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USL Race for the Playoffs – Oct. 9-14

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 10/12/18, 5:05PM EDT

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Four playoff positions, seven teams looking to fill them as we go to the final weekend


San Antonio FC will look for a third consecutive home victory when it hosts Rio Grande Valley FC to keep its postseason chances alive on Saturday night. | Photo courtesy Christian Inoferio / Rio Grande Valley FC

Updated 12 p.m. ET, Thursday, October 11

Going into the final weekend of the 2018 USL regular season, we know a few things. We know the final order of the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference. We know the identity of 12 of the teams that will be in action in the conference quarterfinals. But this weekend due to the schedule we could also see a domino effect that sees pressure shift from club to club as it progresses, with 13 games directly affecting both seeding and which teams will make the postseason which should make for a very compelling viewing. 

References: FiveThirtyEight.com Playoff Projections

THREE KEY GAMES

Saturday, Oct. 13 – Ottawa Fury FC vs. Charleston Battery
The first game of the weekend is also one of the biggest in terms of which teams will fill the final two playoff positions in the Eastern Conference with Ottawa Fury FC needing to take victory to give itself a chance at being part of the postseason. Fury FC would move into seventh place with a win against a Battery side that has little to play for after clinching the No. 4 seed, and that would both amp up the pressure on Nashville SC’s game later on Saturday night and Bethlehem Steel FC’s game on Sunday afternoon, and also eliminate North Carolina FC from contention altogether.

Saturday, Oct. 13 – San Antonio FC vs. Rio Grande Valley FC
The final South Texas Derby of the regular season is a must-win for San Antonio FC as it takes on a Rio Grande Valley FC side that would love to spoil its rival’s postseason hopes. San Antonio could finish as high as seventh with a victory – it would hold the total wins tiebreaker over STLFC should Saint Louis fall to OKC Energy FC on Saturday night – but should SAFC be held to a draw it would leave the Swope Park Rangers needing only a point against the LA Galaxy II on Sunday to push San Antonio below the playoff line.

Sunday, Oct. 14 – Bethlehem Steel FC vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies
There’s a chance Bethlehem Steel FC could have already clinched a playoff place by the time kickoff arrives on Saturday night should both Ottawa Fury FC and North Carolina FC have failed to take victory in their final regular-season outings on Saturday. With those two sides and Nashville SC all having wrapped up their regular seasons on Saturday, Steel FC will know the result it needs for a second consecutive playoff berth – if Nashville loses to Cincinnati, Steel FC could end up needing just a draw regardless of Ottawa and North Carolina’s results – but if things go well for their rivals, Bethlehem could need a victory against a Rowdies side that won’t want to end a disappointing season on a losing note.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. FC Cincinnati
Current Record:
 23-3-7, 76pts
Maximum Points Available: 79
Points Needed to Clinch: Clinched
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 32%
Last Game: D 0-0 at Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
Next Game: 10/13 at Nashville SC, 8:30 p.m. ET
Cincinnati has equaled the Richmond Kickers’ record of 22 games undefeated and now has to simply avoid defeat in its final game of the regular season against Nashville SC to add to its record haul this season. FCC does now hold Nashville’s playoff chances in its hand, however, as should Cincinnati take victory against its regional rival it would leave Nashville vulnerable to being overtaken by both Ottawa Fury FC and Bethlehem Steel FC and watching the postseason from home.

2. Louisville City FC
Current Record:
 18-6-9, 63pts
Maximum Points Available: 66
Points Needed to Clinch: Clinched
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 16%
Last Game: W 2-1 vs. North Carolina FC
Next Game: 10/13 vs. Indy Eleven, 7:30 p.m. ET
Louisville left North Carolina FC’s playoff hopes hanging by a thread with its midweek victory, and while that win secured Indy Eleven its place in the postseason, LouCity could do damage to the final position the Eleven hold should it rack up a sixth consecutive victory to close the regular season. With Louisville locked into the No. 2 seed, there isn’t as much at stake for the hosts on Saturday night, but there will be plenty of teams hoping it can take points off Indy and give teams like New York, Nashville and Bethlehem a chance to improve their position.

3. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
Current Record: 
15-4-14, 59pts
Maximum Points Available: 62
Points Needed to Clinch: Clinched
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 5%
Last Game: D 1-1 at ATL UTD 2
Next Game: 10/14 at New York Red Bulls II, 5 p.m. ET
Pittsburgh’s draw on Wednesday night combined with Louisville’s victory on Tuesday ensured the Hounds would be the No. 3 seed in the postseason in the Eastern Conference, and on Sunday it faces a potential opponent in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals with the Red Bulls II sitting in sixth place as the weekend kicks off. The outcome of Sunday’s game could determine whether the same two sides will meet again at Highmark Stadium the following weekend.

4. Charleston Battery
Current Record:
 13-6-14, 53pts
Maximum Points Available: 56
Points Needed to Clinch: Clinched
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 2%
Last Game: L 2-1 at ATL UTD 2
Next Game: 10/13 at Ottawa Fury FC, 2 p.m. ET
The Battery got a boost from Toronto FC II on Tuesday night to lock in their No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, and while that means there’s nothing for the side to officially play for this Saturday against Ottawa Fury FC you might expect Head Coach Mike Anhaeuser to be looking for a positive performance from his side after back-to-back defeats in their last two outings. The trio of Nashville SC, Bethlehem Steel FC and North Carolina FC would certainly appreciate it if Charleston claims at least a draw against a Fury FC side that must win to keep its playoff hopes alive.

5. Indy Eleven
Current Record:
 13-10-10, 49pts
Maximum Points Available: 52
Points Needed to Clinch: Clinched
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: D 1-1 vs. Bethlehem Steel FC
Next Game: 10/13 at Louisville City FC, 7:30 p.m. ET
Indy will get to thank Louisville City FC in person for allowing the side to clinch its playoff place on Tuesday night without having to kick a ball when it heads to Slugger Field, but could need to take a win on the road to ensure it ends with the No. 5 seed and a trip to Charleston next weekend. A draw could see the side drop to eighth place if other sides take victory as Bethlehem Steel FC would hold the total wins tiebreaker over the Eleven should it defeat the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Sunday to move to 50 points as well, which would mean a trip to Cincinnati for Head Coach Martin Rennie’s side.

6. New York Red Bulls II
Current Record:
 12-8-13, 49pts
Maximum Points Available: 52
Points Needed to Clinch: Clinched
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 1%
Last Game: W 3-1 at Penn FC
Next Game: 10/14 vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, 5 p.m. ET
The Red Bulls II booked their fourth consecutive trip to the postseason with victory against Penn FC thanks to Louisville’s result against North Carolina FC, and now they could have a chance at fifth place should Indy Eleven miss out on victory against Louisville on Saturday night. New York’s game on Sunday offers a potential playoff preview with No. 3 seed Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC coming to MSU Soccer Park, but if New York can overtake Indy it would get a return trip to face a Charleston Battery side it defeated 4-0 in last season’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

7. Nashville SC
Current Record:
 12-9-12, 48pts
Maximum Points Available: 51
Points Needed to Clinch: 1
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Playoffs Odds: 87%
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: D 2-2 vs. Toronto FC II
Next Game: 10/13 vs. FC Cincinnati, 8:30 p.m. ET
Nashville had a ticket to the postseason in its grasp before squandering a two-goal lead to Toronto FC II on Tuesday night, and now may need to get a draw against FC Cincinnati to ensure it is part of the postseason field next weekend. NSC will have the luxury of knowing the result of Ottawa Fury FC’s game earlier in the day, if Fury FC fails to defeat the Charleston Battery then Nashville will book its postseason berth before it kicks off against Cincinnati, but a Fury FC victory could make for a nervy 90 minutes for Head Coach Gary Smith’s side.

8. Bethlehem Steel FC
Current Record:
 13-12-8, 47pts
Maximum Points Available: 50
Points Needed to Clinch: 2
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Playoffs Odds: 86%
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 1%
Last Game: D 1-1 at Indy Eleven
Next Game: 10/14 vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies, 3 p.m. ET
Bethlehem could have clinched a playoff place by the time its game with the Tampa Bay Rowdies kicks off depending on the outcomes of Ottawa Fury FC and North Carolina FC’s contests the previous day, and could only need to take a draw to move past Nashville SC on the total wins tiebreaker if NSC loses to FC Cincinnati on Saturday night, but if things fall the wrong way for Steel FC it could be in need of all three points against a Rowdies side that will be looking to end its disappointing year on a positive note at Goodman Stadium.

