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USL Championship Power Rankings – Week 23

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 09/29/21, 4:00PM EDT


Tampa Bay, Phoenix face intriguing paths in race for best record in the Championship

Hello, and welcome to the latest edition of the Championship’s Power Rankings.

If you’re looking at the Championship Playoff Projections – and let’s face it, you should be – it’s starting to look like a duel for the best record in the Championship.

Yes, El Paso Locomotive FC and its nine remaining games is still certainly in with a chance, and with its 20-game home undefeated streak it would certainly benefit from having the road to the USL Championship Final go through Southwest University Park.

But with the Tampa Bay Rowdies on a seven-game winning streak – the longest in the league this season – and Phoenix Rising FC right behind them on a six-game winning streak, the numbers are adding up to the defending Conference Title holders earning top spot in their respective conferences.

Both Tampa Bay and Phoenix have seven games to go, too, which means we can look into the crystal ball a little ourselves as to which run-in you might prefer. There is – brilliantly, I might add – the common opponent each side has left in Las Vegas Lights FC, which Phoenix visits on October 16 before Tampa Bay heads west to Cashman Field to conclude the regular season on October 30.

But aside from that, what else is on tap? The Rowdies only have two games against teams currently in the playoff positions in their final seven games, but they’re both difficult on paper. The first is away to Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC on October 10, where the side is 0-1-3 since joining the Championship. The second is at home to Miami FC, where the Rowdies are 2-0-1 since Miami joined the Championship last year. Add in two games against a Charleston Battery side battling for its playoff life away and then home in the next two weeks and the Rowdies’ winning run is going to get tested.

For Phoenix, by contrast, there are three games against teams currently in the playoff positions, including two visits to Orange County SC, the first this Saturday and the second on October 13. It also hosts Oakland Roots SC, Sacramento Republic FC and Tacoma Defiance as it looks to close out an undefeated home slate of its own, which could each pose their own pitfalls. The visits to OCSC, though, feel like the big challenges here. Phoenix is 3-4-5 away from home all-time at Orange County, and since the club became Rising FC is only 1-2-4 at Championship Soccer Stadium in the regular season

There’s still a long way to go, but the road for the two title favorites isn’t going to get much easier from here.

Tampa Bay – at PIT (10/10), vs. MIA (10/20), five games against teams outside playoff positions

Phoenix – at OC (10/2), vs. OAK (10/9), at OC (10/13), four games against teams outside playoff positions

Here’s how the big picture looks elsewhere. As always, feel free to come and yell at me on Twitter (@NJEMurray).

Atlanta United 2 Austin Bold FC Birmingham Legion FC Charleston Battery Charlotte Independence Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC El Paso Locomotive FC
Hartford Athletic Indy Eleven LA Galaxy II Las Vegas Lights FC Loudoun United FC Louisville City FC Memphis 901 FC
The Miami FC New Mexico United New York Red Bulls II Oakland Roots SC OKC Energy FC Orange County SC Phoenix Rising FC
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC Real Monarchs SLC Rio Grande Valley FC Sacramento Republic FC San Antonio FC San Diego Loyal SC Sporting KC II
Tacoma Defiance Tampa Bay Rowdies FC Tulsa

Biggest Movers






1 Tampa Bay Rowdies
Week 24: @ CHS

Last Week:
The Rowdies’ seven-game winning streak isn’t just its longest since joining the Championship, it’s tied for the fifth-longest in the league’s history ahead of Saturday’s visit to Charleston.
2 Phoenix Rising FC
Week 24: @ LA, @ OC
Last Week:
Santi Moar’s late goal against Tacoma Defiance could be an important one in the long run, as it kept Rising FC narrowly ahead of Tampa Bay in the projections for the best record in the league at the end of the season.
3 Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Week 24: v. ELP
Last Week:
The Switchbacks are undefeated in five games without Michee Ngalina in the lineup, which is a good sign that his move to LAFC isn’t going to unbalance things too badly in terms of the side’s attack.
4 Birmingham Legion FC
Week 24: @ SKC
Last Week:
Led by Neco Brett and others, Legion FC put up a six-point week and ended the Charlotte Independence’s recent winning and shutout streak. That’s a very good week of work.
5 El Paso Locomotive FC
Week 24: v. SLC, @ COS
Last Week:
– Locomotive FC was so close to victory in Austin before Sonny Guadarrama’s late equalizer, and that means the side needs to start stringing wins together now while hoping Phoenix and Tampa Bay drop points down the stretch.
6 Louisville City FC
Week 24: @ ATL, v. NM

Last Week:
Louisville can clinch a playoff place on Wednesday night, but it needs three points in Atlanta on Wednesday to help keep Birmingham at bay in the most competitive division race in the league right now.
7 Charlotte Independence
Week 24: @ HFD, v. LDN

Last Week:
The Independence were solid against Miami before seeing their streak come to an end against Birmingham on Sunday evening. A win against Hartford on Thursday wouldn’t clinch a postseason berth but would be almost as good.
8 The Miami FC
Week 24: v. PIT
Last Week:
After Saturday’s bounce-back win from the side’s midweek defeat to Charlotte, Miami is going to be eager for this weekend’s showdown with Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC at FIU Stadium and a chance to grab second place.
9 Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
Week 24: @ MIA

