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USL Race for the Playoffs – Oct. 10-15

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 10/13/17, 9:03AM EDT

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Three places for four teams in the East; who misses out?

One week to go in the 2017 USL regular season, and we’re down to three places available for four teams in the USL Eastern Conference. With games throughout the week, the schedule is going to come into play for teams as they battle for not only a place in the playoffs, but also as high a seed as possible over the next six days.

The biggest game of the week when it comes down it, therefore, is Thursday night’s I-4 Derby between Orlando City B and the Tampa Bay Rowdies, with both having plenty to gain with a win and others looking on hoping for a result that will go in their favor. With only the two No. 1 seeds in each conference locked down, though, there’s plenty to keep an eye on in the final 17 games of the regular season.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. Louisville City FC
Current Record:
 17-6-8, 59pts
Maximum Points Available: 62
Points Needed to Clinch: IN
Avg. Finishing Position: 1.0
Last Game: W 2-1 vs. Charlotte Independence
Next Game: 10/14 vs. Richmond Kickers, 7:30 p.m. ET
Louisville didn’t have to go and win Saturday’s game, but in doing so, it opened up the race for a home playoff game for both the Rochester Rhinos and, remarkably, Bethlehem Steel FC. The final game of the regular season for the East’s No. 1 seed won’t have the same implications, but from all indications, City wants to go into the postseason on a wave of momentum.

2. Charleston Battery
Current Record:
 14-8-9, 51pts
Maximum Points Available: 54
Points Needed to Clinch: IN
Avg. Finishing Position: 2.6
Last Game: W 4-0 vs. Harrisburg City Islanders
Next Game: 10/14 at Charlotte Independence, 7 p.m. ET
The Battery will have a keen eye on Thursday night’s game between Orlando City B and the Tampa Bay Rowdies, with a win or a draw for OCB resulting in second place for Charleston in the standings. A Rowdies win, though, would put the pressure on the Battery to take victory against the Charlotte Independence to seal the No. 2-seed on Saturday night.

3. Tampa Bay Rowdies
Current Record:
 13-7-11, 50pts
Maximum Points Available: 53
Points Needed to Clinch: IN
Avg. Finishing Position: 3.4
Last Game: D 1-1 at San Antonio FC
Next Game: 10/12 at Orlando City B, 7:30 p.m. ET
The Rowdies came so close to holding its edge in the race for second place, only to concede a late equalizer against San Antonio FC. Now Tampa Bay will need to take victory to have a chance at the No. 2 seed, but with its clash against Orlando City B coming two days before the Charleston Battery take the field, the Rowdies could add some pressure to Charleston’s visit to the Charlotte Independence while also doing a favor for both the New York Red Bulls II and FC Cincinnati.

4. Charlotte Independence
Current Record:
 13-9-9, 48pts
Maximum Points Available: 51
Points Needed to Clinch: IN
Avg. Finishing Position: 4.1
Last Game: L 2-1 at Louisville City FC
Next Game: 10/14 vs. Charleston Battery, 7 p.m. ET
The Independence’s four-game losing streak means a home game is no longer guaranteed with a win against the Charleston Battery, with Charlotte now sitting firmly in the corner of Bethlehem Steel FC for its Tuesday night clash with a Rochester Rhinos side that would at least move into fourth with a victory. If Steel FC can record at least a draw, the Independence will regain their upper hand in terms of home field advantage and go into Saturday knowing a win would be enough to book a home playoff game.

5. Rochester Rhinos
Current Record:
 12-7-11, 47pts
Maximum Points Available: 53
Points Needed to Clinch: IN
Avg. Finishing Position: 4.1
Last Game: W 2-0 at Pittsburgh Riverhounds
Next Game: 10/10 vs. Bethlehem Steel FC, 7:05 p.m. ET
The Rhinos now not only have a chance to earn at least one home playoff game but could earn second place in the Eastern Conference if everything falls their way. Two home victories for Rochester against Bethlehem Steel FC and the New York Red Bulls II, and a lack of a victory in their final games of the season by both the Charleston Battery and Tampa Bay Rowdies, and the Rhinos will shoot into second place for the postseason.

