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USL’s Week Ahead – Final Playoff Places Up For Grabs

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 10/09/18, 1:00PM EDT

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Twenty-three games span the final week with playoff places, a place in history on the line for teams, players


FC Cincinnati will go for history while Nashville SC will play for playoff position when they meet on Saturday night at First Tennessee Park. | Photo courtesy John Wilkinson III / Nashville SC

TAMPA, Fla. – The final week of the 2018 USL regular season has arrived with 23 games set to determine the final six teams that will be part of the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs while clubs and players take their shot at writing their names into the USL record book. The action kicks off on Tuesday night when Louisville City FC’s Cameron Lancaster will get his first attempt at setting a USL single-season record for goals as he enters the side’s contest with North Carolina FC level with Matt Fondy’s total of 22 from the 2015 regular season. Victory for Louisville would also open the door for three teams to clinch a playoff spot that night with Nashville SC and the New York Red Bulls II also in action. Out in the Western Conference, meanwhile, there’s a potential fight to the finish for top spot between Orange County SC and Phoenix Rising FC, with Rising FC’s visit to Las Vegas Lights FC on Wednesday night the USL Game of the Week on ESPN3. The week will also determine which two of the Swope Park Rangers, Saint Louis FC and San Antonio FC will earn the final two positions in the Western Conference’s playoff field as the postseason battle comes down to the wire in both conferences.

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

More than one-third of the places in the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs are still up for grabs as we head to the final week of the regular season. Get an inside look at where each team stands, who is in line for homefield advantage and which teams have a chance at a top-two finish with projections from fivethirtyeight.com

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The third and final South Texas Derby of the season on Saturday night will be crucial to San Antonio FC's postseason hopes as they welcome Rio Grande Valley FC to Toyota Stadium. | Photo courtesy Christian Inoferio / Rio Grande Valley FC

Tuesday, Oct. 9
Penn FC vs. New York Red Bulls II

FNB Field, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania | 6:30 p.m. ET
The New York Red Bulls II (11-8-13, 46pts) can claim a place in the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs with a victory against Penn FC (9-14-9, 36pts) as it looks to add to its first road win of the season in its last outing. New York moved into eighth place with a 2-1 victory against North Carolina FC this past Saturday night despite being down to 10 men for the second half after Anatole Abang was sent off, but Tom Barlow came through with a second-half winner that put the 2016 USL Cup champion back in the driver’s season for a playoff place. Victory against Penn coupled with a draw or defeat by North Carolina as it visits Louisville City FC on Tuesday would send New York back to the postseason for a fourth consecutive season as it looks to add to its 2-1 victory when it played host to Penn earlier this season.

Louisville City FC vs. North Carolina FC
Slugger Field, Louisville, Kentucky | 7 p.m. ET
Second-place Louisville City FC (17-6-9, 60pts) will try to add to a four-game winning streak when it plays host to 10th-place North Carolina FC (12-12-8, 44pts), which is in desperate need of a bounce-back performance to keep it in the playoff picture with two games remaining. Louisville took a 3-1 victory against Toronto FC II last Friday night that saw Cameron Lancaster tie the USL single-season goalscoring record with his 22nd tally of the season, pulling him even with former Louisville forward Matt Fondy. Lancaster will try to claim sole possession of the record against a North Carolina side that fell 2-1 to the New York Red Bulls II this past Saturday to drop out of the playoff positions in the East. The teams played to a 2-2 draw on June 23 in their most recent meeting, but a draw would narrow the path for NCFC to reach the playoffs further ahead of its final game of the regular season.

Nashville SC vs. Toronto FC II
First Tennessee Park, Nashville, Tennessee | 8:30 p.m. ET
Nashville SC (12-9-11, 47pts) will look to book its place in the postseason in its inaugural season when it hosts Toronto FC II (4-24-4, 16pts) in the first of two home games to close out the regular season. Nashville moved into seventh place in the East with a 3-0 victory against the Richmond Kickers last time out and would book a postseason berth with a victory should either North Carolina FC or the New York Red Bulls II fail to pick up victory on Tuesday night. NSC will be out for some revenge, too, with Toronto having taken victory when the teams first met earlier this season, one of four wins this season for the Reds.

