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USL’s Week Ahead – River Cities Cup Finale, Playoff Six-Pointers Headline Action

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 09/04/18, 4:30PM EDT

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Battles around playoff line in East, West feature prominently over next seven days


FC Cincinnati and Louisville City FC meet for the third and final time this regular season on Saturday night at Slugger Field. | Photo courtesy Erik Schelkun / FC Cincinnati

TAMPA, Fla. – The final regular-season meeting between Louisville City FC and FC Cincinnati for the River Cities Cup highlights a 19-game slate of action in Week 26 of the 2018 USL regular season that kicked off with a bang on Monday night with San Antonio FC breaking Real Monarchs SLC’s 12-game undefeated streak at Zions Bank Stadium. With Louisville having already claimed the first two meetings of the season against Cincinnati, the rivalry trophy is already decided, but as the series switches to Slugger Field for the first time this season the hosts will be aiming to complete a season sweep and derail FCC’s 16-game undefeated streak that has seen it become the first team to book its place in the USL Cup Playoffs. Elsewhere around the league are a handful of crucial games to the race for the playoffs in both conferences. In the Eastern Conference, a Wednesday night meeting between sixth-place Indy Eleven and seventh-place New York Red Bulls II is going to have a broad impact on the race overall, as is Saturday night’s contest, as 10th-place North Carolina FC hosts eighth-place Nashville SC. Over in the Western Conference, two games to watch around the red line are seventh-place Reno 1868 FC’s trip to ninth-place Saint Louis FC on Saturday night and Sunday’s contest that sees the sixth-place Swope Park Rangers host 11th-place Fresno FC.

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 a team-by-team breakdown of where everyone stands with projections from fivethirtyeight.com as teams look to lock up their place in this year’s postseason. 

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Memphis 901 FC welcomed a sellout crowd of 8,957 fans to AutoZone Park for the club's official unveiling and an exhibition between the Colorado Rapids and Tulsa Roughnecks FC this past Saturday. | Photo courtesy Memphis 901 FC

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USL REGULAR SEASON SPOTLIGHT | RAPID-FIRE PREVIEWS


Reno 1868 FC and Saint Louis FC square off in one of the key games in the Western Conference playoff race on Saturday night. | Photo courtesy David Calvert / Reno 1868 FC

Wednesday, Sept. 5
Indy Eleven vs. New York Red Bulls II

Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana | 7 p.m. ET
Sixth-place Indy Eleven (11-7-9, 42pts) plays host to the seventh-place New York Red Bulls II (10-7-10, 40pts) in one of the key matchups around the playoff line this week in the Eastern Conference, as New York looks to sweep the regular season series between the teams. The Red Bulls II took a 4-1 victory when the sides first met at Red Bull Arena on May 27 and are coming off a 1-0 victory against Ottawa Fury FC last Friday night, but New York has struggled so far this season on the road, going without a win so far this season. Indy is undefeated in its past eight outings but has drawn three in a row to remain in the lower half of the playoff positions after a 1-1 draw this past Saturday night with the Richmond Kickers. As it wraps up a three-game home stand, Indy is looking for a win to solidify its position ahead of a two-game road trip to Pennsylvania.

Seattle Sounders FC 2 vs. Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Cheney Stadium, Tacoma, Washington | 10 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders FC 2 (5-16-4, 19pts) plays host to Tulsa Roughnecks FC (2-13-10, 16pts), as the Roughnecks kick off their two-game trip to Cascadia looking to snap a three-game losing streak. The Roughnecks took an early lead against the Swope Park Rangers last Wednesday night before suffering a 2-1 defeat at Children’s Mercy Park to remain on the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Tulsa is three points back of Seattle, which earned draws at home in each of its past two outings against Saint Louis FC and Orange County SC. This is the first meeting of the season between the teams, who will also meet in Tulsa on the final weekend of the 2018 season.

