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USL Push for the Playoffs: Aug. 27-28 Edition

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 08/26/16, 9:53AM EDT

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Which sides are closing in on clinching a place in the 2016 USL Playoffs?

With five weekends to go in the 2016 USL regular season, two teams have already claimed their spots in the postseason – the New York Red Bulls II and Louisville City FC. Let’s look ahead at who else is close to a postseason place ahead of Week 23’s weekend action.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. New York Red Bulls II – IN
Current Record: 16-3-5, 53pts
Maximum Points Available: 71
Last Game: W 1-0 vs. Louisville City FC
Next Game: 8/28 vs. FC Cincinnati, 5:40 p.m. ET
New York booked its place in the playoffs with its win against Louisville last Friday, and is now in pole position to claim the USL regular season title. Another challenger comes to Red Bull Arena on Sunday, with FC Cincinnati hoping to take a victory in its pursuit of second-place Louisville.

2. Louisville City FC - IN
Current Record: 13-4-8, 47pts
Maximum Points Available: 62
Last Game: L 1-0 at New York Red Bulls II
Next Game: 8/27 vs. Bethlehem Steel FC, 7:30 p.m. ET
Louisville’s defeat didn’t deny the side a place in the playoffs this past weekend, as results went City’s way to earn a postseason berth. The side will be looking for a better performance on Saturday night, however, and could do some other contenders a favor with a win against the Steel.

3. FC Cincinnati
Current Record: 12-4-7, 43pts
Maximum Points Available: 64
Last Game: D 1-1 vs. Rochester Rhinos
Next Game: 8/28 at New York Red Bulls II, 5:40 p.m. ET
Cincinnati is next in line to clinch a playoff berth, and could do so without kicking a ball on Saturday night. Should both Bethlehem Steel FC and Wilmington Hammerheads FC fail to take a victory in their respective games against Louisville and Rochester, Cincinnati will be able to focus simply on trying to keep its hopes of the USL regular season title alive with a win against the Red Bulls II.

4. Richmond Kickers
Current Record: 11-6-7, 40pts
Maximum Points Available: 58
Last Game: D 1-1 at Orlando City B
Next Game: 8/27 vs. Orlando City B, 7 p.m. ET
The Kickers could also clinch a playoff berth on Saturday night if things go their way. A victory against Orlando combined with both Bethlehem and Wilmington failing to take a victory would keep Richmond’s record of reaching the playoffs in every season of the USL’s history alive.

5. Rochester Rhinos
Current Record: 10-5-10, 40pts
Maximum Points Available: 55
Last Game: D 1-1 at FC Cincinnati
Next Game: 8/27 at Wilmington Hammerheads FC, 7 p.m. ET
The Rhinos’ equation looks awfully similar to that of the Kickers, only in their case they get to take care of half of it themselves. A victory on the road against the Hammerheads and a Louisville win or draw against Bethlehem will send the defending champions back to the playoffs.

6. Charlotte Independence
Current Record: 11-6-6, 39pts
Maximum Points Available: 60
Last Game: W 4-0 vs. Orlando City B
Next Game: 8/27 at Charleston Battery, 7 p.m. ET
The Independence have the biggest potential points total outside the top three, and could also clinch a  playoff berth on Saturday night with a victory. For the Independence to earn their first playoff berth, they would need first a victory against the Charleston Battery, and also a loss by Bethlehem at Louisville, and a draw or defeat for Wilmington against Rochester.

7. Charleston Battery
Current Record: 10-5-8, 38pts
Maximum Points Available: 59
Last Game: D 1-1 at Wilmington Hammerheads FC
Next Game: 8/27 vs. Charlotte Independence, 7:30 p.m. ET
The playoffs are just out of the Battery’s reach this weekend, as a win would take them to 41pts, the same total that Bethlehem Steel FC would see as its maximum should it fall to Louisville. With the Steel still able to catch the Battery in total wins in that scenario, Charleston will look for a victory in the Southern Derby and boost its potential playoff seeding.

8. Orlando City B
Current Record: 8-8-8, 32pts
Maximum Points Available: 50
Last Game: D 1-1 vs. Richmond Kickers
Next Game: 8/27 at Richmond Kickers, 7 p.m. ET
Orlando with a six-point gap to the team above it and the team below it is most likely to sit in the eighth position for the remainder of the regular season. The Lions will likely want to build a cushion on the teams in ninth and below, however, as they visit the Kickers on Saturday.

9.  Bethlehem Steel FC
Current Record: 6-10-8, 26pts
Maximum Points Available: 44
Last Game: L 3-2 at FC Montreal
Next Game: 8/27 at Louisville City FC, 7:30 p.m. ET
It’s getting to do-or-die time for the Steel as they visit Louisville, with their late defeat against Montreal a tough one to take. Now six points out of the playoffs with six games remaining, it’s likely they’ll need to take something from Louisville on Saturday, and hope Richmond can do them a favor by beating OCB.

