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USL Weekend Preview – Week 29

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 10/06/17, 11:12AM EDT


Monarchs on course for silverware, Eastern race enters key weekend

TAMPA, Fla. – The 2017 USL Regular Season Championship is one point away for Real Monarchs SLC on Saturday night, as the Western Conference leader looks to claim the first silverware of the season in the penultimate weekend of the 2017 USL regular season. With every team in action across a 15-game slate, the final playoff places in the Western Conference could be claimed, while the action in the Eastern Conference sits tightly poised with a massive game on Saturday night.

The Monarchs almost claimed the first silverware in their history last Saturday night, only for San Antonio FC to deny them. With only a point needed from Real’s final two games, however, Saturday night’s match against Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 is likely to see the leader for the majority of the season earn the title. Elsewhere, the race for both a second-place finish behind the Monarchs, and to reach playoffs continues, with Saturday’s game between Orange County SC and Reno 1868 FC and Sunday’s game between OKC Energy FC and the Swope Park Rangers both ones to watch.

In the Eastern Conference, Saturday night brings the biggest game of the regular season for both Orlando City B and the New York Red Bulls II. One day after the U.S. Men’s National Team takes the field at Orlando City Stadium in its crucial World Cup Qualifier against Panama, OCB will take its shot at clinching a playoff berth for a second consecutive season, while New York knows it almost certainly must win to have a chance at defending its USL Cup this postseason.

Every game of the 2017 USL season will be available on the league’s Match Center, with updates from across the league also available via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.


Photo courtesy Ben Solomon / New York Red Bulls II

Saturday, October 7
Orlando City B vs. New York Red Bulls II
7:30 p.m. ET, Orlando City Stadium

Seventh-place Orlando City B can claim its second consecutive trip to the USL Cup Playoffs on Saturday night, and at the same time, it can potentially hand the eighth-place New York Red Bulls II a decisive blow in their hopes to defend their USL Cup title when the two sides meet on Saturday night.

By kickoff, both teams could be looking up at Bethlehem Steel FC, which enters the weekend in ninth but faces Toronto FC II on Friday night, knowing a win would move it ahead of both OCB and NYRB II. OCB (10-8-12, 42pts) took a 1-0 victory last Sunday evening against the Richmond Kickers thanks to Hadji Barry’s late winner, and thanks to its one-point edge on the Red Bulls II, OCB would be in the playoffs with a win. A draw would leave the side needing victory against I-4 Derby rivals the Tampa Bay Rowdies to guarantee a postseason berth.

New York (12-13-5, 41pts) had the chance to overtake Orlando with any kind of positive result in the first game of its trip to Florida on Wednesday night, but it suffered a 3-2 defeat at Al Lang Stadium. That leaves the Red Bulls II in a must-win situation, which would see them regain control of their playoff destiny ahead of a visit to the Rochester Rhinos to close out the regular season.

San Antonio FC vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies
8:30 p.m. ET, Toyota Field

Two teams taking aim at a second-place finish in their respective conferences meet in San Antonio on Saturday night in a fascinating interconference matchup between San Antonio FC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

SAFC (15-4-10, 55pts) enters the weekend in fourth place in the Western Conference but holds a game in hand on both second-place Reno 1868 FC and the third-place Swope Park Rangers. San Antonio will try to kick off a three-game home stand to end the regular season, knowing if it wins out, it will earn the No. 2-seed in the Western Conference.

The Rowdies (13-7-10, 49pts) could prove a challenge in that pursuit, however, with Tampa Bay having designs of its own on the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Rowdies moved into second place on Wednesday night as Marcel Schäfer recorded two goals and one assist in a 3-2 victory against the New York Red Bulls II. Tampa Bay closes with two road games but holds a one-point edge on the third-place Charleston Battery and fourth-place Charlotte Independence going into the final two games for all three clubs.

Real Monarchs SLC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2
9 p.m. ET, Rio Tinto Stadium

Real Monarchs SLC has one hand on the USL Regular Season Championship Shield as it plays host to Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 on Saturday night, needing only a draw to move it clear of its competition to claim the first silverware in club history.