Phoenix Rising FC vs. Rio Grande Valley FC
Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex, Phoenix, Arizona | 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN3)
Phoenix Rising FC (15-6-5, 50pts) welcomes Rio Grande Valley FC (4-10-12, 24pts) for the USL Game of the Week, as it looks to pull level on points with Western Conference-leader Real Monarchs SLC in the first of two games this week for both clubs. Rising FC remains on a three-game winning streak after a bye in Week 25, but thanks to results elsewhere the door to a first-place finish in the Western Conference has opened wider as the side enters its final eight games of the regular season. The Toros saw a recent improvement in form falter in a 3-1 loss to San Antonio FC in their most recent outing last Wednesday night. Phoenix will be looking for a better performance than in its visit to H-E-B Park earlier in the season when the teams played to a scoreless draw.

Thursday, Sept. 6
Toronto FC II vs. Ottawa Fury FC

Lamport Stadium, Toronto, Ontario | 8 p.m. ET
Ottawa Fury FC (10-13-5, 35pts) will try to snap a three-game losing streak when it visits Ontario rival Toronto FC II (3-19-3, 12pts), which has shown an uptick in form in recent weeks. Ottawa remained in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, as it suffered a 1-0 defeat to the New York Red Bulls II and sits three points out of the playoff positions with six games to go in its regular season. Fury FC will be without goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau for the contest after his selection to Canada’s squad to face the U.S. Virgin Islands on Sunday in Concacaf Nations League qualifying. Toronto claimed a 4-1 victory last Tuesday night against Louisville City FC before falling 2-1 to ATL UTD 2 on Friday night, as it remained last in the Eastern Conference as it enters the first of two meetings with Fury FC in its final nine games of the season.

Friday, Sept. 7
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC vs. Bethlehem Steel FC

Highmark Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania | 7 p.m. ET
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (12-4-10, 46pts) and Bethlehem Steel FC (12-11-6, 42pts) are both looking for bounce-back performances as they meet for the second time in less than a month. The Hounds remained in third place in the Eastern Conference after a week that saw the side hold leads in both of its road contests against Indy Eleven and FC Cincinnati but end up with only one point to show for their efforts. Back at home, Pittsburgh will try to produce a repeat performance of its 2-1 victory against Steel FC on Aug. 12 at Goodman Stadium to solidify its place in the top four of the East. Steel FC, meanwhile, needs a victory to maintain its position in the playoff positions after a 3-1 defeat to Penn FC this past Saturday night. Bethlehem is in fifth place in the Eastern Conference going into the week’s action but has only five games remaining in its regular season, with those below it having the chance to take advantage of games in hand to overtake Head Coach Brendan Burke’s side.

Saturday, Sept. 8
North Carolina FC vs. Nashville SC

Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, North Carolina | 5 p.m. ET
Tenth-place North Carolina FC (9-10-7, 34pts) has a chance to close the gap on eighth-place Nashville SC (10-8-8, 38pts), as the teams square off for a playoff six-pointer in NSC’s second consecutive contest in the Tar Heel state. Nashville suffered a 1-0 defeat this past Saturday against the Charlotte Independence that saw the side fall to 2-6-6 on the road this season, as it missed a chance to bolster its position in the top eight of the Eastern Conference. North Carolina also fell in its last outing, as the Tampa Bay Rowdies took a 3-0 victory at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park to compress the playoff race in the East further, but with eight games to go in its regular season, NCFC could make things very interesting down the stretch if it were to claim all three points from its visitors.

Charleston Battery vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies
MUSC Health Stadium, Charleston, South Carolina | 7 p.m. ET
The Charleston Battery (11-4-12, 45pts) play host to the Tampa Bay Rowdies (8-11-7, 31pts) with the hosts looking to get back in the win column after going three games without victory in its recent outings. The Battery will be without both leading scorer Ataulla Guerra and defender Neveal Hackshaw for the contest after both were called up this week by Trinidad & Tobago but remain a strong proposition at home with a 12-game undefeated streak at MUSC Health Stadium going into the contest. The Rowdies are looking to continue a postseason drive after a 3-0 victory against North Carolina FC last Saturday night that saw Sebastian Guenzatti record a hat trick as they look to make up a seven-point margin over their final eight games of the regular season.

