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USL’s Week Ahead – Teams in East, West Close on Playoff Berths

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 09/18/18, 4:07PM EDT

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More than half of field for 2018 USL Cup Playoffs could be set by end of week


Photo courtesy Trevor Ruszkowski / Indy Eleven

TAMPA, Fla. – Half of the positions in the field for the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs could be filled by the end of this weekend as the 2018 USL regular season enters Week 28 with numerous head-to-head matchups in each conference set to shape the race for the postseason in the coming six days. The 22-game slate of action kicks off on Tuesday night with the USL Game of the Week on ESPN3 as Nashville SC hosts the Tampa Bay Rowdies at First Tennessee Park in one of the Eastern Conference’s key games this week, while plenty of eyes in the Western Conference will be focused on San Antonio FC’s two-game road trip that takes it to playoff rivals the Swope Park Rangers on Wednesday night and Saint Louis FC on Saturday night. Elsewhere there are rivalry clashes across the schedule, with Wednesday night seeing Southern Derby rivals the Charleston Battery and Charlotte Independence set to square off at MUSC Health Stadium, and Saturday night bringing the final edition this season of the Silver State Cup as Reno 1868 FC plays host to Las Vegas Lights FC at Greater Nevada Field.

All 561 regular-season games, the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs and the 2018 USL Cup can be accessed via USLSoccer.com’s Match Center.

USL RACE FOR THE PLAYOFFS

The race for the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs is on, get an inside look at where each team stands, and who is in line for homefield advantage and a high seeding in the playoff field with projections from fivethirtyeight.com as the race for postseason position goes down to the wire in both the Eastern and Western Conferences. 

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Photo courtesy Erik Schelkun / FC Cincinnati

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USL REGULAR SEASON SPOTLIGHT | RAPID-FIRE PREVIEWS


Photo courtesy David Calvert / Reno 1868 FC

Tuesday, Sept. 18
Nashville SC vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies

First Tennessee Park, Nashville, Tennesseee | 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN3)
Nashville SC (10-8-9, 39pts) plays host to the Tampa Bay Rowdies (9-12-7, 34pts), who arrive in the Music City for the USL Game of the Week in need of a victory to keep their playoff hopes afloat as they try to gain ground on ninth-place NSC. The Rowdies took a 1-0 victory against ATL UTD 2 on Saturday night thanks to Sebastian Guenzatti’s fourth goal in September to sit seven points out of the playoff places with six games to go in the regular season to keep their slim hopes alive. With only three road wins this season, however, Tampa Bay could find it tough going against a Nashville side that would move back into the playoff positions with a win and that has gone 8-2-0 at First Tennessee Park this year as it kicks off a stretch of five home games in its last seven to close the regular season.

Wednesday, Sept. 19
Penn FC vs. Louisville City FC

FNB Field, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania | 6:30 p.m. ET
Penn FC (9-11-8, 35pts) continues its home stretch of the season as it plays host to third-place Louisville City FC (13-6-9, 48pts) for the first of two outings for both clubs over the week. Penn won once and lost once in the past seven days to sit in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, six points out of the playoff positions to start the week but could face a major challenge from a Louisville side that is looking to break a four-game winless streak and move ahead of Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC into second place in the conference standings. Louisville was within minutes of claiming its first win since August 25 on Saturday night but it gave up two late goals in a 2-2 draw with the Hounds at Highmark Stadium, and will be aiming to avoid a similar letdown in the second game of its trip to the Keystone State.

Charleston Battery vs. Charlotte Independence
MUSC Health Stadium, Charleston, South Carolina | 7 p.m. ET
Southern Derby rivals the Charleston Battery (12-4-12, 48pts) and the Charlotte Independence (9-11-8, 35pts) meet in a game that was rescheduled from Saturday, Sept. 15 due to last week’s arrival of Hurricane Florence in the area. Both teams need three points for differing reasons, with the Battery looking to take victory to boost its chances of a second consecutive top-two finish in the Eastern Conference. The Independence, who are coming in on a two-game winning streak, need to keep that form going if the side is to be part of the USL Cup Playoffs, meanwhile, with Charlotte sitting six points out of the playoff positions with six games to go in the regular season.

