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USL Race for the Playoffs – Oct. 3-7

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 10/04/18, 11:20AM EDT

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Indy takes aim at playoff place in weekend of key Eastern Conference action


Fifth-place Indy Eleven hosts sixth-place Bethlehem Steel FC with a chance to clinch a place in the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs with a win on Saturday night. | Photo courtesy Trevor Ruszkowski / Indy Eleven

After Reno 1868 FC booked its place in the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs on Wednesday night, attention for the weekend’s action switches primarily to the Eastern Conference where Indy Eleven can book its place in the postseason with victory against Bethlehem Steel FC, and other key games figure to shape the final standings. Out west, meanwhile, San Antonio FC will try to close the gap once more on the Swope Park Rangers and Saint Louis FC to set up the final Saturday of the regular season.

References: FiveThirtyEight.com Playoff Projections

THREE KEY GAMES

Saturday, Oct. 6 – Indy Eleven vs. Bethlehem Steel FC
Fifth-place Indy Eleven and sixth-place Bethlehem Steel FC square off in a game that will have plenty of interested observers around the rest of the Eastern Conference. Indy will clinch a playoff place with a victory against Bethlehem, but Steel FC would jump past Indy going to the final game of the regular season should it replicate its victory at Lucas Oil Stadium earlier this season. As close as the standings continue to be, there’s a lot on the line for both sides.

Saturday, Oct. 6 – North Carolina FC vs. New York Red Bulls II
Eighth-place North Carolina FC and the 10th-place New York Red Bulls II are separated by just a point going into their meeting at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park with three games each left to play. Neither side can clinch a playoff place with a win but should either take all three points it would certainly smooth the path to the postseason for the winner. After North Carolina grabbed a late 2-2 draw when the sides first met, expect another tense but entertaining contest.

Saturday, Oct. 6 – Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC vs. FC Cincinnati
Both Riverhounds SC and FCC have already booked their places in the postseason, but with Pittsburgh vying for a top-two finish and Cincinnati looking to add another record to its historic season, the showdown at Highmark Stadium is going to be a must-see. After Cincinnati’s late comeback victory when the teams last met on Sept. 1, the Hounds are going to be out for revenge as they look to overtake Louisville City FC – which visits Toronto FC II on Friday night – in the final stretch of the season.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. FC Cincinnati
Current Record: 
23-3-6, 75pts
Maximum Points Available: 81
Points Needed to Clinch: Clinched
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 30%
Last Game: W 3-0 vs. Indy Eleven
Next Game: 10/6 at Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, 7 p.m. ET
The talk within the camp is that Cincinnati’s main focus over its final two games is going to be playoff preparation, but don’t doubt for a second that the side wants to surpass the Richmond Kickers’ USL modern-era record of 22 consecutive games undefeated by avoiding defeat in both contests. The Hounds will be out for revenge, however, after their late defeat when the teams last met in September.

2. Louisville City FC
Current Record:
 17-6-9, 57pts
Maximum Points Available: 66
Points Needed to Clinch: Clinched
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 13%
Last Game: W 4-1 at ATL UTD 2
Next Game: 10/5 at Toronto FC II, 8 p.m. ET
Louisville’s third consecutive victory not only moved the side back into second place on Saturday night but also ensured there would be postseason soccer at Slugger Field for a third consecutive season. Holding that advantage over Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC down the final stretch is now going to be crucial, and there won’t be much reminder necessary of what happened when the side faced Toronto FC II last for motivation ahead of Friday night’s contest.

3. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
Current Record:
 15-4-12, 57pts
Maximum Points Available: 66
Points Needed to Clinch: Clinched
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 7%
Last Game: D 2-2 at Charlotte Independence
Next Game: 10/6 vs. FC Cincinnati, 7 p.m. ET
There will be playoff soccer for the first time at Highmark Stadium this season after this past weekend’s results, but Pittsburgh lost control of its handle on second place as it dropped a lead and points in its visit to the Charlotte Independence. The Hounds will know how Louisville has fared on Friday night before it takes to the field to face FC Cincinnati, where ending FCC’s undefeated run will be the focus after the club’s defeat at Nippert Stadium last month.

