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Race to the Playoffs – Week 26

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 08/27/19, 5:30PM EDT

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Rising FC has playoff berth within sight ahead of two-game week on the road

With the final quarter of the regular season underway, the postseason has come into view for the teams at the top of the USL Championship’s Eastern and Western Conferences. As we move toward the USL Championship Playoffs in October, we’ll take a weekly look as the postseason field fills with the 20 clubs that will compete to reach the USL Championship Final in November.

Western

Phoenix Rising FC
1. Phoenix Rising FC
Record: 17-2-5, 56pts
Playoff Odds: >99%
Projected Final Position: 1st (99%)
Max Points Available: 86pts
Magic Number: 5pts
Upcoming: @TAC (8/27)
@COS (8/31)
Phoenix Rising FC has a chance to make history this week with a place in the playoffs assured should it claim victory against both Tacoma and Colorado Springs. If it does so, it would earn a playoff place with eight games remaining in its regular season, one more than FC Cincinnati had during its record-setting season a year ago.
2. Fresno FC
2. Fresno FC
Record: 13-3-8, 47pts
Playoff Odds: >99%
Projected Final Position: 2nd (56%)
Max Points Available: 77pts
Magic Number: 14pts
Upcoming: @TUL (8/31)
Fresno’s late victory against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC on Saturday night put it into the driver’s seat for second place ahead of Reno 1868 FC, with a three-point advantage and a game in hand on its only serious rival for a top-two finish.
3. Reno 1868 FC
3. Reno 1868 FC
Record: 13-7-5, 44pts
Playoff Odds: >99%
Projected Final Position: 3rd (43%)
Max Points Available: 71pts
Magic Number: 17pts
Upcoming: vs. POR (8/31)
Reno’s back-to-back losses have let Fresno gain the upper hand in the race for second place, but with an eight-point cushion to the rest of the conference it’s unlikely 1868 FC finishes outside the top three. Reno is also at 39 percent to finish second, a number that should stay solid if it can get a good result this weekend against Portland back on home turf.
4. Austin Bold FC
4. Austin Bold FC
Record: 10-9-6, 36pts
Playoff Odds: 84%
Projected Final Position: 6th (14%)
Max Points Available: 63pts
Magic Number: 25pts
Upcoming: vs. RGV (8/31)
This is the starting point for where projected finishes are going to get very fuzzy, very quickly, with Austin’s range on fivethirtyeight.com falling in the double-digit percentages everywhere from fourth to 10th place. Austin will want to take care of business at home this weekend against Copa Tejas rival Rio Grande Valley FC to keep its top-four aspirations moving along positively.
5. OKC Energy FC
5. OKC Energy FC
Record: 9-8-9, 36pts
Playoff Odds: 57%
Projected Final Position: 10th (14%)
Max Points Available: 60pts
Magic Number: 31pts
Upcoming: @SLC (8/30)
Back-to-back victories have provided Energy FC with a major boost in the standings, but with eight games remaining the side isn’t in complete control of its playoff destiny either with the likes of El Paso Locomotive FC and New Mexico United having more points available to them down the final stretch. If OKC can pick up points on the road against Real Monarchs SLC – one of the tougher places to play in the league – it would be a big help.
6. Real Monarchs SLC
6. Real Monarchs SLC
Record: 10-8-5, 35pts
Playoff Odds: 92%
Projected Final Position: 4th (23%)
Max Points Available: 68pts
Magic Number: 26pts
Upcoming: vs. OKC (8/30)
With 11 games remaining on their regular-season schedule, the Monarchs have the highest available points total of any side outside the top three, which gives it slightly more favorable odds to take the No. 4 seed than some of its rivals. Adding to its eight home wins on Friday night when OKC Energy FC comes to Zions Bank Stadium would be a big step forward toward that goal.
7. Sacramento Republic FC
7. Sacramento Republic FC
Record: 10-10-4, 34pts
Playoff Odds: 93%
Projected Final Position: 4th (24%)
Max Points Available: 64pts
Magic Number: 27pts
Upcoming: @LA (8/31)
By the numbers, it narrowly projects to be a battle between the Monarchs and Republic FC for fourth place, but to get there Sacramento is going to need to rebound from its defeat to Phoenix with a positive result on the road against the LA Galaxy II this Saturday in one of this week’s postseason six-pointers.
8. San Antonio FC
8. San Antonio FC
Record: 9-9-7, 34pts
Playoff Odds: 87%
Projected Final Position: 5th (16%)
Max Points Available: 61pts
Magic Number: 27pts
Upcoming: @TAC (8/30)
San Antonio’s upward mobility in the standings is limited by having only nine games remaining, but the momentum the side is building is undeniable and gives it a good chance of avoiding the play-in games at the start of the postseason. Another positive result against Tacoma Defiance on Friday night would keep the club’s ascent up the standings moving.
