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USL Championship Race to the Playoffs – August 26-27

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 08/24/23, 5:45PM EDT

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Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC can be first team to clinch berth if results fall right this weekend


The third-placed Charleston Battery host fourth-placed Memphis 901 FC in one of this weekend's key games in the Eastern Conference playoff race. | Photo courtesy Memphis 901 FC

Welcome to the first edition of the USL Championship Race to the Playoffs this campaign, where we’ll provide weekly information on where each team stands in their bid to reach the 2023 USL Championship Playoffs in October.

As the weekend arrives, we’re within range of the first of 16 playoff berths being claimed, with Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC having a chance to book its sixth consecutive postseason trip if it can take victory in one of the weekend’s high-profile contests and have results elsewhere fall its way.

Here are four games to keep an eye on, and where everyone stands.

GAMES TO WATCH

Saturday, August 26
7:00 PM
Stadium IconRiccardo Silva Stadium

The Florida rivals meet with both in need of victories for differing reasons. Thanks to FC Tulsa’s loss on Wednesday night, Miami is now in control of its playoff fate with one game more remaining. A win here could move Miami above the playoff line, but more importantly it would remain with a higher potential points ceiling than any of its rivals for eighth. The Rowdies, meanwhile, will look to complete as season sweep of its in-state rival as it pursues top spot in the Eastern Conference. Tampa Bay is six points behind Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, and with three games in hand it has the highest available points total in the East. That only matters if the Rowdies convert those games in hand into victories, however.

Saturday, August 26

There is a five-point gap separating the third-placed Charleston Battery and fourth-placed Memphis 901 FC going into their clash this weekend, but with 901 FC holding two games in hand this game could be pivotal as to which side ends up in the top three at the end of the season. Memphis took a 3-2 victory on home turf when these teams met for the first time this season, putting the pressure on the Battery to return the favor and add to its cushion between the sides.

Saturday, August 26

Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC could become the first team to clinch a playoff berth this weekend. The challenge? To do so, the Hounds would have to beat San Antonio FC on its home turf. Pittsburgh moved its Magic Number to 5 on Wednesday after a thrilling 4-3 win against Hartford Athletic, but with San Antonio also in need of a win to keep the pressure on Sacramento Republic FC at the top of the West this should be a great contest. One subplot to watch – with head-to-head the first tiebreaker, it could be a factor should these sides advance to the USL Championship Final in November.

Saturday, August 26
10:30 PM
Stadium IconCharles C. Hughes Stadium

With Sacramento Republic FC returning to Hughes Stadium for a celebration of its 10th anniversary season, this was always going to be a big game on the schedule. That Orange County SC is coming in on a six-game winning streak to push into contention for a home playoff game has only added to that anticipation as these teams meet for the 25th time in the Championship’s regular season. Sacramento needs a win to ensure it remains ahead of San Antonio FC in first place out West, while OCSC will be looking for another three points to not only set a club record, but also keep its drive for the top three moving forward.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Sacramento Republic FC
Record: 13-3-9, 48pts

Playoffs Odds: >99%

Projected Finish: 1st (64%)
Max Points Available: 75pts

Magic Number: 14

Up Next: vs. OC (8/26)
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There’s still a little way to go before Sacramento can officially clinch its playoff berth, but the most important thing for the side as of now is to keep winning as its duel for first place in San Antonio FC looks set to go down to the wire given both club’s current form.
2. San Antonio FC
Record: 13-4-8, 47pts

Playoffs Odds: >99%

Projected Finish: 2nd (49%)
Max Points Available: 74pts

Magic Number: 15

Up Next: vs. PIT (8/26)
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San Antonio is also basically a lock to return to the playoffs as it heads into this weekend’s game with Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC. With Sacramento Republic FC having won the head-to-head tiebreaker from their regular season series, though, SAFC would need to finish ahead of its biggest rival if it’s to gain the top spot at the end of the season.
3. Oakland Roots SC
Record: 11-7-7, 40pts

