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USL Weekend Preview – Week 30

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 10/13/17, 2:37PM EDT

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Battle for playoff positioning set in final weekend of regular season

TAMPA, Fla. – The field for the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs was completed on Thursday night, leaving the seedings in the Eastern and Western Conferences to be decided in the final weekend of the season over a 13-game slate of games in the next three days. Only the No. 1 seeds in each conference have been officially decided so far, with teams vying for home-field advantage and positive momentum going into the postseason.

The Tampa Bay Rowdies’ victory against Orlando City B on Thursday night officially eliminated OCB from playoff contention and moved the Rowdies into second place behind No. 1-seed Louisville City FC after their final game of the regular season. That result put an even bigger spotlight on Saturday night’s clash between Southern Derby rivals the Charlotte Independence and Charleston Battery, with the Independence looking to secure a top-four finish with a win and the Battery looking to jump back past Tampa Bay to earn the No. 2 seed by taking all three points on the road.

Second place is also up for grabs in the Western Conference, where San Antonio FC goes into the final game of the season with a one-point edge on Reno 1868 FC after taking a 2-1 victory against the Portland Timbers 2 on Wednesday night. Both SAFC and 1868 FC welcome rivals on the final Saturday of the regular season, with San Antonio FC hosting Rio Grande Valley FC in the South Texas Derby and Reno hosting Sacramento Republic FC in the Donner Pass Derby.

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 David Calvert / Reno 1868 FC

Saturday, October 14
Rochester Rhinos vs. New York Red Bulls II
6:05 p.m. ET, Capelli Sport Stadium

The Rochester Rhinos need a victory to clinch a top-four finish in the Eastern Conference, but they will get a strong test in their regular-season home finale from a New York Red Bulls II side that earned a place in the postseason thanks to Orlando City B’s defeat on Thursday night. New York is on a serious run of attacking form, which will test Rochester’s stout defense.

The Rhinos (13-7-11, 50pts) are coming off back-to-back victories after a 1-0 victory against Bethlehem Steel FC on Tuesday night that saw Jochen Graf score his ninth goal of the regular season. The victory moved the Rhinos into fourth place in the Eastern Conference, and while the Tampa Bay Rowdies are likely out of reach on goal differential, a win on Saturday could see the Rhinos move above the Charleston Battery into third should the Charlotte Independence take victory against Charleston later in the evening.

New York (13-13-5, 44pts) can’t move higher than sixth in the Eastern Conference, but after earning the chance to defend its title, the side will be looking for a win to ensure it’s not overtaken by either FC Cincinnati or Bethlehem Steel FC. The Red Bulls II have recorded at least two goals in their last eight games, with Stefano Bonomo earning USL Player of the Week honors on Tuesday after scoring four goals in two games last week.

Charlotte Independence vs. Charleston Battery
7 p.m. ET, Sportsplex at Matthews
Both the Charlotte Independence and Charleston Battery need victory to achieve their respective goals going into the final Southern Derby of the regular season, with the Battery taking aim at the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and the Independence hoping to claim a home playoff game for the first time in club history.

The Independence (13-9-9, 48pts) have gone from contending for second place in the East to hoping for a home playoff berth thanks to a four-game losing streak that continued last Saturday night against Louisville City FC. A win to end the season would be a welcome boost regardless of the position it secures for the playoffs, but if the Independence win and the Rochester Rhinos either draw or lose to the New York Red Bulls II, Charlotte would claim the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Battery (14-8-9, 51pts) also need all three points, however, after the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ victory against Orlando City B on Thursday night pushed the Battery back into third in the Eastern Conference. A victory would move Charleston back into the No. 2 seed for the postseason, and would also complete a three-game sweep of the regular-season series between the regional rivals.

San Antonio FC vs. Rio Grande Valley FC
8:30 p.m. ET, Toyota Field

San Antonio will try to keep hold of second place in the Western Conference, and gain a little revenge for its only defeat at Toyota Field this season when it plays host to a Rio Grande Valley FC side that has been eliminated from playoff contention. However, the Toros would like nothing better than to claim the regular-season series between the teams.

SAFC (16-4-11, 59pts) moved into second place thanks to Ryan Roushandel’s first goal of the season on Wednesday night, which earned a 2-1 win against the Portland Timbers 2. San Antonio is now 2-0-1 over its last three games, and with a 7-1-7 home record, SAFC would appear to be tough to beat on its home turf should it claim the No. 2 seed.

