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THE MORNING TEA – Tulsa Two-Step; Claim the Wrench, Then the Playoffs

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 09/30/20, 7:30AM EDT

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The time of decision arrives for numerous clubs in the race for the USL Championship Playoffs on Wednesday night, with the chance that playoff places could be clinched, or elimination may arrive. One club whose for the former is in action as well, and has not only a chance at a playoff place on the line, but a chance to put one over on its biggest rival. Here’s your Morning Tea for Wednesday.

 

THE BIG STORY

As you approach the finish line of what has been a hard-fought, tense race to reach the postseason, knowing that you control the fate of your season can be a very welcome.

When you add into the equation a matchup against your club’s biggest rival – where the season series will be on the line as well as your playoff aims – then it only amps up the pregame atmosphere.

For FC Tulsa, Wednesday night’s third and final Black Gold Derby of the season brings both propositions.

“It adds more pressure, more excitement,” said Tulsa defender Matt Sheldon on Tuesday. “We definitely want to win the series at home and give our fans a good win and hopefully get the Wrench. As always, you want to win these rivalries, these derby games. We’re really excited to play tomorrow.”

Just over 13 months since the purchase of the club by the Craft family, Tulsa is in a very different place than at the end of last season. The new crest and uniforms are among the sharpest in the Championship, and while not everything has gone according to plan on the field, the atmosphere at ONEOK Field feels so much different.

Eric Bird’s stoppage-time winner against San Antonio FC on Saturday night felt like the sort of moment that happens for teams where good things are right around the corner, and the reaction of the socially-distanced crowd and the players reflected that. That the following day saw Austin Bold FC drop key points in a 0-0 draw against Energy FC only added to the belief that this could be the year for Tulsa’s second postseason trip.

“The San Antonio game was a big one,” said Head Coach Michael Nsien. “We knew going into the Oklahoma City match we would have some natural motivation with the history between the two clubs. With four draws in the last four times we’ve played, both teams will come out to play no matter where we are at in the table. To be able to get the San Antonio match out of the way and to get three points was a huge victory for us.”

A victory against Energy FC on Wednesday would provide added momentum for Tulsa, and a parallel to its past as the Roughnecks. The lone season in which Tulsa has claimed the four-foot wrench that serves as the trophy for the oil country rivalry was in 2017, when the likes of Joey Calistri, Juan Pablo Caffa and Joaquin Rivas powered the side’s attack.

That was also the lone season in which the Roughnecks reached the postseason, before two more seasons of struggles. If Tulsa wins the wrench it would go a long way toward edging out Austin for second place in Group D and a second trip to the USL Championship Playoffs.

For Sheldon and his teammates, though, it’s first things first.

“We’ve told ourselves that we can’t celebrate too early, there’s still games to be played,” said Sheldon. “We really have to get the results. Even though it is in our control, anything can happen. A couple of bad results for us and good results for Austin and we’re out of the playoffs. We’re taking that momentum and trying to continue that into the game against OKC.”

 

TONIGHT'S ACTION

New York Red Bulls II vs. North Carolina FC

(5-9-0)
Group F

5:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: City Stadium, Richmond, Va.

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: NY Wins 28% | Draw 23% | NC Wins 49%
(5-7-1)
Group G
The Gist: North Carolina FC will head to the neutral turf of City Stadium in Richmond, Virginia as it tries to continue a late push to the postseason with a contest against the New York Red Bulls II. Both scheduled to face Loudoun United FC in the final week of the season, the Red Bulls II and NCFC will instead meet each other following the early conclusion to United’s season. North Carolina is coming off a 2-1 victory on Saturday night against Birmingham Legion FC that saw the side claim its third road victory of the campaign, but it has to keep winning in order to have a chance at catching Birmingham or the Charlotte Independence for one of the top two positions in Group G. The Red Bulls II, meanwhile, are out of playoff contention and played two high-scoring contests in the past week that saw New York find the net eight times. The Red Bulls II will have both the Independence and Legion FC in their corner for this matchup, as a draw or a New York win would clinch postseason berths for both clubs.
Discipline: New York - Chris Lema (Suspended)