The Monarchs (19-5-6, 63pts) took a 3-0 victory against Reno 1868 FC last Saturday night at Greater Nevada Field, as Chandler Hoffman and Juan Mare each scored their second goals in as many games. That win that almost took Real over the finish line, if not for San Antonio FC’s victory in Tulsa, but now the side will get the chance to clinch on home turf in front of its own fans.

Vancouver (5-17-8, 23pts) will try to play spoiler and keep San Antonio’s slim hopes alive, but the side is coming off a 1-0 loss to the Portland Timbers 2 last Saturday afternoon that kept it in 14th place in the Western Conference. WFC2 will also be without two key players after Myer Bevan and Deklan Wynne were named in New Zealand’s squad for an international exhibition this weekend in Japan.

Orange County SC vs. Reno 1868 FC
Champions Soccer Stadium, 10 p.m. ET

Orange County SC is in search of another win to keep its hopes of reaching the USL Cup Playoffs alive, while Reno 1868 FC needs the same to try and hold onto second place in the Western Conference, when the two teams meet on Saturday night.

Orange County (10-10-10, 40pts) came through its first must-win game of the week on Wednesday night with a 3-1 victory against Sacramento Republic FC. Second-half goals by Dusan Stevanovic and Jerry van Ewijk led the side to victory, and now a repeat performance would move the side level on points with eighth-place OKC Energy FC ahead of OKC’s game on Sunday with the Swope Park Rangers.

Reno (16-7-7, 55pts) will not be in a giving mood, however, after a 3-0 defeat to Real Monarchs SLC last Saturday night ended its 13-game home undefeated streak and allowed both the Rangers and San Antonio FC to pull level on 55 points in the race for second place in the West. With both teams having taken victory once previously this season, 1868 FC will be hoping for a repeat performance of its victory when it last visited Orange County.

Sunday, October 8
Ottawa Fury FC vs. FC Cincinnati
TD Place, 2 p.m. ET

FC Cincinnati can book its return to the USL Cup Playoffs on Sunday afternoon and could still have a chance at a top-four finish, with a victory when it takes on Ottawa Fury FC, which will host its regular-season home finale looking to end on a high note in front of its loyal fans.

With either or both Orlando City B and the New York Red Bulls II to drop points on Saturday when they square off, FCC (11-9-10, 43pts) can make certain of a playoff place with a win in its first trip to Canada. With two road games remaining, the side also has an outside chance at a home playoff game but would need to win out and have either the Charleston Battery or Charlotte Independence fall in both of their remaining games.

Ottawa (7-10-13, 34pts) was officially eliminated from playoff contention, as it conceded a late goal in a 1-1 draw against the Charleston Battery last Sunday afternoon. The Canadian club is within range of setting a new cumulative attendance record for the regular season at TD Place with another big crowd expected. With the side on a 10-game winless streak, springing a surprise and making Cincinnati sweat over its postseason position is the goal for the hosts.

OKC Energy FC vs. Swope Park Rangers
Taft Stadium, 6 p.m. ET

OKC Energy FC can clinch a place in the playoffs for a third consecutive season with a victory on Sunday evening, but the Swope Park Rangers will be looking to make the final week of the season in the Western Conference interesting, as it looks for a win to keep its bid for second place in the conference alive.

Energy FC (12-11-7, 43pts) could may already clinch a place in the USL Cup Playoffs by the time it kicks off on Sunday depending on results elsewhere in the Western Conference. Should both Orange County SC fall to Reno 1868 FC and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC fail to take victory against Sacramento Republic FC on Saturday night, Energy FC will be part of the playoffs.

The Rangers (16-7-7, 55pts) will have plenty to play for, though, as it battles Reno 1868 FC and San Antonio FC for the No. 2-seed in the Western Conference. Coming off a comeback 2-2 draw against Rio Grande Valley FC last Saturday, Swope Park will know where it stands with both Reno and San Antonio in action on Saturday night before it takes to the field.


Photo courtesy David Calvert / Reno 1868 FC

16 – Sixteen USL players have been called up for international duty this week in World Cup Qualifying and international exhibitions that span four federations.

