It’s unlikely the USL schedule-makers envisioned this scenario when they were mapping out the 2016 regular season, but Saturday night’s slate of action sees the top four teams in the USL Western Conference squaring off in two games that will likely prove crucial in the race for first place at the end of the season.
Ahead of current leader Sacramento Republic FC’s clash with Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 at Bonney Field, and Rio Grande Valley FC’s meeting with Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC at Toros Park, let’s take a look at where each side sits, and – with help from the Playoff Predictor at sportsclubstats.com – see what chance each side has to claim the No. 1 seed for the playoffs.
1. Sacramento Republic FC
Points: 43 (12W-6L-7D)
Games Remaining: 5 (vs. VAN; vs. OC; at LA; vs. LA; at TUL)
Sportsclubstats.com 1st-place percentage: 42 percent
Republic FC is in the strongest position of any team to sit at the top of the Western Conference standings as its three-game winning streak saw the side move clear by three points entering Saturday’s big game with WFC2. The home-and-home series against the Galaxy II could be a potential stumbling block, but with the way the side is currently faring it will take a big effort for someone to earn a result against the 2014 champions right now.
2. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Points: 40 (11W-7L-7D)
Games Remaining: 5 (at RGV; vs. LA; at VAN; vs. SEA; at OC)
Sportsclubstats.com 1st-place percentage: 5 percent
The Switchbacks are three points back of Republic FC with the same number of games remaining, but the percentages are against the side as it prepares to visit Rio Grande Valley FC on Saturday night. With the Toros having taken a 2-0 victory this past Sunday, the Switchbacks will be out for revenge in the rematch. A win on the road would be big for Colorado Springs, as it would raise the side’s potential average seed to 3.2 from its current 4.4.
3. Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2
Points: 40 (11W-6L-7D)
Games Remaining: 6 (at SAC; at SEA; vs. SEA; vs. COS; vs. POR; vs. OKC)
Sportsclubstats.com 1st-place percentage: 26 percent
With its final four games at home, WFC2 has a big opportunity down the stretch to grab first place away from Republic FC, but it certainly hinges on whether the side can get a result on the road this Saturday night. Currently sitting with an average seed of 2.9 according to Sportsclubstats.com, that average rises slightly to 2.8 with a draw on the road, and 1.9 with a victory. With Colorado Springs and OKC both heading north of the border down the stretch, the chance is there for Vancouver if it can build on its victory against Arizona last time out.
4. Rio Grande Valley FC
Points: 39 (10W-5L-9D)
Games Remaining: 6 (vs. COS; at SPR; vs. POR; at LA; at OC; vs. SA)
Sportsclubstats.com 1st-place percentage: 9 percent
The Toros may sit fourth currently, but given their recent form could pose the biggest threat to usurp Sacramento by the end of the season. Saturday’s game against Colorado Springs – which gives the Toros a chance to sweep the season series between the teams, and increase their Sportsclubstats.com average seed from 3.9 to 3.2 – will be a key, but so will a two-game trip to California that sees the side visit the LA Galaxy II and Orange County Blues FC over four days in mid-September. If the Toros are in position, their clash against San Antonio FC to close out the South Texas Derby on the final weekend of the season will be a must-see.
Which team of these four do you think is the favorite to claim top spot in the Western Conference at the end of the season?