Indy Eleven vs. Sporting Kansas City II

(7-5-2)
Group E

7:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: Lucas Oil Stadium

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: IND Wins 68% | Draw 20% | SKC Wins 12%
(4-9-1)
Group E
The Gist: Indy Eleven can clinch its place in the postseason with a victory against Sporting Kansas City II. Any other result, however, and the playoff fate of the Boys in Blue will come down to the final game of the regular season as they visit Saint Louis FC on Saturday night. After a fast start to the season, Indy has struggled more recently with only one win in its final five outings. A 1-1 draw against Saint Louis last Wednesday night kept Indy one point ahead of its competition for second place, however, and after STLFC’s loss to group winner Louisville City FC last weekend, Indy has a clear path to the playoffs on home turf. Sporting could provide a challenge, however, as while Indy has won two out of the three prior meetings this season between the clubs, both were by a single goal, and SKC II also claimed victory to snap Indy’s long home undefeated streak at Lucas Oil Stadium on August 1 when Danny Barbir scored the only goal of the game.
Discipline: None

Philadelphia Union II vs. Hartford Athletic

(2-9-3)
Group F

7:30 p.m. ET |
Venue: Subaru Park

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: PHI Wins 29% | Draw 23% | HFD Wins 48%
(9-3-2)
Group F
The Gist: Hartford Athletic will get its first chance at clinching a playoff place as it visits the Philadelphia Union II, with both sides coming off good midweek victories as they meet at Subaru Park. Hartford moved within three points of clinching its first trip to the playoffs on Wednesday night as it took a 3-1 victory against the New York Red Bulls II to open up a 10-point lead over the rest of the group in second place. With five games remaining, Hartford could still catch Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC for first place, but it could get a good test from the Union II, who are coming off a 4-0 win against Loudoun United FC on Wednesday to remain alive in the postseason race.
Discipline: Hartford - Parfait Mandanda (Suspended)

Miami FC vs. Charleston Battery

(2-8-4)
Group H

7:30 p.m. ET |
Venue: Riccardo Silva Stadium

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: MIA Wins 34% | Draw 28% | CHS Wins 38%
(8-2-3)
Group H
The Gist: The Gist: The Charleston Battery can keep their chances of claiming Group H alive as they visit Miami FC on Wednesday night as a win would move Charleston within three points of the first-placed Tampa Bay Rowdies ahead of their showdown on Saturday night at Al Lang Stadium. The Battery are on a nine-game undefeated streak and took a 2-0 victory against Miami in their most recent outing as Zeiko Lewis and Nicque Daley provided the goals at Patriots Point on September 19. Miami, meanwhile, has lost three of its last four games, including a 1-0 defeat to the Rowdies this past Saturday night. Charleston almost claimed victory when it first visited Miami this season, but a late goal by Miguel Gonzalez earned the hosts a 1-1 draw. The Battery are looking for three points this time, however, to set up the second game of their swing through the Sunshine State.
Discipline: None

FC Tulsa vs. OKC Energy FC

(4-2-7)
Group D

8:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: ONEOK Field

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: TUL Wins 50% | Draw 28% | OKC Wins 22%
(1-6-7)
Group D
The Gist: FC Tulsa can claim the Black Gold Derby and maintain its drive for a second trip to the USL Championship Playoffs with a win against OKC Energy FC on Wednesday night. The rivals have played to 1-1 draws in their prior two meetings this season, but Tulsa has been in better form of the two more recently including a dramatic 1-0 victory against San Antonio FC last Saturday night that saw Eric Bird scored in second-half stoppage time to lift his side to victory. That result eliminated Energy FC from playoff contention, but OKC helped its in-state rival’s bid for the playoff on Sunday evening as it held Austin Bold FC to a 0-0 draw at Taft Stadium. Tulsa now sits level on points with Austin but has a game in hand on its postseason rival. With Bold FC facing Rio Grande Valley FC as well on Wednesday night, though, Tulsa will be looking for victory to ensure it is at least level with Austin by the end of the night’s action.
Discipline: None

Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC vs. El Paso Locomotive FC

(2-6-6)
Group C

9:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: Weidner Field

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: COS Wins 29% | Draw 28% | ELP Wins 43%
(8-2-4)
Group C
The Gist: El Paso Locomotive FC can clinch first place in Group C with a victory on Wednesday night as it visits Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC at Weidner Field. El Paso is undefeated in its last nine games after playing to a 0-0 draw with New Mexico United this past Saturday, a result that kept the margin between first-placed Locomotive FC and second-placed United at four points going to the final. El Paso is undefeated in its three prior meetings this season with the Switchbacks, including a 0-0 draw in its last visit to Weidner Field on August 22. The Switchbacks have seen an uptick in form over the last couple of outings, however, and earned a 1-1 draw with Real Monarchs SLC this past Saturday night. Should Colorado Springs take points off El Paso on Wednesday, it would open the door to New Mexico closing the gap in its Wednesday-night visit to Real Monarchs SLC ahead of this weekend’s final slate.
Discipline: None

