TAMPA, Fla. – This weekend in the USL Championship and USL League One, there’s some Unfinished Business to be settled, and a national television stage to settle it on.
The top two teams in their respective leagues – the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Phoenix Rising FC in the Championship, and Greenville Triumph SC and Union Omaha in League One – will square off on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon in a historic weekend for the organization on ESPN2 that will see the Greenville-Omaha matchup become the first League One contest to air on national television in its history.
The weekend’s matchups are notable because both were originally slated to serve as the culmination of the Championship and League One Playoffs in 2020 before both games were cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns. While there won’t be silverware on the line this weekend, both sets of teams will be eager to put down a marker for the new season with all four teams entering the weekend’s action with perfect records to start the campaign.
Meeting for the first time in their respective histories, the Championship’s defending Eastern Conference Title holder Tampa Bay Rowdies and defending Western Conference Title holder Phoenix Rising FC have maintained their position as the two leading contenders in their conferences to start the 2021 season. Both teams enter having earned two wins from two outings and both boast a plus-six goal differential, with the Rowdies having yet to concede a goal this season.
The matchup at 8 p.m. ET at Al Lang Stadium in downtown St. Petersburg will pit the Rowdies’ 2020 Championship All-League defenders Forrest Lasso and Jordan Scarlett against Phoenix’s All-League forwards Rufat Dadashov and Solomon Asante, with Asante having also become the second two-time Most Valuable Player in the Championship’s history after his award last fall. Currently the favorites to represent their respective conferences in the 2021 USL Championship Final this November according to fivethirtyeight.com, Saturday’s match will be one of the biggest in the league’s 11-season history.
“We know that fans not only of both the Rowdies and Rising FC, but all around the country have had this date circled since this interconference matchup was announced,” said USL Executive Vice President Court Jeske. “We are thrilled to bring this game to a national audience on ESPN2 at one of the most scenic venues in North American soccer in what should be a tremendous spectacle on the field.”
The short histories of defending League One Title holder Greenville Triumph SC and second-year club Union Omaha have seen both clubs rise to the top of League One in short order as they square off at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday at Greenville’s Legacy Early College. In 2020, the two sides finished first and second, respectively, in the League One standings, with Triumph SC crowned title-winners after topping the table from the opening weekend of the regular season to the last. Yet it was Omaha who won the only previous matchup between the clubs, taking a 2-1 victory in a thrilling contest at Legacy Early College last October, spoiling Greenville’s otherwise perfect home record in the 2020 campaign.
This weekend’s meeting marks the fourth game of the 2021 season for Greenville and Omaha alike, and neither has put a foot wrong to this point. Each club enters with a perfect 3-0-0 record. Triumph SC owns wins against the Richmond Kickers, North Texas SC and North Carolina FC, while Omaha has defeated South Georgia Tormenta FC, Fort Lauderdale CF and the New England Revolution II, giving it a chance to move into first place in the League One standings for the first time in its history on Sunday. After offseason moves by both clubs, as many as 12 players that were selected to the 2020 USL League One All-League Team could feature across both sides on Sunday afternoon.
“Greenville and Omaha have been tremendous ambassadors for our league both on and off the pitch,” said USL Senior VP of League One Steven Short. “It’s only fitting that they should take center stage and showcase League One’s quality to a national television audience for the first time. Sunday marks an amazing step for our rapidly-growing league.”
Saturday and Sunday’s games are part of the largest linear television schedule in the USL’s history, with 19 USL Championship and League One games airing on the ESPN family of networks over the course of the 2021 season. Every Championship and League One match not featured on linear television is available on ESPN+, while a recently struck overseas broadcast agreement has made games from both leagues available on ESPN International to fans in South America, Central America and the Caribbean.