Photo courtesy Kiel Maddox / Fresno FC
The race for the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs is coming down to crunch-time for teams around the playoff line in both conferences, and while we’ll get to focusing on the overall playoff picture in a few weeks as teams get closer to clinching their places in the postseason, prior to that we’re going to take a look at a few individual clubs whose playoff chances are going to get made or broken over the final 10 weeks of the season.
First up in the spotlight is Fresno FC, which has put together a good inaugural season at Chukchansi Park so far but still finds itself fighting an uphill battle if it’s going to be part of the postseason field. We’ve broken down the rest of the schedule into three categories.
Looking back on previous seasons, and the current points-per-game rates for both the seventh-place Portland Timbers 2 and Swope Park Rangers, and it projects that Fresno is going to need 20 points over its final 10 games to hit 50 points, which could be the cutoff line for this season. That means the is looking at needing a 6-2-2 record over that span to put itself over the top.
Here’s a look, game-by-game, at how they can accomplish that.
Photo courtesy Sam Ortega / Portland Timbers 2
With the Foxes needing six wins to hit its projected target, it’s going to need to find some road success as well as take care of business at home, where it plays six of its final 10 games.
1. at LA Galaxy II, August 9 – The first step for Fresno is going to be ensuring it bounces back from its loss in Sacramento with victory against Los Dos on Thursday night. The good news for the Foxes is Los Dos are on a four-game winless streak, but the Galaxy II have claimed some notable results at home this season which means the side will need to be fully focused to get all three points here.
2. Saint Louis FC, August 18 – The biggest games Fresno will face are what can be termed six-pointers as the side squares off with teams in is in direct competition with for a postseason berth. Saint Louis’ visit to Chukchansi Park certainly fits that definition, with STLFC currently sitting with a higher points-per-game rate than the Foxes. Victory here not only pulls the playoffs closer, but also puts a dent in one of the other challenger’s hopes.
3. at Swope Park Rangers, September 9 – If you’re going to overtake someone, you’re going to need to beat them when you get the chance. A visit to Swope Park is rarely easy, but the Rangers have softened a little on home turf since their undefeated streak came to an end on July 10 in back-to-back home losses to Sacramento Republic FC and Orange County SC. SPR is on a six-game winless streak overall going into Saturday’s game with Portland, Fresno will be hoping its hosts are still in a slump when they arrive.
4. Portland Timbers 2, September 22 – Just as with their game against Swope Park, the Foxes have a big chance to gain ground on one of the teams they’re chasing. This matchup has the added bonus of being on home turf as the side looks to replicate the 4-2 victory it took at Merlo Field on July 8.
5. at Rio Grande Valley FC, September 29 – The Toros have admittedly been tough at home, meaning this game could easily fall into the second category we’ll get into shortly, but the Foxes will need to be aggressive as they go into H-E-B Park, especially if they’ve missed the mark elsewhere earlier in this list. Fresno will be well aware of the threat RGVFC possesses, at least, after the Toros rallied on them twice at Chukchansi Park in a 2-2 draw on May 9.
6. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, October 5 – It’s the penultimate game of the season for both, which means it could be win or go home time for both the Foxes and the Switchbacks in the race for the playoffs. That should ratchet up the intensity for both sides, which will almost certainly be in must-win mode for the playoff lives.
Photo courtesy L.E. Baskow / Las Vegas Lights FC
Given that winning 10 games in a row hasn’t happened in the USL’s modern era – Real Monarchs SLC came closest with nine in a row last season – there are going to be games you don’t take all three points from. Here are three where a point wouldn’t be a bad result to Fresno’s end goal.
1. at Las Vegas Lights FC, August 25 – Ordinarily you’d look at this as a six-pointer with Las Vegas currently sitting below Fresno in the standings but holding a higher points-per-game rate with three games in hand. While it would be nice to get out of Cashman Field with three points in hand, given that Lights FC is currently on a four-game winning streak on its home turf, a draw wouldn’t be a bad result if the Foxes have taken care of business in the two games leading up to this one.
2. Reno 1868 FC, September 1 – You want to win all of your home games, certainly, and after taking a 1-1 draw at Greater Nevada Field on June 9 the Foxes certainly could enter its contest with 1868 FC with confidence at Chukchansi Park. But Reno has been one of the best road teams in the league this season, going undefeated so far with a 6-0-5 record ahead of Wednesday’s game with Real Monarchs SLC. That makes it a tough side to take victory against, and a point a satisfactory result here.
3. Orange County SC, September 16 – Again, it’s at home, and you should want to win those contests, but with Orange County fighting for the lead in the Western Conference and eyeing at least one home playoff game the visitors are going to bring in a serious fight to proceedings when they visit in mid-September. Given the timing in the schedule in the middle of two bigger games, directly after the Foxes’ visit to Swope Park Rangers and preceding their home game with the Portland Timbers 2, a point could be enough from this one if things are going to plan.
Photo courtesy Real Monarchs SLC
There’s nothing like the final game of the season, where everything could be on the line in terms of a playoff berth. So, what’s the matchup you’d least like to see? The one that’s playing for silverware.
1. Real Monarchs SLC, October 13 – The Foxes will have hoped to hit their target of 50 points the previous weekend against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, but if they haven’t it could be an awfully big ask as Real Monarchs SLC comes to town on the final Saturday of the season. With Real potentially locked in a final-game battle with FC Cincinnati for the 2018 USL Regular Season Championship across the two conference, the visitors should know during the first half what result it needs after Cincinnati’s game in Nashville ends earlier in the night. That could mean the Monarchs need to push on to take victory, settle for a draw or know that the title is out of reach. Only the final scenario would be a good one for the Foxes, who should be hoping to have taken care of business with a game to spare.
So, there you have it, a roadmap to a 6-1-3 record over the final 10 games for Fresno, which would put the Foxes on 51 points and in with a great chance of a place in the USL Cup Playoffs. How close will Head Coach Adam Smith’s side get to meeting the marks it needs? We’ll start finding out on Thursday night.