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USL Race for the Playoffs – Sept. 11-16

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - [email protected], 09/13/18, 11:46AM EDT

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Saturday showdown between Swope Park, Saint Louis will be key to postseason positioning this weekend


Saturday night's meeting between the Swope Park Rangers and Saint Louis FC has major implications for the Western Conference playoff race. | Photo courtesy Gary Rohman / Swope Park Rangers

Updated: Thursday, Sept. 13, 11 a.m. ET

Wednesday night’s games gave us three things from three games. First, Penn FC is back in with a fighting chance as it faces a pivotal game against North Carolina FC on Sunday evening, second, OKC Energy FC got the result it needed against the LA Galaxy II but is still somewhat of a longshot considering its remaining four games, and third, the door opened for Orange County SC and Phoenix Rising FC to claim a playoff place this weekend, but Real Monarchs SLC will have to wait a little longer.

References: FiveThirtyEight.com Playoff Projections | SportsClubStats.com USL Playoff Chances

THREE KEY GAMES

Saturday, Sept. 15 – Swope Park Rangers vs. Saint Louis FC
Saint Louis FC’s road draw against Real Monarchs SLC was a valuable point, but it also ratcheted up the pressure on its visit to the Swope Park Rangers, which was already looking like the biggest game of the weekend even before the midweek’s action. Saint Louis can pull Swope Park down to its level with a victory on the road, and keep the door closed on Orange County SC and Phoenix Rising FC clinching their spots this weekend with a win, but SPR has regained its home edge of late and it will be a tough task for the visitors.

Saturday, Sept. 15 – Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC vs. Louisville City FC
Louisville City FC was unable to overcome its previous deficit against FC Cincinnati on Tuesday night, but remained in the top four in the Eastern Conference thanks to Penn FC’s victory against Indy Eleven on Wednesday. Now Louisville has a chance to regain second place in the standings should it take victory on the road against Pittsburgh, which would also give the visitors to Highmark Stadium a little revenge for the home defeat Riverhounds SC handed it earlier this season.

Sunday, Sept. 16 – Fresno FC vs. Orange County SC
The visit from Orange County SC remains a must-win for Fresno FC as it now sits eight points out of the playoff positions with five games to go in the season after Saint Louis’ draw on Wednesday night. The Foxes will get a major test from Orange County, however, which is both coming off its most dramatic win of the season and will know whether it can claim a place in the playoffs for the fifth time with a victory pending the result of SPRvSTL on Saturday evening.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. FC Cincinnati
Current Record:
 19-3-6, 63pts
Maximum Points Available: 81
Points Needed to Clinch: Clinched
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 1.0
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 33%
Last Game: W 1-0 at Louisville City FC
Next Game: 9/16 vs. Toronto FC II, 4:30 p.m. ET
Yep, you read that right, FC Cincinnati is now a 3-1 favorite to lift USL Cup at the end of the season, but in addition to that the side is also nine points away from claiming the USL Regular Season Championship and has a clear chance at setting a single-season record for victories and points, both of which are currently held by the 2016 New York Red Bulls II with 21 wins and 69 points.

2. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
Current Record:
 13-4-10, 49pts
Maximum Points Available: 70
Points Needed to Clinch: 8
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 2.9
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 8%
Last Game: W 4-1 vs. Bethlehem Steel FC
Next Game: 9/15 vs. Louisville City FC, 7 p.m. ET
Riverhounds SC Head Coach Bob Lilley might not have been overly thrilled by some aspects of his side’s 4-1 victory against Bethlehem Steel FC, but it moved the side within range of potentially claiming a playoff place by the end of this weekend depending on the two results of its Keystone Derby Cup rival Penn FC. A win against Louisville on Saturday, meanwhile, would be a major step toward a top-two finish in the conference and the potential for two postseason games at Highmark Stadium.