Tulsa Roughnecks FC vs. Sacramento Republic FC
ONEOK Field, Tulsa, Oklahoma | 8 p.m. ET
Sacramento Republic FC (14-7-7, 49pts) kicks off its two-game trip to Oklahoma looking to return into the top four in the Western Conference as it visits Tulsa Roughnecks FC (3-14-11, 20pts). The Roughnecks are coming off an impressive comeback victory, however, as they put a dent in the postseason hopes of San Antonio FC with a 2-1 win at ONEOK Field this past Saturday when Eti Tavares scored a second-half winner for the hosts. Sacramento was overtaken by the Portland Timbers 2 this past weekend during its bye week but is coming off back-to-back victories that included a 3-0 win against Seattle Sounders FC 2 on September 8 in its last outing as it looks to close in on clinching a fifth consecutive trip to the USL Cup Playoffs.

Swope Park Rangers vs. San Antonio FC
Children’s Mercy Park, Kansas City, Kansas | 8:30 p.m. ET
The Swope Park Rangers (13-10-7, 46pts) and San Antonio FC (12-10-7, 43pts) meet in the first of the week’s key Western Conference contests that could go a long way to determining which teams are left in the final three playoff positions in the standings at the end of the season. Both the Rangers and SAFC are coming off defeats in their most recent outings, with Swope Park falling 4-3 to Saint Louis FC this past Saturday despite Hadji Barry tying a USL record with a goal in a sixth consecutive game for the side. San Antonio, meanwhile, opened its road trip with a 2-1 loss to Tulsa Roughnecks FC that slid the side below the playoff line. With a game against Saint Louis FC also to come on Saturday night, SAFC’s playoff prospects will come under the microscope this week.

Orange County SC vs. Real Monarchs SLC
Champions Soccer Stadium, Irvine, California | 10 p.m. ET
Orange County SC (17-7-6, 57pts) will look to maintain its hold on first place in the Western Conference on the same night as it officially clinches a return to the USL Cup Playoffs, while third-place Real Monarchs SLC (17-9-3, 54pts) will not only try to join its host in the postseason but also jump back into the top spot with a win. To do that the Monarchs will need to break a six-game winless streak away from Zions Bank Stadium that included 2-1 defeat to Rio Grande Valley FC in their last road outing on Sept. 8. Real did claim a 2-1 win against Orange County when the sides first met this season thanks to a stoppage-time goal by Juan Ignacio Mare on May 4, but OCSC comes into this contest having won its last two outings, including a 1-0 win on the road against Fresno FC this past Sunday that saw Noah Powder score his second goal in as many games for the side.

Friday, Sept. 21
ATL UTD 2 vs. North Carolina FC

Coolray Field, Gwinnett, Georgia | 7 p.m. ET
North Carolina FC (10-10-8, 38pts) will try to build on a big road victory and continue its drive toward a postseason berth when it visits ATL UTD 2 (5-14-8, 23pts) for the second meeting between the teams this season. North Carolina took a 4-0 victory when the teams met for the first time on May 25 on its home turf and picked up a 1-0 victory this past Sunday against playoff rival Penn FC thanks to Daniel Rios’ 17th goal of the season. That win moved NCFC into 10th place in the Eastern Conference, only three points out of the playoff positions with six games to go in the season. Atlanta lost 1-0 in its last outing this past Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, but prior to that had been showing signs of a turnaround in form with back-to-back victories. While mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, Atlanta could certainly help others by taking points of North Carolina on its home turf.

Saturday, Sept. 22
Bethlehem Steel FC vs. Toronto FC II

Goodman Stadium, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania | 3 p.m. ET
Bethlehem Steel FC (12-12-6, 42pts) will try to keep itself above the playoff line when it plays host to Toronto FC II (3-21-4, 13pts), which has hit a rich vein of attacking form as it arrives at Goodman Stadium. Toronto has scored 16 goals in its past six games, with Japanese midfielder Tsubasa Endoh accounting for half of those after scoring four goals in the past two games. Endoh had his first professional hat trick this past Sunday as Toronto squared off with FC Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium, only for the side to fall 4-3 to a late goal by the hosts. Bethlehem had a bye over the past week and will look to bounce back from a 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC on Sept. 7 as it tries to hold off the chasing pack over its final four games of the regular season.

Charlotte Independence vs. New York Red Bulls II
Sportsplex at Matthews, Matthews, North Carolina | 7 p.m. ET
The Charlotte Independence return to action for the second time this week as they face a crucial game in the race for the playoffs against the New York Red Bulls II (10-8-11, 41pts), which enters the week in the eighth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference. The Red Bulls II played to a 3-3 draw with Toronto FC II last Thursday night in its most recent outing but took a 4-2 victory when it squared off with the Independence earlier this season. That win on home turf could provide a little confidence heading on the road, but the Red Bulls II have yet to win away from home this season, something that will need to change if the side is to reach the postseason for a fourth consecutive season with four of its last five games on the road.

