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USL Breakdown: Wild, Wild Race Out West

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 08/17/16, 12:29PM EDT


Which of the six teams at the top of the Western Conference could come out on top?

As Week 22 of the regular season begins, the race for first place in the USL’s Western Conference is incredibly tight, with the top six teams separated by just four points. Which team has the best chance to come out on top? Let’s take a look.

Standings positions as of 8/17/16

1. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (10-6-7, 37pts, +9GD)

Games Remaining: Seven
Against Top 6: Five (8/21 vs. RGV; 8/24 vs. OKC; 8/27 at RGV; 9/3 vs. LA; 9/11 at VAN)
Last Five Results: L-D-D-D-W

The Switchbacks turned their five-game winless streak into a four-game undefeated streak with their 1-0 win against Tulsa last Thursday, but face a number of big tests down the stretch including a pair of games against the surging Rio Grande Valley FC. Colorado Springs’ defense has been excellent all season, though, and if the attack can be a little more clinical, the top spot could be within reach.

Photo courtesy Isaiah J. Downing / Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC

2. Sacramento Republic FC (10-6-7, 37pts, +6GD)

Photo courtesy Sacramento Republic FC

Games Remaining: Seven
Against Top 6: Three (8/27 vs. VAN; 9/10 at LA; 9/17 vs. LA)
Last Five Results: L-D-W-D-W

Republic FC has regained its form of late, although the late wobble it showed defensively against Saint Louis on Saturday night almost proved costly. Despite that, the side has four of its last seven games at Bonney Field, including two of the three it faces against fellow contenders for top spot in Vancouver and Los Angeles. The home-and-home series with the Galaxy II looms large as the regular season make-or-break point for the 2014 champions. 

3. Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 (10-6-7, 37pts, +2GD)

Games Remaining: Seven
Against Top 6: Three (8/27 at SAC; 9/11 vs. COS; 9/21 vs. OKC)
Last Five Results: W-D-L-D-L

Vancouver had chances to extend its lead at the top of the Western Conference in recent weeks, but a four-game winless streak has allowed the rest of the pack to catch up. A big plus in the side’s favor is that five of its final seven games are on home turf, where WFC2 has gone 5-2-3 this season. With both Colorado Springs and OKC visiting Thunderbird Stadium in the final three weeks of the season, if WFC2 can shake off its recent form, it should still be right there with a chance.

Photo courtesy Bob Frid / Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2

4. LA Galaxy II (9-4-9, 36pts, +12GD)

Photo courtesy Robert Mora / LA Galaxy II

Games Remaining: Eight
Against Top 6: Four (9/3 at COS; 9/10 vs. SAC; 9/14 vs. RGV; 9/17 at SAC)
Last Five Results: W-W-L-L-D

With a game in hand on the top three, and the chance to get the tiebreakers in their favor with a win in that game, the Galaxy II appear to have all of the ingredients to finish on top at the end of the season. But the absence of still-USL leading scorer Jack McBean appears to have made a bigger difference than might have been expected with the side being held scoreless in two of its past three games. With a four-game run against fellow contenders coming to start September, including two massive games against Sacramento, Los Dos’ upcoming three-game road trip to Orange County, Swope Park and Arizona is looking very important indeed.

5. OKC Energy FC (8-3-10, 34pts, +9GD)

Games Remaining: Nine
Against Top 6: Two (8/24 at COS; 9/21 at VAN)
Last Five Results: W-D-L-D-D

Energy FC has the most games remaining of any of the teams in the top six, which would ordinarily be a good thing, but the side’s attack has become utterly snake-bit over the past four games. Without a goal in the team’s current winless streak, goalkeeper Cody Laurendi and the OKC defense has allowed the side to eke out points in three of those games. With what looks like a favorable schedule that sees two games with last-place Tulsa and five other games with sides not currently in the playoff positions, a high position is possible if Energy FC can spark its attack to life, but games against Saint Louis and Swope Park – both fighting for their playoff lives – could prove trickier to navigate than might be first thought.

Photo courtesy Steven Christy / OKC Energy FC

6. Rio Grande Valley FC (8-5-9, 33pts, +11GD)

Photo courtesy Rio Grande Valley FC

Games Remaining: Eight
Against Top 6: Three (8/21 at COS; 8/27 vs. COS; 9/14 at LA)
Last Five Results: D-W-D-D-W

The Toros’ nine points in their past five games are the most of any team in the top six, but in order to make a late run they’re going to need to be road warriors with five of their last eight games on the road. The team’s six-game shutout streak is a remarkable one, though, and there’s an argument that it should probably have more points if not for four games where the side’s attack shot blanks. Getting positive results in the pair of games against Colorado Springs will be essential, but there’s a chance here for something special to happen, particularly if others continue to falter as much as they have lately.

With six weeks of action remaining, six teams all have a legitimate claim that they’ll finish at the top of the Western Conference at the end of this season.

Which one do you think will claim the No. 1 seed when the 2016 USL Playoffs kick off?

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