Even if the battle between top-of-the-table juggernauts in Tampa Bay ended in a draw, there were plenty of takeaways to glean there and across the USL Championship. Multiple intra-league transfers and trades reshaped the playoff races, another team lost their coach, and seven red cards made for an eventual matchweek.
What drove the trends, and what matters going forward? Let’s dig in.
1. Tampa Bay (+2)
Result: D 1-1 v. Sacramento
The Rowdies released Laurence Wyke at the end of 2022 after a controversial racial abuse suspension was overturned on appeal, and Wyke moved on to Nashville SC in MLS during the offseason. Nashville never gave Wyke a minute of action, and he surprisingly returned to Tampa Bay on loan on Saturday morning before immediately appearing in the lineup. Admittedly, he was hugely impactful in the midfield, going head-to-head against Sacramento's Luis Felipe with aplomb.
Defensively, Neill Collins pushed the wingers in his 4-2-3-1 high to deny Sacramento's backline the ability to drive forward on the ball. Collins used that same height as an offensive weapon, leveraging Sebastian Dalgaard on the right wing against an inexperienced Republic defender on that side to great effect. Dalgaard's skill paid off with a first-half assist after glomming onto a ball over that befuddled wingback.
Though the Rowdies conceded shortly before half, they only allowed three shots on goal all night, and their late shift into a 5-3-2 with Cal Jennings and JJ Williams up top maintained the quality of the press while refreshing the attack. On the balance, this felt like a game Tampa Bay deserved three points from, and they jump to the top spot in these rankings because of it.