9. New Mexico United
9. New Mexico United
Record: 8-7-10, 34pts
Playoff Odds: 78%
Projected Final Position: 7th (14%)
Max Points Available: 61pts
Magic Number: 27pts
Upcoming: vs. OC (9/1)
New Mexico is still in solid position to reach the playoffs but is going to have to make the most of its home-heavy remaining schedule if its to avoid the play-in rounds that open the postseason. Getting all three points against Orange County on Sunday night would be a very big step in the right direction.
10. Orange County SC
10. Orange County SC
Record: 8-8-9, 33pts
Playoff Odds: 59%
Projected Final Position: 10th (12%)
Max Points Available: 60pts
Magic Number: 28pts
Upcoming: @NM (9/1)
Orange County is back on the upswing after its back-to-back victories, but the margin of error is still a narrow one with nine games to go in the season and a lower available points total than some of its other rivals. With its next three games coming against New Mexico, Portland and El Paso, OCSC has the chance to boost its chances greatly with a string of positive results.
11. LA Galaxy II
11. LA Galaxy II
Record: 8-8-9, 33pts
Playoff Odds: 32%
Projected Final Position: 13th (16%)
Max Points Available: 60pts
Magic Number: 28pts
Upcoming: vs. SAC (8/31)
The Galaxy II effectively fall into the same boat as Orange County, not completely in control if its playoff destiny but with the power to do something about it. With Saturday bringing the first of two games against Sacramento Republic FC in its final nine outings, there’s no time like the present for a big home win for Los Dos.
12. Portland Timbers 2
12. Portland Timbers 2
Record: 8-9-8, 32pts
Playoff Odds: 37%
Projected Final Position: 13th (15%)
Max Points Available: 59pts
Magic Number: 29pts
Upcoming: @RNO (8/31)
Back-to-back losses have really hit Portland’s playoff chances hard, especially due to those defeats coming to fellow contenders OKC Energy FC and Las Vegas Lights FC. Life gets no easier this Saturday when the side will try to earn a result on the road against third-place Reno 1868 FC at Greater Nevada Field.
13. El Paso Locomotive FC
13. El Paso Locomotive FC
Record: 8-8-8, 32pts
Playoff Odds: 53%
Projected Final Position: 10th (12%)
Max Points Available: 62pts
Magic Number: 29pts
Upcoming: vs. TUL (9/4)
El Paso gets this week off before launching into a busy final six weeks of the campaign, but you can be sure there will be plenty of scoreboard-watching going on by 8th Notch and others with the spread of final finishing positions about as wide as anyone in the Western Conference.
14. Las Vegas Lights FC
14. Las Vegas Lights FC
Record: 8-10-6, 30pts
Playoff Odds: 19%
Projected Final Position: 14th (22%)
Max Points Available: 60pts
Magic Number: 31pts
Upcoming: @TUL (8/28)
Las Vegas’ victory against Portland on Saturday night was big for its playoff chances. Now Lights FC needs to make sure it gets all three points on the road against Tulsa Roughnecks FC, but with a 1-9-2 record away from home this season that’s going to be anything but certain for Head Coach Eric Wynalda’s squad even as much as Tulsa is struggling right now.
15. Rio Grande Valley FC
15. Rio Grande Valley FC
Record: 7-11-7, 28pts
Playoff Odds: 7%
Projected Final Position: 15th (42%)
Max Points Available: 55pts
Magic Number: 33pts
Upcoming: @AUS (9/1)
The Toros can claim the Copa Tejas this Sunday with victory against Austin Bold FC, but even after this past Saturday’s win against El Paso Locomotive FC the outlook isn’t good for a postseason berth this year.
16. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
16. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Record: 6-16-4, 22pts
Playoff Odds: <1%
Projected Final Position: 16th (50%)
Max Points Available: 46pts
Magic Number: 39pts
Upcoming: vs. PHX (8/31)
The Switchbacks were already in dire straits before Fresno FC’s late winner on Saturday night. Now they have the lowest potential ceiling for points with eight games to go in the season.
17. Tulsa Roughnecks FC
17. Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Record: 4-13-7, 19pts
Playoff Odds: <1%
Projected Final Position: 17th (42%)
Max Points Available: 49pts
Magic Number: 42pts
Upcoming: vs. LV (8/28), Fresno FC (Aug. 31)
The Roughnecks’ great start to the season seems a very long time ago. Now all that’s left to do is play spoiler, and you can bet there are quite a few clubs that would love to see Tulsa continue Las Vegas’ poor road record on Wednesday night.
18. Tacoma Defiance
18. Tacoma Defiance
Record: 4-14-5, 17pts
Playoff Odds: <1%
Projected Final Position: 18th (66%)
Max Points Available: 50pts
Magic Number: 44pts
Upcoming: vs. PHX (8/27)
vs. SA (8/31)
Tacoma is also basically out of the playoff race and has to take on two of the hottest teams in the league this week on its home turf as the Defiance try to find a way out of last place.