10. Harrisburg City Islanders
Current Record: 7-14-4, 25pts
Maximum Points Available: 40
Last Game: W 1-0 at Toronto FC II
Next Game: 8/27 vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds, 7 p.m. ET
The City Islanders also need some help in trying to catch Orlando for eighth place, with the other seven sides in the playoff positions all close to Harrisburg’s maximum total of 40 points. A victory in the Keystone Derby Cup against Pittsburgh is imperative for Coach Bill Becher’s side.

11. Wilmington Hammerheads FC
Current Record: 6-11-7, 25pts
Maximum Points Available: 43
Last Game: L 4-1 at Pittsburgh Riverhounds
Next Game: 8/27 vs. Rochester Rhinos, 7 p.m. ET
The Hammerheads are winless in their last eight games after Wednesday night’s defeat in Pittsburgh, and it looks like they’ll need some kind of miracle to turn it around. Rochester has a chance to clinch a playoff berth – with help – on Saturday night, and the Hammerheads will need a win to start on an unlikely path to the postseason.

12. Toronto FC II
Current Record: 6-15-5, 23pts
Maximum Points Available: 35
Last Game: L 1-0 vs. New York Red Bulls II
Next Game: 8/28 vs. FC Montreal, 4 p.m. ET
Toronto’s playoff hopes just about evaporated on Wednesday evening with its loss to the Red Bulls II, with Sunday’s I-401 Derby a battle for pride more than anything. TFC II would make its rival the first team mathematically eliminated with a victory.

13. Pittsburgh Riverhounds
Current Record: 5-15-4, 19pts
Maximum Points Available: 37
Last Game: W 4-1 vs. Wilmington Hammerheads FC
Next Game: 8/27 at Harrisburg City Islanders, 7 p.m. ET
The Riverhounds kept some breathing room from mathematical elimination in Wednesday night’s win, but all that appears left for this season is to see if Corey Hertzog (11 goals) can make a late run at the USL Golden Boot.

14. FC Montreal
Current Record: 5-18-1, 16pts
Maximum Points Available: 34
Last Game: W 3-2 vs. Bethlehem Steel FC
Next Game: 8/28 at Toronto FC II, 4 p.m. ET
Montreal has staved off mathematical elimination with a three-game winning streak, including a comeback 3-2 victory last time out against Bethlehem Steel FC. Can they do it again against rival Toronto FC II on Sunday?

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Sacramento Republic FC
Current Record: 12-6-7, 43pts
Maximum Points Available: 58
Last Game: W 1-0 at Orange County Blues FC
Next Game: 8/27 vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2, 11 p.m. ET
Republic FC holds the lead in the Western Conference, but can’t quite clinch a playoff berth this weekend thanks to the side it defeated in its last outing. Orange County Blues FC’s 46 available points, and 10 wins, mean the playoffs are just out of reach for now for the 2014 USL champion.

2. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Current Record: 11-7-7, 40pts
Maximum Points Available: 55
Last Game: W 2-0 vs. OKC Energy FC
Next Game: 8/27 at Rio Grande Valley FC, 8:30 p.m. ET
The Switchbacks are in solid position to make the playoffs, but if they want a serious chance at top spot overall will need to at least take a draw, if not a win, on Saturday night against the Toros. With only five games remaining, Colorado Springs has to maximize its available remaining points for a top-four position.

3. Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2
Current Record: 11-6-7, 40pts
Maximum Points Available: 58
Last Game: W 3-1 vs Arizona United SC
Next Game: 8/27 at Sacramento Republic FC, 11 p.m. ET
Vancouver has a game in hand on Sacramento in first place, and could pick up the inside track to the top spot in the conference if it can take a victory on the road at Bonney Field on Saturday night. WFC2 has been up and down in its form of late, though, and will need a big performance to knock off a side that has taken three consecutive wins.

4. Rio Grande Valley FC
Current Record: 10-5-9, 39pts
Maximum Points Available: 57
Last Game: W 2-0 at Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Next Game: 8/27 vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, 8:30 p.m. ET
The Toros are not only on an eight-game undefeated streak; they haven’t conceded a goal in that span. Their most recent outing saw them defeat Colorado Springs on the road, and they’ll return home knowing a season sweep of the Switchbacks could pave the way for at least a top-two finish in the conference.

5. OKC Energy FC
Current Record: 9-4-10, 37pts
Maximum Points Available: 58
Last Game: L 2-0 at Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Next Game: 8/27 vs. Tulsa Roughnecks FC, 9 p.m. ET
Energy FC fell in its midweek matchup with Colorado Springs, but with its game(s) in hand on the four teams above it in the standings is still well poised for a late run. Sportsclubstats.com currently gives OKC an 11 percent chance to claim first place when it’s all said and done, and completing a season sweep of the Black Gold Derby would set the side on its way to a potential late run.