3. Charleston Battery
Current Record:
 12-4-12, 48pts
Maximum Points Available: 66
Points Needed to Clinch: 9
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 3.4
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 5%
Last Game: W 1-0 vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies
Next Game: 9/19 vs. Charlotte Independence, 7 p.m. ET
Charleston claimed a 200th victory for Head Coach Mike Anhaeuser in its 1-0 victory against the Tampa Bay Rowdies and dropped its points required to single-digits in the process thanks to results elsewhere. With Saturday’s game against the Charlotte Independence postponed to next Wednesday night at MUSC Health Stadium due to Hurricane Florence, we all hope everyone in the Charleston region and beyond stays safe this week before the team gets back to on-field matters.

4. Louisville City FC
Current Record:
 14-6-8, 47pts
Maximum Points Available: 68
Points Needed to Clinch: 10
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 3.2
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 7%
Last Game: L 1-0 vs. FC Cincinnati
Next Game: 9/15 at Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, 7 p.m. ET
Louisville wasn’t able to overcome its deficit against FC Cincinnati, but was handed a boost by Penn FC’s victory against Indy Eleven that kept the side in position to claim a top-two finish in the Eastern Conference again. Take victory on the road against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC on Saturday and the defending USL Cup champion is back up to second with all three of itself, the Hounds and the Charleston Battery sitting with six games to go.

5. Indy Eleven
Current Record:
 12-8-9, 45pts
Maximum Points Available: 60
Points Needed to Clinch: 12
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 5.5
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 1%
Last Game: L 1-0 at Penn FC
Next Game: 9/22 at Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, 7 p.m. ET
Indy’s loss to Penn FC didn’t really affect its standing when it comes to the playoffs much, only its potential to claim a top-four finish at the end of the season with five games to go. It could boost those chances in its next outing against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, and will spend this weekend rooting for Louisville to take victory at Highmark Stadium as well.

6. Bethlehem Steel FC
Current Record:
 12-12-6, 42pts
Maximum Points Available: 54
Points Needed to Clinch: 15
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 7.6
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 1%
Last Game: L 4-1 at Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
Next Game: 9/22 vs. Toronto FC II, 3 p.m. ET
Bethlehem’s second consecutive defeat was far from ideal for its postseason hopes, but results elsewhere showed how valuable the points Steel FC has already accumulated are to their bid for a second consecutive postseason berth. Penn FC’s win on Wednesday night wasn’t ideal, but a draw between the hosts and North Carolina FC on Sunday evening as well as dropped points by Nashville SC and Ottawa Fury FC in the next few days would also be beneficial as Steel FC takes a bye week.

7. New York Red Bulls II
Current Record:
 10-8-10, 40pts
Maximum Points Available: 58
Points Needed to Clinch: 17
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 7.9
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: L 3-0 at Indy Eleven
Next Game: 9/13 vs. Toronto FC II, 7 p.m. ET
Just like Steel FC, the Red Bulls II’s defeat didn’t hurt them as much as it might have due to teams sitting below them failing to take victory. In fact, New York still sits with the seventh-best maximum points available total in the conference, meaning that a victory against Toronto FC II on Thursday night will keep the side in control of its playoff fate moving into next week’s action.

8. Nashville SC
Current Record:
 10-8-9, 39pts
Maximum Points Available: 60
Points Needed to Clinch: 18
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 6.7
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 1%
Last Game: D 3-3 at North Carolina FC
Next Game: 9/18 vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies, 8:30 p.m. ET
Coming back to earn a point from a tough situation on the road was a plus overall for Nashville’s playoff hopes, which sit exactly where they were before they arrived at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park this past Saturday. Now the side will watch the scoreboard this weekend before getting back to action against the Tampa Bay Rowdies to kick off its seven-game sprint to the finish over the final four weeks of the regular season.

9. Ottawa Fury FC
Current Record:
 11-13-5, 38pts
Maximum Points Available: 53
Points Needed to Clinch: 19
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 9.4
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: W 4-3 at Toronto FC II
Next Game: 9/15 at Richmond Kickers, 7 p.m. ET
Fury FC got the victory it needed on the road against Toronto – just – but will have been disappointed not to see Indy Eleven take points off Penn FC in midweek to keep the Pennsylvania side with the three point cushion in the maximum points available column on Ottawa. The side from Canada’s capital will need to continue to pick up victories starting this weekend on the road against the Richmond Kickers to keep its postseason drive alive.