Rio Grande Valley FC vs. Austin Bold FC

(0-9-3)
Group D

9:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: H-E-B Park

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: RGV Wins 21% | Draw 23% | ATX Wins 56%
(4-3-7)
Group D
The Gist: Austin Bold FC will try to get back in the win column and keep the pressure on FC Tulsa in the race for second place in Group D as it visits Rio Grande Valley FC. Bold FC missed out on a chance to maintain a two-point lead over Tulsa on Sunday evening as it played to a 0-0 draw against OKC Energy FC as Sonny Guadarrama had a first-half penalty kick saved and other chances fall by the wayside. Austin will visit a Rio Grande Valley FC side that is set for its first game since a 3-2 defeat on September 5 against San Antonio FC. The Toros are still looking for their first win of the season, but gave Bold FC a scare when it last visited H-E-B Park on August 22 as it saw a second-half rally come up just short in a 3-2 Austin victory. With Tulsa also in action against Energy FC, Austin will be hoping results go its way as it looks for a second consecutive playoff berth.
Discipline: None

Real Monarchs SLC vs. New Mexico United

(3-9-2)
Group C

9:30 p.m. ET |
Venue: Zions Bank Stadium

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: SLC Wins 35% | Draw 26% | NM Wins 38%
(7-4-3)
Group C
The Gist: New Mexico United will try to complete a season sweep at Zions Bank Stadium as it visits Real Monarchs SLC and in turn try to keep its chances at a first-place finish alive in Group C on Wednesday night. New Mexico has claimed victory in its three prior visits to face the Monarchs on their home turf with an aggregate score of 6-1. Amando Moreno has scored four of those goals, including both tallies when he teams last met on September 12. Since that result, however, New Mexico has gone winless in its last two outings to sit four points behind current group leader El Paso Locomotive FC, including a 0-0 draw with El Paso this past Saturday night. With Locomotive FC also in action on Wednesday, New Mexico will know at the final whistle whether its chances of first place are still intact, or if a trip to Group D winner San Antonio FC awaits in the postseason.
Discipline: None

Reno 1868 FC vs. Las Vegas Lights FC

(10-2-2)
Group A

9:30 p.m. ET |
Venue: Greater Nevada Field

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: RNO Wins 67% | Draw 18% | LV Wins 14%
(2-8-4)
Group B
The Gist: Reno 1868 FC will look to clinch both first place in Group A and the Silver State Cup on Wednesday night as it plays host to Las Vegas Lights FC. Reno maintained its five-point lead over second-placed Sacramento Republic FC this past Saturday as Brent Richards found the net in a 1-1 draw. That result left Reno almost certain of topping its group, but 1868 FC can also close out homefield advantage throughout the playoffs if it wins its final two games as it currently holds the highest potential points total of any team in the Championship. Las Vegas has been eliminated from playoff contention, meanwhile, but has shown some bright moments in the past month that included rallying for a late 2-2 draw with the LA Galaxy II in its last outing. After suffering a 1-0 defeat at Cashman Field earlier this season, the visitors would love to turn the tables and claim the rivalry trophy for the first time.
Discipline: None

LA Galaxy II vs. Orange County SC

(7-5-2)
Group B

10:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: Dignity Health Sports Park

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: LA Wins 32% | Draw 26% | OC Wins 42%
(6-5-3)
Group B
The Gist: The LA Galaxy II and Orange County SC will both be eager for three points as they meet on Wednesday night. Los Dos have the chance to clinch a place in the postseason with a victory, but Orange County can position itself to grab second place on the final weekend of the regular season if it can take all three points. Orange County has struggled recently, though, and has won only once in its last five games, dropping the other four contests and scoring only three goals in that span. That hasn’t been enough to sink its playoff hopes, however, as with a win against Los Dos and then another against Las Vegas Lights FC to close the season, OCSC would finish second to Phoenix Rising FC in Group B. The Galaxy II, though, were one of the teams to defeat Orange County in its recent downturn as Augustine Williams and Mauricio Cuevas found the net in a 2-1 win on September 5. Another Los Dos win would move the side five points clear of Orange County, and also guarantee it finishes ahead of San Diego Loyal SC on the total wins tiebreaker no matter what happens in SD Loyal’s game against Phoenix Rising FC on Wednesday night.
Discipline: None