Wednesday, Oct. 10
ATL UTD 2 vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

Coolray Field, Gwinnett, Georgia | 7 p.m. ET
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (15-4-13, 58pts) will continue its bid for a second-place finish when it visits ATL UTD 2 (6-17-9, 27pts) for the second meeting between the clubs this season. Pittsburgh took a 1-0 victory at Highmark Stadium back on April 28 when the teams first met and enters on a six-game undefeated streak. Back-to-back draws have dropped the Hounds two points behind Louisville for second, however, and Pittsburgh will have a close eye on City FC’s game on Tuesday night ahead of its contest with Atlanta. The hosts’ solid uptick in form over the past week that saw it take victory against the Charleston Battery this past Sunday mean they could pose an interesting test for the visitors.

Saint Louis FC vs. Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis, Fenton, Missouri | 8 p.m. ET
Saint Louis FC (13-9-10, 49pts) and Tulsa Roughnecks FC (3-17-12, 21pts) will restart a game that was postponed on July 14 with STLFC looking to pick up a victory that would put it one point away from a playoff place. The game was scoreless in the ninth minute when lightning and heavy rain forced the contest to be called, but rather than resume the game from that point the contest will be played in full from the opening kickoff on Wednesday. Saint Louis sits in ninth place in the West, but with two games remaining still controls its playoff destiny ahead of both the Swope Park Rangers and San Antonio FC, who are also vying for the final two postseason berths in the conference. STLFC will be trying to add to a six-game home winning streak against a Roughnecks side that has yet to win away from home this season.

Seattle Sounders FC 2 vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Cheney Stadium, Tacoma, Washington | 10 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders FC 2 (5-21-6, 21pts) plays host to Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (11-17-5, 38pts) in a game that marks the regular-season finale for the visitors. Both teams are coming off defeats, with S2 suffering an agonizing 2-1 loss in stoppage time to Orange County SC this past Saturday after conceding a penalty kick just before the final whistle. The Switchbacks, meanwhile, suffered a 3-0 defeat to Fresno FC last Friday night that dropped the side to 12th place ahead of its final game of the season.

Las Vegas Lights FC vs. Phoenix Rising FC
Cashman Field, Las Vegas, Nevada | 11 p.m. ET (ESPN3)
Phoenix Rising FC (19-7-6, 63pts) will try to pull level on points with first-place Orange County SC when it visits Las Vegas Lights FC (7-18-7, 28pts) for the USL Game of the Week on ESPN3. Phoenix enters the week trailing Orange County for the conference-lead by three points with its clash against Lights FC serving as its game in hand on the leaders. Rising FC also faces a deficit of three goals in goal differential and eight in goals scored, meaning it could look to improve its chances at first place with a high-flying attacking display. Las Vegas is looking for its first win since August 4 in its home finale, and would certainly create some interesting scenarios for Saturday night should it take points from its visitors.

Saturday, Oct. 13
Ottawa Fury FC vs. Charleston Battery

TD Place, Ottawa, Ontario | 2 p.m. ET
Ninth-place Ottawa Fury FC (13-14-6, 45pts) needs a victory against the Charleston Battery (13-6-14, 53pts) and help from elsewhere to claim its place in the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs in its home finale. Fury FC was held to a 0-0 draw by Bethlehem Steel FC in its last outing, but saw enough results fall favorably to keep its playoff chances alive going to the final weekend of the regular season. A victory against a Battery side that could still need a point to be sure of a top-four finish may be a tough ask even with Charleston having slumped to a two-game losing streak in its most recent outings. After a 0-0 draw when the sides first met this season, Fury FC will have to find a way to break through in attack to get the result it needs before sitting back and waiting for other results to arrive.

ATL UTD 2 vs. Richmond Kickers
Coolray Field, Gwinnett, Georgia | 7 p.m. ET
ATL UTD 2 returns to action for the second time in the week to close out its inaugural season with a visit from the Richmond Kickers (6-23-4, 22pts), who will try to end the season on a high after a miserable second half of the year. The Kickers suffered their sixth consecutive defeat this past Saturday night as Nashville SC took a 3-0 victory at City Stadium, which left the side locked into 16th place as it heads into an offseason move to USL League One for the 2019 season.

Penn FC vs. Toronto FC II
FNB Field, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania | 7 p.m. ET
Both Penn FC and Toronto FC II conclude their seasons at FNB Field after seeing action on Tuesday night against the New York Red Bulls II and Nashville SC respectively. Penn took victory in each of the previous two meetings between the sides, including a 3-2 win on June 9 when they last met as Penn center back Ken Tribbett scored a pair of goals and Jerry Ortiz a stoppage-time penalty kick to take all three points.

