Louisville City FC's dramatic victory against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC rates as one of the best Conference Semifinals we've seen in the Championship Playoffs' history. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
There are some mouthwatering matchups on tap this Saturday night in the Eastern and Western Conference Semifinals of the 2020 USL Championship Playoffs, and if we’re lucky this year’s edition will live up to the drama and tension we’ve seen in previous seasons since the league divided into two conferences in 2015.
Over the past five seasons, we’ve seen numerous late winners or equalizers, extra time and even penalty shootouts determine which team gets to move on and which goes home. So many, in fact, that some seriously good games – like the New York Red Bulls II’s road upset of the Tampa Bay Rowdies in 2017 or Real Monarchs SLC’s victory against Phoenix Rising FC last year – haven’t quite made the cut.
Here are my picks for the best Conference Semifinals from each of the past five years.
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC and OKC Energy FC had built a rivalry in the Switchbacks’ first season ahead of their first postseason meeting. Energy FC grabbed a late winner in Colorado Springs’ inaugural home opener, and the sides then played to a thrilling 3-3 draw late in the regular season at Taft Stadium. That set the stage for a back-and-forth clash that saw both teams hold the lead before a familiar face came up big for the hosts in the decisive penalty shootout.
Everyone remembers how the New York Red Bulls II were the last team to claim the regular season title and victory in the USL Championship Final. You might not remember how close the Rochester Rhinos – themselves the defending USL Championship Final title-holder – came to eliminating them two games before the final four years ago.
A raucous crowd at Toyota Field welcomed rivals San Antonio FC and OKC Energy FC for the biggest game in their rivalry so far, and just like their prior regular season meetings it proved a tight, hard-fought battle throughout. With two top goalkeepers between the pipes in the shootout, only one could come out on top.
FC Cincinnati had broken every record in the Championship’s history book on its way to claiming the regular season title, and it welcomed another packed house to Nippert Stadium to try and continue its pursuit of a place in the Championship Final. But Amando Moreno, Hassan Ndam and the New York Red Bulls II had other ideas.
It had all the makings of a classic. An emerging new power that had finished on top of the Eastern Conference for the first time in Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC playing host to two-time defending USL Championship Final title-holders Louisville City FC. The game lived up to the expectations.