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USL Race for the Playoffs – Sept. 22-24

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 09/23/17, 7:52AM EDT

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1868 FC claims its place, Battery move into range

Reno 1868 FC became the third team in the Western Conference and the fourth team overall, to book its place in the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs on Wednesday night, breaking the USL single-season record for goals in the process as it moved to 63 with four games remaining.

1868 FC’s victory was also good news for Orange County SC and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, both of whom were helped by OKC Energy FC’s defeat in that contest. Meanwhile, Phoenix Rising FC’s ascent continued, and in the Eastern Conference, the Charleston Battery made the race for second place a whole lot more interesting with their victory against the Charlotte Independence.

Here’s how things stand before the weekend’s action gets underway.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. Louisville City FC
Current Record: 
16-5-6, 54pts
Maximum Points Available: 69
Points Needed to Clinch: IN
Avg. Finishing Position: 1.0
Last Game: W 2-1 vs. Rochester Rhinos
Next Game: 9/24 at Ottawa Fury FC, 2 p.m. ET
Louisville’s dramatic late victory against the Rochester Rhinos boosted the side in numerous ways. First, it moved six points clear at the top of the Eastern Conference with a game in hand on both the Charlotte Independence and Charleston Battery. Second, it moved within two points of Western Conference-leader Real Monarchs SLC. Third, it put the side within range of clinching home-field advantage in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals this weekend. Should either the Tampa Bay Rowdies or Charleston Battery lose on Saturday night, or the Rochester Rhinos draw, a Louisville win on Sunday would see Slugger Field host playoff soccer for a third consecutive season.

2. Charlotte Independence
Current Record:
 13-6-9, 48pts
Maximum Points Available: 60
Points Needed to Clinch: 1
Avg. Finishing Position: 2.9
Last Game: L 3-0 at Charleston Battery
Next Game: 9/23 at Tampa Bay Rowdies, 7:30 p.m. ET
The Independence’s run of only one win the past five games became a serious threat to their hold on a top-two place on Wednesday night as the Charleston Battery’s 3-0 victory at MUSC Health Stadium brought the gap to just a single point between the two clubs with four games to go. With a visit to a Tampa Bay Rowdies side that has been very strong at home up next, Charlotte could be looking at a drop in the standings by the time the weekend is out.

3. Charleston Battery
Current Record:
 13-7-8, 47pts
Maximum Points Available: 59
Points Needed to Clinch: 2
Avg. Finishing Position: 3.1
Last Game: W 3-0 vs. Charlotte Independence
Next Game: 9/23 at Orlando City B, 7:30 p.m. ET
The Battery got two major boosts on Wednesday. First came the news that Romario Williams’ suspension for his red card against the Richmond Kickers last Saturday had been reduced to one game, and then, the side went out and took a big win against regional rival the Charlotte Independence to move within range of clinching a place in the playoffs. Important to note, while the Points Needed to Clinch above says two, a draw against OCB would be enough with Orlando currently sitting in the ninth spot in available points with a maximum of 48. The Battery will be gunning for victory, though, with the possibility they might be in second by the end of the weekend.

4. Rochester Rhinos
Current Record:
 11-6-10, 43pts
Maximum Points Available: 58
Points Needed to Clinch: 6
Avg. Finishing Position: 4.1
Last Game: L 2-1 at Louisville City FC
Next Game: 9/23 at Richmond Kickers, 7 p.m. ET
Louisville’s late victory on a stoppage-time penalty kick was a tough one for the Rhinos in the bigger picture, and with the side now winless in its last three games, it needs to get back on track against the Richmond Kickers on Saturday night. With the way Richmond has been playing spoiler lately, that might be easier said than done, though, especially with the Kickers at home for the contest.

5. Tampa Bay Rowdies
Current Record:
 10-7-8, 41pts
Maximum Points Available: 59
Points Needed to Clinch: 8
Avg. Finishing Position: 4.5
Last Game: W 3-2 at Harrisburg City Islanders
Next Game: 9/23 vs. Charlotte Independence, 7:30 p.m. ET
In addition those of Louisville City FC, the other fanbase that will have been delighted by City’s late victory against the Rochester Rhinos is that of the Rowdies. Tampa Bay now has a higher available-points total than Rochester with six games to go and could move back into the top four with a win against the Charlotte Independence at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday night depending on the Rhinos’ result in Richmond. The past 10 days as a whole, though, have been very good to Tampa Bay’s playoff positioning opportunities.

