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USL's Week Ahead - Playoff Race Heats Up in Western Conference

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - [email protected], 09/11/18, 4:15PM EDT

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With five weeks remaining, playoff places are coming into view for conference leaders


Photo courtesy Liza Rosales / Orange County SC

TAMPA, Fla. – There are five weeks to go in the 2018 USL regular season, and Week 27 brings crucial contests throughout the week as teams make their bid to earn a berth in the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs. Three teams could potentially clinch their places in the Western Conference’s postseason field, with the USL Game of the Week between Real Monarchs SLC and Saint Louis FC playing a pivotal role in the weekend’s schedule as the Monarchs, Phoenix Rising FC and Orange County SC all look to earn their places in the playoffs. The week begins on Tuesday night with the resumption of Saturday night’s River Cities Cup contest between Louisville City FC and FC Cincinnati at Slugger Field, with visiting FCC holding a 1-0 lead in the 38th minute as the game resumes after Saturday’s lightning and heavy rain forced a postponement. Louisville also features in one of this weekend’s key Eastern Conference games as it visits Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, while Saturday night’s contest between the Swope Park Rangers and Saint Louis FC is another that will have plenty of viewers from elsewhere around the league tuning in to see how their playoff chances might be affected.

All 561 regular-season games, the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs and the 2018 USL Cup can be accessed via USLSoccer.com’s Match Center.

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Photo courtesy Darren Abate / San Antonio FC

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Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

Tuesday, Sept. 11
Louisville City FC vs. FC Cincinnati

Slugger Field, Louisville, Kentucky | 7 p.m. ET
Louisville City FC (13-5-8, 47pts) and FC Cincinnati (18-3-6, 60pts) will resume the final River Cities Cup meeting of the 2018 regular season after lightning and heavy rain forced the meeting between the sides last Saturday night to be postponed in the 38th minute. Despite the weather, Cincinnati had taken a 23rd-minute lead through Corben Bone that it will carry forward into the resumption of the contest. Should the visitors take victory they would clinch at least one home contest in the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs, while Louisville will try to rally and regain second place in the Eastern Conference standings with a victory.

Wednesday, Sept. 12
Penn FC vs. Indy Eleven

FNB Field, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania | 6:30 p.m. ET
Fifth-place Indy Eleven (12-7-9, 45pts) heads to visit Penn FC (8-10-8, 32pts) in a key game for both as the Eleven look to move into the top four in the Eastern Conference with a victory and Penn tries to rebound from defeat this past weekend in its pursuit of a postseason berth. Indy took a 3-0 win against the New York Red Bulls II last Wednesday to extend its undefeated streak to nine games, and is within range of overtaking the third-place Charleston Battery with a win against Penn. The hosts, meanwhile, are sitting seven points out of the playoff positions with eight games to go after a surprise 2-1 home defeat to ATL UTD 2 this past Saturday that snapped a two-game winning run. Penn needs to pick up maximum points to gain ground on the top eight as it looks to take advantage of its games in hand on the rest of the field.

Real Monarchs SLC vs. Saint Louis FC
Zions Bank Stadium, Herriman, Utah | 10 p.m. ET (ESPN3)
The USL Game of the Week heads to Zions Bank Stadium as Real Monarchs SLC (17-9-2, 53pts) looks to snap a three-game losing streak as it welcomes ninth-place Saint Louis FC (11-8-9, 42pts) for one of the more pivotal games of the week. The Monarchs suffered a 2-1 defeat to Rio Grande Valley FC last Saturday night after holding a halftime lead, resulting in their first three-game losing streak since June 2016. Should Real rebound with a victory against Saint Louis, however, it would put itself and both Phoenix Rising FC and Orange County SC in with a chance to clinch a playoff berth this weekend should STLFC fail to defeat the Swope Park Rangers on Saturday evening. Saint Louis is coming off a 1-0 victory against Reno 1868 FC that saw the side earn its fifth consecutive home win, but needs to translate that form to the road this week to keep its push for a first playoff trip in club history moving forward after going 0-2-1 on the road in its last three outings away from Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis.

LA Galaxy II vs. OKC Energy FC
StubHub Center, Carson, Calif. | 10:30 p.m. ET
OKC Energy FC (10-14-5, 35pts) will try to snap a two-game losing streak and keep its flagging playoff hopes alive as it completes its trip to Southern California by visiting the LA Galaxy II (9-13-6, 33pts), who are coming off two consecutive wins themselves. Energy FC suffered an excruciating defeat against Orange County SC to open its trip on Saturday, conceding twice in stoppage time to fall to a 3-2 defeat to its hosts. The loss moved Energy FC seven points out of the playoff positions with five games to go, making a win against Los Dos a must for the club’s postseason chances. The Galaxy II are in positive form, though, having defeated Las Vegas Lights FC 2-1 this past Saturday as Ariel Lassiter and Efrain Alvarez both found the net and goalkeeper Justin Vom Steeg recorded eight saves, and could be a test for OKC’s playoff hopes.

