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Race to the Championship Playoffs – Sept. 17-18

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 09/17/19, 3:45PM EDT

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Up to five additional playoff places could be clinched in the Eastern Conference this week


The Tampa Bay Rowdies can clinch a playoff place with victory on Wednesday night against Ottawa Fury FC at TD Place. | Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies

As many as seven places in the Eastern Conference bracket of the 2019 USL Championship Playoffs could be locked up by the end of this week’s action across the league, including the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Nashville SC over the next two nights, while both Fresno FC and Reno 1868 FC have a chance to join Phoenix Rising FC in the Western Conference as the battle for position below them continues on.

Western Conference

1.Phoenix Rising FC
1. Phoenix Rising FC
Record: 22-2-5, 71pts
Playoff Odds Clinched
Projected Final Position: 1st (Clinched)
Max Points Available: 86pts
Magic Number: N/A
Upcoming: @FRS (9/21)
Phoenix’s winning streak reached 20 games, and with Fresno FC’s loss to Las Vegas on Saturday night, Rising FC will hold the No. 1 seed going into the postseason. Saturday’s visit to the Foxes, who have not previously lost to Phoenix, could be a Western Conference Final preview.
2. Reno 1868 FC
2. Reno 1868 FC
Record: 15-9-5, 50pts
Playoff Odds >99 percent
Projected Final Position: 3rd (47 percent)
Max Points Available: 65pts
Magic Number: 6pts
Upcoming: @NM (9/20)
Reno’s back-to-back victories – especially an impressive road win against Austin Bold FC – vaulted it back above the fray fighting for fourth place. While 1868 FC doesn’t have the a two-game week like its rival for second place, Fresno FC, it can book a third consecutive playoff berth this weekend with a victory against New Mexico United, a San Antonio FC loss to the LA Galaxy II and the Portland Timbers 2 failing to defeat Tacoma Defiance, all this Friday night.
3. Fresno FC
3. Fresno FC
Record: 14-5-8, 50pts
Playoff Odds >99 percent
Projected Final Position: 2nd (59 percent)
Max Points Available: 71pts
Magic Number: 6pts
Upcoming: vs. RGV (9/18), vs. PHX (9/21)
The Foxes’ loss in Las Vegas reopened the competition for second place a little, but with two games this week and their magic number at six, Fresno can clinch a playoff place by defeating both Rio Grande Valley FC and Phoenix Rising FC. Should the Foxes take four points from six, it would need San Antonio FC to fail to take victory against the LA Galaxy II on Friday, and if it wins one and loses one, then it would need San Antonio to lose to LA and for the Portland Timbers 2 to fail to take victory against Tacoma Defiance, also on Friday night.
4. Sacramento Republic FC
4. Sacramento Republic FC
Record: 13-11-4, 43pts
Playoff Odds >99 percent
Projected Final Position: 4th (35 percent)
Max Points Available: 61pts
Magic Number: 13pts
Upcoming: @OKC (9/22)
Sacramento took full advantage of its two-game week to jump up to fourth place in the standings. It could have a fight on its hands to hold onto that spot with Orange County and Real Monarchs SLC likely its biggest threats on that front, but it should be wary of Sunday’s visit to OKC Energy FC, which is approaching must-win territory for its playoff life.