4. Charleston Battery
Current Record:
 13-5-14, 53pts
Maximum Points Available: 59
Points Needed to Clinch: Clinched
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 2%
Last Game: L 2-1 vs. Toronto FC II
Next Game: 10/7 at ATL UTD 2, 4 p.m. ET
The Battery are officially part of the postseason field for the eighth consecutive season and thanks to Indy Eleven’s loss against FC Cincinnati can clinch a top-four position and homefield advantage in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals with victory against ATL UTD 2 on Sunday afternoon.

5. Indy Eleven
Current Record:
 13-10-9, 48pts
Maximum Points Available: 54
Points Needed to Clinch: 5
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Playoffs Odds: 95%
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 1%
Last Game: L 3-0 at FC Cincinnati
Next Game: 10/6 vs. Bethlehem Steel FC, 7 p.m. ET
Indy can clinch a playoff berth on Saturday night with victory against Bethlehem Steel FC, which would put the Eleven clear of Bethlehem and secure a top-eight finish and likely the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference. With Bethlehem also looking to book its place in the postseason and jump Indy to move into fifth place in the process, however, it could be a tough contest between the two sides at Lucas Oil Stadium.

6. Bethlehem Steel FC
Current Record:
 13-12-7, 46pts
Maximum Points Available: 52
Points Needed to Clinch: 7
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Playoffs Odds: 87%
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 1%
Last Game: D 0-0 at Ottawa Fury FC
Next Game: 10/6 at Indy Eleven, 7 p.m. ET
Steel FC is still right in the middle of things in the Eastern Conference playoff race and got a nice boost from ATL UTD 2 on Wednesday night thanks to its late equalizer against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, which means a win would take Steel FC beyond Tampa Bay’s reach before their meeting on the final day of the regular season. Taking at least a point on the road while North Carolina FC and the New York Red Bulls II duke it out on Saturday night would be positive, but if Steel FC can add to its six road wins this season it would jump past Indy and put itself on the verge of a postseason place.

7. Ottawa Fury FC
Current Record:
 13-14-6, 45pts
Maximum Points Available: 48
Points Needed to Clinch: 8
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Playoffs Odds: 35%
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: D 0-0 vs. Bethlehem Steel FC
Next Game: 10/13 vs. Charleston Battery, 2 p.m. ET
Results like the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ draw with ATL UTD 2 are exactly the sort Ottawa is looking for as it sits and waits for its final game of the regular season next weekend. Fury FC will be looking for results that see dropped points for three of Bethlehem Steel FC, the New York Red Bulls II, Nashville SC, North Carolina FC and the Rowdies again this weekend.

8. North Carolina FC
Current Record: 
12-11-8, 44pts
Maximum Points Available: 53
Points Needed to Clinch: 9
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Playoffs Odds: 60%
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: W 3-2 vs. Richmond Kickers
Next Game: 10/6 vs. New York Red Bulls II, 7 p.m. ET
North Carolina was also a beneficiary of Tampa Bay’s late draw on Wednesday, and would take a major step toward a playoff trip if it can get all three points against the New York Red Bulls II on Saturday night. Achieve that and one win from the club’s final two road games of the regular season against Louisville City FC and the Charlotte Independence would be enough to see the side into the postseason field.

9. Nashville SC
Current Record:
 11-9-11, 44pts
Maximum Points Available: 53
Points Needed to Clinch: 9
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Playoffs Odds: 79%
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: D 1-1 vs. New York Red Bulls II
Next Game: 10/6 at Richmond Kickers, 7 p.m. ET
Nashville heads to Richmond knowing victory against the Kickers would see it claim at least a place in the top eight and potentially a move into sixth place should results around the rest of the conference go its way. After taking a 4-0 win against Richmond when the teams first met, NSC should be confident of picking up all three points. The side could certainly take a lesson from the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ result on Wednesday, though, as to what can go wrong if chances aren’t taken.

10. New York Red Bulls II
Current Record:
 10-8-13, 43pts
Maximum Points Available: 52
Points Needed to Clinch: 10
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Playoffs Odds: 40%
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: D 1-1 at Nashville SC
Next Game: 10/6 at North Carolina FC, 7 p.m. ET
The Red Bulls II have drawn three games in a row, but have a massive opportunity to get themselves in position for a return to the postseason even though the task of defeating North Carolina FC on the road is a tough one. Accomplish a first road win of the season, though, and New York would return to the top eight ahead of its final two games of the regular season with a clear path to postseason action.