Charlotte Independence vs. North Carolina FC
Sportsplex at Matthews, Matthews, North Carolina | 7:30 p.m. ET
The Charlotte Independence (10-11-12, 42pts) will once again get the chance to play spoiler as it hosts North Carolina FC, which will be in action for the second time during the week. The third meeting of the season could see North Carolina aiming for a place in the postseason after its midweek trip to Louisville, with victory for the visitors likely essential to their playoff hopes. The Independence have been a tough nut to crack of late, however, going undefeated in their last seven games after a 2-1 win that eliminated the Tampa Bay Rowdies from contention this past Saturday. Charlotte’s last defeat was to NCFC when North Carolina took a 6-2 win on August 25, something it will be looking to replicate as it shoots for a playoff berth.

Louisville City FC vs. Indy Eleven
Slugger Field, Louisville, Kentucky | 7:30 p.m. ET
Louisville City FC returns to action for the second time in the final week of the regular season to host Indy Eleven (13-10-10, 49pts), which will be hoping to hold onto the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference after the weekend is out. Indy played to a 1-1 draw with Bethlehem Steel FC this past Saturday night to move closer to clinching a playoff spot and could be in the postseason before it kicks off in Louisville should LouCity earn a win or a draw against North Carolina FC on Tuesday night. Indy would need a win to ensure it finishes in the top six, however, with the possibility that all three of Bethlehem Steel FC, Nashville SC and the New York Red Bulls II could overtake it should it only earn a draw if results go against the Eleven elsewhere.

Tulsa Roughnecks FC vs. Seattle Sounders FC 2
ONEOK Field, Tulsa, Oklahoma | 8 p.m. ET
Tulsa Roughnecks FC and Seattle Sounders FC 2 both return to action for the second time in the week as they wrap up their seasons at ONEOK Field. The teams enter the week level on points at the foot of the Western Conference, but last time around played to a highly entertaining 4-4 draw at Cheney Stadium that saw Tulsa’s Jesus Ferreira score a hat trick only for Seattle to rally late and tie the game.

Nashville SC vs. FC Cincinnati
First Tennessee Park, Nashville, Tennessee | 8:30 p.m. ET
Nashville SC and FC Cincinnati (23-3-7, 76pts) meet for the third and final time in the regular season with the hosts looking to ensure a place in the USL Cup Playoffs as they return to action for the second time in the week and FCC looking to avoid defeat in order to set a USL record. Cincinnati equaled the Richmond Kickers’ 2013 run of 22 games undefeated in a 0-0 draw with Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC last Saturday night and would surpass it if it can avoid defeat in Nashville. The teams had previously played to a pair of draws this season, but Saturday’s game will be the first encounter between the two at First Tennessee Park with Nashville previously having hosted its regional rival at Nissan Stadium earlier this season.

Saint Louis FC vs. OKC Energy FC
Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis, Fenton, Missouri | 8:30 p.m. ET
Saint Louis FC’s playoff hopes will be on the line as it returns to action for the second time in Week 31 to play host to OKC Energy FC (12-15-6, 42pts), which could look to play spoiler after its elimination from postseason contention last month. Saint Louis is looking for four points from its two games against Tulsa Roughnecks FC on Wednesday night and Energy FC to guarantee a place in the postseason but should either visitor from the Sooner state take victory at Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis it would open the door for San Antonio FC in its final game of the regular season.

San Antonio FC vs. Rio Grande Vallaye FC
Toyota Field, San Antonio, Texas | 8:30 p.m. ET
San Antonio FC (14-12-7, 49pts) will look to take victory and get a little help from elsewhere to earn a place in the USL Cup Playoffs when it hosts the third South Texas Derby of the regular season against Rio Grande Valley FC (8-12-13, 37pts). SAFC is coming off back-to-back wins but would need another victory in its final game and then for Saint Louis FC to lose one of its final two games or play to a pair of draws against Tulsa Roughnecks FC, or the Swope Park Rangers to fail to take victory against the LA Galaxy II on Sunday to secure passage to the postseason. Should Saint Louis claim at least four points and Swope Park take victory against Los Dos, however, then SAFC’s season would be over.