5. Orange County SC
5. Orange County SC
Record: 11-8-9, 42pts
Playoff Odds 96 percent
Projected Final Position: 5th (21 percent)
Max Points Available: 60pts
Magic Number: 14pts
Upcoming: @TUL (9/21)
Orange County matched a club record with its fifth consecutive victory on Saturday night, and is closing in on becoming a lock for a fourth trip to the playoffs in the past five seasons. A trip to Tulsa – which has been improved recently – is up next, and you’d think OCSC will want to take a little revenge for the early-season defeat the Roughnecks handed the side back in March.
6. Real Monarchs SLC
6. Real Monarchs SLC
Record: 11-9-7, 40pts
Playoff Odds 92 percent
Projected Final Position: 5th (17 percent)
Max Points Available: 61pts
Magic Number: 16pts
Upcoming: @TAC (9/18), @RGV (9/21)
The Monarchs took care of business at home in impressive fashion but have at least a 10-percent chance of finishing anywhere from fourth to ninth place according to fivethirtyeight.com. Real can take a big step toward avoiding the Play-In Round, and solidifying a top-four bid, if it can take victories on the road against two sides that while down in the standings have been a much tougher proposition on their home turfs.
7. Austin Bold FC
7. Austin Bold FC
Record: 11-11-7, 40pts
Playoff Odds 74 percent
Projected Final Position: 9th (15 percent)
Max Points Available: 55pts
Magic Number: 16pts
Upcoming: vs. LV (9/22)
Austin is still in position to earn a place in the playoffs, but after two home defeats in the past week it’s going to have to do it the hard way. With its last four games on the road after its home finale against Las Vegas this Sunday, Bold FC is going to have to make a serious improvement on its current away record of 2-7-4 if it’s going to avoid sliding out of the playoff positions completely.
8. New Mexico United
8. New Mexico United
Record: 10-8-10, 40pts
Playoff Odds 92 percent
Projected Final Position: 6th (18 percent)
Max Points Available: 58pts
Magic Number: 16pts
Upcoming: vs. RNO (9/20)
Back-to-back victories have done New Mexico a world of good, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to make sure the club’s current position sticks. A visit from Reno 1868 FC on Friday night looks to be one of the bigger games of the week in the big picture.
9. LA Galaxy II
9. LA Galaxy II
Record: 10-9-9, 39pts
Playoff Odds 66 percent
Projected Final Position: 10th (15 percent)
Max Points Available: 57pts
Magic Number: 17pts
Upcoming: vs. SA (9/20)
The Galaxy II’s chances at a postseason berth didn’t get dented much after a loss in Phoenix, but the side is going to have to rebound quickly as it stares down a home six-pointer on Friday night against San Antonio FC. A win would go a very long way to securing a return to the playoffs, but a loss would see SAFC jump past Los Dos and make their situation that much more precarious.
10. San Antonio FC
10. San Antonio FC
Record: 10-11-7, 37pts
Playoff Odds 76 percent
Projected Final Position: 8th (14 percent)
Max Points Available: 55pts
Magic Number: 19pts
Upcoming: @LA (9/20)
There was no better time for SAFC’s first home win against Energy FC on Saturday night, but the side can’t afford to take its foot off the gas ahead of another crucial six-pointer on the road against the LA Galaxy II on Friday night.

