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LEVEL UP – Which Tier Does Your Team Sit in as the Playoffs Start?

By Staff, 10/05/20, 7:38PM EDT


Rising FC, LouCity rank as the primary candidates to reach the Championship Final

All 16 teams in the field of the 2020 Championship Playoffs are hoping to emulate Real Monarchs SLC in lifting the trophy this November. | Photo courtesy Louisville City FC / Em-Dash Photography

Everyone will have their own theories and hunches when it comes to the direction of the 2020 USL Championship Playoffs. Do you believe in the destiny of Saint Louis FC to claim a title, or that this is the year Reno 1868 FC finally makes the playoff run its regular-season success has promised?

Going by the numbers, though, there are some clear tiers of contenders according to’s prediction model. Before we kick off the action on Saturday night, let’s take a look at what the numbers are telling us we might expect in this postseason.

The favorites

Two-time USL Championship Final-winner Louisville City FC is on a six-game winning streak as it enters this year's postseason. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

Louisville City FC - E1
Odds of Winning Final: 17%
Conf. Quarterfinals: vs. PIT
New postseason, same story. Louisville City FC has made itself the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. Having gained homefield advantage throughout the playoffs over the final weekend of the season, LouCity is on a six-game winning streak going into the postseason and is rated a 29 percent chance to reach the Championship Final for a fourth consecutive season. It would be no surprise to anyone if they were in action on November 1.
Phoenix Rising FC - B1
Odds of Winning Final: 17%
Conf. Quarterfinals: vs. SAC
The reputation Rising FC has built with its success over the past three seasons made it a big favorite for the title going into this season. Those numbers have tightened over the course of the year, dropping from 25 percent in March, but the depth in Rising FC’s squad still puts it in line to reach its second Championship Final in three years. Add in the club’s memories of disappointment from the past two seasons and you have a side that’s going to be focused on taking that next step this season.

THE Challengers

The road to the 2020 USL Championship Final goes through Greater Nevada Field after Reno 1868 FC claimed the best record in the regular season in the Championship. | Photo courtesy David Calvert / Reno 1868 FC

Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC - F2
Odds of Winning Final: 12%
Conf. Quarterfinals: @ LOU
There’s a reason why Saturday’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinal between Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC and Louisville City FC has the feel of a duel for the Eastern Conference crown. After last year’s extra time thriller at Highmark Stadium, the Hounds have retooled admirably to remain a serious threat to end LouCity’s reign in the East. Pittsburgh will have good memories of its first visit to Lynn Family Stadium, too, and with 34 points in hand it would host any side in the lower half of the bracket should it reach the Conference Final.
Reno 1868 FC - A1
Odds of Winning Final: 12%
Conf. Quarterfinals: vs. LA
It’s not quite happened for 1868 FC in its prior three postseason trips, including an 0-2 record at Greater Nevada Field after defeats to OKC Energy FC (2017) and Sacramento Republic FC (2019) as the higher seed. Reno has at least got on paper a reasonably winnable game against the mercurial LA Galaxy II in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, but then it will either face Phoenix Rising FC – which it did beat this season on home turf, 2-1 – or Sacramento Republic FC – which it failed to defeat in four meetings. The expectations are going to be there for this to be the year. We’ve seen Reno can live up to them. The big question is will it?
Tampa Bay Rowdies - H1
Odds of Winning Final: 12%
Conf. Quarterfinals: vs. BHM
The Rowdies have on paper everything you need to win a title. A solid defense that conceded less than a goal per game over the season and enough creativity and attacking options that can give trouble to any opponent. But there’s a red flag here. Tampa Bay lost three times in the regular season, and all to the same team; the Charleston Battery. If they square off again in the Conference Semifinals, it’s going to be a major test of Tampa Bay’s psyche, because if it can push through there, it could accomplish anything.
San Antonio FC - D1
Odds of Winning Final: 10%
Conf. Quarterfinals: vs. NM
San Antonio cruised through its division – only Louisville City FC had a wider final margin over its second-place qualifier than SAFC’s eight-point lead on FC Tulsa – and there’s a lot to like about how well Head Coach Alen Marcina’s side played for most of the campaign. But things haven’t quite clicked in the past two weeks as the side suffered its first back-to-back defeats of the season, and that’s a concern. When it comes to the postseason, it can mean a swift end to a promising season.