The only team to come away from Toyota Field with a win this season, however, are the Toros (9-14-8, 35pts), who took a 1-0 victory through a goal by Jose Escalante on Sept. 23. With nothing to play for except pride after their elimination from playoff contention, RGVFC would take the regular-season series for a second consecutive season with a win on Saturday night, and if it even earns a draw, it would open the door for Reno 1868 FC to make a move up.

Reno 1868 FC vs. Sacramento Republic FC
Greater Nevada Field, 10 p.m. ET

Reno 1868 FC will be hoping for Rio Grande Valley to help its cause, as it looks to end its inaugural regular season in the USL with the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. With Donner Pass Derby rival Sacramento Republic FC in town, there could be fireworks, as both teams look to end the regular season on a high before entering the USL Cup Playoffs.

Reno (17-7-7, 58pts) ended Orange County SC’s hopes of a third consecutive trip to the playoffs, and could keep Sacramento in eighth place in the Western Conference going to the postseason should it take victory and complete a USL regular-season sweep of the series. Reno must win and have San Antonio FC either draw or lose to Rio Grande Valley FC to have a chance at reclaiming second place in the West, but it will know the outcome of that contest by halftime and whether the chance to move to second is on.

Republic FC (13-12-6, 45pts) also has something to play for, however, as the 2014 champion would move up to the No. 6 seed with a victory should both Tulsa Roughnecks FC and OKC Energy FC fail to win their final games of the regular season. Under that scenario, the two teams would meet again to open the postseason, but whether that happens or not, Sacramento would welcome the confidence boost a win would bring after going 1-4-0 over its last five outings. 

NUMBER CRUNCHING


Photo courtesy Rio Grande Valley FC

2,880 – Five players have a chance to play all 2,880 minutes of the USL regular season, with the Swope Park RangersChristian Duke having reached the mark in SPR’s season finale on Wednesday night. Others who can are James Kiffe (SAC), Callum Irving (OTT), Taylor Mueller (CHS), and Justin Portillo (CHS), with Rony Argueta (COS) missing out on the opportunity due to caution accumulation.

2,080Sacramento Republic FC midfielder Jeremy Hall became the first player to surpass 2,000 passes this season, and he also leads the USL with 1,840 completed passes for an accuracy rate of 88.46 percent.

1,250 – The Rochester RhinosJochen Graf scored the 1,250th goal of the USL regular season on Tuesday night, as the Rhinos earned a 1-0 victory against Bethlehem Steel FC.

21 – Twenty-one players have scored double-digit goals in the USL regular season going into the final weekend of the season, the most in the league’s history.

12Reno 1868 FC’s Chris Wehan tied the USL regular-season record of 12 assists set by Matt Dallman of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in 2013 last Saturday night, and has a chance to set the record when 1868 FC faces Sacramento Republic FC.

OTHER NEWS AND NOTES


Photo courtesy Mark Thor / Orlando City B

- The Tampa Bay Rowdies (14-7-11, 53pts) claimed a home playoff game in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs with a 2-0 victory against Orlando City B (10-10-12, 42pts) on Thursday night that eliminated OCB from postseason contention. Tampa Bay scored twice in the final 20 minutes through Georgi Hristov and Sebastian Guenzatti to keep their hopes of a second-place finish alive.

- United Soccer Leagues, LLC unveiled another major partnership this week as Musco Lighting became the Official Stadium, Complex and Field Lighting Supplier for the USL, the USL’s Division III that will begin in 2019, the Premier Development League (PDL) and the Super Y League. The partnership is the latest under the USL’s Preferred Supplier Program, which has established numerous partnerships since its establishment.

- The Pittsburgh Riverhounds (8-12-11, 35pts) and Ottawa Fury FC (8-10-13, 37pts) will look to close out their 2017 campaigns on a positive note after both having been eliminated from playoff contention when they meet at Highmark Stadium on Saturday night (7 p.m. ET | Match Center). The Riverhounds suffered a 2-0 defeat to the Rochester Rhinos this past Saturday and will be looking to rebound strongly in front of their home fans. Fury FC put in a stellar performance in a 4-0 win against FC Cincinnati at TD Place this past Sunday in its home finale and could carry that momentum into its final game of the regular season. 

- Eastern Conference No. 1 seed Louisville City FC (17-6-8, 59pts) will try to carry the positive momentum from its most recent outing into the playoffs when it hosts the Richmond Kickers (8-15-8, 32pts) at Slugger Field on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET | Match Center). City took a 2-1 victory against the Charlotte Independence on Saturday night to end a three-game winless streak, as George Davis IV and Kyle Smith found the net. The Kickers also put in a positive performance as they defeated Saint Louis FC 1-0 this past Saturday and will look to end their season on a high note against the Eastern Conference leader.