11. OKC Energy FC
11. OKC Energy FC
Record: 9-10-10, 37pts
Playoff Odds 18 percent
Projected Final Position: 13th (26 percent)
Max Points Available: 52pts
Magic Number: 19pts
Upcoming: vs. SAC (9/22)
Back-to-back losses have put OKC’s backs against the wall when it comes to playoff qualification, especially with only five games to go in the regular season. Energy FC is going to need to take all three points against Sacramento on Sunday evening and hope for some favorable results elsewhere to boost its stock.
12. El Paso Locomotive FC
12. El Paso Locomotive FC
Record: 9-9-9, 36pts
Playoff Odds 51 percent
Projected Final Position: 11th (16 percent)
Max Points Available: 57pts
Magic Number: 20pts
Upcoming: vs. COS (9/21)
After a loss to Orange County on Saturday night, we’re back to Locomotive FC being a coin-flip to reach the playoffs. A home victory against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC on Saturday is going to be an absolute must.
13. Portland Timbers 2
13. Portland Timbers 2
Record: 9-11-8, 35pts
Playoff Odds 29 percent
Projected Final Position: 13th (20 percent)
Max Points Available: 53pts
Magic Number: 21pts
Upcoming: vs. TAC (9/20)
T2’s playoff chances took a major hit from the Monarchs on Saturday afternoon, but there’s still a glimmer of hope for the side if it can rebound and defeat Cascadia rival Tacoma Defiance on Friday night to kick off a four-game homestand. If Portland can win that game, and upcoming six-pointers with Austin and San Antonio on home turf, then it can put itself in with a chance of finishing above the line.
14. Las Vegas Lights FC
14. Las Vegas Lights FC
Record: 9-12-8, 35pts
Playoff Odds 7 percent
Projected Final Position: 14th (44 percent)
Max Points Available: 50pts
Magic Number: 21pts
Upcoming: @AUS (9/22)
Just when you think Las Vegas is done, it surprises you with a brilliant home victory against second-place Fresno FC to keep itself just two points back of the playoff places. With only five games to go, though, it’s going to have to find a way to win games like this Sunday’s trip to Austin to stay in the race.
15. Rio Grande Valley FC
15. Rio Grande Valley FC
Record:7-14-7, 28pts
Playoff Odds <1 percent
Projected Final Position: 15th (49 percent)
Max Points Available: 46pts
Magic Number: 28pts
Upcoming: @FRS (9/18), vs. SLC (9/21)
The Toros’ playoff chances effectively came to an end with their defeat in Sacramento, which leaves the side sitting nine points out of the playoffs with six games remaining. Only back-to-back victories this week against two of the top six teams in the West are likely to resuscitate those hopes.
16. Tulsa Roughnecks FC
16. Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Record:6-13-9, 27pts
Playoff Odds <1 percent
Projected Final Position: 16th (47 percent)
Max Points Available: 45pts
Magic Number: 29pts
Upcoming: vs. OC (9/21)
The Roughnecks are going to have an awful lot of fans behind them from locales like Sacramento and Salt Lake City this weekend with Orange County coming to town.
17. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
17. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Record:6-18-5, 23pts
Playoff Odds <1 percent
Projected Final Position: 17th (52 percent)
Max Points Available: 38pts
Magic Number: 33pts
Upcoming: @ELP (9/21)
The Switchbacks’ defeat in New Mexico – punctuated by two shots off the woodwork – pushed it to the brink of mathematical elimination ahead of a trip to an El Paso side that desperately needs victory.
18. Tacoma Defiance
18. Tacoma Defiance
Record:5-17-5, 20pts
Playoff Odds <1 percent
Projected Final Position: 18th (63 percent)
Max Points Available: 36pts
Magic Number: 36pts
Upcoming: vs. SLC (0/17), @POR (9/20)
Tacoma is also within the scope of mathematical elimination this week. Defeats to both the Monarchs and T2 would bring the curtain down on the campaign.