10. North Carolina FC
Current Record:
 9-10-8, 35pts
Maximum Points Available: 56
Points Needed to Clinch: 22
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 10.2
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: D 3-3 vs. Nashville SC
Next Game: 9/16 at Penn FC, 6 p.m. ET
If North Carolina’s loss the previous week while all others were falling around it was a missed opportunity, then its hard to describe how tough its lost two-goal lead to Nashville was to NCFC’s playoff chances. North Carolina now heads to Penn FC on Sunday in another playoff six-pointer with Penn sitting level with it on points after its victory against Indy Eleven on Wednesday night.

11. Penn FC
Current Record:
 9-10-8, 35pts
Maximum Points Available: 56
Points Needed to Clinch: 22
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 10.3
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: W 1-0 vs. Indy Eleven
Next Game: 9/16 vs. North Carolina FC, 6 p.m. ET
Wednesday night’s victory against Indy Eleven was massive for Penn FC’s playoff chances, which now enters Sunday evening’s contest with North Carolina FC level on points with its playoff rival and still sitting on the borderline of the playoff positions in the maximum points available total. Victory on Sunday would not only continue Penn’s upward path, but also deal a serious blow to one of the sides it is fighting for a route into the postseason.

12. Charlotte Independence
Current Record:
 9-11-8, 35pts
Maximum Points Available: 53
Points Needed to Clinch: 22
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 11.1
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: W 2-1 vs. Richmond Kickers
Next Game: 9/19 at Charleston Battery, 7 p.m. ET
While there are wins there remains hope for the Independence, whose victory against the Richmond Kickers was aided by dropped points by its postseason rivals. As mentioned previously, we hope everyone stays safe after the announcement of Saturday’s postponement against the Charleston Battery before the club can refocus to on-field matters.

13. Tampa Bay Rowdies
Current Record:
 8-12-7, 31pts
Maximum Points Available: 52
Points Needed to Clinch: 26
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 11.9
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: L 1-0 at Charleston Battery
Next Game: 9/15 vs. ATL UTD 2, 7:30 p.m. ET
The Rowdies continued their one step forward, one step back routine with their defeat to the Charleston Battery and now have to string a run of victories together while hoping those above them drop points. Getting back to Al Lang Stadium this Saturday should help, but as Penn FC found even a home win against ATL UTD 2 is no guarantee and the side will have to work to produce the three points it desperately needs.

14. ATL UTD 2
Current Record:
 5-13-8, 23pts
Maximum Points Available: 47
Points Needed to Clinch: 34
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 14.0
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: W 2-1 at Penn FC
Next Game: 9/15 at Tampa Bay Rowdies, 7:30 p.m. ET
Back-to-back wins for the first time in club history not only kept Atlanta from being officially eliminated, it also helped spoil some postseason hopes along the way. The side can do the same this weekend against the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

15. Richmond Kickers
Current Record:
 6-18-4, 22pts
Maximum Points Available: 40
Points Needed to Clinch: 35
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 14.8
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: L 2-1 at Charlotte Independence
Next Game: 9/15 vs. Ottawa Fury FC, 7 p.m. ET
Richmond could be mathematically eliminated from contention this week, but plenty of teams sitting above them in the standings are going to be rooting for the Kickers to take points off Fury FC at City Stadium.

Officially Eliminated: Toronto FC II

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Real Monarchs SLC
Current Record:
 17-9-3, 54pts
Maximum Points Available: 69
Points Needed to Clinch: 5
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 2.0
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 6%
Last Game: D 1-1 vs. Saint Louis FC
Next Game: 9/19 at Orange County SC, 10 p.m. ET
The Monarchs moved back into first place with their draw against Saint Louis, but could be as low as third by the time their crucial game next Wednesday night against Orange County SC arrives. That contest, however, could provide both a chance for the Monarchs to clinch their place in the playoffs and take control of its drive to a top-two place at the end of the season.