11. Tampa Bay Rowdies
Current Record:
 11-13-8, 41pts
Maximum Points Available: 47
Points Needed to Clinch: 12
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Playoffs Odds: 5%
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: D 1-1 at ATL UTD 2
Next Game: 10/6 vs. Charlotte Independence, 7:30 p.m. ET
The Rowdies couldn’t have suffered a more gut-wrenching turn of events than they did on Wednesday night when Miles Robinson’s late equalizer cost them two vital points and made the road to the postseason one that’s a real longshot to come through. For this weekend, at least, Tampa Bay will need to beat the Charlotte Independence and hope for wins by Indy Eleven, North Carolina FC and Nashville SC to set up a potential path to the postseason.

12. Charlotte Independence
Current Record:
 9-11-12, 39pts
Maximum Points Available: 45
Points Needed to Clinch: 14
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Playoffs Odds: <1%
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: D 2-2 at Penn FC
Next Game: 10/6 at Tampa Bay Rowdies, 7:30 p.m. ET
The Independence once again let a lead slip away from them, and it’s going to cost them a place in the playoffs on Saturday when the side will be officially eliminated no matter its result against the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Its lack of victories mean Charlotte can’t overtake Ottawa Fury FC via the total-wins tiebreaker, meaning that while the side can get to 45 points, the current run of four consecutive draws has put paid to its postseason hopes.

Officially Eliminated: Penn FC, ATL UTD 2, Richmond Kickers, Toronto FC II

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Orange County SC
Current Record:
 19-7-6, 63pts
Maximum Points Available: 69
Points Needed to Clinch: Clinched
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 13%
Last Game: W 5-3 at Las Vegas Lights FC
Next Game: 10/6 vs. Seattle Sounders FC 2, 10 p.m. ET
Orange County almost got the favor it was hoping for from Saint Louis FC, but is still projected to end the season in second place with Rising FC holding a game in hand. OCSC is now guaranteed at least one home game this postseason, however, and would ensure it finishes in the top two with a victory on Saturday night against Seattle Sounders FC 2. It will also be hoping Reno 1868 FC can take points from Phoenix on the same night to clear a chance at finishing on top of the conference.

2. Phoenix Rising FC
Current Record:
 19-7-5, 62pts
Maximum Points Available: 71
Points Needed to Clinch: Clinched
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 20%
Last Game: W 2-0 vs. Saint Louis FC
Next Game: 10/6 vs. Reno 1868 FC, 10:30 p.m. ET
Rising FC was made to work hard for its victory against potential playoff opponent Saint Louis FC on Saturday night but Billy Forbes’ late winner kept the side on track to end the season on top of the conference while also guaranteeing a first home playoff game in club history. To remain on track for top spot, however, Rising FC will need to get past a Reno 1868 FC side this Saturday that is riding the momentum of four wins in its last five games and is gunning for a top-four finish itself.

3. Sacramento Republic FC
Current Record:
 17-7-8, 59pts
Maximum Points Available: 65
Points Needed to Clinch: Clinched
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 4%
Last Game: W 3-1 vs. Swope Park Rangers
Next Game: 10/6 at LA Galaxy II, 10:30 p.m. ET
Sacramento’s impressive win on Wednesday night wasn’t complemented by the results it needed elsewhere to clinch a home game in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, but it can accomplish that on its own this Saturday should it take victory against the LA Galaxy II. With five wins in its last six games, Republic FC has built plenty of positive momentum since its last meeting with Los Dos that saw the side suffer a 4-1 defeat, one it will likely want to get a little revenge for.

4. Real Monarchs SLC
Current Record: 
18-12-3, 57pts
Maximum Points Available: 60
Points Needed to Clinch: Clinched
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: W 2-1 vs. OKC Energy FC
Next Game: 10/13 at Fresno FC, 10 p.m. ET
Sebastian Saucedo’s pair of excellent finishes in the Monarchs’ 2-1 win against OKC Energy FC at least righted the ship for a night, but there’s still going to be pressure to win the final regular-season game and earn a home contest in the Western Conference Quarterfinals thanks to the continued presence of Reno 1868 FC right behind. Real will be hoping Phoenix Rising FC can help it out with a victory against Reno on Saturday, which would mean the Monarchs would clinch a top-four finish with a win in Fresno.

