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USL Weekend Preview – Week 27

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 09/23/17, 8:24AM EDT

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Independence, Rangers among teams aiming to book USL Cup Playoffs spots

TAMPA, Fla. – Four places in the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs have been claimed, and another three could be clinched by the end of Week 27 of the 2017 season as the league gets set for a 13-game slate of action that could also see the race for the USL Regular Season Championship take another turn.

The Charlotte Independence and Charleston Battery will both hit the road on Saturday night with a playoff place within reach after the Battery’s midweek victory against Charlotte moved Charleston within a point of the second-place Independence in the Eastern Conference. The Battery visit Orlando City B, which itself needs a win to boost its playoff hopes after back-to-back defeats, while the Independence will take on the fifth-place Tampa Bay Rowdies, needing just a draw to earn a return to the postseason.

The Swope Park Rangers can also book their second trip to the playoffs in as many seasons on Saturday night as the defending Western Conference champions visit Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC. The game is a massive one for the Switchbacks, however, who are locked in a three-way battle for the West’s eighth and final place in the USL Cup Playoffs. A part of that battle, Orange County SC visit Real Monarchs SLC on Friday night, and OKC Energy FC visit Sacramento Republic FC on Saturday night.

Every game of the 2017 USL season will be available on the league’s Match Center, with updates from across the league also available via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

GAMES TO WATCH


Photo courtesy Brett Hansbauer / FC Cincinnati

Friday, September 22
Real Monarchs SLC vs. Orange County SC
9 p.m. ET, Rio Tinto Stadium

Real Monarchs SLC will try to maintain its lead in the race for the 2017 USL Regular Season Championship when it plays host to ninth-place Orange County SC in the opening game of the weekend. A victory for the visitor would move them into the top eight and put pressure on its rivals ahead of Saturday night’s action.

The Monarchs (17-5-5, 56pts) are on a three-game winless streak after a 2-0 defeat to Phoenix Rising FC last Saturday night, which marks the longest downturn in form for the Western Conference leader this season. With Eastern Conference-leader Louisville City FC now only two points back for the best record in the league with five games to go the Monarchs are looking to get back on track behind the likes of Golden Boot contender Chandler Hoffman, who will try to add to his 14 goals this season.

Orange County (9-9-9, 36pts) got a boost on Wednesday night, as eighth-place OKC Energy FC fell 3-0 to Reno 1868 FC which opened the door for OCSC to move into the playoff positions with a win. Orange County has won two of its last three outings, including a 2-1 victory last Sunday afternoon against Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2, as Jerry van Ewijk scored the winner with seven minutes to go.

Saturday, September 23
Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Charlotte Independence
7:30 p.m. ET, Al Lang Stadium

The Tampa Bay Rowdies will take a shot at pushing back into the top four in the USL Eastern Conference, as they play host to a Charlotte Independence side that needs just a point to book a return trip to the USL Cup Playoffs when the teams meet for the second time this season.

The fifth-place Rowdies (11-7-8, 41pts) have seen results fall their way since the club’s last outing on Sept. 6 , when it took a 3-2 victory against the Harrisburg City Islanders, including Louisville City FC’s dramatic 2-1 win against the Rochester Rhinos on Wednesday night. That has put Tampa Bay in position to claim a top-four position, especially considering the side’s 9-1-3 record on home turf.

The Independence (13-6-9, 48pts) are taking their third crack at clinching a playoff spot after earning a late draw last Saturday night against Ottawa Fury FC and then falling in midweek to the Charleston Battery. That defeat also put pressure on the Independence’s position in second place, meaning earning all three points might be essential to retaining it when the week ends.

Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC vs. Swope Park Rangers
8 p.m. ET, Weidner Field

Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC is in major need of a victory to keep itself in contention for a third consecutive trip to the playoffs as it enters on a five-game winless streak, but it will face a big test from a Swope Park Rangers side coming off its biggest offensive outing of the season as it tries to book a return to the postseason.

The Switchbacks (9-11-8, 35pts) dropped to 10th place in the Western Conference as it was held to a 1-1 draw by Seattle Sounders FC 2 last Saturday night, which allowed both OKC Energy FC and Orange County SC to overtake it in the standings. Energy FC’s loss in midweek kept the Switchbacks just two points out of the playoff positions with four games to go, but the side needs to get going again offensively with its two leading scorers, Masta Kacher and Kevaughn Frater, held scoreless in its current winless streak.