Last Week:
The Hounds keep producing outstanding finishes, but they’re going to want to be far tighter at the back against Miami on Saturday to stay on course for a top-two finish in the Atlantic.
10 San Antonio FC
Week 24: @ OKC
Last Week:
SAFC produced some good opportunities against New Mexico but only hit the target twice. That’s going to need to be sharper against OKC on Sunday evening.
11 Orange County SC
Week 24: v. PHX
Last Week:
Orange County is in with a chance of a top-two finish after Mikko Kuningas’ late winner against Oakland on Saturday, but two of its next three games are at home to Phoenix Rising FC. Squad’s going to have to step up to the mark.
12 FC Tulsa
Week 24: v. MEM

Last Week:
Tulsa’s draw with Sporting Kansas City II means it’s not in danger of missing the postseason, but it doesn’t look like a home game in the playoffs is in reach with eight points to make up on Birmingham and seven games to go.
13 Oakland Roots SC
Week 24: vs. LV
Last Week:
A second consecutive up-then-down week moved Oakland into the playoff places, but it’s going to need to maximize its points at home to Las Vegas and Sacramento in the next seven days to stay there.
14 OKC Energy FC
Week 24: v. IND, v. SA
Last Week:
Energy FC goes for a two-game sweep against Indy Eleven on Wednesday night after a good win on Sunday. If it pulls out another victory, the pressure stays on Memphis 901 FC to match it in its games in hand.
15 San Diego Loyal SC
Week 24: @ LA
Last Week:
San Diego Loyal SC fell to Oakland, and then needed a super-sub performance by Tumi Moshobane to take victory against Las Vegas. No wonder Landon Donovan wasn’t happy after Saturday’s win.
16 New Mexico United
Week 24: v. RGV, @ LOU
Last Week:
New Mexico showed enough incisiveness to get past San Antonio on Saturday night, and now gets the chance to move back into the playoff places in a must-see game against Rio Grande Valley FC on Wednesday at Isotopes Park.
17 Memphis 901 FC
Week 24: @ TUL

Last Week:
Apparently someone among the Soccer Gods was reading last week given the level of divine influence Kyle Murphy’s game-winner last Wednesday against Indy seemed to have. 901 FC’s visit to Tulsa on Saturday should be interesting.
18 Austin Bold FC
Week 24: --
Last Week:
If we’re realistic, that maybe should have been a two-loss week for Austin if not for Sonny Guadarrama’s remarkable equalizer against El Paso. Bold FC isn’t in the driver’s seat for fourth place anymore, though.
19 LA Galaxy II
Week 24: v. PHX, v. SD
Last Week:
Consecutive wins have pushed Los Dos right back into the middle of the playoff picture after Sunday’s win in Sacramento. If they can take anything from Wednesday’s game at home to Phoenix, it’s going to make for an interesting stretch run.
20 Sacramento Republic FC
Week 24: v. TAC
Last Week:
From the strange but true file – Sacramento is now 7-2-3 all-time on the road against the LA Galaxy II in the regular season, and 3-4-3 at home after Sunday’s home defeat.
21 Rio Grande Valley FC
Week 24: @ NM, v. SLC
Last Week:
The Toros got a win they really had to have against Atlanta despite going behind twice. Wednesday’s game in New Mexico – the first of three in the final stretch of the campaign between the sides – now looms large.
22 Tacoma Defiance
Week 24: @ SAC
Last Week:
In theory, Tacoma is still in control of its playoff destiny. In practice, its five-game losing streak is making it look like one of the odd teams out in the race for fourth.
23 New York Red Bulls II
Week 24: v. LDN
Last Week:
The Red Bulls II still have never lost a game in Charleston after last Wednesday’s 3-2 victory.
24 Charleston Battery
Week 24: v. TBR
Last Week:
The Battery took one point from two games after losing at home to New York and then failing to close out what would have been a sensational comeback in Pittsburgh. Really tough week.
25 Hartford Athletic
Week 24: v. CLT
Last Week:
The Athletic broke the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ shutout streak but couldn’t pull out a result. With 10 points to make up to Charlotte and eight games to go, Thursday’s showdown at Dillon Stadium is a must-win.
26 Atlanta United 2
Week 24: v. LOU, @ IND
Last Week:
Three consecutive defeats have left Atlanta with a five-point deficit to make up on OKC Energy FC with five games to go. I can hear an operatic soprano warming up her vocal cords.
27 Indy Eleven
Week 24: @ OKC, v. ATL
Last Week:
What’s maybe been the most disappointing part of Indy Eleven’s three-game losing run is the complete lack of attacking spark. Four shots on goal in three games isn’t going to get you anywhere.
28 Sporting Kansas City II
Week 24: v. BHM
Last Week:
Sporting took a point from FC Tulsa on Friday night, and Louisville City FC would be very appreciative if it could do the same when Birmingham Legion FC comes to Children’s Mercy Park this week.
29 Real Monarchs SLC
Week 24: @ ELP, @ RGV

Last Week:
The Monarchs have goalkeeper Jimmy Slayton and his penalty kick save to thank for their point against the Red Bulls II, with the side now having scored only once in its last five games.
30 Loudoun United FC
Week 24: @ NY, @ CLT

Last Week:
Mathematical elimination arrived on Saturday night, but you know who’s looking good? Ted Ku-DiPietro, whose finishing and creativity has made him a bright point for the side overall.
31 Las Vegas Lights FC
Week 24: @ OAK

Last Week:
Lights FC has now conceded a league-high 64 goals, while goalkeeper Alex Rando’s next save will be his 100th of the season.

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