2. Orange County SC
Current Record:
 15-7-6, 54pts
Maximum Points Available: 69
Points Needed to Clinch: 5
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 2.3
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 10%
Last Game: W 3-2 vs. OKC Energy FC
Next Game: 9/16 at Fresno FC, 9 p.m. ET
Orange County’s dramatic comeback victory on Saturday night put it potentially within range of reaching the playoffs this weekend by the time it squares off with Fresno FC on Sunday night. After Saint Louis’ draw with Real Monarchs SLC on Wednesday night, Orange County will be hoping for a similar result on Saturday against the Swope Park Rangers on Saturday evening, which would at minimum drop STLFC’s maximum points available to 56 points. That would mean a victory for Orange County over the Foxes would book the club’s fifth postseason appearance.

3. Phoenix Rising FC
Current Record:
 16-7-5, 53pts
Maximum Points Available: 71
Points Needed to Clinch: 6
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 2.8
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 17%
Last Game: L 3-2 at San Antonio FC
Next Game: 9/15 at Seattle Sounders FC 2, 10 p.m. ET
As with Orange County, the door for Phoenix to clinch its second consecutive playoff berth opened wider thanks to the draw between Saint Louis FC and Real Monarchs SLC on Wednesday night. Should Saint Louis fail to take victory against the Swope Park Rangers on Saturday evening, it would give Rising FC the chance to claim a place in the postseason with a win against Seattle Sounders FC 2 later that night thanks to its five-win edge in the first tiebreaker over STLFC.

4. Sacramento Republic FC
Current Record:
 14-7-7, 49pts
Maximum Points Available: 67
Points Needed to Clinch: 10
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 3.8
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 4%
Last Game: W 3-0 vs. Seattle Sounders FC 2
Next Game: 9/19 at Tulsa Roughnecks FC, 8 p.m. ET
Republic FC took a solid victory against Seattle to keep itself on course for a top-four finish, and now gets a week with the chance it could be within range of a playoff place by the time it heads to Oklahoma for a two-game trip next week.

5. Portland Timbers 2
Current Record:
 15-11-3, 48pts
Maximum Points Available: 63
Points Needed to Clinch: 11
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 5.8
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 2%
Last Game: W 4-0 vs. Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Next Game: 9/16 at Las Vegas Lights FC, 9 p.m. ET
A sweeping victory against Tulsa Roughnecks FC combined with defeats for Fresno FC and OKC Energy FC further boosted Portland’s playoff chances, and T2 got a positive result from Saint Louis’ draw on Wednesday night that widened the cushion it holds in the maximum points available column. T2 will be hoping for a draw when STLFC visits Swope Park Rangers on Saturday, which would add to the potential gap between the side and the playoff line as it visits Las Vegas on Sunday evening.

6. Swope Park Rangers
Current Record:
 13-9-7, 46pts
Maximum Points Available: 61
Points Needed to Clinch: 13
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 6.4
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: W 1-0 vs. Fresno FC
Next Game: 9/15 vs. Saint Louis FC, 5 p.m. ET
The Rangers get another pivotal game in the race for the playoffs after their victory against Fresno FC on Sunday, and there will be plenty of teams hoping it can take victory against Saint Louis for their own playoff aspirations. For Swope Park, though, victory would push the side above a 95 percent chance to make the postseason itself, which should be more than enough incentive to bag a fifth consecutive victory.

7. San Antonio FC
Current Record:
 11-9-7, 43pts
Maximum Points Available: 61
Points Needed to Clinch: 16
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 7.0
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 1%
Last Game: W 3-2 vs. Phoenix Rising FC
Next Game: 9/15 at Tulsa Roughnecks FC, 8 p.m. ET
A third consecutive victory on Saturday night continued San Antonio’s rise in the standings, but given the tightness of the situation it would certainly appreciate some help from Real Monarchs SLC and the Swope Park Rangers against Saint Louis this week. If not, picking up all three points on the road against Tulsa Roughnecks FC is going to be essential to maintain a top-eight position by the start of next week.

8. Saint Louis FC
Current Record:
 11-8-10, 43pts
Maximum Points Available: 58
Points Needed to Clinch: 16
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 8.1
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: D 1-1 at Real Monarchs SLC
Next Game: 9/15 at Swope Park Rangers, 5 p.m. ET
In another scenario, getting a point on the road against Real Monarchs SLC would have been a solid result for Saint Louis, but in the current context it simply raised the stakes for Saturday’s game against the Swope Park Rangers. Saint Louis would put itself into a strong position for a postseason berth with a win against the Rangers. A draw or a loss, however, will make the path difficult, especially if other results don’t go the side’s way.