9. Ottawa Fury FC
Current Record:
 13-14-6, 45pts
Maximum Points Available: 48
Points Needed to Clinch: 4
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Playoffs Odds: 27%
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
Fury FC got one of the scenarios it needed in midweek with North Carolina FC falling to Louisville City FC, and part of another as Nashville drew with Toronto FC II, but those scenarios will be for naught if Ottawa doesn’t take victory against the Charleston Battery on Saturday afternoon. Accomplish that and the pressure falls back onto Nashville SC and Bethlehem Steel FC to earn results. Fail to take all three points and Ottawa would miss out on the postseason for a second consecutive year.

10. North Carolina FC
Current Record:
 12-13-8, 44pts
Maximum Points Available: 47
Points Needed to Clinch: 5
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Playoffs Odds: <1%
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: L 2-1 at Louisville City FC
Next Game: 10/13 at Charlotte Independence, 7 p.m. ET
The difference between a draw and a loss to Louisville City FC on Tuesday night for North Carolina FC was the difference between having two targets to aim at instead of one as it visits the Charlotte Independence this weekend. Now North Carolina must not only take victory against the Independence but do so by a margin that would give it a chance to make up the six-goal advantage Bethlehem Steel FC holds on goal differential entering the weekend while also needing Ottawa Fury FC to fail to take victory. NCFC will know if it’s still alive before kickoff thanks to Ottawa’s afternoon start, and having run up a 6-2 victory against Charlotte this season another performance like that would leave the side in with a chance, but an awful lot has to go right for NCFC to see the postseason.

Officially Eliminated: Charlotte Independence, Tampa Bay Rowdies, Penn FC, ATL UTD 2, Richmond Kickers, Toronto FC II

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Orange County SC
Current Record:
 20-7-6, 66pts
Maximum Points Available: 69
Points Needed to Clinch: Clinched
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 14%
Last Game: W 2-1 vs. Seattle Sounders FC 2
Next Game: 10/13 at Reno 1868 FC, 9 p.m. ET
Orange County might not have been able to believe its good fortune on Wednesday night as Las Vegas Lights FC romped past Phoenix Rising FC, which left OCSC needing just a point from its visit to Reno to clinch the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference on Saturday night. With 1868 FC needing to take victory to have a chance at a top-four finish, Orange County could get a solid challenge from the fifth-place side but at least knows it doesn’t have to pull out a win to hold off Rising FC’s challenge for top spot.

2. Phoenix Rising FC
Current Record:
 19-8-6, 63pts
Maximum Points Available: 66
Points Needed to Clinch: Clinched
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 10%
Last Game: L 5-2 at Las Vegas Lights FC
Next Game: 10/13 vs. Portland Timbers 2, 10:30 p.m. ET
Phoenix’s capitulation to Las Vegas on Wednesday night not only left its chances of finishing in top spot greatly reduced but also put it under pressure to win its home finale against the Portland Timbers 2 to ensure it finishes in second place with Sacramento Republic FC only a point behind going to the final game. Miss out on victory and it opens the door for Republic FC to jump into second with a win, reducing the opportunity for a second home game in the postseason should Rising FC advance from the Western Conference Quarterfinals next weekend.

3. Sacramento Republic FC
Current Record: 
18-7-8, 62pts
Maximum Points Available: 65
Points Needed to Clinch: Clinched
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 7%
Last Game: W 2-1 at LA Galaxy II
Next Game: 10/13 vs. Las Vegas Lights FC, 10:30 p.m. ET
Sacramento saw a potential path to second place open up on Wednesday night, but will likely also have noticed how Las Vegas Lights FC turned over Phoenix Rising FC in its home finale, a result that served as a good warning for Republic FC ahead of Lights FC’s visit to Papa Murphy’s Park on Saturday. Should Republic FC take victory, though, it would move past Phoenix and into the No. 2 seed should Rising FC fail to take victory against the Portland Timbers 2. With the two games kicking off concurrently, there could be plenty of scoreboard-watching going on from both clubs.

