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USL Race for the Playoffs – Oct. 6-8

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 10/06/17, 11:02AM EDT

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Battle in Eastern Conference reaches key weekend

Three teams had the chance to clinch a place in the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs on Wednesday night, but only the Tampa Bay Rowdies got the result they needed with victory against the New York Red Bulls II. In addition to the Rowdies’ move into second place in the Eastern Conference, though, the result also set up a pivotal weekend in the race for the final places in the East’s bracket.

Wednesday night’s action in the Western Conference, meanwhile, kept things interesting in both the race to reach the playoffs and for a top-four finish and the home playoff game that would come with it. With every team in the league in action this weekend, here’s where we stand.   

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. Louisville City FC
Current Record:
 16-6-8, 56pts
Maximum Points Available: 62
Points Needed to Clinch: IN
Avg. Finishing Position: 1.0
Last Game: D 0-0 at Rochester Rhinos
Next Game: 10/7 vs. Charlotte Independence, 7:30 p.m. ET
The priority for Louisville remains the same for Saturday: get through its game with the Charlotte Independence unscathed injury-wise. With the Independence knocked down to fourth place in the Eastern Conference after Tampa Bay’s victory on Wednesday night, the hosts should expect a challenging content in what is now a potential Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup.

2. Tampa Bay Rowdies
Current Record:
 13-7-10, 49pts
Maximum Points Available: 55
Points Needed to Clinch: IN
Avg. Finishing Position: 3.2
Last Game: W 3-2 vs. New York Red Bulls II
Next Game: 10/7 at San Antonio FC, 8:30 p.m. ET
The Rowdies crossed the playoff threshold thanks to a marvelous display by midfielder Marcel Schäfer on Wednesday night but now face two challenging road games, as the side tries to clinch the No. 2-seed behind Louisville. With third-place Charleston and fourth-place Charlotte set to meet in the final weekend of the season, though, if Tampa Bay can get anything out of its trip to San Antonio FC, it would be well-placed to at least finish in the top three when it visits Orlando City B to close out the season.

3. Charleston Battery
Current Record:
 13-8-9, 48pts
Maximum Points Available: 54
Points Needed to Clinch: IN
Avg. Finishing Position: 3.2
Last Game: D 1-1 at Ottawa Fury FC
Next Game: 10/7 vs. Harrisburg City Islanders, 7 p.m. ET
The Battery hold the narrowest of edges on the Charlotte Independence going into this weekend for third – and potentially second – in the Eastern Conference, with the teams sporting identical records by the Battery ahead by one in goal differential. Taking a home victory against Harrisburg is imperative, therefore, before the two square off in the final weekend of the season at the Sportsplex at Matthews if the Battery are going to have a chance to regain second place.

4. Charlotte Independence
Current Record:
 13-8-9, 48pts
Maximum Points Available: 54
Points Needed to Clinch: IN
Avg. Finishing Position: 3.4
Last Game: L 1-0 vs. FC Cincinnati
Next Game: 10/7 at Louisville City FC, 7:30 p.m. ET
The Independence will be hoping for San Antonio FC to at least get a draw against the Rowdies on Saturday, which could allow the side to move back into second place depending on the Charleston Battery’s result against the Harrisburg City Islanders. With Louisville having nothing to play for in terms of seeding or a Regular Season Championship, ending the club’s three-game losing streak with a victory would boost Charlotte’s chances of avoiding a return trip to Slugger Field until the Eastern Conference Final when the postseason arrives.

5. Rochester Rhinos
Current Record:
 11-7-11, 44pts
Maximum Points Available: 53
Points Needed to Clinch: 4
Avg. Finishing Position: 4.9
Last Game: D 0-0 vs. Louisville City FC
Next Game: 10/7 at Pittsburgh Riverhounds, 7 p.m. ET
The Rhinos will clinch a playoff place on Saturday should they take victory, with one of Orlando City B or the New York Red Bulls II – or even both in the case of a draw – set to drop points when they square off at Orlando City Stadium. Rochester hasn’t defeated the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in either of the prior meetings between the teams this season, though, and needed a late equalizer to earn a point in its last trip to Highmark Stadium. A draw this time would be good enough to book a place in the playoffs for the Rhinos should the Red Bulls II fall to OCB, but the Riverhounds – while mathematically eliminated – should still put up a strong battle against their longtime rivals.

6. FC Cincinnati
Current Record:
 11-9-10, 43pts
Maximum Points Available: 49
Points Needed to Clinch: 5
Avg. Finishing Position: 6.6
Last Game: W 1-0 at Charlotte Independence
Next Game: 10/8 at Ottawa Fury FC, 2 p.m. ET
Cincinnati greatly benefited from Tampa Bay’s victory against the New York Red Bulls II, which means that no matter how the meeting between New York and Orlando City B ends up on Saturday night, FCC will be in with a win against Ottawa Fury FC on Sunday. Before they take the field, Cincinnati fans should also be rooting for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Harrisburg City Islanders and – once again – Louisville City FC to take victory, which would keep the chances of a home game at Nippert Stadium just alive going to the final weekend of the regular season.