Charlotte Independence vs. Richmond Kickers
Sportsplex at Matthews, Matthews, North Carolina | 7 p.m. ET
The Charlotte Independence (8-11-8, 32pts) will try to build on their first victory in eight games when they play host to regional rival the Richmond Kickers (6-17-4, 22pts). The Independence kept their playoff hopes alive with a 1-0 win against Nashville SC last Saturday night that saw Je-Vaughn Watson score the lone goal of the game, but Charlotte will be without Watson on Saturday after his selection to Jamaica’s squad for a pair of games over the international break. The Kickers are off the pace in the playoff race but could summon another solid road display after taking a 1-1 draw against Indy Eleven this past Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium to spoil the Independence’s postseason hopes.

Penn FC vs. ATL UTD 2
FNB Field, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania | 7 p.m. ET
Penn FC (8-9-8, 32pts) will try to add to its two-game winning streak when it plays host to ATL UTD 2 (4-13-8, 20pts), as it kicks off a nine-game homestand to close its regular season. Penn continued to move back into the playoff conversation with a 3-1 victory against Bethlehem Steel FC this past Sunday that saw Aaron Dennis and Paulo Junior each record a goal and assist. Now six points out of the playoff positions, Penn needs to make then most of its homefield advantage down the stretch to challenge for its first postseason berth since the 2014 season. Atlanta comes in off a 2-1 victory against Toronto FC II that saw Lagos Kunga score both goals for the visitors as they claimed their first road win of the season.

Louisville City FC vs. FC Cincinnati
Slugger Field, Louisville, Kentucky | 7:30 p.m. ET
Louisville City FC (13-5-8, 47pts) and FC Cincinnati (18-3-6, 60pts) will meet for the final time in the regular season, as the hosts look to break FCC’s 16-game undefeated streak and complete a season sweep of the series. Louisville fell to 13 points behind Cincinnati in the Eastern Conference standings after taking only one point from two home games last week, including a 2-2 draw with the Charleston Battery last Friday night that saw Cameron Lancaster score twice to move to a league-leading 18 goals this season. Cincinnati has won five consecutive games to become the first side to clinch a place in the postseason and would claim the longest undefeated streak of the season should it get at least a draw from its visit to Slugger Field. With Louisville having taken two victories previously at Nippert Stadium earlier this season, however, Cincinnati will be looking for all three points to continue its pursuit of the 2018 USL Regular Season Championship.

Saint Louis FC vs. Reno 1868 FC
Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis, Fenton, Missouri | 8:30 p.m. ET
Ninth-place Saint Louis FC (10-8-9, 39pts) hosts seventh-place Reno 1868 FC (11-6-9, 42pts) in one of the big games in the Western Conference playoff race with STLFC looking to rebound from a tough late defeat, as it returns home from its trip to Cascadia. Saint Louis conceded a stoppage-time goal against the Portland Timbers 2 on Saturday night in a 1-0 defeat that dropped the side out of the top eight in the Western Conference. While the side isn’t in must-win mode yet, taking victory against Reno would provide a big boost to STLFC’s chances of a first postseason berth as it would move the side level on points with 1868 FC. The visitors have put together a strong away record this season, going 6-1-7 on the road after a 1-1 draw against Fresno FC this past Saturday and would keep themselves in contention for a run at a top-four finish if they claimed all three points and avenged STLFC’s late 2-1 win when the sides first met this season.  

San Antonio FC vs. Phoenix Rising FC
Toyota Field, San Antonio, Texas | 8:30 p.m. ET
San Antonio FC (11-9-7, 40pts) will look to add to its two-game winning streak as it hosts Phoenix Rising FC, which returns to action after its Wednesday-night contest against Rio Grande Valley FC. San Antonio became the first side to claim victory on the road at Real Monarchs SLC this season on Monday night, as Lance Laing continued his good start for the club with another goal and assist in a 2-1 victory at Zions Bank Stadium. The victory moved SAFC back into the top eight in the Western Conference, a position it’ll be looking to bolster in a big weekend of action around the playoff line.