Thursday, Sept. 13
New York Red Bulls II vs. Toronto FC II

MSU Soccer Park, Montclair, New Jersey | 7 p.m. ET
The New York Red Bulls II (10-8-10, 40pts) will try to solidify their place in the Eastern Conference playoff positions when they host Toronto FC II (3-20-3, 12pts). The Red Bulls II fell to a 3-0 loss to Indy Eleven in their last outing despite holding a 26-10 advantage in shots at Lucas Oil Stadium but remained in seventh place in the standings thanks to results elsewhere around the Eastern Conference. New York has claimed all 10 of its victories on home turf, including a 1-0 win against fellow playoff contender Ottawa Fury FC in its last outing at MSU Soccer Park on August 31. Toronto is coming off a 4-3 loss to Fury FC last Thursday night at Lamport Stadium, a result that officially eliminated the side from playoff contention at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.

Saturday, Sept. 15
Swope Park Rangers vs. Saint Louis FC

Children’s Mercy Park, Kansas City, Kansas | 5 p.m. ET
The Swope Park Rangers (13-9-7, 46pts) play host to Saint Louis FC for the second critical game of the week for the visitors after its visit to Real Monarchs SLC on Wednesday night, with Swope Park aiming to run its winning streak to five games after a strong turnaround in form. The Rangers took a 1-0 win against Fresno FC this past Sunday as Hadji Barry scored for a fifth consecutive game to lift the side to victory, and with a win the defending Western Conference champion would further solidify its claim to a postseason return this season, while also damaging Saint Louis’ hopes as well.

Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC vs. Louisville City FC
Highmark Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania | 7 p.m. ET
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (13-4-10, 49pts) will try to tighten its grip on second place in the Eastern Conference as it hosts Louisville City FC, which will head to the Steel City after its clash with FC Cincinnati on Tuesday night. The Hounds broke a four-game winless streak in their last outing with an emphatic 4-1 victory against Bethlehem Steel FC that saw four different players find the net, including Neco Brett’s 14th goal of the season for the side. Riverhounds SC is now 8-2-5 at home this season and has a chance to record a season sweep of Louisville after claiming a 1-0 win when the sides met at Slugger Field on June 27.

Richmond Kickers vs. Ottawa Fury FC
City Stadium, Richmond, Virginia | 7 p.m. ET
Ottawa Fury FC (11-13-5, 38pts) will try to take back-to-back victories for the first time since July when it heads to take on the Richmond Kickers (6-18-4, 22pts) in the second meeting between the sides this season. Fury FC battled to a 4-3 victory against Toronto FC II last Thursday night to remain in the middle of the playoff hunt in the Eastern Conference as Adonijah Reid scored the winner 13 minutes from time, and now enters the week one point behind eighth-place Nashville SC with five games to go in its regular season. The Kickers’ difficult season continued last Saturday in a 2-1 defeat to the Charlotte Independence, and after falling 2-0 to Fury FC when the teams last met on August 15, Richmond will need a big home performance to derail Ottawa’s playoff push.

Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. ATL UTD 2
Al Lang Stadium, St. Petersburg, Florida | 7:30 p.m. ET
The Tampa Bay Rowdies (8-12-7, 31pts) will be in must-win mode as they return home to host ATL UTD 2 (5-13-8, 23pts) as it looks to keep its slim playoff hopes alive. The Rowdies dropped eight points out of the playoff positions after a 1-0 loss to the Charleston Battery last Saturday night, putting the side under pressure to close out the final seven games of the season with as many wins as possible. While sitting in 14th place, Atlanta could prove a bigger test than expected as it enters off back-to-back victories, including a 2-1 win on the road against Penn FC last Saturday night that put a dent in the Pennsylvania club’s postseason hopes.

Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC vs. Rio Grande Valley FC
Weidner Field, Colorado Springs, Colorado | 8 p.m. ET
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (10-15-4, 34pts) needs a victory to keep its dimming playoff hopes alive as it plays host to Rio Grande Valley FC (5-11-12, 27pts), which is coming off its biggest win of the season. The Toros rallied to take a 2-1 victory against Real Monarchs SLC this past Saturday night at H-E-B Park as Aldo Quintanilla and Todd Wharton scored second-half goals to defeat the then-Western Conference leader. The Switchbacks, meanwhile, have lost three of their last four outings, including a 3-1 loss to the LA Galaxy II last time out that sees the side now eight points out of the playoff positions in 12th place in the Western Conference standings.

