By MIKE GRAMAJO
There are several solid USL Pro match-ups on tap for this weekend, but none may be bigger than the debut of the Oklahoma City Energy FC, who are coached by MLS champion goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen.
The Energy will travel to California on Saturday to take on the Orange County Blues FC before making the trek north to kick off against the LA Galaxy II on Monday.
The Galaxy II, who top the standings with four points, look to keep their unbeaten start alive after a convincing victory over the Blues and late-game draw against Sacramento Republic last week. The LA Galaxy will more than likely send four or more players on-loan to Los Dos like previous matches.
Meanwhile, the Energy look very solid in depth, bolstered by on-loan goalkeeper Jon Kempin from Sporting Kansas City, who will get his first real chance as the No. 1 man after his loan at Orlando City in 2013 left him only as a backup for Miguel Gallardo.
Here’s a closer look at the rest of Week 3 action in the USL Pro:
CHARLOTTE EAGLES VS. DAYTON DUTCH LIONS (Friday, April 4 at 7:00 p.m. ET WATCH HERE)
The Charlotte Eagles look to start their new campaign on a positive note when they welcome the Dayton Dutch Lions to the Queens Sports Complex.
Dayton, who opened up their season last week, suffered a grueling 3-0 defeat to the New York Red Bulls Reserves last Sunday, and often struggled offensively to find the back of the net.
Despite their USL Pro final run in 2013, the Eagles will look to replicate their performance but will have to do so with plenty of new faces. Only six players from last year have returned to Charlotte, one of which include forward Jorge Herrera, who scored 10 goals and notched four assists.
ORLANDO CITY VS. ROCHESTER RHINOS (Saturday, April 5 at 7:30 p.m. ET WATCH HERE)
Orlando City aren’t having the best start in the 2014 season, drawing in their first two matches, but they look to earn their first victory when the Rochester Rhinos visit.
Despite missing out on several scoring chances in games lately, the Lions added more depth to their midfield last Wednesday when they acquired midfielder Brian Span on loan from FC Dallas for the 2014 season.
Meanwhile, the Rhinos added some solid pieces to their roster last Tuesday when they announced the arrivals of defenders Tony Walls, Babacar Diallo and midfielder Johnny Mendoza.
RICHMOND KICKERS VS. PITTSBURGH RIVERHOUNDS (Saturday, April 5 at 5:00 p.m. ET WATCH HERE)
The Richmond Kickers open up their home season at City Stadium when they host the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on Saturday.
Both sides drew respectively on the road last week, with Richmond drawing 2-2 at Charleston while Pittsburgh finished with a 1-1 draw at Orlando. It will be a tale of two strikers, as the Kickers bolster George Davis IV, who scored both goals for the Kickers last week while the Riverhounds look to lean on 2013 USL Pro MVP Jose Angulo.
Last time the Kickers and Riverhounds met was on August 2013, which ended in a 1-1 draw at Highmark Stadium.
WILMINGTON HAMMERHEADS VS. HARRISBURG CITY ISLANDERS (Saturday, April 5 at 7:30 p.m. ET WATCH HERE)
Despite missing out on the opening two weeks, both the Wilmington Hammerheads and Harrisburg City Islanders begin their 2014 USL Pro season at Legion Stadium.
“I feel confident coming into this season,” Hammerheads head coach David Irving told the club’s website. “The players have been ready to take the field and be part of the action for weeks now. There has been a good spirit coming through preseason amongst the team and they are ready to get to work.”
Wilmington will be one of the 11 USL Pro clubs that will augment an MLS affiliate, after clinching a partnership with Toronto FC, which has resulted into the Reds sending goalkeeper Quillan Roberts and midfielders Daniel Lovitz, Manu Aparicio for the whole season. However, the City Islanders added a solid defensive piece when they announced the signing of right back Neil Shaffer on Thursday.
CHIVAS USA RESERVES VS. SACRAMENTO REPUBLIC (Monday, April 7 at 2:00 p.m. ET WATCH HERE)
After making their league debut last week in a 1-1 draw against the LA Galaxy II, Sacramento Republic FC return to the StubHub Center, but this time to face off against the Chivas USA Reserves.
Despite not being able to clinch a victory, three Sac Republic players received USL Pro team of the week honors for week two, which include goalkeeper Jake Gleeson, defender Harrison Delbridge and forward Justin Braun (scored first-ever goal in club history).
What do you think of Week 3? Excited to see OKC Energy begin their inaugural season? Do you think Orlando City will earn their first win? Can Los Dos remain in first place? How do you think Sac Republic will perform?
Share your thoughts below.