9. Reno 1868 FC
Current Record:
 11-7-9, 42pts
Maximum Points Available: 63
Points Needed to Clinch: 17
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 6.9
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: 2%
Last Game: L 1-0 at Saint Louis FC
Next Game: 9/15 vs. LA Galaxy II, 10 p.m. ET
Reno slipped below the playoff line on Wednesday night, but will certainly take Saint Louis FC’s draw against Real Monarchs SLC as it now holds a five-point edge in maximum points available and two games in hand on its playoff rival. Now it will need to make the most of its upcoming four-game homestand to ensure its place in the USL Cup Playoffs for a second consecutive season, starting this Saturday against the LA Galaxy II.

10. OKC Energy FC
Current Record:
 11-14-5, 38pts
Maximum Points Available: 50
Points Needed to Clinch: 21
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 11.7
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: W 3-1 at LA Galaxy II
Next Game: 9/23 vs. Sacramento Republic FC, 7 p.m. ET
OKC Energy FC got the result it needed against the Galaxy II on Wednesday night, and now will wait and see where it sits after this weekend’s action ahead of a tough final stretch of the season that sees its clash with Sacramento serve as its home finale before a three-game road trip that takes the side to Las Vegas, Real Monarchs SLC and Saint Louis FC.

11. Fresno FC
Current Record:
 8-10-11, 35pts
Maximum Points Available: 50
Points Needed to Clinch: 24
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 11.3
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: L 1-0 at Swope Park Rangers
Next Game: 9/16 vs. Orange County SC, 9 p.m. ET
The Foxes became the latest side to fall in a one-goal game against the Swope Park Rangers, and like Energy FC it may have put paid to their playoff hopes. Victory on Sunday against Orange County, which could have a chance to clinch a playoff place, is now essential as is help from elsewhere to try and bridge the eight-point gap to eighth place.

12. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Current Record:
 10-15-4, 34pts
Maximum Points Available: 49
Points Needed to Clinch: 25
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 11.7
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: L 3-1 at LA Galaxy II
Next Game: 9/15 vs. Rio Grande Valley FC, 8 p.m. ET
The Switchbacks saw just about everything they didn’t want to happen come to pass this weekend, leaving the side eight points out of the playoff positions with five games to go. Victory against Rio Grande Valley FC, which is playing some good soccer right now, is essential this Saturday.

13. LA Galaxy II
Current Record:
 9-14-6, 33pts
Maximum Points Available: 48
Points Needed to Clinch: 26
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 11.8
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: L 3-1 vs. OKC Energy FC
Next Game: 9/15 at Reno 1868 FC, 10 p.m. ET
Los Dos couldn’t build on a bright start against OKC Energy FC and missed out on moving up to 10th place in the process. They’ll continue to play a key role in the race for the postseason this Saturday, though, with a trip to Reno to face ninth-place 1868 FC.

14. Las Vegas Lights FC
Current Record:
 7-14-6, 27pts
Maximum Points Available: 48
Points Needed to Clinch: 34
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 14.4
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: L 2-1 vs. LA Galaxy II
Next Game: 9/16 vs. Portland Timbers 2, 9 p.m. ET
Lights FC is still mathematically alive, but Saturday’s loss to the Galaxy II felt like the final nail in the season for the side which will likely need to run the table in its final seven games to have a chance at the postseason.

15. Rio Grande Valley FC
Current Record:
 5-10-12, 27pts
Maximum Points Available: 48
Points Needed to Clinch: 34
SportsClubStats.com Avg. Finishing Position: 14.2
FiveThirtyEight.com USL Cup Odds: <1%
Last Game: W 2-1 vs. Real Monarchs SLC
Next Game: 9/15 at Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, 8 p.m. ET
The Toros’ victory against the Monarchs made a major shakeup in the top of the Western Conference standings, and served as a reward for the positive play the side has shown this season as it heads to Colorado Springs this weekend.

Officially eliminated: Seattle Sounders FC 2, Tulsa Roughnecks FC

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