Tulsa Roughnecks FC vs. San Antonio FC
ONEOK Field, Tulsa, Oklahoma | 8 p.m. ET
San Antonio FC (12-9-7, 43pts) will look for its fourth consecutive victory as it visits Tulsa Roughnecks FC (2-14-11, 17pts) to open a key three-game road trip that also sees the side visit fellow playoff contenders the Swope Park Rangers and Saint Louis FC. San Antonio took a 3-2 victory against Phoenix Rising FC last Saturday night as Lance Laing recorded his third consecutive game with a goal and assist to move the side into seventh place in the Western Conference. Tulsa is coming off a 4-0 defeat to the Portland Timbers 2 this past Sunday that extended the club’s winless streak to five games since its 2-1 win against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC on August 11.

Reno 1868 FC vs. LA Galaxy II
Greater Nevada Field, Reno, Nevada | 10 p.m. ET
Reno 1868 FC (11-7-9, 42pts) will try to rebound from a narrow defeat last time out as it plays host to the LA Galaxy II, who return to action for the second time in the week, for the first of four consecutive home games at Greater Nevada Field. 1868 FC suffered a 1-0 defeat to Saint Louis FC that dropped the side into the eighth and final playoff place in the Western Conference on goal differential from STLFC, and while the side holds a game in hand, Reno has won only once in its last seven contests overall. Getting victory against the Galaxy II, which it defeated 4-1 when the sides last met on July 11, would be an important step forward with games against Silver State Cup rival Las Vegas Lights FC, Rio Grande Valley FC and Tulsa Roughnecks FC to follow.

Seattle Sounders FC 2 vs. Phoenix Rising FC
Cheney Stadium, Tacoma, Washington | 10 p.m. ET
Phoenix Rising FC (16-7-5, 53pts) could be within reach of a playoff place when it visits Seattle Sounders FC 2 (5-17-5, 20pts) on Saturday night depending on results elsewhere prior to kickoff at Cheney Stadium. Rising FC would clinch its second consecutive playoff berth with a win should Saint Louis FC have failed to take victory in both of its contests against Real Monarchs SLC (Wednesday) and the Swope Park Rangers (Saturday), but after a 3-2 loss to San Antonio FC in its last outing that saw Chris Cortez score twice to move to 15 goals this season, Phoenix will be in the mood for victory as it looks to push for a first-place finish in the Western Conference overall.

Sunday, Sept. 16
FC Cincinnati vs. Toronto FC II

Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio | 4:30 p.m. ET
FC Cincinnati and Toronto FC II will return to action for the second time in the week when they meet in a top versus bottom clash in the Eastern Conference. The disparity between the teams in the win column shouldn’t result in complacency for Cincinnati as it looks to close in on the USL Regular Season Championship, however, with Toronto having rallied to claim a 3-3 draw when the sides first met this season on June 27.

Penn FC vs. North Carolina FC
FNB Field, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania | 6 p.m. ET
Penn FC returns to action for the second time this week as it hosts a playoff six-pointer against North Carolina FC (9-10-8, 35pts) that could see the sides sitting level on points should Penn have claimed victory against Indy Eleven on Wednesday night. North Carolina missed out on a chance for a key victory in its last outing as it lost a two-goal lead late in a 3-3 draw against Nashville SC, a result that kept the side four points out of the playoff positions entering the week. NCFC took a 3-0 victory when it hosted Penn previously this season, however, which should provide some confidence of taking a result on the road this time around.

Fresno FC vs. Orange County SC
Chukchansi Park, Fresno, California | 9 p.m. ET
Western Conference-leader Orange County SC (16-7-6, 54pts) could have a chance to claim the fifth postseason berth in club history as it visits Fresno FC (8-10-11, 35pts), which will be fighting for its playoff life as it returns home on a three-game winless streak. The Foxes suffered a 1-0 defeat to the Swope Park Rangers this past Sunday to drop seven points out of the playoff positions with five games to go, making victory against Orange County almost essential to their playoff hopes. OCSC sits on top of the conference standings after a dramatic 3-2 victory on Saturday night that saw the side score twice in stoppage time to defeat OKC Energy FC as Michael Seaton reached double-digits in goals for the season and Aodhan Quinn had a goal and assist. Orange County could clinch a playoff place with a win should Saint Louis FC have suffered defeat against either Real Monarchs SLC or the Swope Park Rangers, or failed to take victory against both prior to Sunday’s contest.

Las Vegas Lights FC vs. Portland Timbers 2
Cashman Field, Las Vegas, Nevada | 9 p.m. ET
The Portland Timbers 2 (15-11-3, 48pts) will look for a third consecutive victory as it visits Las Vegas Lights FC (7-14-6, 27pts) for the second meeting between the teams this season. Las Vegas took a 2-1 victory when the teams last met on July 22, but since then T2 has gone 6-2-1 to move into fifth place in the Western Conference standings and included a 4-0 victory against Tulsa Roughnecks FC last Sunday afternoon that saw Marvin Loria record a goal and assist and four different players find the net. Las Vegas’ form has been almost the opposite as it has gone 1-6-1 since that victory to fall to 14th position in the standings, 15 points out of the playoff positions.

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