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USL Push for the Playoffs: Labor Day Weekend Edition

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 09/01/16, 2:13PM EDT

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Eastern Conference is almost set; will we see first Western side clinch this weekend?

As action over the past two nights saw the Eastern Conference field for the 2016 USL Playoffs come close to set, attention this weekend will switch to a Western Conference race that has also seen some resolution in the past week. Here’s what to watch for over the Labor Day Weekend, as the playoff race nears its conclusion.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. New York Red Bulls II – IN
Current Record:
17-3-5, 56pts
Maximum Points Available: 71
Last Game: W 2-0 vs. FC Cincinnati
Next Game: 9/4 at Bethlehem Steel FC, 3 p.m. ET
New York is not only in the postseason, but is closing in on the regular season championship. That quest was helped on Wednesday night by Cincinnati’s defeat by Charlotte, dropping FCC to a maximum points total of 58, and leaving Louisville as the only serious contender remaining for the regular season crown.

2. Louisville City FC - IN
Current Record:
14-4-8, 50pts
Maximum Points Available: 62
Last Game: W 1-0 vs. Bethlehem Steel FC
Next Game: 9/3 at FC Montreal, 3 p.m. ET
Louisville also benefitted from the Charlotte Independence’s victory on Wednesday, as its ceiling now sits four points  higher than its River Cities Derby rival. Louisville should be wary of a hot Montreal team this Saturday, but a top-two finish is in clear sight.

3. Richmond Kickers - IN
Current Record:
12-6-8, 44pts
Maximum Points Available: 56
Last Game: D 1-1 vs. Charleston Battery
Next Game: 9/10 at Louisville City FC, 7:30 p.m. ET
The Kickers edged into sole possession of third place with their draw against the Battery, but could have dropped a little by the time they next take to the field to face Louisville. A top-four place is still there for the taking, however, and the Kickers have their fate in their hands with games against fellow contenders Charlotte and Charleston following the tilt at Slugger Field.

4. FC Cincinnati - IN
Current Record:
12-6-7, 43pts
Maximum Points Available: 58
Last Game: L 3-2 at Charlotte Independence
Next Game: 9/5 vs. Saint Louis FC, 4:30 p.m. ET
Cincinnati’s first back-to-back losses of the season couldn’t have arrived at a worse time for its top-two aspirations, as it now has serious ground to make up on second-place Louisville. The club’s Labor Day clash with Saint Louis FC will be a tricky one, too, with STLFC desperate for points in the Western Conference race.

5. Charlotte Independence - IN
Current Record:
12-7-6, 42pts
Maximum Points Available: 57
Last Game: W 3-2 vs. FC Cincinnati
Next Game: 9/4 at Toronto FC II, 4 p.m. ET
The Independence booked their place in the postseason with a good victory against Cincinnati, and now have a chance to push for a top-four place with games coming up against Toronto and Pittsburgh before a big three-game stretch to close the season against Richmond, Rochester and Louisville.

6. Charleston Battery - IN
Current Record:
11-5-9, 42pts
Maximum Points Available: 57
Last Game: D 1-1 at Richmond Kickers
Next Game: 9/3 vs. Rochester Rhinos, 7:30 p.m. ET
The Battery earned a sixth consecutive berth in the playoffs thanks to Justin Portillo’s outstanding free kick against Richmond on Wednesday night. Up next, a date with Rochester this Saturday night in what will be a key game to determine playoff seeding at the end of the season.

7. Rochester Rhinos - IN
Current Record:
10-5-11, 41pts
Maximum Points Available: 53
Last Game: D 2-2 at Wilmington Hammerheads FC
Next Game: 9/3 at Charleston Battery, 7:30 p.m. ET
The Rhinos booked their place in the playoffs thanks to Anthony Jackson-Hamel’s late equalizer for FC Montreal on Wednesday night against Wilmington Hammerheads FC. Now back in the postseason, the defending USL champions will want to boost their seeding down the stretch, starting with Saturday’s visit to Charleston.

8. Orlando City B
Current Record:
8-9-8, 32pts
Maximum Points Available: 47
Last Game: L 1-0 at Richmond Kickers
Next Game: 9/3 vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds, 7:30 p.m. ET
Orlando sat back over the past two days and watched the teams that could have a chance at challenging it for the final playoff berth come up short in their efforts. OCB now needs only eight points in its final five games to guarantee a playoff spot in its first season.

9. Harrisburg City Islanders
Current Record:
7-14-6, 27pts
Maximum Points Available: 36
Last Game: D 2-2 vs. Bethlehem Steel FC
Next Game: 9/7 vs. New York Red Bulls II, 4 p.m. ET
The City Islanders had to rally twice to earn a draw against the Steel, but with a victory almost a necessity, the side’s playoff hopes dimmed even more. Depending on Orlando’s result against Pittsburgh on Saturday night, Harrisburg could be eliminated in its next outing against the league-leading New York Red Bulls II next Wednesday.