Rio Grande Valley FC vs. Real Monarchs SLC
H-E-B Park, Edinburg, Texas – 9:30 p.m. ET
Real Monarchs SLC (17-8-2, 53pts) will try to break a five-game winless streak on the road when it visits Rio Grande Valley FC, which returns home after its midweek contest on the road at Phoenix Rising FC. The Monarchs suffered its first back-to-back defeats of the season in the past seven days, first falling on the road to Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC before the club’s first defeat at Zions Bank Stadium on Monday night against San Antonio FC. The loss to the Switchbacks dropped the Monarchs to 0-4-1 in its last four road games, with its last victory coming on June 16 at Saint Louis FC, a trend that will need to change if Real is to retain top spot in the Western Conference.

Orange County SC vs. OKC Energy FC
Champions Soccer Stadium, Irvine, California – 10 p.m. ET
Orange County SC (15-7-6, 51pts) and OKC Energy FC (10-13-5, 35pts) both need to get back in the win column as they square off for the second time this season. Orange County took a 1-0 victory when it visited Taft Stadium in the opening month of the season and currently sits in second place in the Western Conference but was held to a 1-1 draw by Seattle Sounders FC 2 this past Sunday to leave it open to a drop to third as Phoenix Rising FC plays twice over the course of the week. It will get a strong test from Energy FC, which needs to rebound from a 1-0 defeat against the Swope Park Rangers this past Sunday that left it five points out of the playoff positions with six games to go in its regular season.

Sacramento Republic FC vs. Seattle Sounders FC 2
Papa Murphy’s Park, Sacramento, California – 10:30 p.m. ET
Sacramento Republic FC (13-7-7, 46pts) will try to solidify its place in the top four of the Western Conference when it hosts Seattle Sounders FC 2, which returns to action for the second time in Week 26. Sacramento had a bye following its victory against Reno 1868 FC on August 25, which broke a two-game losing streak for the side. Republic FC has claimed a pair of victories previously this season against S2, including a 2-1 victory on May 6 at Cheney Stadium when the teams last met, setting up the chance for a three-game series sweep.

Las Vegas Lights FC vs. LA Galaxy II
Cashman Field, Las Vegas, Nevada – 11 p.m. ET
Las Vegas Lights FC (7-13-6, 27pts) will try to pull level on points with the LA Galaxy II (8-13-6, 30pts) when the sides meet for the second time this season. Los Dos have been in solid form recently, adding a 3-1 victory this past Saturday night against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC to run their record over the past five games to 3-1-1 to move past Las Vegas in the Western Conference. Lights FC, by contrast, has gone 0-4-1 in its last five after a demoralizing 2-1 defeat to Silver State Cup rival Reno 1868 FC last Tuesday night that saw Reno score deep in stoppage time to take victory. With the playoffs a longshot for both teams, there still could be some serious attacking talent on display at Cashman Field in a matchup that saw the Galaxy II take a 7-2 victory when the teams met on May 26.

Sunday, Sept. 9
Portland Timbers 2 vs. Tulsa Roughnecks FC

Providence Park, Portland, Oregon | 5 p.m. ET
The Portland Timbers 2 (14-11-3, 45pts) will look to build on their dramatic late victory last time out when they host Tulsa Roughnecks FC, which completes its weeklong trip to Cascadia at Providence Park. T2 got a six-save shutout from goalkeeper Kendall McIntosh last Saturday night that set the stage for a 93rd-minute winner by Victor Arboleda that kept Portland in fifth place in the Western Conference. T2 will try to claim victory this time around after the sides played to a 0-0 draw at ONEOK Field on April 4.

Swope Park Rangers vs. Fresno FC
Children’s Mercy Park, Kansas City, Kansas | 5 p.m. ET
The Swope Park Rangers (12-9-7, 43pts) will try to build on a three-game winning streak as it hosts Fresno FC (8-9-11, 35pts), which is in serious need of victory after its drive for the postseason faltered in recent outings. The Foxes were held to a second consecutive draw this past Saturday night in a 1-1 result against Reno 1868 FC at Chukchansi Park. The result left Fresno five points out of the playoff positions with six games to go, making a win against the Rangers key to keeping the club in with a chance at a postseason berth. Swope Park has had a major turn in form since it fell 4-1 to Fresno on June 17, however, taking a 1-0 victory against fellow playoff contender OKC Energy FC this past Sunday to move into sixth place in the Western Conference, as Hadji Barry scored in his fourth consecutive contest for the Rangers.

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