6. New York Red Bulls II
Current Record:
 13-13-5, 44pts
Maximum Points Available: 47
Points Needed to Clinch: 1
Avg. Finishing Position: 7.0
Last Game: W 6-5 at Orlando City B
Next Game: 10/14 at Rochester Rhinos, 6:05 p.m. ET
The Red Bulls II’s insane 6-5 victory against Orlando left the side needing only a point to return to the playoffs, a point that would be claimed if the Tampa Bay Rowdies can close out OCB’s playoff hopes on Thursday night. If Orlando wins, though, the Red Bulls II would need just a draw to reach the postseason against the Rochester Rhinos on Saturday night, having on Tuesday rooted for the Rhinos to defeat Bethlehem Steel FC to keep New York in prime position for sixth place in the conference.

7. Bethlehem Steel FC
Current Record:
 12-11-7, 43pts
Maximum Points Available: 49
Points Needed to Clinch: 2
Avg. Finishing Position: 6.6
Last Game: W 4-2 at Toronto FC II
Next Game: 10/10 at Rochester Rhinos, 7:05 p.m. ET
Steel FC has three routes into the postseason. The first is to win either of its remaining games against the Rochester Rhinos on Tuesday night or Saint Louis FC on Sunday afternoon. The second is for Orlando City B to fail to take victory on Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Rowdies. The third is to earn a draw in both of its final two games of the season, which would put the side out of reach of Orlando City B on 45 points. If Steel FC can win both of its remaining games, though, the side could claim a top-four finish if both the Charlotte Independence and Rochester Rhinos fail to win their final games of the regular season on Saturday.

8. FC Cincinnati
Current Record:
 11-10-10, 43pts
Maximum Points Available: 46
Points Needed to Clinch: 2
Avg. Finishing Position: 7.7
Last Game: L 4-0 at Ottawa Fury FC
Next Game: 10/14 at Toronto FC II, 7:30 p.m. ET
FCC blew its lines completely in its chance to clinch a playoff berth on Sunday with a heavy defeat against Ottawa Fury FC and now will have a firm eye on Thursday night’s game between the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Orlando City B. With a Rowdies victory or a draw, Cincinnati will book its place in the playoffs and then look to take victory against Toronto FC II on Saturday to try and step out of the No. 8 seed and a clash with River Cities Cup rival Louisville City FC in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the USL Cup Playoffs. If Orlando takes victory, though, Cincinnati will need a win just to secure its place in the playoffs.

9. Orlando City B
Current Record:
 10-9-12, 42pts
Maximum Points Available: 45
Points Needed to Clinch: 6
Avg. Finishing Position: 8.5
Last Game: L 6-5 vs. New York Red Bulls II
Next Game: 10/12 vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies, 7:30 p.m. ET
Orlando’s dramatic defeat to the Red Bulls II on Saturday night makes Thursday’s regular-season finale a must-win for OCB to keep its playoff hopes alive. Earn victory, and the side would put pressure on potentially all three of the teams above it going into the week who are also vying for a place in the playoffs depending on Bethlehem Steel FC’s result on Tuesday. Fail to take victory, and OCB’s playoff hopes will come to an end and seal the field for the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Eliminated: Harrisburg City Islanders, Saint Louis FC, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Ottawa Fury FC, Richmond Kickers, Toronto FC II

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Real Monarchs SLC
Current Record:
 19-5-7, 64pts
Maximum Points Available: 67
Points Needed to Clinch: IN
Avg. Finishing Position: 1.0
Last Game: D 1-1 vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2
Next Game: 10/14 vs. LA Galaxy II, 9 p.m. ET
The Monarchs claimed the USL Regular Season Championship Shield in unspectacular fashion with its draw with Vancouver, which left it unable to match the New York Red Bulls II’s wins and points totals from a season ago in the USL history book. Getting a positive result against the Galaxy II to close out the regular season would be a good way to move into the postseason, but there’s nothing at stake in Saturday’s game realistically.

2. Reno 1868 FC
Current Record:
 17-7-7, 58pts
Maximum Points Available: 61
Points Needed to Clinch: IN
Avg. Finishing Position: 2.6
Last Game: W 4-1 at Orange County SC
Next Game: 10/14 vs. Sacramento Republic FC, 10 p.m. ET
Reno’s emphatic victory to eliminate Orange County from postseason contention kept the side in contention for the No. 2 seed, but now, 1868 FC will need help from either the Portland Timbers 2 or Rio Grande Valley FC against San Antonio FC if it’s to finish in second place. A draw in either of those games, however, and Reno will be the No. 2 seed in the West if it can complete a regular-season sweep of Republic FC on Saturday night.