6. FC Cincinnati
Current Record:
 10-9-9, 39pts
Maximum Points Available: 51
Points Needed to Clinch: 10
Avg. Finishing Position: 7.4
Last Game: W 4-2 vs. New York Red Bulls II
Next Game: 9/23 at Saint Louis FC, 8:30 p.m. ET
FCC isn’t in position yet to make too much of the results in midweek, but with a win against Saint Louis on Saturday, it would take a big step toward its goal of a playoff place. With only a two percent chance of hosting a playoff game, victories for the Charleston Battery, Bethlehem Steel FC and – gulp – Louisville City FC over the weekend would also be welcome to push FCC closer to clinching.

7. New York Red Bulls II
Current Record:
 11-12-5, 38pts
Maximum Points Available: 50
Points Needed to Clinch: 11
Avg. Finishing Position: 7.8
Last Game: L 4-2 at FC Cincinnati
Next Game: 9/30 vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds, 4 p.m. ET
The Red Bulls II are off this weekend, and so they will have an eye on the rest of the games around the league. Unless both Orlando and Bethlehem take victory in Week 27, New York will retain its top eight position, setting up a crucial clash of its own against the Riverhounds on Sept. 30 at MSU Soccer Park.

8. Orlando City B
Current Record: 
8-7-12, 36pts
Maximum Points Available: 48
Points Needed to Clinch: 13
Avg. Finishing Position: 8.9
Last Game: L 2-0 at Saint Louis FC
Next Game: 9/23 vs. Charleston Battery, 7:30 p.m. ET
Orlando’s two-game losing streak has seen the side slide to ninth place in Points Available, and that means Saturday’s game against the resurgent Charleston Battery is looking like something OCB needs to take at least a point from, if not a win to get things back on track. A draw between Bethlehem Steel FC and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, as well as victories for FC Cincinnati and Louisville City FC, would also be the hope for the side this weekend.  

9. Bethlehem Steel FC
Current Record:
 10-11-5, 35pts
Maximum Points Available: 53
Points Needed to Clinch: 14
Avg. Finishing Position: 7.5
Last Game: D 2-2 at Louisville City FC
Next Game: 9/24 vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds, 3 p.m. ET
Steel FC faces a massive game against in-state rivals on Sunday afternoon at Goodman Stadium, but prior to that, it will be keenly watching out for results elsewhere that could help push it back into the top eight with a victory. Victories for the Charleston Battery and FC Cincinnati would be very favorable to Bethlehem’s already good odds, and a win against Pittsburgh would raise Steel FC to an 86 percent chance at a playoff berth.

10. Pittsburgh Riverhounds
Current Record:
 8-9-11, 35pts
Maximum Points Available: 47
Points Needed to Clinch: 14
Avg. Finishing Position: 10.0
Last Game: D 1-1 vs. Rochester Rhinos
Next Game: 9/24 at Bethlehem Steel FC, 3 p.m. ET
It’s not completely make-or-break for the Riverhounds this weekend, with the right results elsewhere, a draw on the road against Steel FC would keep the side in playoff contention. That said, wins always pave the way to the postseason, and the percentage swings in playoff odds are marked for Sunday’s game. After Wednesday night’s games, Pittsburgh is a 20.3 percent chance to reach the playoffs. Defeat Steel FC, and those odds rise to 44.3 percent, while also knocking Bethlehem’s to 49.4 percent. Lose, and the Riverhounds would be only an 8.6 percent chance to reach the postseason.

11. Saint Louis FC
Current Record:
 9-12-7, 34pts
Maximum Points Available: 46
Points Needed to Clinch: 15
Avg. Finishing Position: 10.1
Last Game: W 2-0 vs. Orlando City B
Next Game: 9/23 vs. FC Cincinnati, 8:30 p.m. ET
Saint Louis came through in a big way against Orlando City B, but the club will need a similar effort against an FC Cincinnati side that has already outscored it 6-0 in the two prior meetings between the teams this season. Defeat would make Saint Louis’ path to the playoffs almost unnavigable, with the side’s playoff odds dropping to only 4.7 percent should Cincinnati earn a sweep of the season series.

12. Ottawa Fury FC
Current Record:
 7-9-11, 32pts
Maximum Points Available: 47
Points Needed to Clinch: 17
Avg. Finishing Position: 11.2
Last Game: D 1-1 at Charlotte Independence
Next Game: 9/23 vs. Louisville City FC, 2 p.m. ET
It’s effectively win or start planning for 2018 for Fury FC, and it has the unenviable task of taking on a Louisville City FC side that could be within reach of clinching a home game when it visits TD Place on Sunday afternoon. Even with a win, though, there would need to be plenty more need to go right to put Ottawa seriously back in contention for a playoff berth.

13. Harrisburg City Islanders
Current Record:
8-14-7, 31pts
Maximum Points Available: 40
Points Needed to Clinch: 18
Avg. Finishing Position: 12.6
Last Game: W 2-1 vs. Toronto FC II
Next Game: 9/27 vs. Ottawa Fury FC, 6:30 p.m. ET
Idle this weekend, the City Islanders can’t be mathematically eliminated this weekend, but the side should be looking ahead to the 2018 season with no real path to the postseason from this point.