Reno 1868 FC vs. Orange County SC
Greater Nevada Field, Reno, Nevada | 9 p.m. ET
Orange County SC (20-7-6, 66pts) will take aim at sealing first place in the Western Conference when it visits fifth-place Reno 1868 FC (15-7-11, 56pts), which has a chance at a top-four finish with a win of its own to close the regular season. Orange County leads Phoenix Rising FC by three points entering the final week of the regular season, but Rising FC has a game in hand that could see the teams end with identical records and the top spot be determined by either goal differential or goals scored. Reno, meanwhile, will be looking to earn victory and hope that Real Monarchs SLC fails to win against Fresno FC later on Saturday night, a pair of results that would see 1868 FC jump past the Monarchs into fourth place in the Western Conference and gain homefield advantage for the Western Conference Quarterfinals to open the postseason.

Fresno FC vs. Real Monarchs SLC
Chukchansi Park, Fresno, California | 10 p.m. ET
Real Monarchs SLC (18-12-3, 57pts) will try to wrap up a fourth-place finish in the West when it visits Fresno FC (9-12-12, 39pts) for the Foxes’ inaugural season finale. Real is guaranteed to finish fourth with a win, but should it fail to take victory it could be overtaken should Reno 1868 FC take victory against Orange County SC earlier in the evening. The Monarchs will have to break an eight-game road winless streak to do so, and Fresno will likely be in a similar mood to that which produced a 3-0 victory last Friday night against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC as the Foxes look to end their season with a bang.

Phoenix Rising FC vs. Portland Timbers 2
Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex, Phoenix, Arizona | 10:30 p.m. ET
Phoenix Rising FC returns to action for the second time in Week 31 as it hosts the sixth-place Portland Timbers 2 in what could be a playoff preview for the following weekend. Portland will be aiming to secure sixth spot with a road win as a loss to Rising FC could see the side slip to eighth place in the standings but with Rising FC hot in pursuit of the top seed it could be a strong test for T2 to come through with all three points as it prepares for its first postseason trip.

Sacramento Republic FC vs. Las Vegas Lights FC
Papa Murphy’s Park, Sacramento Republic FC | 10:30 p.m. ET
Sacramento Republic FC (18-7-8, 62pts) will look to wrap up its season with a fourth consecutive victory as it hosts Las Vegas Lights FC, which returns to action after its home finale on Wednesday night. Sacramento is guaranteed a top-three finish in the West and could claim second place should Phoenix Rising FC fail to take victory in either of its remaining games. After a 2-1 road victory this past Saturday that saw Keven Aleman score twice against the LA Galaxy II, Republic FC will want to enter its fifth consecutive playoff visit on a positive note.

Sunday, Oct. 14
Bethlehem Steel FC vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies

Goodman Stadium, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania | 3 p.m. ET
Bethlehem Steel FC (13-12-8, 47pts) will know by kickoff what it needs to advance back to the USL Cup Playoffs as it hosts the Tampa Bay Rowdies (11-14-8, 41pts). Steel FC opens the week in sixth place but will be paying close attention to the results of North Carolina FC and Ottawa Fury FC over the week as dropped points for both clubs could result in Bethlehem claiming its playoff place before it kicks off against the Rowdies, while victories would put pressure on Bethlehem to earn a positive outcome. A victory could see Steel FC claim fifth place if the pieces fall correctly elsewhere; it could also be essential to Bethlehem being part of the postseason at all.

Swope Park Rangers vs. LA Galaxy II
Children’s Mercy Park, Kansas City, Kansas | 3 p.m. ET
The Swope Park Rangers (14-11-8, 50pts) will earn a return trip to the USL Cup Playoffs with a victory against the LA Galaxy II (10-16-7, 37pts) as the battle for the final playoff berths goes down the final day. The Rangers missed out on clinching a playoff berth last week when they fell 3-1 on the road to Sacramento Republic FC, and will be paying close attention to the results of eighth-place San Antonio FC and ninth-place Saint Louis FC on Saturday night to know whether a win is essential or whether a draw might do with SAFC and STLFC both sitting a point behind SPR to start the week.

New York Red Bulls II vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
MSU Soccer Park, Montclair, New Jersey | 5 p.m. ET
The New York Red Bulls II and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC return to action for the second time this week with both potentially having something to play for in the final game of the 2018 regular season. New York could have clinched a playoff place in its penultimate game on Tuesday night, but would be certain of a return to the postseason should it sweep to victory in both of its games over Week 31. Riverhounds SC, meanwhile, will be hoping for a slip-up by Louisville City FC in one of its final two games which would allow the chance for the Hounds to edge back into second place ahead of the start of the postseason next weekend.

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