Playoffs Odds: >99%

Projected Finish: 3rd (27%)
Max Points Available: 67pts

Magic Number: 22

Up Next: at LOU (8/26)
+
Oakland Roots SC picked up a good road victory on Wednesday night at New Mexico United that continued its bid to host a USL Championship Playoffs game for the first time. Going into face a Louisville City FC side that hasn’t been in good form of late could offer a chance for a great week on the road.
4. Orange County SC
Record: 12-9-4, 40pts

Playoffs Odds: 99%

Projected Finish: 3rd (25%)
Max Points Available: 67pts

Magic Number: 22

Up Next: at SAC (8/26)
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Orange County SC’s run up the Western Conference standings has been one of the stories of the second half of the season. If they can set a club record with a seventh consecutive win on Saturday at Sacramento Republic FC, it keeps their top-three bid moving strongly, and could seriously affect the race for first place as well.
5. San Diego Loyal SC
Record: 10-7-7, 37pts

Playoffs Odds: 97%

Projected Finish: 4th (22%)
Max Points Available: 67pts

Magic Number: 25

Up Next: at RGV (8/26)
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San Diego Loyal SC is the other club with a shot at a top-four finish alongside Oakland and Orange County, but it has played one game fewer and so must take maximum points from its game in hand to remain alongside both with a maximum available total of 67 points. Facing the Toros – who are in need of a win of their own playoff aspirations – is going to be a real test.
6. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Record: 11-11-3, 36pts

Playoffs Odds: 92%

Projected Finish: 6th (23%)
Max Points Available: 63pts

Magic Number: 26

Up Next: at MB (8/26)
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The Switchbacks’ three-game undefeated run has solidified their position above the battle for seventh and eighth place. If it can find a victory on the road at Monterey Bay F.C. on Saturday, it would still be in the hunt for a top-four position at the end of the season.
7. Phoenix Rising FC
Record: 8-8-8, 32pts

Playoffs Odds: 74%

Projected Finish: 7th (21%)
Max Points Available: 62pts

Magic Number: 30

Up Next: at LV (8/26)
+
Phoenix Rising FC is still in control of its playoff fate, but with alternating wins and losses in the past five games it needs to string together a consecutive run of results to feel more secure. Taking victory against Las Vegas Lights FC – which won the prior contest between the sides this season – would be a big step in the right direction.
8. El Paso Locomotive FC
Record: 9-10-5, 32pts

Playoffs Odds: 66%

Projected Finish: 8th (23%)
Max Points Available: 62pts

Magic Number: 20

Up Next: at HFD (8/26)
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Yes, despite everything that’s happened in the past two months, El Paso is still favored to reach the playoffs. That could change quickly, though, if Locomotive FC can’t win on the road against Hartford Athletic with Rio Grande Valley FC poised to take advantage of another slip-up.
9. Rio Grande Valley FC
Record: 7-8-10, 31pts

Playoffs Odds: 33%

Projected Finish: 9th (25%)
Max Points Available: 58pts

Magic Number: N/A

Up Next: vs. SD (8/26)
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The Toros got a big win last weekend to move within a point of the playoff places, but they’re at a slight disadvantage to the teams above them with one game fewer remaining than both El Paso and Phoenix. That makes finding a win against San Diego Loyal SC this Saturday at home – where they’ve won four in a row – essential to another late-season run into the playoff positions
10. New Mexico United
Record: 8-11-5, 29pts

Playoffs Odds: 32%

Projected Finish: 10th (27%)
Max Points Available: 59pts

Magic Number: N/A

Up Next: vs. TUL (8/26)
+
New Mexico’s four-game homestand got out to a disappointing start on Wednesday night, and that only adds to the necessity of winning on Saturday night to try and keep El Paso and Phoenix within reach. Against FC Tulsa, which is going to be just as desperate for three points, that’s no sure thing.
11. Monterey Bay F.C.
Record: 7-11-7, 28pts