14. Richmond Kickers
Current Record:
 6-14-8, 26pts
Maximum Points Available: 38
Points Needed to Clinch: 23
Avg. Finishing Position: 14.0
Last Game: L 1-0 at Charleston Battery
Next Game: 9/23 vs. Rochester Rhinos, 7 p.m. ET
The Kickers’ role as spoiler will come into play again on Saturday night, when it hosts the Rochester Rhinos, with the Tampa Bay Rowdies, Charleston Battery and Charlotte Independence all hoping Richmond can help their pursuit of a top-four finish.

Eliminated: Toronto FC II

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Real Monarchs SLC
Current Record:
 17-5-5, 56pts
Maximum Points Available: 71
Points Needed to Clinch: IN
Avg. Finishing Position: 1.3
Last Game: L 2-0 at Phoenix Rising FC
Next Game: 9/22 vs. Orange County SC, 9 p.m. ET
The Monarchs will get back to action on Friday night with only a two-point cushion on Louisville City FC for the best overall record in the USL. A win would be not only important for Real in its push for the first silverware of the season, but it would also put the side within reach of guaranteeing at least one home game in the postseason, a goal that would be quickly realized if both Sacramento Republic FC fell to OKC Energy FC on Saturday night and Phoenix Rising FC fell to Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 on Sunday.

2. San Antonio FC
Current Record:
 14-3-10, 52pts
Maximum Points Available: 67
Points Needed to Clinch: IN
Avg. Finishing Position: 2.3
Last Game: L 5-2 at Swope Park Rangers
Next Game: 9/23 vs. Rio Grande Valley FC, 8:30 p.m. ET
San Antonio is still in good shape to finish second in the Western Conference, but it is under a little more pressure after Reno 1868 FC’s victory on Wednesday night brought the teams level on points with SAFC holding a game in hand. Victory in the South Texas Derby would be a good way to bounce-back from its defeat to Swope Park this past Sunday and also ensure SAFC at least keeps pace with Reno as it plays the Portland Timbers 2 at Greater Nevada Field.

3. Reno 1868 FC
Current Record:
 15-6-7, 52pts
Maximum Points Available: 64
Points Needed to Clinch: IN
Avg. Finishing Position: 3.0
Last Game: W 3-0 vs. OKC Energy FC
Next Game: 9/23 vs. Portland Timbers 2, 10 p.m. ET
With a playoff place and the USL single-season record for goals in hand thanks to Lindo Mfeka’s hat trick on Wednesday night, Reno will now take aim at securing at least one home playoff contest in its inaugural season. 1868 FC will need San Antonio to make a misstep for the chance at a top-two finish to become available, but with a combination of 10 points earned and dropped points by teams outside the top four all that’s needed, Reno is in good shape to host postseason action.

4. Swope Park Rangers
Current Record: 
14-6-6, 48pts
Maximum Points Available: 63
Points Needed to Clinch: 4
Avg. Finishing Position: 3.9
Last Game: W 5-2 vs. San Antonio FC
Next Game: 9/23 at Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, 8 p.m. ET
The Rangers’ game against the Switchbacks is going to be one of the most closely-watched this weekend given the situation Colorado Springs finds itself in, but with a win against a side it has taken victory against earlier this season, Swope Park could do both Orange County SC and OKC Energy FC a favor, as well as earn a return trip to the playoffs. A draw would also be good enough for the Rangers should Orange County fall on Friday night against Real Monarchs SLC.

5. Phoenix Rising FC
Current Record:
 11-7-7, 43pts
Maximum Points Available: 61
Points Needed to Clinch: 7
Avg. Finishing Position: 5.0
Last Game: W 1-0 at Seattle Sounders FC 2
Next Game: 9/24 at Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2, 6 p.m. ET
Rising FC’s victory against S2 on Wednesday night might not have been the prettiest display, but it served the purpose to extend the club’s undefeated streak to nine games and move the side into fifth place in the Western Conference. Phoenix won’t quite be able to clinch a playoff spot this weekend, but it certainly appears to be on course to do so before it returns to Arizona next week.

6. Sacramento Republic FC
Current Record:
 12-8-6, 42pts
Maximum Points Available: 60
Points Needed to Clinch: 8
Avg. Finishing Position: 6.0
Last Game: W 2-1 vs. LA Galaxy II
Next Game: 9/23 vs. OKC Energy FC, 10:30 p.m. ET
They may be rivals, but Sacramento benefited from Reno 1868 FC’s victory on Wednesday night as its number to clinch a playoff place dropped into single-figures. Republic FC now gets its own crack at OKC Energy FC in one of the biggest games of the weekend. A victory and an Orange County SC loss on Friday night would move Sacramento into position to clinch a playoff place next Wednesday night, when Real Monarchs SLC visit Papa Murphy’s Park.

7. Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Current Record:
 12-11-4, 40pts
Maximum Points Available: 55
Points Needed to Clinch: 10
Avg. Finishing Position: 6.7
Last Game: L 2-0 at OKC Energy FC
Next Game: 9/23 vs. LA Galaxy II, 8 p.m. ET
Energy FC’s loss on Wednesday night further bolstered the Roughnecks position in terms of a playoff place, even if they did drop a spot in the standings thanks to Phoenix’s victory. Tulsa will look to take care of the Galaxy II on Saturday night and also be hoping for victories by Real Monarchs SLC, Sacramento Republic FC and the Swope Park Rangers that would move it closer to a place in the postseason.

8. OKC Energy FC
Current Record:
 10-12-6, 37pts
Maximum Points Available: 52
Points Needed to Clinch: 13
Avg. Finishing Position: 8.5
Last Game: L 3-0 at Reno 1868 FC
Next Game: 9/23 at Sacramento Republic FC, 10:30 p.m. ET
Energy FC’s loss on Wednesday night was welcome news for both Orange County SC and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, and while OKC still holds the edge in terms of playoff chances, it will have to hope neither goalkeeper Cody Laurendi or defender Coady Andrews are out for long after their unfortunate collision in the game against Reno. OKC closes out the season with three consecutive home games after its visit to Sacramento, but it will be hoping for victories by Real Monarchs SLC and the Swope Park Rangers before it takes to the field on Saturday night.

9. Orange County SC
Current Record:
 9-9-9, 36pts
Maximum Points Available: 51
Points Needed to Clinch: 14
Avg. Finishing Position: 8.9
Last Game: W 2-1 at Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2
Next Game: 9/22 at Real Monarchs SLC, 9 p.m. ET
OKC Energy FC’s defeat on Wednesday night opened the door a little wider for Orange County to take advantage, but it will need to be at the top of its game on Friday night as it visits a Monarchs side that wants to break its three-game winless streak and assert its claim for the USL Regular Season Championship. Given the potential swings in playoff odds for OCSC, though, if it can take a victory it would suddenly become the favorite at 58.3 percent chance to book a playoff place among the trio fighting it out for eighth place.

10. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Current Record:
 9-11-11, 35pts
Maximum Points Available: 47
Points Needed to Clinch: 15
Avg. Finishing Position: 9.4
Last Game: D 1-1 at Seattle Sounders FC 2
Next Game: 9/23 vs. Swope Park Rangers, 8 p.m. ET
The Switchbacks got the first of the two results they needed before they take to the field against the Swope Park Rangers on Saturday night, sd Reno 1868 FC defeated OKC Energy FC on Wednesday. They will be hoping their Rocky Mountain rival Real Monarchs SLC can also take victory on Friday night against Orange County. Should that result come through, Colorado Springs will remain in with a chance with a victory against Swope Park. A loss, though, would sink the side’s chances to 8.9 percent.

11. Seattle Sounders FC 2
Current Record:
 9-16-4, 31pts
Maximum Points Available: 40
Points Needed to Clinch: 19
Avg. Finishing Position: 11.7
Last Game: L 1-0 vs. Phoenix Rising FC
Next Game: 10/7 at Tulsa Roughnecks FC, 8 p.m. ET
S2’s playoff hopes are now only mathematically alive after Wednesday night’s defeat to Phoenix with the side’s two-week break before closing out the season on a three-game road trip all that’s left to look forward to.

12. Rio Grande Valley FC
Current Record:
 8-13-7, 31pts
Maximum Points Available: 43
Points Needed to Clinch: 19
Avg. Finishing Position: 11.6
Last Game: W 1-0 vs. Reno 1868 FC
Next Game: 9/23 at San Antonio FC, 8:30 p.m. ET
The Toros’ chances of finishing above S2 improved after Seattle’s loss on Wednesday night, but that’s about all to report, as RGVFC visits San Antonio on Saturday night with only a slim chance of finding a way back to the postseason.

13. LA Galaxy II
Current Record:
 7-15-5, 26pts
Maximum Points Available: 41
Points Needed to Clinch: 16
Avg. Finishing Position: 12.8
Last Game: L 2-1 at Sacramento Republic FC
Next Game: 9/23 at Tulsa Roughnecks FC, 8:30 p.m. ET
A loss to Tulsa Roughnecks FC on Saturday night, and a victory for either Orange County SC on Friday night or OKC Energy FC on Saturday night, would put the final nail in the coffin for Los Dos as the side will fail to reach the postseason for the first time in its history.

Eliminated: Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2, Portland Timbers 2

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