6. LA Galaxy II
Current Record: 9-5-9, 36pts
Maximum Points Available: 57
Last Game: L 2-0 at Orange County Blues FC
Next Game: 8/27 at Swope Park Rangers, 8:30 p.m. ET
Los Dos have hit a bit of a rut of late, but are still in contention for the top four with seven games remaining. They’ll face a big challenge with the Rangers, though, who are fighting for their playoff lives. The Galaxy II will want to take something from this one, and avoid potentially getting dragged into a playoff fight themselves.

7. Orange County Blues FC
Current Record: 10-12-4, 34pts
Maximum Points Available: 46
Last Game: L 1-0 vs. Sacramento Republic FC
Next Game: 9/3 at Sacramento Republic FC, 10:30 p.m. ET
The Blues look in decent position, until you realize they have a lower maximum points total than Saint Louis, Arizona, Swope Park, San Antonio and the Real Monarchs. Wednesday’s defeat to Sacramento was a body blow, and they’ll need to recover strongly before the rematch on Sept. 3 at Bonney Field.

8. San Antonio FC
Current Record: 8-8-7, 31pts
Maximum Points Available: 52
Last Game: W 1-0 vs. Seattle Sounders FC 2
Next Game: 8/27 at Saint Louis FC, 8:30 p.m. ET
San Antonio faces the first of five consecutive games that could be considered “six-pointers” when they visit Saint Louis FC on Saturday night. With a win, the chances SAFC makes the playoffs goes up solidly. A loss, and they’ll be back below the red playoff line again.

9. Swope Park Rangers
Current Record: 8-9-6, 30pts
Maximum Points Available: 51
Last Game: D 1-1 vs. Saint Louis FC
Next Game: 8/27 vs. LA Galaxy II, 8:30 p.m. ET
The Rangers could be sitting in better shape after going winless in their last three outings, but the Galaxy II haven’t been in much better form of late either. Swope Park is a small favorite to make the playoffs currently, but needs to win games like this – and Wednesday night’s against San Antonio – to achieve it.

10. Arizona United SC
Current Record: 8-10-6, 30pts
Maximum Points Available: 48
Last Game: L 3-1 at Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2
Next Game: 8/27 vs. Real Monarchs SLC, 10:30 p.m. ET
Arizona saw its playoff hopes take a big hit with its defeats to San Antonio and Vancouver in Week 22, but could both boost its playoff chances and put a big dent into Real Monarchs SLC’s on Saturday night. The side has scored well of late, but with defender Uche Uzo suffering a training injury on Thursday, can the defense hold up for a playoff run?

11. Real Monarchs SLC
Current Record: 8-11-5, 29pts
Maximum Points Available: 47
Last Game: W 2-1 vs. Portland Timbers 2
Next Game: 8/27 at Arizona United SC
The Monarchs might be the hardest team to figure out of all the playoff contenders in the West. When they play well, they can play with anyone – just look at their 3-2 win against Sacramento – but when they’re off their game it causes problems. The Monarchs are on a two-game winning streak going into Arizona. Which team will show up?

12. Saint Louis FC
Current Record: 7-9-8, 29pts
Maximum Points Available: 47
Last Game: D 1-1 at Swope Park Rangers
Next Game: 8/27 vs. San Antonio FC, 8:30 p.m. ET
Saint Louis is kicking itself not to have held on for a victory against Swope Park last Sunday, as two points slipped away with the Rangers’ late equalizer. That makes a home win against San Antonio all the more important, as it would move the side past its visitors in the standings with a tough stretch of games following.

13. Seattle Sounders FC 2
Current Record: 7-11-6, 27pts
Maximum Points Available: 45
Last Game: L 1-0 at San Antonio FC
Next Game: 8/29 vs. Portland Timbers 2, 10:30 p.m. ET
S2 got itself well into contention with a six-game undefeated streak, but back-to-back losses have seen the team’s playoff hopes dimmed. Monday night’s game with arch-rivals the Portland Timbers 2 will be critical for both teams as they look to gain ground on whichever side holds eighth place at that point.

14. Portland Timbers 2
Current Record: 7-13-4, 25pts
Maximum Points Available: 43
Last Game: L 2-1 at Real Monarchs SLC
Next Game: 8/29 at Seattle Sounders FC 2, 10:30 p.m. ET
Portland’s loss to the Monarchs was its second in a row, and stifled the momentum that had come from a two-game winning streak prior. T2 isn’t completely out of it yet, but a victory on Monday is going to be mandatory if it’s to mount one final charge for the postseason.

15. Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Current Record: 5-16-3, 18pts
Maximum Points Available: 36
Last Game: L 2-0 vs. OKC Energy FC
Next Game: 8/27 at OKC Energy FC, 9 p.m. ET
The Roughnecks can be mathematically eliminated this weekend with a loss and San Antonio victory as the playoffs seem much further off than they did a season ago. What Tulsa does have, though, is the chance to fight for a win against its in-state rival on Saturday night, and a chance to put a dent in OKC Energy FC’s hopes for a high finish in the Western Conference.

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