7. Orlando City B
Current Record:
 10-8-12, 42pts
Maximum Points Available: 48
Points Needed to Clinch: 6
Avg. Finishing Position: 7.2
Last Game: W 1-0 at Richmond Kickers
Next Game: 10/7 vs. New York Red Bulls II, 7:30 p.m. ET
Orlando went from potentially having all of the pressure on it to take a victory on Saturday night to keep itself in position to reach the playoffs to having the chance to earn a place in the postseason with a win against the New York Red Bulls II, thanks to the win by its I-4 Derby rival the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Wednesday night. If OCB can only manage a draw, though, it would face the prospect of having to defeat the Rowdies in its final game of the season to guarantee a place in the playoffs for a second consecutive season.

8. New York Red Bulls II
Current Record:
 12-13-5, 41pts
Maximum Points Available: 47
Points Needed to Clinch: 7
Avg. Finishing Position: 8.1
Last Game: L 3-2 at Tampa Bay Rowdies
Next Game: 10/7 at Orlando City B, 7:30 p.m. ET
The Red Bulls II were disappointed after their defeat to the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Wednesday night, but the side still controls its own destiny in terms of earning a third consecutive trip to the playoffs and the chance to defend its championship. However, a win against Orlando City B is the only way for New York to remain in that position. With a draw, New York would need the Rowdies to do it a favor next Thursday against Orlando. Should it suffer defeat, Bethlehem Steel FC could eliminate the Red Bulls II from playoff contention before they take the field for their final game of the regular season against the Rochester Rhinos.

9. Bethlehem Steel FC
Current Record:
 11-11-7, 40pts
Maximum Points Available: 49
Points Needed to Clinch: 8
Avg. Finishing Position: 7.4
Last Game: D 1-1 at Tampa Bay Rowdies
Next Game: 10/6 at Toronto FC II, 7:30 p.m. ET
Steel FC can put serious pressure on both Orlando City B and the New York Red Bulls II with a victory on Friday night, but more importantly, it would put itself into position to clinch a playoff spot when it visits the Rochester Rhinos next Tuesday for the USL Game of the Week on ESPN3. With either or both OCB and New York guaranteed to drop points on Saturday, Bethlehem has its playoff fate in its hands.

Eliminated: Harrisburg City Islanders, Saint Louis FC, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Ottawa Fury FC, Richmond Kickers, Toronto FC II

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Real Monarchs SLC
Current Record:
 19-5-6, 63pts
Maximum Points Available: 69
Points Needed to Clinch: IN
Avg. Finishing Position: 1.0
Last Game: W 3-0 at Reno 1868 FC
Next Game: 10/7 vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2, 9 p.m. ET
The USL Regular Season Championship Shield will be on hand at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday night, and the Monarchs could even claim the silverware before their game with Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 reaches its conclusion should the Tampa Bay Rowdies take at least a draw against San Antonio FC in a game that kicks off half-hour earlier. Regardless of that result, though, a draw will earn Real its first silverware and clinch the No. 1-seed for the USL Cup Playoffs.

2. Reno 1868 FC
Current Record:
 16-7-7, 55pts
Maximum Points Available: 61
Points Needed to Clinch: IN
Avg. Finishing Position: 3.3
Last Game: L 3-0 vs. Real Monarchs SLC
Next Game: 10/7 at Orange County SC, 10 p.m. ET
Orange County SC kept its season alive on Wednesday night, which is certain to make Reno’s trip to Champions Soccer Stadium a tense affair as OCSC tries to navigate its tightrope to the playoffs. If Rio Grande Valley FC can take points off Phoenix Rising FC on Saturday night, though, the chance to clinch a home playoff game – and potentially retain the No. 2 seed behind the Monarchs – is there for 1868 FC if it takes victory.

3. Swope Park Rangers
Current Record:
 16-7-7, 55pts
Maximum Points Available: 61
Points Needed to Clinch: IN
Avg. Finishing Position: 3.5
Last Game: D 2-2 at Rio Grande Valley FC
Next Game: 10/8 at OKC Energy FC, 6 p.m. ET
The Rangers could face one of the key games of the weekend when it visits OKC Energy FC on Sunday evening to wrap up Week 29 of the regular season if both Orange County SC and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC have managed to take victory on Saturday night, as a Rangers victory would then see the race for the final Western Conference place in the USL Cup Playoffs would still be up for grabs. Energy FC can clinch with a win, but with the No. 2 seed to battle for, Swope Park would certainly welcome at least Orange County taking victory. Also, if the Tampa Bay Rowdies can find a way past San Antonio FC, then the door to a second-place finish would open wide.

4. San Antonio FC
Current Record:
 15-4-10, 55pts
Maximum Points Available: 64
Points Needed to Clinch: IN
Avg. Finishing Position: 2.5
Last Game: W 2-0 at Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Next Game: 10/7 vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies, 8:30 p.m. ET
San Antonio is still in control of its destiny when it comes to earning second place in the Western Conference, but Tampa Bay's victory on Wednesday night put the Rowdies into the same position as SAFC in the Eastern Conference. Like San Antonio, if Tampa Bay wins out, it will claim the No. 2 seed in its conference. With that in mind, it’s not going to be an easy task for San Antonio to pick up all three points on Saturday night. But SAFC could benefit from the weekend’s other matchups, with Orange County SC and OKC Energy FC both focused in on home wins this weekend against Reno 1868 FC and the Swope Park Rangers. A win for either of the hosts in those matchups would be very welcome for SAFC and its fans.