El Paso Locomotive FC reached the Western Conference Final a season ago before falling in extra time. It will look to go at least one step further this season. | Photo courtesy El Paso Locomotive FC

El Paso Locomotive FC - C1
Odds of Winning Final: 5%
Conf. Quarterfinals: vs. TUL
I’ve got to be honest, I’m not sure I quite understand Locomotive FC’s low rating here. No, this side hadn’t really blown anyone away this season in the manner of Reno or Phoenix, but it’s pulled together an 11-game undefeated streak to finish on top of its group and has racked up five consecutive shutouts as well. After the experience of reaching – and leading – the Western Conference Final in its inaugural season ago before falling in extra time to Real Monarchs SLC, doesn’t it feel like El Paso is ready to make another run?
Charleston Battery - H2
Odds of Winning Final: 3%
Conf. Quarterfinals: @ CLT
The Battery don’t have names that some of the more highly regarded teams in this postseason might, but they’re a team that right now seems well-equipped to punch above its collective weight this postseason. They’re a 50-50 chance on the road in the first round against the Charlotte Independence, a team they haven’t lost to since 2016, and then they could get one more game against a Tampa Bay Rowdies side they’ve won three in a row against going into the postseason. If Charleston got its one bad game out of its system against Miami FC, it could be ready to make a serious run at its first title since the 2012 season and fifth overall.
Sacramento Republic FC - A2
Odds of Winning Final: 3%
Conf. Quarterfinals: @ PHX
The biggest hurdle to Republic FC claiming its second league title might be the team it faces in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, Phoenix Rising FC. But there’s a positive history of Republic FC faring well in the playoffs when it’s been the underdog. Last year it reached the Western Conference Semifinals as a No. 7 seed, and in 2017 it defeated Real Monarchs SLC as a No. 8 seed in a penalty shootout after the Monarchs had claimed the best record in the league in the regular season. And if Sacramento gets past Phoenix? There’s an awful lot of talent in this squad that will be eager to do some damage.
New Mexico United - C2
Odds of Winning Final: 2%
Conf. Quarterfinals: @ SA
It’s in some ways remarkable that New Mexico United found itself in the postseason for a second consecutive year despite playing every game on the road. The bill for that duress seemed to come due in the final weeks of the season when the side won only two of its last six games as the wear and tear of the road took its toll. But, with 10 days to recuperate before it gets going this postseason – and holding back some key figures to less than 90 minutes in its finale against Real Monarchs SLC – United could be back to the side that were dubbed the Kings of Chaos early this season. In a year like this, how can you rule a team with a nickname like that out?

the longshots

FC Tulsa is back in the Championship Playoffs for the first time since 2017, but is on a three-game winning streak as it opens on the road in El Paso. | Photo courtesy FC Tulsa

Hartford Athletic - F1
Odds of Winning Final: 2%
Conf. Quarterfinals: vs. STL
Hartford has been a very good story this season, especially making a run to finish on top of Group F to earn a first trip to the postseason in its second year, but you can’t help but get the feeling that it was more a function of the group the Athletic were in than the quality of its play that got it there. Now, granted, it’s an impressive feat to go into Highmark Stadium and take victory. Not many teams have done that since Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC appointed Bob Lilley as its Head Coach. But everything’s going to have to fall right for a serious run to happen here.
Charlotte Independence - G1
Odds of Winning Final: 2%
Conf. Quarterfinals: vs. CHS
The Independence came back in a big way this season as their new additions – particularly 11-goal scorer Dane Kelly – and established core – led by Championship saves leader Brandon Miller – pulled the side back into the postseason. As good as that battle was, the road for the Independence just doesn’t seem like a good one in terms of matchups, especially in the opening round with the Charleston Battery. The sides may have played to a 1-1 draw earlier this season, but the Battery have held the upper hand over the Independence for a while now. Breaking that hex is going to be a big ask.
Saint Louis FC - E2
Odds of Winning Final: 1%
Conf. Quarterfinals: @ HFD
Guess who the lone road favorite is in the Conference Quarterfinals? Yes, it’s Saint Louis FC, which as a 52% chance against Hartford Athletic will try to ride the momentum of its last-game victory against Indy Eleven to a run through the postseason. That could mean one final Kings’ Cup matchup with Louisville City FC should STLFC advance past Hartford on Saturday night, and one final shot at glory for Head Coach Steve Trittschuh’s side.
Birmingham Legion FC - G2
Odds of Winning Final: 1%
Conf. Quarterfinals: @ TBR
As well as Birmingham played at points this season, the late season slide it recently suffered hit its odds – which never got too high to start with – and sunk them further. Now it’s got to go and try to beat the Tampa Bay Rowdies on the road, a task that Charleston has shown is achievable, but what might be a tall order for a club that’s struggling the way Legion FC was to close the season.
FC Tulsa - D2
Odds of Winning Final: <1%
Conf. Quarterfinals: @ ELP
It’s been a delight to see the laughs FC Tulsa’s Ariel Martinez has been having on Twitter about how Tulsa rose above its odds of 34% to make the playoffs shortly before its three-game winning streak to close the regular season. Well, here are some even bigger odds to surmount, guys. Personally, I think this may be a little bit low and you might be able to pitch Tulsa as one of the Dark Horses in this field. We’ll see in El Paso on Saturday.
LA Galaxy II - B2
Odds of Winning Final: <1%
Conf. Quarterfinals: @ RNO
The Galaxy II are at very long odds for a couple of reasons. First, the quarter of the bracket they’re in, where their SPI rating is more than five points less than everyone else in’s calculations. Second, they’ve never taken a point from Conference Quarterfinals opponent in six prior meetings. If you’re not going to get past the first team you face, you’re not going to lift the trophy.

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