The Rangers (14-7-6, 48pts) have no such concerns in terms of reaching the playoffs, with the possibility the side could need only a draw to claim a spot depending on Friday night’s game between Real Monarchs SLC and Orange County SC. After a 5-2 victory against San Antonio FC last Sunday, though, Swope Park will be looking to close the gap on the top three in the conference with a win.

Saint Louis FC vs. FC Cincinnati
8:30 p.m. ET, Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis

The third and final meeting of the season between Saint Louis FC and FC Cincinnati will play a key role in the playoff fates for each team, with both coming off big victories a week ago as they enter on either side of the playoff line in the Eastern Conference.

Saint Louis (9-12-7, 34pts), currently in 11th place, sits two points behind eighth-place Orlando City B going into the weekend after taking a 2-0 victory against OCB last Saturday night at Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis. STLFC has been inconsistent for much of the season, with its last back-to-back victories coming in April. With four games to go, a loss on Saturday could be a fatal blow to its postseason hopes.

Sixth-place Cincinnati (10-9-9, 39pts) gave its playoff prospects a major lift with a 4-2 victory against the New York Red Bulls II in front of a USL-record crowd of 30,417 at Nippert Stadium last Saturday night. Now on a four-game undefeated streak (2-0-2), FCC would move seven points clear of ninth-place Bethlehem Steel FC with a win and has already taken two victories against Saint Louis FC this season while outscoring its host on Saturday night 6-0.

Sunday, September 24
Ottawa Fury FC vs. Louisville City FC
TD Place, 2 p.m. ET

Ottawa Fury FC’s playoff hopes are on the line when it welcomes Eastern Conference-leader Louisville City FC on Sunday afternoon, when the visitors may have the chance to ensure a home postseason contest for the third consecutive season with a victory.

Ottawa (7-9-11, 32pts) was held to its fourth successive draw last Sunday night, as a late equalizer by the Charlotte Independence’s Lewis Hilton earned a 1-1 draw and denied Fury FC interim Head Coach Julian de Guzman his first win in charge of the side. Now four points out of the playoff positions with five games to go, anything but a win on Sunday would likely bring an end to Ottawa’s chances of a postseason berth.

Louisville (16-5-6, 54pts) took a dramatic victory on Wednesday night when Luke Spencer’s stoppage-time penalty kick lifted the side to a 2-1 win against the Rochester Rhinos in front of 6,698 fans at Slugger Field. City is now only two points back of Western Conference-leader Real Monarchs SLC, and should either the Charleston Battery or Charlotte Independence fall, or the Rochester Rhinos be held to a draw in Richmond on Saturday, Louisville would claim a home playoff game in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals with a win on Sunday.

NUMBER CRUNCHING


Photo courtesy David Calvert / Reno 1868 FC

30,417 FC Cincinnati raised the bar again on its own USL single-game attendance record last Saturday night as 30,417 fans saw the side earn a 4-2 victory against the New York Red Bulls II at Nippert Stadium in its regular-season home finale.

63Reno 1868 FC set a new USL single-season record for goals on Wednesday night in its 3-0 victory against OKC Energy FC, as Lindo Mfeka scored the third hat trick in club history. The victory also secured 1868 FC a place in the playoffs in its inaugural season.

10 – LA Galaxy II forward Ethan Zubak scored the fastest goal in USL history last Saturday night against Sacramento Republic FC, scoring just 10 seconds into the contest at Papa Murphy’s Park.

6 – Six players with USL experience were named to the U.S. U17 National Team squad for the FIFA U17 World Cup in India that kicks off in October on Thursday, including 2017 USL 20 Under 20 selection Chris Durkin (Richmond Kickers).

OTHER NEWS AND NOTES


Photo courtesy Brian L. Zimmerman / Richmond Kickers

- The Richmond Kickers (6-14-8, 26pts) will play host to the Rochester Rhinos at City Stadium on Saturday night (7 p.m. ET | Match Center) with the Rhinos looking to bounce back from a tough defeat to Louisville City FC on Wednesday night. Rochester conceded a stoppage-time penalty kick to fall 2-1 at Slugger Field and now visits Richmond potentially needing a win to remain in the top four in the Eastern Conference. Richmond also suffered a late defeat in its last outing as it fell 1-0 to the Charleston Battery last Saturday, which moved the side to the verge of mathematical elimination, but the side is looking at another festive atmosphere at City Stadium in what has been a record-setting season off the field for the club.

- Orlando City B (8-8-12, 36pts) needs to get back on a winning track as it tries to defend the eighth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference when the Charleston Battery (13-7-8, 47pts) visit Orlando City Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET | Match Center) after a big midweek victory. The Battery defeated the Charlotte Independence 3-0 on Wednesday night at MUSC Health Stadium behind a brace by Cuban forward Heviel Cordoves to move within a point of the second-place Independence. OCB fell 2-0 last Saturday to slip to eighth place in the conference, and will need to arrest its slide if it is to return to the postseason for a second consecutive season.