Eastern

1. New York Red Bulls II
1. New York Red Bulls II
Record: 16-5-5, 53pts
Playoff Odds >99%
Projected Final Position: 1st (30%)
Max Points Available: 77pts
Magic Number: 7pts
Upcoming: @IND (9/4)
The Red Bulls II are off this week after their six-point road trip in the past seven days, and would certainly love to see the contests between Louisville and Indy on Friday night and Tampa Bay and Nashville on Saturday end all square to bump up their chances at first place at the end of the season.
2. Tampa Bay Rowdies
2. Tampa Bay Rowdies
Record: 14-4-7, 49pts
Playoff Odds >99%
Projected Final Position: 1st (26%)
Max Points Available: 76pts
Magic Number: 11pts
Upcoming: vs. NSH (8/31)
The marquee matchup of the weekend lands at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday night with third-place Nashville SC coming in to play the Rowdies. If Tampa Bay can take all three points, its odds of a top-two finish at the end of the season – already sitting above 50 percent – would get another nice boost.
3. Nashville SC
3. Nashville SC
Record: 14-6-6, 48pts
Playoff Odds >99%
Projected Final Position: 4th (22%)
Max Points Available: 72pts
Magic Number: 12pts
Upcoming: @TBR (8/31)
With only eight games remaining, Nashville doesn’t have as high a ceiling as both Indy and Pittsburgh in terms of points available. If it takes victory against Tampa Bay on Saturday, it’s going to be well on the way to a top-four finish, but if not, it could slip into what has become a massive battle for a home game in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
4. Indy Eleven
4. Indy Eleven
Record: 14-4-4, 46pts
Playoff Odds >99%
Projected Final Position: 1st (32%)
Max Points Available: 82
Magic Number: 14pts
Upcoming: @LOU (8/30)
Of all the teams with a serious claim to top spot at the end of the season, Indy’s percentage is the highest at 32 percent according to fivethirtyeight.com. That’s because the Eleven have 12 games remaining, but if they fall against Louisville on Friday night in the LIPAFC then that number would certainly tumble.
5. North Carolina FC
5. North Carolina FC
Record: 13-6-7, 46pts
Playoff Odds >99%
Projected Final Position: 6th (26%)
Max Points Available: 70pts
Magic Number: 14pts
Upcoming: @LDN (8/31)
North Carolina currently sits in fifth place, but has a lower ceiling than some of the teams around it in terms of potential points. While it’s going to have to maximize its remaining eight games, the good news is the next three are all eminently winnable on the road against Loudoun, at home to Bethlehem and on the road to Swope Park.
6. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
6. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
Record: 12-4-8, 44pts
Playoff Odds >99%
Projected Final Position: 6th (21%)
Max Points Available: 74pts
Magic Number: 16pts
Upcoming: @OTT (8/30)
Pittsburgh has a high ceiling when it comes to available points meaning a top-four finish and a second consecutive year with a home playoff game is certainly a possibility, but the Hounds are going to have to navigate some tough games to get there, starting with Friday night’s trip to face Ottawa Fury FC.
7. Louisville City FC
7. Louisville City FC
Record: 12-7-6, 42pts
Playoff Odds >99%
Projected Final Position: 8th (33%)
Max Points Available: 69pts
Magic Number: 18pts
Upcoming: vs. IND (8/30)
For the first time in its history, Louisville is set to miss out on a top-two finish in the Eastern Conference, but the door is still open to avoiding the play-in round and even to taking a top-four finish if the club’s recent hot streak continues. Victory against Indy on Friday night in the LIPAFC would be a major step forward.
8. Ottawa Fury FC
8. Ottawa Fury FC
Record: 10-4-9, 39pts
Playoff Odds >99%
Projected Final Position: 8th (32%)
Max Points Available: 72pts
Magic Number: 18pts
Upcoming: vs. PIT (8/30)
The good news for Ottawa Fury FC is its first playoff berth is basically assured. The better news is that it’s unlikely to drop below its current position in the standings, which means it has a chance to be aggressive over its final 10 games of the regular season and move out of the play-in games and into the top six.
9. Birmingham Legion FC
9. Birmingham Legion FC
Record: 9-10-5, 32pts
Playoff Odds 67%
Projected Final Position: 10th (33%)
Max Points Available: 62pts
Magic Number: 28pts
Upcoming: @LDN (8/28)
