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What to Watch: USL Championship quarterfinals

Corey Hertzog and Kyle Morton lead their teams into Conference semifinals while several other players with local ties look to keep their seasons going

Kyle Morton made five saves in a 1-0 win over Hartford Athletic in the first round of the 2020 USL Championship Playoffs

St. Louis FC vs Louisville City FC
How to Watch: ESPN+
Where: Lynn Family Stadium
When: 7:30 p.m. EST

West Chester’s Kyle Morton firmly supplanted himself as one of the top keepers in USL after posting a road shutout last Saturday night in St. Louis FC’s 1-0 win over Hartford Athletic. The former Union Academy and James Madison grad had five saves, with several of them coming in the game’s opening minutes, including an early point-blank save to deny Hartford’s Aidan Mesias and a late save on Markus Naglestad. St. Louis went on to win the game in stoppage time when substitute Joaquin Rivas scored to give the club its first playoff victory. Morton has 56 saves and a 75.7% save percentage this year, both improvements from a season ago when he was nominated for Goalkeeper of the Year with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Earlier this July, Morton was in consideration for USL’s Player of the Month after two shutouts, which included a four-save shutout against Louisville City.

Morton will face a Louisville City team with a number of familiar faces. John Hackworth, former Union Head coach and Youth Development Coordinator, was named USL’s Coach of the Month for September/October as Louisville won its final six games to claim the top seed in the Eastern Conference ahead of the playoffs. Hackworth has led Louisville to the USL Finals in each of the past two seasons since taking over as head coach in August of 2018, winning the title in his first year in charge.

Antoine Hoppenot played for the Union from 2012-2015 and made 69 appearances for the club while also spending time on loan with the Harrisburg City Islanders throughout his stay in Philly. Last season, his first with Louisville, the French native scored five goals, including a late winner in the 3-1 win over Indy Eleven in the Eastern Conference Final. The former Ivy League Player of the Year at Princeton has started 15 out of Louisville’s 16 games and has 1 goal and 6 assists on the season.

Corben Bone scored the second goal in Louisville’s 2-0 win over the Pittsburgh Riverhounds last Saturday. Bone had a brief stint with the Union in 2012, making a few appearances before being loaned out to the Wilmington Hammerheads. Bone, a College Cup winner at Wake Forest, has 6 goals and 1 assist. Yardley’s Jimmy Ockford has appeared in ten games this season. The former Reading United defender spent last season with the San Jose Earthquakes as well as a portion of the season on loan with Reno 1868 and Nashville SC.

Tampa Bay Rowdies vs Charleston Battery
How to Watch: ESPN+
Where: Al Lang Stadium
When: 7:30 p.m. EST

Tampa Bay has been no stranger to former Union players, but of the numerous players with ties to the Union and to the area, Leo Fernandes is the one who has become the most recognizable in a Rowdies uniform. Now in his fourth season in Tampa Bay, he is second on the team in goals with 5 in 15 matches. Former Union midfielder Adam Najem is also with the Rowdies now and former Harrisburg City Islanders attackers Yann Ekra (1 goal, 3 assists) and Lucky Mkosana (3 goals) contribute to their attack. For the Battery, former Bethlehem Steel defender A.J. Paterson is a regular for a team that finished second behind the Rowdies in Group H during the regular season.

Reno 1868 vs Phoenix Rising
How to Watch: ESPN+
Where: Greater Nevada Field
When: 9 p.m. EST (6 p.m. PST)

Reading’s Corey Hertzog scored the club’s first franchise playoff brace and assisted on Foster Langsdorf’s second-half goal to lead Reno 1868 FC into the USL quarterfinals after beating LA Galaxy II 4-1 last Saturday night. Tonight, Reno will host Phoenix Rising at Greater Nevada Field with the winner advancing to the Western Conference Finals. Hertzog, playing as an attacking midfielder, was instrumental in Reno’s high press in the game’s opening minutes. It was his pressure on Galaxy keeper Anthony Ramos that forced a turnover, and Kevin Partida finished off the mistake to give Reno the lead within the game’s first four minutes. The Galaxy pulled one back on a corner five minutes later, but the Penn State All-American put Reno up for good in the 35th minute after a quick counter attack. Cristiano Francois found Hertzog across the top of the box, and Hertzog cut inside and fired a right- footed shot inside the post to give the hosts the lead.

Hertzog was the provider on another quick Reno transition when his through ball put Langsdorf clear to goal and the Stanford All-American chipped Ramos for his team-leading 11th goal of the season. Five minutes later, a Galaxy defender brought Hertzog down in the box, and he finished off the game with a well-taken penalty to the lower corner. The goal was Hertzog’s 69th in his USL career, which puts him three behind Jorge Hererra for second all-time and nineteen behind Dane Kelly of the Charlotte Independence, who crashed out last weekend in the first round.

Reno’s opponent, Phoenix Rising, have had their share of controversies in recent weeks. Phoenix advanced on a late extra-time goal from Solomon Asante, who punched teammate Santi Moar’s shot into the goal for the 1-0 win over Sacramento Republic. The goal, a little more obvious then the Hand of God, would have been overturned had the USL adopted VAR. Two weeks ago, San Diego Loyal walked off the field at halftime after Phoenix’s Junior Flemmings called the Loyal’s Collin Martin a homophobic slur. Martin, who is openly gay, was initially given a red card for his retaliation to Flemmings’ comment, but after the card was rescinded and Flemmings returned for the second half, San Diego refused to play and forfeited the game. Flemmings, the USL’s leading scorer this season, has since been suspended for six games and could await further punishment from the league.

Reno are the top seed in the USL Championship Playoffs, and the game against Phoenix should be an entertaining matchup between two veteran sides. Reno won the previous matchup on August 29th with Hertzog scoring the game winner in a 2-1 win. Phoenix Rising also has some familiar faces in former Bethlehem Steel standout Moar and Blue Bell native Joey Farrell.

El Paso Locomotive vs New Mexico United
How to Watch: ESPN+
Where: Southwest University Park
When: 9:30 p.m. EST (6:30 p.m. PST)

In another battle of teams that finished first and second in group play, El Paso Locomotive will host New Mexico United. New Mexico is looking to build on their first playoff win in their second season while El Paso is looking to repeat the feat of their inaugural season by returning to the Conference final.