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
The Monarchs are going to be either the No. 4 or No. 5 seed, and they enter the weekend knowing they’ll face Reno 1868 FC in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. What’s to be determined is where that game will be played. If Real wins against the Foxes, Reno will head to Zions Bank Stadium, but to accomplish that it would mean the Monarchs would need their first road win June 16 against Saint Louis FC. Should Real fail to take victory against Fresno FC, it would leave the door open for Reno 1868 FC to jump past it with a victory against Orange County SC earlier in the evening and send the Monarchs on the road to face 1868 FC at Greater Nevada Field.

5. Reno 1868 FC
Current Record:
 15-7-10, 56pts
Maximum Points Available: 59
Points Needed to Clinch: Clinched
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 5%
Last Game: D 0-0 at Phoenix Rising FC
Next Game: 10/13 vs. Orange County SC, 9 p.m. ET
Reno knows it will face Real Monarchs SLC in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, and could host the contest as the No. 4 seed if it takes victory against Orange County SC on Saturday night. Accomplish that and it would force Real to match its victory in its visit to Fresno FC, but a draw would mean Reno would head on the road to Zions Bank Stadium next weekend with Real holding a marked advantage in the total wins tiebreaker over 1868 FC.

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
Portland knows it will be heading on the road to kick off the postseason, the only question now is what seed T2 will hold when the bracket for the postseason is determined. Victory against Phoenix Rising FC on Saturday night would likely ensure a sixth-place finish, but there’s also a chance Portland could end the week in eighth place as well should it lose its regular-season finale with both the Swope Park Rangers and Saint Louis FC having the chance to surpass it in their final games of the season.

7. Saint Louis FC
Current Record:
 14-9-10, 52pts
Maximum Points Available: 55
Points Needed to Clinch: 1
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Playoffs Odds: 94%
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: W 1-0 vs. Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Next Game: 10/13 vs. OKC Energy FC
Saint Louis got a crucial win against Tulsa Roughnecks FC on Wednesday night to move within a point of claiming its first trip to the postseason and will try to finish the job on Saturday night when it welcomes OKC Energy FC to Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis. A victory could also send Saint Louis into sixth place depending on the outcome of the Portland Timbers 2’s trip to Phoenix Rising FC later in the night, but Saint Louis should be focused on ensuring it claims a point to put it out of reach of ninth-place San Antonio FC as a loss could see the worst-case scenario happen and STLFC slide out of the playoff places altogether should both San Antonio and the Swope Park Rangers take victory.

8. Swope Park Rangers
Current Record:
 14-11-8, 50pts
Maximum Points Available: 53
Points Needed to Clinch: 3
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Playoffs Odds: 63%
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 slid a spot in the standings after Saint Louis FC’s victory on Wednesday night, but now will have their focus fixed on Saturday night’s South Texas Derby between San Antonio FC and Rio Grande Valley knowing if it matches SAFC’s result this weekend it will book a place in the postseason. Beyond that, however, the Rangers could finish as high as sixth should they take victory against the LA Galaxy II on Sunday depending on how things have played out for the Portland Timbers 2 and Saint Louis on Saturday night.

9. San Antonio FC
Current Record:
 14-12-7, 49pts
Maximum Points Available: 52
Points Needed to Clinch: 4
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Playoffs Odds: 42%
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: W 3-1 vs. Las Vegas Lights FC
Next Game: 10/13 vs. Rio Grande Valley FC, 8:30 p.m. ET
San Antonio saw its chance at a boost before it kicks off against Rio Grande Valley FC on Saturday night evaporate with Saint Louis FC’s victory on Wednesday night. San Antonio still has a chance to finish in seventh place with a victory, though, since should Saint Louis lose to OKC Energy FC and the Swope Park Rangers fail to defeat the LA Galaxy II on Sunday, SAFC would sit on 52 points while holding the total wins tiebreaker over Saint Louis, leaving the Rangers on the sidelines for the postseason. San Antonio could also take just a draw to earn its place as it would move past the Swope Park Rangers on goal differential with a point against the Toros, but that would necessitate a loss by the Rangers to the LA Galaxy II on Sunday to keep San Antonio above the playoff line, making a third consecutive home victory the best chance of a playoff place for SAFC. 

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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