Eastern Conference

1. New York Red Bulls II
1. New York Red Bulls II
Record:17-6-5, 56pts
Playoff Odds Clinched
Projected Final Position: 2nd (29 percent)
Max Points Available: 74pts
Magic Number: N/A
Upcoming: @STL (9/18), @LOU (9/21)
The Red Bulls II are back in the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season, but if they’re going to vie for first place they’re likely going to need to take points from this week’s visits to Saint Louis and Louisville, or open the door to Indy running away with top spot.
2. Indy Eleven
2. Indy Eleven
Record:17-5-5, 56pts
Playoff Odds Clinched
Projected Final Position: 1st (50 percent)
Max Points Available: 77pts
Magic Number: N/A
Upcoming: @BHM (9/20)
Back-to-back victories pushed Indy into the postseason on Saturday night, and the Eleven have a big part to play in which side ends up in the postseason field as they head to face Birmingham Legion FC on Friday night.
3. Tampa Bay Rowdies
3. Tampa Bay Rowdies
Record:15-5-8, 53pts
Playoff Odds >99 percent
Projected Final Position: 4th (26 percent)
Max Points Available: 71pts
Magic Number: 3pts
Upcoming: @OTT (9/18), vs. BST (9/21)
The Rowdies will clinch a playoff place on Wednesday night if they either defeat Ottawa Fury FC or the Charleston Battery fall to ATL UTD 2. In the bigger picture, though, a two-win week would solidify Tampa Bay’s top-four credentials, and if New York slips up on its two-game trip a top-two finish might come back into view.
4. Nashville SC
4. Nashville SC
Record:15-7-6, 51pts
Playoff Odds >99 percent
Projected Final Position: 3rd (25 percent)
Max Points Available: 69pts
Magic Number: 5pts
Upcoming: vs. BHM (9/17), vs. PIT (9/21)
Tampa Bay’s misstep against Atlanta opened the door to a top-three finish for Nashville if it can take advantage of its home-heavy closing schedule. A playoff place could be locked up by the end of Wednesday night if Nashville takes victory against Birmingham Legion FC on Tuesday and Charleston fails to defeat Atlanta the following night, but Saturday’s game against fifth-place Pittsburgh might be the biggest game in the East this week when it comes to positioning in the top four.
5. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
5. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
Record:14-4-9, 51pts
Playoff Odds >99 percent
Projected Final Position: 5th (34 percent)
Max Points Available: 72pts
Magic Number: 5pts
Upcoming: @NSH (9/21)
The Hounds put themselves in position for a playoff place by defeating Charleston last Saturday, meaning if the Battery fail to take victory against Atlanta on Wednesday, Pittsburgh can clinch a place with victory on the road in Nashville on Saturday. Earning all three points in the Music City would be big for the Hounds’ top-four aspirations, although a draw wouldn’t be a bad result to that end either.
6. North Carolina FC
6. North Carolina FC
Record:13-8-8, 47pts
Playoff Odds >99 percent
Projected Final Position: 7th (44 percent)
Max Points Available: 62pts
Magic Number: 9pts
Upcoming: @CHS (9/22)
After Saturday’s loss to the Rangers, North Carolina is now projected to drop into the play-in games after losing three of its last four outings. It can clinch a place in the playoffs this week, however, if the Battery lose to ATL UTD 2 on Wednesday night, which would allow North Carolina to book its first trip to the USL Championship Playoffs and claim the Southern Derby with a victory in Charleston this Sunday.
7. Louisville City FC
7. Louisville City FC
Record:13-7-8, 47pts
Playoff Odds >99 percent
Projected Final Position: 6th (47 percent)
Max Points Available: 65pts
Magic Number: 9pts
Upcoming: vs. NY (9/21)
With a game in hand on North Carolina, LouCity is now projected to avoid the play-in round after its victory in Hartford. The side will also have a close eye on Charleston this week, for if the Battery lose their games on Wednesday and Sunday, LouCity can clinch a playoff berth with victory at home against the New York Red Bulls II.
8. Ottawa Fury FC
8. Ottawa Fury FC
Record:10-8-9, 39pts
Playoff Odds 93 percent
Projected Final Position: 8th (33 percent)
Max Points Available: 60pts
Magic Number: 17pts
Upcoming: vs. TBR (9/18), vs/ HFD (9/22)
Another defeat on the road aside, things are still looking positive enough for Ottawa when it comes to playoff position, but the side will want to get back on a winning streak and lock down a place as it plays host to the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Hartford Athletic this week. Failure to win either game could spell much more trouble.
9. Saint Louis FC
9. Saint Louis FC
Record:10-9-8, 38pts
Playoff Odds 89 percent
Projected Final Position: 9th (29 percent)
Max Points Available: 59pts
Magic Number: 18pts
Upcoming: vs. TBR (9/18), vs. HFD (9/22)
Saint Louis is now looking nailed on to be part of the postseason field after its big upswing in form, and it could pass Ottawa Fury FC this week with both sides in action twice, which would put it in line to host a play-in game, rather than hit the road in October.
10. Birmingham Legion FC
10. Birmingham Legion FC
Record:10-11-6, 36pts
Playoff Odds 45 percent
Projected Final Position: 11th (45 percent)
Max Points Available: 57pts
Magic Number: 21pts
Upcoming: @NSH (9/17), vs. IND (9/20)
Birmingham’s loss to Saint Louis was a blow to its playoff chances, but the side is going to have little time to reflect as it takes on two massive challenges this week in visiting Nashville SC and Indy Eleven. If it can earn a draw in both games, or find a way to win one of them, those playoff odds would be very quickly improved.