12 – San Antonio FC goalkeeper Diego Restrepo has 12 shutouts this season with three games remaining in the regular season and is one behind the USL single-season record of 13 set by Brandon Miller with the Rochester Rhinos in 2015.

11 – Reno 1868 FC’s Chris Wehan has a league-leading 11 assists going into the final two games of the regular season, putting him one behind the USL single-season record of 12 set by Matt Dallman of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in 2013.

6 – Six players with USL experience are in the United States’ squad for the FIFA U17 World Cup, which kicked off on Friday in India. Among them is 2017 USL 20 Under 20 selection Chris Durkin (Richmond Kickers).


- The USL announced on Wednesday the 2017 USL Cup would air on ESPNU on Monday, Nov. 13 at 9 p.m. ET. It marks the second consecutive year the game will air on the national network. The USL Cup broadcast team was also announced, with Julie Stewart-Binks (sideline) joining the broadcast as Mike Watts (play-by-play) and Kate Markgraf (color) call their second consecutive USL Cup.

- United Soccer Leagues, LLC, announced on Thursday it had named Act Global as its Official Synthetic Turf Supplier. Act Global will be an official supplier for all related properties, including the United Soccer League – one of the most prominent Division II professional leagues in the world – USL’s Division III, the Premier Development League (PDL) and the Super Y League.

- 2018 USL Expansion club Nashville SC announced on Thursday it had hired Mike Jacobs as the club’s first Technical Director. A former Executive VP and Technical Director at the USL, Jacobs most recently worked as Assistant Technical Director at Sporting Kansas City, where he helped establish 2016 USL Western Conference champions the Swope Park Rangers among his duties.

- The Charleston Battery this week unveiled the teams that will compete at the 2018 Carolina Challenge Cup, with defending champion Columbus Crew SC and fellow returnee Atlanta United FC being joined by first-time participant Minnesota United FC. The 14th edition of the tournament is set to run from Feb. 17-24, 2018 at MUSC Health Stadium.

- Bethlehem Steel FC (11-11-7, 40pts) will try to put pressure on its fellow playoff contenders as it visits Toronto FC II (6-17-7, 25pts) on Friday night at the Ontario Soccer Centre (7:30 p.m. ET | Match Center) in a crucial game for Bethlehem’s playoff hopes. Steel FC is undefeated in its last five games, but has gone only 1-0-4 in that span to sit in ninth place in the Eastern Conference. With a game in hand on seventh-place Orlando City B and the eighth-place New York Red Bulls II, Steel FC would move above both with a victory. To do so, Steel FC will need to get past a Toronto FC II side that has proven more than a handful for some on its home turf of late. Louisville City FC was the most recent side to fall at the Ontario Soccer Centre, as TFC II took a 1-0 win on Sept. 27 in its last outing, a result the Reds will be hoping to emulate as they look to close the season in a positive manner.

- The Charleston Battery (13-8-9, 48pts) will look to regain second place in the Eastern Conference when they play host to the Harrisburg City Islanders (10-14-7, 37pts) on Saturday night at MUSC Health Stadium (7 p.m. ET | Match Center). The Battery earned a late 1-1 draw against Ottawa Fury FC this past Sunday to earn a seventh consecutive trip to the playoffs, making the side the only team to reach the postseason in every year of the USL era. Heviel Cordoves found the net again for the Battery and now has four goals in his past three games. Sunday’s result officially eliminated the City Islanders from playoff contention, but the side is on a five-game undefeated streak (4-0-1) as it arrives in Charleston.

- The Pittsburgh Riverhounds (8-11-11, 35pts) will try to keep the Rochester Rhinos (11-7-11, 44pts) from claiming their place in the USL Cup Playoffs, as the rivals meet for the final time in the regular season on Saturday night at Highmark Stadium (7 p.m. ET | Match Center). Pittsburgh was eliminated from postseason contention after a 2-0 defeat to the New York Red Bulls II last Saturday but will still be looking to end the regular season in style, as it plays its final two games at Highmark Stadium this year. The Rhinos will try to break a five-game winless streak (0-2-3) that has seen the side miss out on chances to move into the top four in the Eastern Conference but would clinch a playoff place with a win with either Orlando City B or the New York Red Bulls II set to drop points when they meet on Saturday night. 

