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USL Weekend Preview – Conference Finals

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 11/03/17, 2:36PM EDT

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Rematch set for Eastern Conference, Rangers aim for second Western title

TAMPA, Fla. – The 2017 USL Eastern and Western Conference champions are set to be crowned this Saturday night as the road to the 2017 USL Cup reaches its penultimate stage, with the Eastern Conference Final featuring a rematch from the 2016 postseason and the Western Conference Final bringing together two teams to have previously reached this stage of the playoffs.

Every game of the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs through the Eastern and Western Conference Finals will be available on the league’s Match Center, with updates from across the league also available via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

The 2017 USL Cup will air live on ESPNU and SiriusXM FC on Monday, Nov. 13 at 9 p.m. ET.

2017 USL CUP PLAYOFFS


Photo courtesy Nick Tre. Smith / Swope Park Rangers

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Saturday, November 4
No. 1 Louisville City FC vs. No. 7 New York Red Bulls II
7:30 p.m. ET, Slugger Field (Match Center | Full Preview)

Louisville City FC and the New York Red Bulls II meet for a rematch of the 2016 Eastern Conference Final, with Slugger Field the stage this time. Louisville looks to reach its first USL Cup and the Red Bulls II are aiming to continue the defense of its championship a season ago.

Louisville took victory in both regular-season meetings between the teams this season, its first victories in the all-time series after New York had gone undefeated in the previous five matchups. City is also perfect at home in its postseason history, with its 1-0 victory against the Rochester Rhinos last Saturday moving the side’s home playoff record to 5-0-0 all-time, another good omen for the host.

The Red Bulls II have shown strong improvement since the last meeting between the teams on July 29, however, with the side having claimed back-to-back road victories against the No. 2-seed Charleston Battery and No. 3-seed Tampa Bay Rowdies to return to the Eastern Conference Final. Leading the way has been forward Stefano Bonomo, whose 13 goals in 15 games since returning from sports hernia surgery in July have made him the leader in goals per 90 minutes in the USL. Bonomo has three goals in two playoff games so far and will be one to watch Saturday night.

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Saturday, November 4
No. 4 Swope Park Rangers vs. No. 6 OKC Energy FC
8:30 p.m. ET, Children’s Mercy Park (Match Center | Full Preview)

The defending Western Conference champion Swope Park Rangers play host to OKC Energy FC, which makes its return to the Western Conference Final for a second time in three seasons as it looks to convert its outstanding run of late-season form into a first visit to the USL Cup.

The Rangers remained undefeated on home turf in the postseason with a 1-0 victory against No. 8-seed Sacramento Republic FC last Saturday, when Kharlton Belmar’s early second-half goal proved the difference. Both the Rangers and Red Bulls II go into the weekend with the chance to become the first team in USL history to reach the USL Cup in consecutive seasons, and Swope Park will be hoping for a similar outcome to its 3-0 victory against Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 at this stage a year ago.

Energy FC fell in its prior visit to the Western Conference Final, as the LA Galaxy II took a 2-1 victory at Taft Stadium two years ago. This year’s side comes in as the hottest team in the league, however, having earned a penalty shootout victory against No. 2-seed San Antonio FC last Saturday night, as goalkeeper C.J. Cochran recorded two saves in the shootout and Wojciech Wojcik scored his second goal of the postseason to send the game to extra time. Among OKC’s run of recent form was a 4-1 victory against the Rangers at Taft Stadium on Oct. 8, a game that saw Jose Angulo score twice for Energy FC.

NUMBER CRUNCHING


Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies

82 – New York Red Bulls II defender Hassan Ndam recorded 82 interceptions in the regular season, sixth in the USL, and had an 85.71 percent tackle success rate for the season.

39Louisville City FC has scored 39 of its 63 goals in the 2017 regular season and postseason in the second half.

17 OKC Energy FC hit the post or the crossbar 17 times in the regular season, more than any other team in the USL.

3 – Swope Park Rangers captain Christian Duke is set to appear in his third consecutive Western Conference Final on Saturday, having appeared for OKC Energy FC (2015) and SPR (2016) in the past two editions.

OTHER NEWS AND NOTES

- Members of the Hartford Sports Group gave a public presentation to the Capital Region Development Authority Venue Committee on Wednesday evening outlining their proposal to renovate the city’s historic Dillon Stadium with the goal of placing a new professional soccer club at the venue for the 2019 USL season.

- Sacramento Republic FC midfielder Jeremy Hall and Harrisburg City Islanders midfielder Manolo Sanchez have both been selected by the Puerto Rico National Team for Saturday’s charity exhibition against Major League Soccer’s Orlando City SC.

- Seattle Sounders FC and the Tacoma Rainiers announced on Wednesday Sounders FC 2’s previously-announced transition to Tacoma was accelerating, allowing S2 to play its home matches at Cheney Stadium in the 2018 season while progress continues toward a new soccer-specific facility.

- Bethlehem Steel FC announced a number of roster moves on Thursday, with the club electing to exercise club options on defenders Matt Real and Matthew Mahoney, midfielders Santi Moar and Chris Nanco, and forward Cory Burke


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