- FC Cincinnati (11-10-10, 43pts) will look to rebound from a tough loss last time out when it visits Toronto FC II (6-18-7, 25pts) in its regular-season finale at the Ontario Soccer Centre on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET | Match Center). FCC clinched a place in the playoffs thanks to Orlando City B’s defeat against the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Thursday night and could finish as high as sixth place in the Eastern Conference with a win dependent on the results for the New York Red Bulls II and Bethlehem Steel FC. Cincinnati fell 4-0 to Ottawa Fury FC last Sunday afternoon and could face a test from TFC II which has recently taken home victories against both Louisville City FC and the Charlotte Independence.

- Tulsa Roughnecks FC (14-13-4, 46pts) will try to hold onto sixth place in the Western Conference with a victory against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (11-12-8, 41pts) when the teams meet at ONEOK Field on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET | Match Center). Sitting level on points with seventh-place OKC Energy FC but holding the total wins tiebreaker, Tulsa will finish sixth in the standings with a victory against the Switchbacks. Should Colorado Springs either earn a draw or take victory, however, and the Roughnecks could drop to the No. 8 seed with both Energy FC and Sacramento Republic FC – which sits one point back – having the chance to overtake. The Switchbacks were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention this past weekend but will still want to end their regular season on a high note on the road.

- Real Monarchs SLC (19-5-7, 64 points) closes out the regular season having clinched the USL Regular Season Championship, making getting through its regular-season finale healthy and Chandler Hoffman’s pursuit of the USL Golden Boot the two potential focuses for the side when it hosts the LA Galaxy II (8-18-5, 29pts) at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday night (9 p.m. ET | Match Center). The Galaxy II are coming off a dramatic 3-2 victory against the Portland Timbers 2 this past Saturday night but have conceded the most goals in the USL this season (62). With Hoffman entering the weekend two goals back of Reno 1868 FC’s Dane Kelly for the Golden Boot, creating chances for the Monarchs’ leading scorer to try and overtake that mark could be something to watch for from Real.

- Phoenix Rising FC (16-8-7, 55 points) will be hoping the door is open to a home playoff game when it takes on the Portland Timbers 2 (3-22-6, 15pts) at the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex on Saturday night (10:30 p.m. ET | Match Center). Rising FC sits three points back of the fourth-place Swope Park Rangers going into its final game of the regular season, but with Swope Park (+18) holding a substantial advantage over Phoenix (+10) in goal differential should Rising FC take victory to move level on points and wins with the Rangers. Rising FC would need a nine-goal victory to jump Swope Park in the standings, as it takes on a T2 side that was edged out 2-1 by San Antonio FC on Wednesday night in its first game of the week.

- Bethlehem Steel FC (12-12-7, 43pts) will get ready for its first trip to the USL Cup Playoffs when it takes on Saint Louis FC (9-14-8, 35pts) at Goodman Stadium on Sunday afternoon (3 p.m. ET | Match Center). Bethlehem fell 1-0 to the Rochester Rhinos on Tuesday night in its first game of the week but earned a playoff place thanks to Orlando City B’s defeat on Thursday night. Going into Sunday’s game, Steel FC will know the results for both the New York Red Bulls II and FC Cincinnati and whether sixth place is still in play in the Eastern Conference.

- OKC Energy FC (13-11-7, 46pts) will hope the chance to move into sixth place in the Western Conference is available when it takes on Seattle Sounders FC 2 (9-18-4, 31pts) in its home finale on Sunday afternoon at Taft Stadium (6 p.m. ET | Match Center). Coming off a 4-1 victory against the Swope Park Rangers, which gave OKC four wins in its last five games, Energy FC is level on points with sixth-place Tulsa Roughnecks FC going into the final weekend of the regular season. Should the Roughnecks fail to take victory against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC on Saturday night, the opportunity would open for OKC to bump up its seed one position with a win against an S2 side that is coming off a 2-1 defeat on Wednesday night to the Swope Park Rangers.

- Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 (5-17-9, 24pts) and Orange County SC (10-11-10, 40 points) will close out their 2017 seasons with only pride on the line on Friday night when they meet at Thunderbird Stadium on Friday night (10 p.m. ET | Match Center). Orange County’s 4-1 loss to Reno 1868 FC on Saturday brought an end to the club’s bid for a third consecutive playoff berth. Vancouver has been out of the playoff race for longer but did earn a 1-1 draw with Real Monarchs SLC in its last outing, and it will try to end the season on a high note in front of its home fans.

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