcome? Pittsburgh allowed just one shot on target but retained enough flexibility and spark, especially with Albert Dikwa on in the second half, to earn the lion's share of offensive success on the night.
In the end, it was classic pragmatic stuff from a Bob Lilley team. The Riverhounds didn't reinvent the wheel, but they did just enough to show why winning at Highmark Stadium is going to be a beastly challenge come playoff time.