5. Phoenix Rising FC
Current Record:
 15-8-7, 52pts
Maximum Points Available: 58
Points Needed to Clinch: IN
Avg. Finishing Position: 4.7
Last Game: W 4-3 vs. Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Next Game: 10/7 vs. Rio Grande Valley FC, 10:30 p.m. ET
Rising FC now has a 27-percent chance to earn a top four berth after Wednesday night’s thrilling victory against Tulsa Roughnecks FC, and while it still needs help, it could benefit from the matchups faced by Reno 1868 FC and the Swope Park Rangers as they head on the road. Most important of all for Phoenix, which can now finish no lower than fifth, is to win out as it hosts Rio Grande Valley FC and the Portland Timbers 2. On paper, those look like eminently winnable games, but as we’ve seen of late, you never know what might happen on any given night.

6. Sacramento Republic FC
Current Record:
 13-11-6, 45pts
Maximum Points Available: 51
Points Needed to Clinch: 1
Avg. Finishing Position: 6.9
Last Game: L 3-1 at Orange County SC
Next Game: 10/7 at Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, 8 p.m. ET
Republic FC’s loss to Orange County SC kept the side a point from clinching its return to the playoffs, and up next is another road game that bears a striking resemblance to Wednesday night’s contest. With Colorado Springs needing to take victory to keep its playoff hopes alive, Sacramento will need to be on its toes to earn the draw it needs but is only guaranteed to hold onto sixth with a win as Tulsa Roughnecks FC returns home to host the eliminated Seattle Sounders FC 2.

7. Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Current Record:
 13-13-4, 43pts
Maximum Points Available: 49
Points Needed to Clinch: 3
Avg. Finishing Position: 6.9
Last Game: L 4-3 at Phoenix Rising FC
Next Game: 10/7 vs. Seattle Sounders FC 2, 8 p.m. ET
Holding onto a draw after a frenetic first half against Phoenix Rising FC would have added a valuable point to Tulsa’s total, especially given Sacramento’s defeat to Orange County SC, but the formula remains win and you’re in for Head Coach David Vaudreuil’s side. With Seattle Sounders FC 2 already eliminated from playoff contention, the Roughnecks will hope to seal the deal on Saturday night in front of its home fans, and if Sacramento slips up again, a victory would also see Tulsa move up into sixth place as well.

8. OKC Energy FC
Current Record:
 12-11-7, 43pts
Maximum Points Available: 49
Points Needed to Clinch: 3
Avg. Finishing Position: 7.4
Last Game: W 3-0 vs. LA Galaxy II
Next Game: 10/8 vs. Swope Park Rangers, 6 p.m. ET
Energy FC didn’t get the favor it was looking for on Wednesday night from Sacramento Republic FC, as Orange County moved within three points of eighth place with its victory, and now depending on Saturday’s results, OKC could be sitting pretty in playoff position, or facing a Swope Park Rangers side that also needs a win to keep up its challenge for the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed. Energy FC has played well at home this season, with a 9-2-3 record at Taft Stadium, but if other results haven’t gone its way, the final game of the weekend will be a must-see for numerous sets of fans.

9. Orange County SC
Current Record:
 10-10-10, 40pts
Maximum Points Available: 46
Points Needed to Clinch: 10
Avg. Finishing Position: 9.1
Last Game: W 3-1 vs. Sacramento Republic FC
Next Game: 10/7 vs. Reno 1868 FC, 10 p.m. ET
It’s one down, two to go for Orange County after Wednesday night’s victory against Sacramento Republic FC. While the challenge against a Reno 1868 FC battling to hold onto second place in the conference standings will be an even bigger test, OCSC could put a lot of pressure on OKC Energy FC’s game against the third-place Swope Park Rangers should their last-ditch effort to make the playoffs continue with a win. The light at the end of tunnel isn’t bright, yet, but it is still there at least until Saturday.

10. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Current Record:
 10-12-8, 38pts
Maximum Points Available: 44
Points Needed to Clinch: 12
Avg. Finishing Position: 9.8
Last Game: W 2-1 vs. Orange County SC
Next Game: 10/7 vs. Sacramento Republic FC, 8 p.m. ET
While it pushed them down to 10th place in the standings, the Switchbacks will have been pleased to see Orange County’s victory on Wednesday night against Sacramento, as they prepare to face Republic FC themselves on Saturday needing the same result to keep their playoff hopes alive. With Sacramento having typically struggled to rebound this season, Colorado Springs will be hoping to keep its postseason hopes alive, and keep Sacramento from a playoff place as well, with a win.

Eliminated: Rio Grande Valley FC, Seattle Sounders FC 2, LA Galaxy II, Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2, Portland Timbers 2

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