Playoffs Odds: 8%

Projected Finish: 11th (58%)
Max Points Available: 55pts

Magic Number: N/A

Up Next: vs. COS (8/26)
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Not all hope is lost yet for Monterey Bay, but Saturday’s game at home to Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC feels like a must-win, as much for the club’s confidence as its position in the standings.
12. Las Vegas Lights FC
Record: 2-14-8, 14pts

Playoffs Odds: <1%

Projected Finish: 12th (99%)
Max Points Available: 44pts

Magic Number: N/A

Up Next: vs. PHX (8/26)
+
Mathematical elimination for Lights FC might not come for a couple more weeks, but the side transferring leading goalscorer Tabort Etaka Preston to Birmingham Legion FC was the sign of a side that knows the playoffs aren’t happening this season. Time to play spoiler, starting against Phoenix on Saturday.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. Pittsburgh Riverhounds
SC
Record: 14-5-8, 50 pts

Playoffs Odds: >99%

Projected Finish: 1st (47%)
Max Points Available: 71pts

Magic Number: 5

Up Next: at SA (8/26)
+
The Hounds’ heart-stopping victory against Hartford Athletic on Wednesday night combined with FC Tulsa’s loss to Birmingham Legion FC dropped the side’s Magic Number to 5, which means Pittsburgh could clinch its playoff berth this weekend with these three results.

1. Pittsburgh wins against San Antonio FC, moves to 53 points

2. Detroit City FC fails to win (draw/loss) at Birmingham Legion FC, maximum drops to 52

3. FC Tulsa fails to win (draw/loss) at New Mexico United, maximum drops to 51

Any other combination of results among those three clubs would mean the Hounds would have to wait, but they’re in fine shape for a top-two finish and will be hoping Miami FC can do them a favor against the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
2. Tampa Bay Rowdies
Record: 13-6-5, 44pts

Playoffs Odds: >99 percent

Projected Finish: 1st (44%)
Max Points Available: 74pts

Magic Number: 11

Up Next: MIA (8/26)
+
The Rowdies have three games in hand on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC and a six-point gap to make up, putting the battle for first place on a knife-edge at this point. If Tampa Bay can complete a season sweep of in-state rival Miami FC on Saturday, it would most likely prefer a draw between the Hounds and San Antonio FC, adding to its margin for error in the race for first in the East while also reducing San Antonio’s maximum available points mark in the race for the Players’ Shield.
3. Charleston Battery
Record: 12-7-7, 43pts

Playoffs Odds: >99%

Projected Finish: 3rd (41%)
Max Points Available: 67pts

Magic Number: 12

Up Next: vs. MEM (8/26)
+
The Battery are currently slotted for third place in the Eastern Conference but that could change quickly on Saturday night as fourth-placed Memphis 901 FC comes to Patriots Point. With 901 FC currently sitting with two games in hand on them, the Battery would tighten its grip on at minimum a top-three finish. A loss, and the door opens for Memphis to jump past them in the next few weeks.
4. Memphis 901 FC
Record: 10-6-8, 38pts

Playoffs Odds: >99%

Projected Finish: 4th (32%)
Max Points Available: 68pts

Magic Number: 17

Up Next: at CHS (8/26)
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Memphis came very close to a big win on Wednesday night only for Luiz Fernando’s best effort of the night to come back off the crossbar. That puts a little extra pressure on getting a result in Charleston on Saturday, but if 901 FC can claim all three points it would bring a top-three finish strongly into play.
5. Louisville City FC
Record: 10-8-7, 37pts

Playoffs Odds: >99 %

Projected Finish: 5th (29%)
Max Points Available: 64pts

Magic Number: 18

Up Next: vs. OAK (8/26)
+
There’s little doubt LouCity will make its ninth consecutive postseason appearance at this point, but for the first time in club history it is looking at finishing outside the top four in the East. A victory at home to Oakland Roots SC is important, and LouCity would probably like it if the Charleston Battery defeated Memphis 901 FC and Detroit City FC defeated Birmingham Legion FC to help its top-four chances.
6. Birmingham Legion FC
Record: 11-11-3, 36pts