11. Charleston Battery
11. Charleston Battery
Record:8-8-11, 35pts
Playoff Odds 70 percent
Projected Final Position: 10th (31 percent)
Max Points Available: 56pts
Magic Number: 22pts
Upcoming: @ATL (9/18), vs. NC (9/22)
One point from two road games wasn’t what the Battery were looking for, but it still has a good chance to end the week above the playoff line with a simpler schedule than Birmingham. Getting victory against ATL UTD 2 is going to be a must before welcoming North Carolina FC to MUSC Health Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
12. Memphis 901 FC
12. Memphis 901 FC
Record:7-13-7, 28pts
Playoff Odds 1 percent
Projected Final Position: 12th (29 percent)
Max Points Available: 49pts
Magic Number: 29pts
Upcoming: vs. STL (9/21)
A three-game winning streak is very nice, but it’s likely too late for a playoff surge with the gap at eight points going into the final seven games. The way 901 FC can keep itself in the picture, though, is by taking victory at home against Saint Louis FC on Saturday night.
13. Bethlehem Steel FC
13. Bethlehem Steel FC
Record:7-14-6, 27pts
Playoff Odds 2 percent
Projected Final Position: 12th (34 percent)
Max Points Available: 48pts
Magic Number: 30pts
Upcoming: vs. LDN (9/18), @TBR (9/21)
Steel FC almost pulled out a point on the road against Indy, but with seven games remaining it’s going to need to start stacking up wins consistently, starting in a two-game week against Loudoun United FC and Tampa Bay, to have any chance of a third consecutive playoff berth.
14. Charlotte Independence
14. Charlotte Independence
Record:5-13-11, 26pts
Playoff Odds <1 percent
Projected Final Position: 14th (27 percent)
Max Points Available: 41pts
Magic Number: 31pts
Upcoming: vs. SPR (9/21)
With five games to go and a 10-point gap to bridge, even if the Independence win out it likely won’t be enough to earn a playoff place.
15. Loudoun United FC
15. Loudoun United FC
Record:6-14-6, 24pts
Playoff Odds <1 percent
Projected Final Position: 15th (25 percent)
Max Points Available: 48pts
Magic Number: 33pts
Upcoming: @BST (9/18)
Surrendering an early lead after going down to 10 men likely extinguished Loudoun’s chances for good, especially with the side set to face four of the East’s top five clubs in the final stretch of the season.
16. Atlanta United 2
16. Atlanta United 2
Record:6-16-6, 24pts
Playoff Odds <1 percent
Projected Final Position: 17th (41 percent)
Max Points Available: 42pts
Magic Number: 33pts
Upcoming: vs. CHS (9/18)
Atlanta’s point on the road against Tampa Bay didn’t move the needle playoff-wise, but the side will certainly have fans in its corner hoping it knocks off Charleston on Wednesday night.
17. Hartford Athletic
17. Hartford Athletic
Record:6-19-4, 22pts
Playoff Odds <1 percent
Projected Final Position: 16th (30 percent)
Max Points Available: 37pts
Magic Number: 35pts
Upcoming: @OTT (9/22)
Hartford showed against Louisville on Saturday it could be a pest to those looking to reach the playoffs, but mathematically the Athletic could be eliminated by the end of this week.
18. Swope Park Rangers
18. Swope Park Rangers
Record:4-16-7, 19pts
Playoff Odds <1 percent
Projected Final Position: 18th (58 percent)
Max Points Available: 40pts
Magic Number: 38pts
Upcoming: @CLT (9/21)
You can bet there were plenty of teams higher up the Eastern Conference cheering Swope Park’s results last week as it took points off both Charleston and North Carolina.

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