3. San Antonio FC
Current Record:
 15-4-11, 56pts
Maximum Points Available: 62
Points Needed to Clinch: IN
Avg. Finishing Position: 2.6
Last Game: D 1-1 vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies
Next Game: 10/11 vs. Portland Timbers 2, 8:30 p.m. ET
San Antonio just held onto the inside track for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference thanks to Ever Guzman’s late equalizer against the Tampa Bay Rowdies. While SAFC still has second place in its sights, its margin for error is greatly reduced. Anything but two wins to close out the regular season over the Portland Timbers 2 and Rio Grande Valley FC would reopen the door for Reno 1868 FC to earn the No. 2 seed.

4. Swope Park Rangers
Current Record:
 16-8-7, 55pts
Maximum Points Available: 58
Points Needed to Clinch: IN
Avg. Finishing Position: 4.3
Last Game: L 4-1 at OKC Energy FC
Next Game: 10/11 vs. Seattle Sounders FC 2, 8:30 p.m. ET
The Rangers couldn’t have suffered a defeat at a worse time. It effectively ended its pursuit of second place with a 19-goal differential separating Swope Park from Reno and also allowed Phoenix Rising FC to move level on points with a game to go. The Rangers should be safe for a home playoff game if it takes victory against Seattle Sounders FC 2, Phoenix would need to make up its own big goal differential with a win in this scenario, but anything else and Swope Park could be looking at a trip to start the playoffs.

5. Phoenix Rising FC
Current Record:
 16-8-7, 55pts
Maximum Points Available: 58
Points Needed to Clinch: IN
Avg. Finishing Position: 4.6
Last Game: W 2-0 vs. Rio Grande Valley FC
Next Game: 10/14 vs. Portland Timbers 2, 10:30 p.m. ET
Phoenix has gone from a longshot to earn a home playoff game in the Western Conference Quarterfinals to one favorable result from having a chance at one. Should Seattle Sounders FC 2 earn any kind of result against the Swope Park Rangers on Wednesday night, Rising FC would have the chance to ensure its first playoff game in club history would be at the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex. The longer shot to the chance of Rising FC hosting a playoff game would see San Antonio FC draw twice in its final two games, which would allow Phoenix to overtake SAFC on total wins with a victory against T2.

6. Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Current Record:
 14-13-4, 46pts
Maximum Points Available: 49
Points Needed to Clinch: IN
Avg. Finishing Position: 6.4
Last Game: W 1-0 vs. Seattle Sounders FC 2
Next Game: 10/14 vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, 8 p.m. ET
The Roughnecks held on to book their first trip to the USL Cup Playoffs on Saturday night with their victory against Seattle Sounders FC 2, and now Tulsa will try to hold onto its No. 6 seed with a victory to close out the regular season. With Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC having been eliminated from playoff contention this weekend, the Switchbacks could be looking to end their season on a high note. The Roughnecks will have to be sharp, therefore, if they want to enter the playoffs on a two-game winning streak.

7. OKC Energy FC
Current Record:
 13-11-7, 46pts
Maximum Points Available: 49
Points Needed to Clinch: IN
Avg. Finishing Position: 6.8
Last Game: W 4-1 vs. Swope Park Rangers
Next Game: 10/15 vs. Seattle Sounders FC 2, 6 p.m. ET
Energy FC will know where it stands as it plays the final game of the regular season on Sunday evening, and if Tulsa Roughnecks FC slips up against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, the opportunity to move up another place in the standings will be there for the taking. As well as OKC has played in the past month to win four of its last five games, though, more important for Energy FC will be maintaining its positive momentum into the postseason.

8. Sacramento Republic FC
Current Record:
 13-12-6, 45pts
Maximum Points Available: 48
Points Needed to Clinch: IN
Avg. Finishing Position: 7.8
Last Game: L 1-0 at Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Next Game: 10/14 at Reno 1868 FC, 10 p.m. ET
Republic FC backed into the playoffs thanks to Reno 1868 FC’s victory on Saturday night after its defeat against the Switchbacks. Now it could be facing the opposite end of the scenario it faced as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference a year ago as the No. 8 seed. A visit to Reno for the final regular season game of the season could provide the chance for a big confidence boost if Republic FC can escape Greater Nevada Field, but finding any kind of rhythm over the next few days is going to be more important in the bigger picture as the playoffs arrive.

Eliminated: Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, Orange County SC, Rio Grande Valley FC, Seattle Sounders FC 2, LA Galaxy II, Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2, Portland Timbers 2

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