Week 14 got out to a flying start for Austin Bold FC as it boosted its playoff chances, and tonight brings more key action as the battle for the postseason comes down to the wire. Here’s your Morning Tea for Wednesday.
As you’re probably well aware, it’s almost time for the 2020 USL Championship Playoffs.
Some teams have clinched their places, some are on the verge of doing so, and some of these races are potentially going to come down to the wire.
But if you don’t have a rooting interest – or your team has been eliminated from contention – you should seriously consider carrying a flag for Saint Louis FC over the next two weeks.
Why? Well, they’re arguably the most interesting, exhilarating and – most of all – exasperating team to follow the Championship has seen since the club first kicked off in 2015. On rare occasions, they’re all three within the span of 90 minutes.
The disappointments – and, boy, have there been those – have just left you wondering how unfortunate a club can be. What curse did it pick up along the way that meant when things could go wrong, they inevitably would?
Just look at last season. Saint Louis FC was on a roll, five consecutive wins in September and headed for its second consecutive playoff berth. FiveThirtyEight.com rated it a 94 percent chance to make the playoffs on September 24. Sure thing, right? Nope. STLFC proceeded to lose five of its last six games, dropping contests to Loudoun United FC and Memphis 901 FC as well as against Louisville City FC and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC.
A win on the last day of the season would still have given them a chance. A 1-0 defeat to North Carolina FC ended them.
That has been the lot of Saint Louis FC fans for much of the past six seasons. Hope for the best. Expect the worst.
But then, there were those moments that – against all odds and superstition – just brought chills down your spine. Sam Fink and Aaron Horton leading the late-season comeback against the Charleston Battery in 2015, or the Open Cup penalty shootout against Minnesota United when Mark Pais became king for a night.
There was Irvin Herrera’s four-goal blockbuster in Tulsa, and the night the players celebrated a 0-0 draw to clinch the club’s first playoff berth with more than 6,000 fans on hand, finally going to the promised land. The Open Cup victories at home against the Chicago Fire and FC Cincinnati, and the towering header from Sam Fink that rocked the stands last summer.
Fink has seen almost all of it, by the way. He’s played 132 times in the Championship for STLFC, recorded more than 11,000 minutes – both easily the most in the club’s history – and has been the talisman for many of the moments that have gone right. Last Saturday, he added another with a 96th-minute header that grabbed victory after Saint Louis had squandered a two-goal lead to Sporting Kansas City II. It was almost another of those “can you believe it…” STLFC moments, until it became a “CAN YOU BELIEVE IT!” one instead.
But that’s what you get, and that’s why you jump on the bandwagon now. There’s a great chance it ends in disappointment. Indy Eleven is a fine team, and if it beats Saint Louis on Wednesday night then the fat lady will be warming up in the tunnel at Lucas Oil Stadium.
If it doesn’t? Well, we’ve got the potential for something special to happen to what’s been through it all a special club to have as part of this league.
Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?
- “There's so much untapped potential in these communities. But if it costs $1,500, 2-grand a year for a 12-year-old to play soccer, well that's just not feasible for a large number of people.” The Charlotte Independence’s Brandon Miller and Hugh Roberts, both founders of the USL Black Players Alliance, were among those who spoke with Yahoo Sports’ Henry Bushnell about the barriers that have hindered access to soccer at youth levels across the United States for young Black players.
- Austin Bold FC gave its postseason chances a boost on Tuesday night as it pulled away in the second half for a 4-0 victory against Sporting Kansas City II. The hosts got goals from Xavier Baez and Alasanne Ates Diouf in the win, which moved Bold FC two points ahead of FC Tulsa for second place in Group D.
- Connecticut has been home to elite soccer programs and games in the past, but Hartford Athletic’s arrival has given the Nutmeg State a professional team to call its own. The New Haven Register’s Jim Fuller looked at the progress of the club, which is headed to the USL Championship Playoffs next month for the first time in its second season.
- San Diego Loyal SC’s five-game undefeated streak has put it firmly back into the playoff picture as it visits the LA Galaxy II on Wednesday night. CBS8’s Jake Garegnagi checked in with the squad that has hit a rich vein of form at just the right moment to give it a chance at a postseason berth in its inaugural season.
- Saint Louis FC knows its game against Indy Eleven on Wednesday night is a must-win for its postseason chances. “I think we’re ready,” Head Coach Steve Trittschuh told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Joe Lyons. “We’ve looked sharp in practice and I think the guys are looking forward to this one.”
- Phoenix Rising FC’s Junior Flemmings continued to shine on Saturday night to reach 14 goals for the season, and surpass 50 regular season goals for his career, and continues to draw praise from Head Coach Rick Schantz. “He can't stand to lose anything,” Schantz told the Arizona Republic’s Lorenzino Estrada. “When you add that with talent, desire, skill and intelligence you get Junior Flemmings. He and I both know he's not long for USL. He can play in Europe very easily.”
- Michael Watson has Duchenne muscular dystrophy and has limited mobility, but always dreamed of playing sports. As Fox40’s Kay Recede reports, he’s now playing power soccer and has been boosted by the donation of a new electric wheelchair by Sacramento Republic FC and Make-A-Wish Northern California.