Playoffs Odds: >99%

Projected Finish: 6th (28%)
Max Points Available: 63pts

Magic Number: 19

Up Next: vs. DET (8/27)
+
Birmingham Legion FC solidified its place in the postseason field with Wednesday night’s victory against FC Tulsa, and it still has a chance at finishing in the top four. Legion FC fans will be hoping the Charleston Battery can down Memphis 901 FC – something that will come naturally to them anyway – and that Oakland Roots SC can take points off Louisville City FC before it takes to the field on Sunday against Detroit City FC.
7. Indy Eleven
Record: 9-9-8, 35pts

Playoffs Odds: 95%

Projected Finish: 7th (40%)
Max Points Available: 59pts

Magic Number: 20

Up Next: vs. LDN (8/26)
+
Earning a draw on the road in Memphis while down a man for the entire second half was a solid enough return for Indy, which was also boosted by FC Tulsa’s loss to Birmingham Legion FC. Returning home to face a side that’s struggling such as Loudoun United FC, three points are a must, even if the Boys in Blue haven’t had the greatest form at Michael A. Carroll so far this season.
8. FC Tulsa
Record: 7-11-8, 29pts

Playoffs Odds: 25%

Projected Finish: 10th (36%)
Max Points Available: 53pts

Magic Number: N/A

Up Next: at NM (8/26)
+
FC Tulsa is above the playoff line, but no longer in control of its playoff fate after Wednesday night’s loss to Birmingham Legion FC. Both Miami FC and Detroit City FC have higher available points marks going into the weekend’s action, which means Tulsa needs to not only win at New Mexico United but home for victories by the Tampa Bay Rowdies against Miami and Birmingham Legion FC against Detroit.
9. Miami FC
Record: 7-10-8, 29pts

Playoffs Odds: 44%

Projected Finish: 8th (32%)
Max Points Available: 56pts

Magic Number: 26

Up Next: vs. TBR (8/26)
+
Miami FC was a big beneficiary from Birmingham Legion FC’s win on Wednesday night at FC Tulsa, because while the South Florida side is still in ninth for now, it now has control over its playoff pathway. That could just as easily disappear, though, as tight as the race is around the Eastern Conference playoff line, and finding a way to beat in-state rival the Tampa Bay Rowdies would be a major boost to Miami’s odds.
10. Detroit City FC
Record: 7-12-6, 27pts

Playoffs Odds: 37%

Projected Finish: 9th (29%)
Max Points Available: 54pts

Magic Number: N/A

Up Next: at BHM (8/27)
+
Detroit City FC will know where it stands going into Sunday evening’s game at Birmingham Legion FC, with Le Rouge hoping to see the Tampa Bay Rowdies defeat Miami FC and New Mexico United defeat FC Tulsa to open the door a fraction wider. Earning a win in Birmingham will be a challenging task, but a draw would be helpful enough if Detroit’s other two rivals for eighth have both lost.
11. Loudoun United FC
Record: 7-17-3, 24pts

Playoffs Odds: <1 percent

Projected Finish: 11th (77%)
Max Points Available: 45pts

Magic Number: N/A

Up Next: at IND (8/26)
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Loudoun United FC’s playoff chances are almost gone, mostly because the side only has seven games left in its campaign to try and make headway. If it can take victory against Indy Eleven on Saturday, those chances will remain alive, while that result would be very welcome for FC Tulsa, Miami FC and Detroit City FC.
12. Hartford Athletic
Record: 4-17-4, 16pts

Playoffs Odds: <1 percent

Projected Finish: 12th (93%)
Max Points Available: 43

Magic Number: N/A

Up Next: vs. ELP (8/26)
+
Despite an incredible comeback, Hartford’s loss on Wednesday night to Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC left Hartford still eight points adrift at the bottom of the standings. The Athletic will have plenty of teams rooting for them in the Western Conference this weekend, though, as they host El Paso Locomotive FC.

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