From San Antonio FC’s 14-game undefeated start to the season, to Real Monarchs SLC’s USL-record setting run of nine consecutive victories, it seemed as though the USL Regular Season Championship was headed to the Western Conference this season give then gap both teams had built to the rest of the league.
Through its consistency over the past month, and drops in form for both Real and SAFC, Louisville City FC might have worked its way back into the conversation. Now in sole possession of the No. 1 spot in the USLSoccer.com Power Rankings after a 3-0 road victory against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Louisville still needs to make a big run to close a gap of six points to the Monarchs, but with a game in hand, the opening might be there.
Louisville’s recent run of form has been impressive. It’s gone 5-1-0 over the past month, with only Reno 1868 FC – another team that’s pushed into the conversation for the title – accumulating more points in that span. Over that same span, the Monarchs and SAFC have both notched eight points apiece. With a win on Friday night against Bethlehem Steel FC, Louisville would be three points back of the Monarchs ahead of Real’s visit to a Phoenix Rising FC side that’s making its own move for the playoffs.
With five weeks of the season to go, the race for the first silverware of the USL season is opening up.
The five-person USLSoccer.com voting panel tabulates 10 points for first-place team votes, nine points to the second-place team and so forth to one point for 10th place. The accrued points among the group determines the final ranking.
Here’s your new Top 10.
1. Louisville City FC (48pts)
Last Week: W 3-0 at Pittsburgh Riverhounds
Louisville’s emphatic road victory against a Riverhounds side that was undefeated in its previous five outings provided another impressive performance by Head Coach James O’Connor’s side. With Speedy Williams’ goal from the penalty spot, City has had 16 different players find the net this season. O’Connor was part of another USL club to accomplish that, albeit briefly given his departure from Orlando City SC’s 2014 squad to become Louisville’s head coach for the following season. That Orlando squad won a regular season title, something that is now in Louisville’s sights.
2. Reno 1868 FC (45pts)
Last Week: W 2-1 at LA Galaxy II, D 1-1 at Seattle Sounders FC 2
Reno’s winning streak came to an end at six games, but the side is now only four points away from claiming a place in the USL Cup Playoffs after this weekend’s action. It’s also only two goals away from the USL single-season record, and with Dane Kelly firmly in the hunt for the Golden Boot it might be fitting if the Jamaican international is the one to get them over the line when 1868 FC takes on Rio Grande Valley FC this Saturday night.
3. San Antonio FC (39pts)
Last Week: D 1-1 at LA Galaxy II
San Antonio is also still in the race for the regular season championship, and can clinch a playoff berth on Wednesday night should it take victory against Orange County SC. It could be a tricky week ahead for SAFC, though, with OCSC looking to push its way into the top eight with a win of its own, and a third meeting with the Swope Park Rangers that had offered up a fascinating clash of styles in their previous two games this season.
Photo courtesy LA Galaxy II
4. Real Monarchs SLC (38pts)
Last Week: D 0-0 at Portland Timbers 2
The Monarchs remain in the driver’s set to claim the regular season championship, but their next two outings against Phoenix Rising FC and Orange County SC teams fighting for a place in the postseason are looking a little trickier. Draws for both Reno and San Antonio were a silver lining on Saturday after a performance that saw it comfortably outshot by a Portland Timbers 2 side that has been eliminated from the playoff race.
5. Charlotte Independence (29pts)
Last Week: Ppd. at Charleston Battery
The Independence were postponed due to Hurricane Irma, and saw Louisville take advantage of its game in hand to move clear in the Eastern Conference. A clash with Ottawa Fury FC on Saturday offers a chance to get back to action, and there’s likely nothing more that Charlotte would like than to gain some revenge for Fury FC’s 3-1 win at TD Place earlier this season and put another dent in Ottawa’s playoff hopes.
6. Rochester Rhinos (16pts)
Last Week: D 1-1 vs. Ottawa Fury FC
The Rhinos’ 1-1 draw with Ottawa Fury FC left Rochester without a third consecutive victory, but it was enough to earn the side sole possession of third place in the Eastern Conference standings. Still holding a game in hand on both the Charleston Battery and Tampa Bay Rowdies, the Rhinos are in a good position to guarantee a home playoff game, although a home-and-home series with Louisville that’s still to come could offer hope to their rivals.
T-7. Phoenix Rising FC (11pts)
Last Week: D 0-0 vs. Orange County SC; W 2-1 at Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Phoenix’s undefeated streak is now seven games after it took victory in the biggest game in the Western Conference playoff race this past weekend against the Switchbacks. Rising FC is now in good position for a playoff berth, and could have a significant impact at the top of the standings this weekend as it welcomes Real Monarchs SLC to the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex for another big clash.
T-7. Swope Park Rangers (11pts)
Last Week: L 2-1 at Orange County SC
The Rangers came up short against Orange County, and are now caught in the position of being far enough of the rest of the conference to be in good position for a top-four berth, but needing plenty to go their way to have a chance at the top three. Swope Park could boost its hopes at reaching the top three when it hosts San Antonio FC this weekend, but will need to find a way to get through a defense it was unable to broach in two prior meetings this season.
T-7. Tampa Bay Rowdies (11pts)
Last Week: W 3-2 at Harrisburg City Islanders
The Rowdies got just what they were looking for in a midweek win against the City Islanders, their second road victory of the season. As the club recuperates after the arrival of Hurricane Irma this weekend it will have the chance to keep its focus away from the field until next week, when the Charlotte Independence visit Al Lang Stadium for a must-see contest that kicks off a busy home stretch for Tampa Bay.
10. Charleston Battery (10pts)
Last Week: Ppd. vs. Charlotte Independence
The Battery should have a chance at a little revenge this Saturday as it welcomes the Richmond Kickers to MUSC Health Stadium after the Kickers’ victory when the team met last month in Richmond. A win would also be very welcome in broader terms for the Battery, who could be looking at a road trip to open the postseason if it can’t break a run of one win in 10 outings.
Also receiving votes – Tulsa Roughnecks FC 8, New York Red Bulls II 8, Sacramento Republic FC 1