5. Reno 1868 FC
Current Record:
 15-7-10, 55pts
Maximum Points Available: 61
Points Needed to Clinch: Clinched
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 3%
Last Game: W 2-0 at Portland Timbers 2
Next Game: 10/6 at Phoenix Rising FC, 10:30 p.m. ET
Victory for Reno against the Portland Timbers 2 clinched 1868 FC its second consecutive trip to the USL Cup Playoffs but more importantly kept the side in with a chance at a top-four finish. With Real Monarchs SLC having also taken victory on Wednesday night, however, 1868 FC will likely need to take victory against Phoenix Rising FC on Saturday to put itself in with a chance before it closes the season against Orange County SC, two games that will seriously test Head Coach Ian Russell’s side before its postseason adventure begins.

6. Portland Timbers 2
Current Record:
 16-13-4, 52pts
Maximum Points Available: 55
Points Needed to Clinch: Clinched
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 1%
Last Game: L 2-0 vs. Reno 1868 FC
Next Game: 10/13 at Phoenix Rising FC, 10:30 p.m. ET
A top-four finish is officially out of Portland’s reach after its loss to Reno on Wednesday night, combined with victories for Sacramento Republic FC and Real Monarchs SLC. After suffering back-to-back defeats, Portland will recuperate over the next week as it looks to hold onto the No. 6 seed by getting a result against Phoenix Rising FC on the final Saturday of the regular season.

7. Swope Park Rangers
Current Record: 
14-11-8, 50pts
Maximum Points Available: 53
Points Needed to Clinch: 3
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Playoffs Odds: 84%
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: L 3-1 at Sacramento Republic FC
Next Game: 10/14 vs. LA Galaxy II, 3 p.m. ET
The Rangers’ playoff fate is still in their hands despite Wednesday night’s defeat to Sacramento Republic FC. Simply claim victory against the LA Galaxy II on the final day of the regular season and the two-time defending Western Conference champion will be back in the postseason again. By that time, however, San Antonio FC could have picked up a pair of victories to move past SPR in the standings and depending on how Saint Louis FC has fared in its two games next week there could be a lot of pressure resting on the final 90 minutes of the regular season.

8. Saint Louis FC
Current Record:
 13-9-10, 49pts
Maximum Points Available: 55
Points Needed to Clinch: 4
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Playoffs Odds: 88%
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: L 2-0 at Phoenix Rising FC
Next Game: 10/10 vs. Tulsa Roughnecks FC, 8:30 p.m. ET
Saint Louis won’t be back in action until next Wednesday night, but it will get to apply pressure to the Swope Park Rangers’ situation should it come away with victory when it takes on Tulsa Roughnecks FC at Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis. Seeing San Antonio FC drop points this weekend against Las Vegas Lights FC would also be a nice boost for the side as it would keep STLFC from dropping below SAFC into ninth place going into its final two games of the season.

9. San Antonio FC
Current Record:
 13-12-7, 46pts
Maximum Points Available: 52
Points Needed to Clinch: 8
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Playoffs Odds: 29%
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: W 3-1 vs. Seattle Sounders FC 2
Next Game: 10/6 vs. Las Vegas Lights FC, 8:30 p.m. ET
San Antonio was the second-biggest beneficiary of Sacramento Republic FC’s victory against the Swope Park Rangers on Wednesday night, but now has to make that result count by picking up victory against Las Vegas Lights FC on Saturday at Toyota Field. With the Rangers not scheduled to play again until San Antonio has wrapped up its schedule, though, if SAFC closes out the regular season with back-to-back victories it would turn up the pressure on SPR’s regular-season finale.

Officially eliminated: OKC Energy FC, LA Galaxy II, Fresno FC, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, Las Vegas Lights FC, Rio Grande Valley FC, Seattle Sounders FC 2, Tulsa Roughnecks FC

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