Penn FC vs. FC Cincinnati
FNB Field, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania | 7 p.m. ET
FC Cincinnati (20-3-6, 66pts) will try to equal the USL single-season record for victories and points when it visits Penn FC, which returns to action for the second time in the week after its clash with Louisville on Wednesday night. Cincinnati took its seventh consecutive victory and extended its undefeated streak to 18 games in a 4-3 victory last Sunday evening against Toronto FC II that saw Emmanuel Ledesma record three assists and Corben Bone score two late goals to rally the side to the win. Ledesma’s performance saw him also set a single-season record for assists in the USL’s modern era as he reached 15 for the season. FCC could also have a chance to clinch the USL Regular Season Championship on Saturday should it take victory and Phoenix Rising FC fall to defeat later in the night against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC.

Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC vs. Indy Eleven
Highmark Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania | 7 p.m. ET
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (13-4-11, 50pts) faces a second consecutive top-five matchup in the Eastern Conference as Indy Eleven (12-8-9, 45pts) visits with the Hounds looking to maintain their hold on second place in the East and the Eleven looking to improve its chances of a home playoff contest. Pittsburgh produced a major fightback to earn a 2-2 draw against Louisville City FC this past Saturday as Kenardo Forbes’ stoppage-time penalty kick kept the side two points ahead of both Louisville and the Charleston Battery in the Eastern Conference. Indy, meanwhile, suffered a 1-0 defeat to Penn FC last Wednesday in its most recent outing, but could take some inspiration from its late 2-2 draw with the Hounds when the sides met at Lucas Oil Stadium on August 29 in their previous meeting this season. Jack McInerney scored in stoppage time on that occasion, something the Hounds will be keen to avoid allowing happen again. 

Louisville City FC vs. Ottawa Fury FC
Slugger Field, Louisville, Kentucky | 7:30 p.m. ET
Louisville City FC returns home from its two-game trip to Pennsylvania to play host to Ottawa Fury FC (12-13-5, 41pts), which is still fighting for a place in the playoffs after back-to-back victories in its most recent outings. Fury FC took a 2-0 win against the Richmond Kickers last Saturday night as Maxime Crepeau recorded his 13th shutout of the season and Carl Haworth recorded one of the two goals. Crepeau’s 13 shutouts have tied the USL single-season record held by Brandon Miller, who set the mark in 2015 with the Rochester Rhinos. Setting a new mark could be a challenge against the defending USL Cup champion, however, with Louisville having claimed a 3-0 victory when it visited TD Place on July 28 in the first meeting between the clubs this season.

Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Richmond Kickers
Al Lang Stadium, St. Petersburg, Florida | 7:30 p.m. ET
The Tampa Bay Rowdies return home after their midweek road trip to take on the Richmond Kickers (6-19-4, 22pts) with the hosts hoping their playoff chances will still be intact after their clash with Nashville SC. The Kickers were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention this past weekend after falling 2-0 to Ottawa Fury FC, but Richmond has the chance to collect a season sweep of the Rowdies after taking a 1-0 win in the first meeting between the clubs this season on May 12 at City Stadium.

Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC vs. Phoenix Rising FC
Weidner Field, Colorado Springs, Colorado | 8 p.m. ET
Phoenix Rising FC (17-7-5, 56pts) will continue its pursuit of first place in the Western Conference as it heads to visit Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (10-15-5, 35pts), with the hosts on the verge of mathematical elimination from playoff contention. Rising FC took a 1-0 victory against Seattle Sounders FC 2 last Saturday night thanks to Chris Cortez’s 16th goal of the season and sit a point back of Orange County SC going into this week’s action with a game in hand. The Switchbacks, meanwhile, will be out to play spoiler, and potentially help FC Cincinnati claim the USL Regular Season Championship after their own playoff hopes effectively came to an end in a 1-1 draw against Rio Grande Valley FC last Saturday night. Should Colorado Springs and Cincinnati both take victory, FCC would lift the first silverware of the season on Saturday night.

Tulsa Roughnecks FC vs. Swope Park Rangers
ONEOK Field, Tulsa, Oklahoma | 8 p.m. ET
Both Tulsa Roughnecks FC and the Swope Park Rangers will return to action for the second time in Week 28 after midweek contests on Wednesday night. The Rangers will be looking to replicate their 2-1 victory when the sides met on August 29 as a victory on the road would help push the two-time defending Western Conference champion that much closer to a chance to defend its title in this year’s postseason.