- Tulsa Roughnecks FC (12-11-4, 40pts) will try to bounce back from defeat against its in-state rivals when it hosts the LA Galaxy II (7-15-5, 26pts) on Saturday night at ONEOK Field (8 p.m. ET | Match Center). Tulsa fell 2-0 in the Black Gold Derby to OKC energy FC on Sunday, but remains in a strong position to claim its first postseason berth. A victory against the Galaxy II would go a long way toward that goal and also see the Galaxy II mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. Los Dos’ winless streak reached three games in a 2-1 defeat against Sacramento Republic FC in its last outing despite Ethan Zubak setting a USL record with a goal after only 10 seconds.

- The South Texas Derby resumes on Saturday night as San Antonio FC (14-3-10, 52pts) will try to bounce back from just its third defeat of the season when it welcomes Rio Grande Valley FC (8-13-7, 31pts) to Toyota Stadium on Saturday night (8:30 p.m. ET | Match Center). SAFC suffered a 5-2 defeat to the Swope Park Rangers on Sunday evening, the first time in club history San Antonio had conceded five goals in a game. The side is undefeated at home this season, however, and will be hoping it has the chance to close the gap on Real Monarchs SLC at the top of the Western Conference with a win. The Toros will aim to spoil those plans, as they did for Reno 1868 FC last Saturday in a 1-0 win at H-E-B Park. The playoff positions remain a way off for RGVFC, but facing its in-state rival playing spoiler could be just as much motivation.

- Reno 1868 FC (15-6-7, 52pts) will look to build on clinching its first trip to the postseason when it welcomes the Portland Timbers 2 (2-18-6, 12pts) to Greater Nevada Field on Saturday night (10 p.m. ET | Match Center). Reno booked its place in the postseason with a 3-0 win on Wednesday night against OKC Energy FC – a game that saw Lindo Mfeka record a hat trick while the side also broke the USL single-season record for goals, reaching 63 for the season. Last-place T2 shouldn’t be taken for granted as a win, though, with Portland having been unfortunate not to take a victory from a 0-0 draw with the conference-leading Monarchs in its last outing.

- Sacramento Republic FC (12-8-6, 42pts) will look to add to its two-game winning streak when it hosts OKC Energy FC (10-11-7, 37pts) at Papa Murphy’s Park on Saturday night (10:30 p.m. ET | Match Center). Sacramento moved into fifth place to start Week 27 with a 2-1 victory against the LA Galaxy II last Saturday night, as Villyan Bijev scored the winning goal in the second half. While Republic FC’s playoff position is now looking secure, the host should get a serious test from an OKC side fighting for its playoff life. Energy FC suffered a 3-0 defeat against Reno 1868 FC on Wednesday night and will look to get back on track as it battles Orange County SC and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC for eighth place in the Western Conference.

- In-state rivals Bethlehem Steel FC (10-11-5, 35pts) and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds (8-9-11, 35pts) enter on the same number of points, but Pittsburgh is in greater need of emerging with a victory on Sunday afternoon at Goodman Stadium (3 p.m. ET | Match Center), given Bethlehem’s two games in hand on the rest of the competition for a place in the USL Cup Playoffs. Steel FC is coming off back-to-back draws after earning a point in a 2-2 tie against Louisville City FC on Friday night that kept the side in ninth place in the Eastern Conference. A win against the Riverhounds would not only boost Steel FC’s position but could also prove fatal to Pittsburgh after it lost a late lead against the Rochester Rhinos this past Saturday in a 1-1 draw. Pittsburgh does hold the upper hand in the season series this year, though, thanks to a 3-2 victory provided by Kevin Kerr’s late winner at Highmark Stadium on Aug. 26.

- Phoenix Rising FC (12-7-7, 43pts) continues its road trip to the Pacific Northwest with a visit to face Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 (5-15-8, 23pts) on Sunday afternoon at Thunderbird Stadium (6 p.m. ET | Match Center) after moving into fifth place in the Western Conference on Wednesday night. Rising FC moved its undefeated streak to nine games with a 1-0 victory against Seattle Sounders FC 2, as Alessandro Riggi’s goal late in the first half proved the winner at Starfire Stadium. WFC2 was mathematically eliminated from playoff contention last weekend as it suffered a late 2-1 defeat to Orange County SC.

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