Birmingham has broken through and given itself a great chance to reach the postseason in its first campaign with a run of six wins in the last seven outings. If it takes victory on Wednesday night on the road against Loudoun United FC, the side will keep the pressure firmly on Saint Louis FC and the Charleston Battery to keep up.
10. Charleston Battery
10. Charleston Battery
Record: 7-7-9, 30pts
Playoff Odds 78%
Projected Final Position: 9th (39%)
Max Points Available: 63pts
Magic Number: 30pts 
Upcoming: @CLT (8/30)
vs. MEM (9/2)
The Battery still have some margin for error with a four-point cushion over Saint Louis with 11 games each to go, but getting a win on the road against Southern Derby rival Charlotte on Friday evening is going to be important to set up its Labor Day contest with struggling Memphis 901 FC.
11. Saint Louis FC
11. Saint Louis FC
Record: 6-9-8, 26pts
Playoff Odds 40%
Projected Final Position: 11th (31%)
Max Points Available: 59pts
Magic Number: 34pts
Upcoming: vs. HFD (9/1)
Saint Louis has been unable to snap out of the slump that coincided with its remarkable run in the Open Cup, and as a result its playoff chances are on thin ice. A three-game homestand that includes visits from Ottawa Fury FC (Sept. 4) and Nashville SC (Sept. 8) is going to be a serious make-or-break moment before the biggest game STLFC will face on the road to Birmingham Legion FC (Sept. 13).
12. Charlotte Independence
12. Charlotte Independence
Record: 5-11-10, 25pts
Playoff Odds 5%
Projected Final Position: 12th (26%)
Max Points Available: 49pts
Magic Number: 35pts
Upcoming: vs. CHS (8/30)
Things don’t look good for the Independence, and they probably won’t get much rosier even with a win against the Battery on Friday night. Realistically, Charlotte is looking at needing to post a 6-1-1 record over its final eight games to have a chance at a postseason return, which given its current record seems like the longshot its five percent odds have the club as.
13. Bethlehem Steel FC
13. Bethlehem Steel FC
Record: 6-13-5, 23pts
Playoff Odds 3%
Projected Final Position: 14th (22%)
Max Points Available: 53pts
Magic Number: 37pts
Upcoming: vs. SPR (9/1)
Bethlehem’s third consecutive trip to the postseason doesn’t look to be on the cards after Sunday’s loss to Birmingham. A win against Swope Park is going to be essential if the slim chances Steel FC hold are to amount to anything.
14. Loudoun United FC
14. Loudoun United FC
Record: 5-12-5, 20pts
Playoff Odds 6%
Projected Final Position: 13th (19%)
Max Points Available: 56pts
Magic Number: 40pts
Upcoming: vs. BHM (8/28)
With 12 games to go, Loudoun has a higher ceiling points-wise than most of the teams below the playoff line, but its recent form hasn’t inspired confidence that a push to reach the postseason is going to arrive in time.
15. ATL UTD 2
15. Atlanta United 2
Record: 5-14-5, 20pts
Playoff Odds <1%
Projected Final Position: 17th place (29%)
Max Points Available: 50pts
Magic Number: 40pts
Upcoming: vs. MEM (8/28)
Atlanta’s inability to string a series of results together has left it well off the pace this season, with the visit from Memphis 901 FC on Wednesday night a battle between two clubs looking to try and maximize their position over the final weeks of the season.
16. Hartford Athletic
16. Hartford Athletic
Record: 5-17-4, 19pts
Playoff Odds <1%
Projected Final Position: 17th place (25%)
Max Points Available: 43pts
Magic Number: 41pts
Upcoming: @STL (9/1)
The playoffs have been long gone for Hartford for a while, but it can still play the role of spoiler down the stretch after showing off some new attacking chops recently. Birmingham and Charleston will certainly be rooting for the Athletic when they visit STLFC on Sunday.
17. Memphis 901 FC
17. Memphis 901 FC
Record: 4-13-7, 19pts
Playoff Odds <1%
Projected Final Position: 15th place (20%)
Max Points Available: 49pts
Magic Number: 41pts
Upcoming: @ATL UTD 2 (8/28), at Charleston Battery (9/2)
Memphis isn’t going to be going to the playoffs this season, but it does have a chance to improve its final position and have a role in determining which teams will be in the playoff field over its final games of 2019.
18. Swope Park Rangers
18. Swope Park Rangers
Record: 3-14-6, 15pts
Playoff Odds <1%
Projected Final Position: 18th (48%)
Max Points Available: 48pts
Magic Number: 45pts
Upcoming: @Bethlehem Steel FC (9/1)
Absolutely nothing has gone right for the Rangers since their move to the Eastern Conference this year, leaving a last-place finish likely for the former two-time Western Conference champions.

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