San Diego Loyal SC vs. Phoenix Rising FC

(6-4-5)
Group B

10:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: Torero Stadium

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: SD Wins 26% | Draw 25% | PHX Wins 49%
(9-3-2)
Group B
The Gist: San Diego Loyal SC needs victory to keep its chances of reaching the postseason alive while Phoenix Rising FC can clinch first place in Group B with a draw as the sides meet in a rematch of a thrilling recent contest in the final game of SD Loyal’s inaugural season. The hosts can still find a way into the playoffs but must match their victory against Rising FC when the sides last met on September 19 to remain in with a chance. That night, Rubio Rubin scored a first-half hat trick at Casino Arizona Field, and San Diego held on late to take a 3-2 victory that boosted its playoff chances substantially. With both the Galaxy II and Orange County having two games remaining, however, San Diego will need those two teams to finish level in their match on Wednesday night, and then suffer adverse results over their final games this weekend for SD Loyal to end the regular season in second place.
Discipline: San Diego - Elijah Martin (Suspended)

Tacoma Defiance vs. Sacramento Republic FC

(3-9-2)
Group A

10:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: Cheney Stadium

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: TAC Wins 25% | Draw 24% | SAC Wins 51%
(7-1-6)
Group A
The Gist: Sacramento Republic FC will try to claim victory against Tacoma Defiance – and hope for a defeat for Reno 1868 FC – to keep its chances of finishing first in Group A alive on Wednesday night. Republic FC is on a 10-game undefeated streak, but sits five points behind 1868 FC for first place in the group after a 1-1 draw between the teams this past Saturday saw Republic FC unable to narrow the margin. That means Sacramento is likely to face a trip to Phoenix Rising FC in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, a matchup that would be confirmed with a Reno win or draw against Las Vegas Lights FC and a Phoenix Rising FC win or draw against San Diego Loyal SC, also on Wednesday night. Tacoma comes into the contest having earned a 2-1 victory against the Portland Timbers 2 in its last outing and has played to a pair of 3-3 draws with Republic FC previously this season. With the remaining goal of finishing ahead of T2 in the standings, finding a way to claim victory on home turf would accomplish that.
Discipline: None
 

THE SOCIAL CIRCLE

 

THE USL LOWDOWN

- “Dumb decisions” led to Andrew Carleton struggling off the field and, in the end, falling out of love with soccer. The Athletic’s Jeff Reuter spoke with the U.S. youth international about regaining that enjoyment and love for the game on loan at Indy Eleven this year, and what he hopes the future holds after the remarkable promise he showed in bursting into the national consciousness.

- The Charleston Battery start a two-game swing through Florida on Wednesday night with a visit to Miami FC and a chance to end the regular season on top of Group H. “Offensively, we’re creating a lot of chances,” Battery defender Jarad van Schaik told NBC 2’s John Barron. “Defensively, we’ve been tough to break down and get goals against. Overall, I think everyone’s been pretty happy with their performance.”

- Phoenix Rising FC has locked up its place in the 2020 USL Championship Playoffs. As it visits San Diego Loyal SC on Wednesday night, it’s now looking to lock up first place in Group B and close out the regular season with two more wins to build momentum toward the postseason. Arizona Sports’ Jake Anderson has more with Rising FC Head Coach Rick Schantz as the team prepares for a big midweek clash.

- Louisville City FC has sealed first place in Group E, but according to Head Coach John Hackworth there’s still plenty of importance to Saturday’s regular-season finale against Sporting Kansas City II. WDRB’s John Lewis spoke with Hackworth about that and the club’s 10-game undefeated streak.

- New Mexico United will try to make it four wins from four against Real Monarchs SLC on Wednesday night as they look to keep their chances of overtaking El Paso Locomotive FC alive in Group C. “We want to build momentum going into the playoffs,” goalkeeper Cody Mizell told the Albuquerque Journal’s Ken Sickenger. “We also want to go get three points and keep pressure on El Paso. It’s not over yet.”

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