10.  Bethlehem Steel FC
Current Record:
6-11-9, 27pts
Maximum Points Available: 39
Last Game: D 2-2 at Harrisburg City Islanders
Next Game: vs. New York Red Bulls II, 3 p.m. ET
The Steel let two leads slip against Harrisburg on Tuesday night, another big blow to their playoff hopes with four games to go. It gets no easier for Bethlehem, either, with New York visiting on Sunday afternoon at Goodman Stadium as NYRBII looks to close in on a regular-season championship.

11. Wilmington Hammerheads FC
Current Record:
6-11-9, 27pts
Maximum Points Available: 39
Last Game: D 2-2 at FC Montreal
Next Game: 9/7 vs. Orlando City B, 7 p.m. ET
In an alternate universe, Wilmington might have had the chance to overtake Orlando City B for the eighth and final playoff place – or at least put a ton of pressure on – when OCB visited Legion Stadium next Wednesday night. Instead, the Hammerheads dropped four points thanks to late equalizers over their past two games, and sit five points back with four games remaining.

12. Toronto FC II
Current Record:
6-16-5, 23pts
Maximum Points Available: 32
Last Game: L 4-3 vs. FC Montreal
Next Game: 9/4 vs. Charlotte, 4 p.m. ET
Toronto moved to the brink of mathematical elimination with its defeat to Montreal. One more dropped point, or point gained by Orlando, will do it.

13. FC Montreal
Current Record:
6-18-2, 20pts
Maximum Points Available: 32
Last Game: D 2-2 vs. Wilmington Hammerheads FC
Next Game: 9/3 vs. Louisville City FC, 3 p.m. ET
Montreal scored late to send the Rochester Rhinos into the playoffs on Wednesday night, but now will be mathematically eliminated with anything but a win against Louisville on Saturday afternoon.

14. Pittsburgh Riverhounds
Current Record:
5-15-5, 20pts
Maximum Points Available: 35
Last Game: D 1-1 at Harrisburg City Islanders
Next Game: 9/3 at Orlando City B, 7:30 p.m. ET
The Riverhounds won’t be heading to the playoffs unless something remarkable happens. A win on Saturday against Orlando City B would keep their heads above water for now; a draw would move Pittsburgh to the brink of mathematical elimination.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Sacramento Republic FC
Current Record:
12-6-8, 44pts
Maximum Points Available: 56
Last Game: D 0-0 vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2
Next Game: 9/3 vs. Orange County Blues FC, 10:30 p.m. ET
The door remains open for Republic FC to become the first side in the Western Conference to claim a place in the playoffs this weekend should it take a victory against Orange County Blues FC, and see Real Monarchs SLC fail to take a victory at home to Tulsa, but Sacramento will also have been pleased to see OKC Energy FC’s midweek draw with Saint Louis FC, which dropped its rival for first place in the conference’s maximum to a matching 56pts.

2. Rio Grande Valley FC
Current Record:
11-5-9, 42pts
Maximum Points Available: 57
Last Game: W 2-1 vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Next Game: 9/3 at Swope Park Rangers, 8:30 p.m. ET
The Toros will also have been happy with Saint Louis FC’s draw with Energy FC, as the side now has the highest available points total of any team in the Western Conference. A place in the playoffs still needs a number of other results to come in as it visits a surging Swope Park side on Saturday – losses for Real Monarchs SLC and Orange County Blues FC and draws for Seattle Sounders FC 2 and Arizona United SC – but if those fall into place a win would get the Toros into the playoff field.

3. Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2
Current Record:
11-6-8, 41pts
Maximum Points Available: 56
Last Game: D 0-0 at Sacramento Republic FC
Next Game: 9/2 at Seattle Sounders FC 2, 10:30 p.m. ET
Vancouver’s home-and-home series with Seattle over the upcoming weekend provides a chance for WFC2 to claim a place in the playoffs. If WFC2 can claim a sweep, it would only need Real Monarchs SLC to draw with Tulsa on Saturday. With a win on the road on Friday, Vancouver will know whether a playoff place is there for the taking come Labor Day’s afternoon kickoff north of the border.

4. OKC Energy FC
Current Record:
10-4-11, 41pts
Maximum Points Available: 56
Last Game: D 1-1 at Saint Louis FC
Next Game: 9/4 at Portland Timbers 2, 10 p.m. ET
Energy FC lost the edge it held over the Toros and Republic FC for first place thanks to its draw with Saint Louis, but gets the chance to bounce back quickly with a visit to Portland on Sunday. With three of its final four games on home turf, it’s a question of when, not if, Energy FC books a playoff berth at this point, but as tight as the race for seeding is, there’s still the risk the side could miss out on a top-four place with more results like Wednesday’s.

5. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Current Record:
11-8-7, 40pts
Maximum Points Available: 52
Last Game: L 2-1 at Rio Grande Valley FC
Next Game: 9/3 vs. LA Galaxy II, 9 p.m. ET
The Switchbacks will have been pleased to see Energy FC falter as they keep their hopes of a top-four place alive, but will face pressure of their own on Saturday with the LA Galaxy II coming in off a 2-1 win against Arizona. Los Dos are now only a point behind Colorado Springs, and could make a home playoff game all the more distant should they pick up a result on the road on Saturday night.

6. LA Galaxy II
Current Record:
10-6-9, 39pts
Maximum Points Available: 54
Last Game: W 2-1 at Arizona United SC
Next Game: 9/3 at Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, 9 p.m. ET
The Galaxy II got the result they needed to end their drop down the standings, and now have the chance to push a place higher when they visit Colorado Springs on Saturday night. After claiming a win at Switchbacks Stadium late last season, there should be some confidence that the side can pick up something from the contest, and close in on a third consecutive playoff berth.

7. Swope Park Rangers
Current Record:
10-9-6, 36pts
Maximum Points Available: 51
Last Game: W 2-1 vs. San Antonio FC
Next Game: 9/3 vs. Rio Grande Valley FC, 8:30 p.m. ET
Should the Rangers reach the playoffs, Ayrton’s stoppage-time penalty kick against San Antonio on Wednesday night will likely be viewed as one of the key moments in earning that place. The victory, a second in a row, moved the Rangers four points clear of the teams in ninth and below, with at least the same number of games remaining. A playoff berth now appears Swope Park’s to lose.

8. 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
A Swope Park victory wasn’t a bad result for the Blues, but the pressure remains on with the teams around them still holding games in hand ahead of a visit to Sacramento on Saturday. The Blues have had success at Bonney Field before, and will need to produce another big result if they are to hold onto a place in the top eight.

9. San Antonio FC
Current Record:
9-9-7, 34pts
Maximum Points Available: 49
Last Game: L 2-1 at Swope Park Rangers
Next Game: 9/4 vs. Arizona United SC, 6 p.m. ET
San Antonio will have been very disappointed by its late defeat against Swope Park, but the side won’t be able to dwell on it too long with another crucial game against Arizona United SC coming up on Sunday evening. A victory could both push SAFC back into the top eight, and also strike a massive blow to United’s playoff hopes, making all three points all the more important.

10. Real Monarchs SLC
Current Record:
9-11-5, 32pts
Maximum Points Available: 47
Last Game: W 1-0 at Arizona United SC
Next Game: 9/3 vs. Tulsa Roughnecks FC
The Monarchs might have preferred to see a draw between San Antonio and Swope Park to keep both sides in range going into this weekend, but a victory against Tulsa must be the only focus for now for the side. With a win, the team’s playoff hopes remain strong. Any other result against the last-place team in the conference, and they’ll be wobbling severely.

11. Arizona United SC
Current Record:
8-12-6, 30pts
Maximum Points Available: 42
Last Game: L 2-1 vs. LA Galaxy II
Next Game: 9/4 at San Antonio, 6 p.m. ET
Arizona’s defeat to the Galaxy II has made Sunday’s game with San Antonio a must-win. Four points out with four games to go, United has to arrest a four-game losing streak and gain ground on one of the teams it is chasing for a top-eight position.

12. Seattle Sounders FC 2
Current Record:
8-11-6, 30pts
Maximum Points Available: 45
Last Game: W 2-1 vs. Portland Timbers 2
Next Game: 9/2 vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2, 10:30 p.m. ET
Seattle would definitely have rather seen a draw between San Antonio and Swope Park, but as it stands a home-and-home series up next against Vancouver, a pair of victories is probably essential to S2’s playoff hopes.

13. Saint Louis FC
Current Record:
7-10-9, 30pts
Maximum Points Available: 42
Last Game: D 1-1 vs. OKC Energy FC
Next Game: 9/5 at FC Cincinnati, 4:30 p.m. ET
Saint Louis couldn’t hold onto a victory against Energy FC, and saw its playoff hopes further diminish as a result. With a visit to FC Cincinnati up next, the side really needs all three points on the road, and hope other results go its way to allow the gap to eighth place to narrow.

14. Portland Timbers 2
Current Record:
7-14-4, 25pts
Maximum Points Available: 40
Last Game: L 2-1 at Seattle Sounders FC 2
Next Game: 9/4 vs. OKC Energy FC, 10 p.m. ET
Portland’s role on Sunday will be that of spoiler, as it looks to put another dent in OKC Energy FC’s aspirations for first place. While still mathematically alive, T2 remains nine points out of eighth place with five games to go, which is not a formula for a playoff berth.

Mathematically eliminated: Tulsa Roughnecks FC

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