Nashville SC vs. Charleston Battery
First Tennessee Park, Nashville, Tennesseee | 8:30 p.m. ET
Nashville SC and the Charleston Battery will square off for the second time this season as both return to action for the second time in Week 28. Nashville earned a 1-1 draw when it visited the Battery at MUSC Health Stadium in the first meeting between the clubs on May 26 as Trinidad & Tobago international Ataulla Guerra answered for the hosts following a first-half goal by Nashville’s Liam Doyle.

Rio Grande Valley FC vs. Seattle Sounders FC 2
H-E-B Park, Edinburg, Texas – 8:30 p.m. ET
Two sides that have been officially eliminated from playoff contention will square off when Rio Grande Valley FC (5-11-13, 28pts) plays host to Seattle Sounders FC 2 (5-18-5, 20pts), but the Toros will still be looking to put on a show for its home fans after positive results in their last two outings. RGVFC earned a 1-1 draw with Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC last Saturday night at Weidner Field to add to its victory against Real Monarchs SLC in its last home outing as the side builds toward the 2019 season. S2 on the other hand, is looking for an upturn in form after it fell 1-0 to Phoenix Rising FC before more than 5,000 fans at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Wash. last Saturday for the club’s second consecutive defeat.

Saint Louis FC vs. San Antonio FC
Toyota Stadim – Saint Louis, Fenton, Missouri – 8:30 p.m. ET
Saint Louis FC (12-8-10, 46pts) will try to add to a five-game home winning streak and continue its drive toward a first postseason berth in club history when it hosts San Antonio FC, which completes its three-game road trip on Saturday night. Saint Louis is coming off a 4-3 victory against the Swope Park Rangers last Saturday that shifted the side into seventh place in the West to start Week 28 and will certainly have a close eye on San Antonio’s visit to the Rangers on Wednesday night in the middle game of a key three-game sequence that pits all three sides against each other in the span of eight days.

Fresno FC vs. Portland Timbers 2
Chukchansi Park, Fresno, California | 10 p.m. ET
The Portland Timbers 2 (16-11-3, 51pts) could be in position to clinch their first trip to the postseason when they visit Fresno FC (8-11-11, 35pts) looking for a fourth consecutive victory. T2 rallied to a 2-1 victory against Las Vegas Lights FC last Sunday to move into the top four in the Western Conference to start the new week and could be within reach of a postseason berth depending on results elsewhere below it in the standings on Saturday night. The Foxes were almost eliminated from postseason contention this past Sunday after a 1-0 defeat to Orange County SC but will look to shake that result off and put in a strong display for the home crowd as they begin to close their inaugural season.

Reno 1868 FC vs. Las Vegas Lights FC
Greater Nevada Field, Reno, Nevada – 10 p.m. ET
Reno 1868 FC (12-7-9, 45pts) has the chance to bolster its place in the Western Conference standings and claim the inaugural Silver State Cup when it hosts Las Vegas Lights FC (7-15-6, 27pts) in the third and final meeting between the clubs this season. Reno took a memorable 2-1 victory on Antoine Hoppenot’s goal in the fifth minute of stoppage time when the teams last met on August 28, a result that moved 1868 FC to 1-0-1 against its rival this season. Reno also took victory in its last outing to move back into the playoff places, but with the race for the playoffs still a close one the hosts should expect a challenge from their biggest rivals. While Lights FC is almost mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, victory in Reno would be a big ending to the club’s inaugural season and keep 1868 FC in a fight for its postseason life again.

LA Galaxy II vs. Real Monarchs SLC
StubHub Center, Carson, California – 10:30 p.m. ET
Real Monarchs SLC completes its trip to Southern California with a visit to the LA Galaxy II (9-15-6, 33pts), with the hosts looking to rebound after back-to-back defeats. Los Dos suffered a 1-0 loss to Reno 1868 FC this past Saturday to be all-but eliminated from playoff contention for a second consecutive season but could be hoping to get some payback after the Monarchs claimed a 4-0 victory when the teams met at Zions Bank Stadium earlier this season.

Sunday, Sept. 23
OKC Energy FC vs. Sacramento Republic FC

Taft Stadium, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – 7 p.m. ET
OKC Energy FC (11-14-5, 38pts) could face one final hurrah as it hosts Sacramento Republic FC for the second game of the visitor’s two-game trip to Oklahoma over Week 28. Energy FC took a 3-1 victory against the LA Galaxy II last Wednesday night in its last outing but was still pushed close to the edge of mathematical elimination by results this past weekend. With Sunday its home finale, Energy FC will try to put on a show one last time for its fans this season against the prospective playoff contender.

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