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Expert Predictions – USL Championship Conference Finals

By USLChampionship.com Staff, 11/07/19, 7:30AM EST

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How do our three experts expect this Saturday’s action to unfold?

We’ve reached the penultimate weekend of the 2019 USL Championship season with four teams still in contention to claim the title at next week’s 2019 USL Championship Final.

Ahead of Saturday’s Eastern and Western Conference Finals, we asked three experts – The Athletic’s Jeff Rueter and USLChampionship.com’s John Arlia and Nicholas Murray – to weigh in on which two teams would advance to the final game of the season.

Indy Eleven
3rd
November 9
3:00 PM ET
Louisville City FC
4th
Nicholas Murray
USL
Louisville City FC 2, Indy Eleven 0
“Louisville has had different players step up at different times so far this postseason, but this time we’re going to get a sense of déjà vu as for a second consecutive year Niall McCabe steals the show and sends LouCity into its third consecutive USL Championship Final.

McCabe scored a brace against Indy in the postseason a year ago – you can be sure the Eleven will be on the lookout for that short corner routine this time – but after Indy takes the initiative early on in front of its home fans the Irish midfielder will put Louisville ahead in the 32nd minute as he arrives late to put home a low cross from Antoine Hoppenot.

With Paco Craig keeping Dane Kelly in check and Speedy Williams tracking Tyler Pasher’s off-ball movement, Indy’s only way back into the game ends up being through set pieces as Ayoze’s deliveries aimed for Karl Ouimette and Paddy Barrett try to level things. With 14 minutes to go, though, Brian Ownby finishes off a counterattack to add an insurance goal and wrap up Louisville’s place in the Championship Final.”
Jeff Rueter
The Athletic
Louisville City FC 2, Indy Eleven 1
“I think there's a case to be made that this is the pseudo-final for these USL Championship Playoffs. Players shouldn't struggle to find motivation since the winner gets to host the final the following week. For Indy, that would mean a third home game this postseason at The Mike, and the reunion between the Brickyard Battalion and the stadium seems to have elicited a honeymoon period. However, things like “mystique” and “aura” aren't going to do the job against a two-time defending champion.

I like what Martin Rennie has done in Indy; they're happy to give opponents shots in non-dangerous areas and they won't stress losing a possession battle. Tyler Pasher has been a standout this season playing in a more advanced role than before, and Paddy Barrett certainly looks the part anchoring a back-three. I think the home team will get out to a first-half lead — which might be enough to ignite Louisville's full potential. They've conceded first in three of their four most recent wins, including all three in that madcap 8-3 regular season home finale against the Swope Park Rangers. This isn't the stalwart side with big names of title runs past, but it may be Louisville's best team from 1-18 on their roster. I wouldn't bet against Head Coach John Hackworth in a conference final.”
John Arlia
USL
Indy Eleven 2, Louisville City FC 1
“Last year, Louisville City FC ended Indy Eleven’s first season in the USL Championship with a 4-1 victory at Slugger Field in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals that saw the visitors concede three times from dead-ball situations. LouCity is still strong from set plays, with Oscar Jimenez providing four assists from dead balls during the regular season, but Indy Head Coach Martin Rennie should have his guys well prepared for that this time around.

The Eleven conceded just six goals on home turf during the regular season (17 games) and have yet to concede across 180 minutes in the USL Championship Playoffs. However, Louisville was able to find the back of the net in both meetings against Indy this season – both 1-1 draws – and I expect this contest will play out similarly to those two with Indy getting ahead early and Louisville fighting its way back as it did last weekend in Pittsburgh.

I picked against LouCity on that occasion and probably should’ve learned my lesson by now, but I think Indy accomplishes what the Hounds failed to do in making its undefeated home record stand up. Drew Conner comes up with the winning goal for the hosts with 17 minutes remaining to give his side some sweet, sweet revenge and eliminate off the two-time defending champion."

Real Monarchs SLC
4th
November 9
3:00 PM ET
El Paso Locomotive FC
6th
Nicholas Murray
USL
Real Monarchs SLC 2, El Paso Locomotive FC 1
“There have been precisely no goals scored in the previous two meetings between the Monarchs and Locomotive FC, but that changes this Saturday at Zions Bank Stadium as Maikel Chang leads his side to victory and a place in the USL Championship Final with a goal and assist, continuing his stellar postseason.

After an even opening to the game, Real takes the lead in the 18th minute when they counterattack quickly off an El Paso corner kick. Chang’s through-ball finds Douglas Martinez, who notches his 18th goal of the season with a low finish to the right corner of the net. El Paso hits back before halftime, however, as Sebastian Velasquez breaks away from the attention of Monarchs holding midfielder Justin Portillo for just long enough to deliver an angled cross that Jerome Kiesewetter heads home six minutes before halftime.

The Monarchs start to build their rhythm in the second half, however, with Luke Mulholland getting the better of Yuma in the center of midfield. With 17 minutes to go, Mulholland starts a move that sends Jack Blake into the final third, and after getting past a defender his low cross is met by a first-time finish from Chang that sends the Monarchs into their first Championship Final.”
Jeff Rueter
The Athletic
El Paso Locomotive FC 2, Real Monarchs SLC 1
“I'm a sucker for an underdog; while Louisville making the final shouldn't be considered an upset by any means, a 6-seed expansion side probably deserves every bit of their “nobody believed in us” hype. Monarchs Head Coach Jámison Olave has done a tremendous job flipping the momentum switch at the right time, orchestrating a pair of wins in Phoenix over the span of four weeks. Their shape has made them difficult to break down, and I love the midfield balance they've struck with Justin Portillo, Luke Mulholland, and Jack Blake.

And yet... I've been covering Locomotive FC Head Coach Mark Lowry's career since his first year at the helm of Jacksonville Armada. The brand of football he likes to play is tailor-made for a playoff run, which has clearly worked thus far. They overcame a massive season-ending injury to Mechak Jerome and Chiró N'Toko has done incredible work to fill that void. It's flown under the radar a bit given Jerome Kiesewetter's dry spell since the summer, but his attacking work in tandem with Omar Salgado, Sebastian Velásquez, and Josue Aaron Gómez may be the best remaining fleet in the playoffs. Goalkeeper Logan Ketterer will have to avoid another gaffe playing out of the back like he suffered against Fresno, but if they keep their shape, if Yuma stays out of yellow card trouble, and if they don't give Jack Blake free kicks around the box, I think there's still some sand in Cinderella's hourglass.”
John Arlia
USL
El Paso Locomotive FC 1, Real Monarchs SLC 1
El Paso advances 4-3 in penalty shootout
“The first two regular-season meetings between the Monarchs and Locomotive FC ended in goalless draws, but a third instance doesn’t seem like a strong possibility given the two teams have combined to score 14 goals across their first two games of the postseason. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if El Paso tries to slow Real down a bit, especially after the hosts ran rampant in their last outing at Zions Bank Stadium, a 6-2 win over 10-man Orange County SC in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

The visitors should be able to do that by retaining possession, which they led the Western Conference in during the regular season (averaging 57.12 percent) and defending as a compact unit when they lose the ball. Locomotive FC conceded just 17 goals in 17 away matches during the regular season – the fewest in the West – and kept seven clean sheets over that span.

That, as well as the magnitude of the occasion for two first-time Conference Finalists, should keep this game close over 90 minutes and beyond. Douglas Martinez and Jerome Kiesewetter trade goals in regulation and the match remains knotted until a decisive penalty shootout, where El Paso goalkeeper Logan Ketterer adds to the four road penalty saves he made during the regular season with a pair to send the expansion side to the Championship Final.”

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