- With the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference locked up and no chance at catching Real Monarchs SLC for the USL Regular Season Championship, Louisville City FC (16-6-8, 56pts) is left to welcome the fourth-place Charlotte Independence (13-8-9, 48pts) with little on the line for the hosts at Slugger Field (7:30 p.m. ET | Match Center). For the Independence, on the other hand, the pressure to pick up a win as it looks to break a three-game losing streak and get back in contention for a second-place finish is on. The Independence dropped to fourth in the Eastern Conference after Friday’s 1-0 defeat to FC Cincinnati and the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ victory on Wednesday night but could clinch a first home playoff game in club history with a win on the road and help elsewhere on Saturday night.

- Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (10-12-8, 38pts) will need to take another victory and hope for favorable results elsewhere, as it hosts Sacramento Republic FC (13-11-6, 45pts), which itself still needs a point to secure its place in the playoffs when it visits Weidner Field on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET | Match Center). The Switchbacks kept themselves in playoff contention this past Saturday with a 2-1 victory against Orange County SC, as Taeseong Kim and Kevaughn Frater found the net but still find themselves five points back of OKC Energy FC for the eighth and final playoff position going into the weekend. Anything but a win will eliminate Colorado Springs from postseason contention. Sacramento will be hoping to be the side to knock the Switchbacks out of playoff contention, as a draw would be enough to boot its postseason berth. Republic FC missed out on its chance to clinch a playoff place in midweek, however, as it fell 3-1 to Orange County SC and now faces a second consecutive side that is in must-win territory.

- Tulsa Roughnecks FC (13-13-4, 43pts) will take another crack at clinching a place in the playoffs when it hosts Seattle Sounders FC 2 (9-16-4, 31pts) at ONEOK Field on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET | Match Center). Tulsa suffered a 4-3 defeat to Phoenix Rising FC on Wednesday night at the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex in its first bid to claim a playoff spot, but it now faces an S2 side that was officially eliminated from the playoffs this past weekend and is on a five-game winless streak (0-3-2) coming into Tulsa. The Roughnecks previously claimed a 1-0 win this season when the teams met on Aug. 30 at Starfire Stadium, a defeat that began Seattle’s current downturn.

- Both Saint Louis FC (9-13-8, 35pts) and the Richmond Kickers (7-15-8, 29 points) will look to end the season in positive fashion when they square off for the second time this season at Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis on Saturday night (8:30 p.m. ET | Match Center). Saint Louis was eliminated from playoff contention this past weekend, as a defeat against the Harrisburg City Islanders brought the curtain down on Head Coach Preki’s first season in charge. The Kickers also fell this past weekend but had been playing better prior to its loss to Orlando City B in the club’s home finale. Richmond has alternated losses and wins over its last five outings (2-3-0).

- The LA Galaxy II (7-18-5, 26pts) and Portland Timbers 2 (3-20-6, 15pts) will both look to end their seasons on positive notes when they meet at StubHub Center Track and Field Stadium (10:30 p.m. ET | Match Center). Portland is looking to build on its third win of the season this past Saturday, as it defeated Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 thanks to Victor Arboleda’s goal. The Galaxy II return home after a tough trip through the Midwest and will look to break a four-game losing streak on Saturday night.

- Phoenix Rising FC (15-8-7, 52pts) will continue its pursuit of a top-four finish in the Western Conference when it takes on Rio Grande Valley FC (9-13-8, 35pts) at the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex (10:30 p.m. ET | Match Center). Rising FC took a 4-3 victory against Tulsa Roughnecks FC on Wednesday night, as Didier Drogba scored twice in his return to the starting lineup. Phoenix is now guaranteed to finish at least fifth, and should it take victory in each of its final two home games, it has an outside chance at a top-four finish. RGVFC had a chance to keep its playoff hopes alive, as it took a two-goal lead against the Swope Park Rangers last Saturday night. However, the Rangers rallied late to earn a 2-2 draw, which meant OKC Energy FC’s victory on Sunday evening knocked the Toros from playoff contention with two games to go in the regular season.

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