The regular season is over, which make this the final edition of the USLSoccer.com Power Rankings of the season. Now, it’s all about who advances over the next four weeks to claim the USL Cup on November 13 on ESPNU.
That said, the final top 10 of the season offers a look at who might be the contenders for the championship. It might be the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference, Phoenix Rising FC – which comes in at No. 4 in these rankings going in – as the side’s remarkable final two months have it poised to make a run even as it kicks off against defending Western Conference champions the Swope Park Rangers.
As you’d expect, the teams topping each conference sit 1-2 in the rankings, with Real Monarchs SLC and Louisville City FC rightly considered the teams to beat with homefield advantage in their respective brackets. But the second-place Eastern Conference side in the poll is the Tampa Bay Rowdies, not the No. 2-seed Charleston Battery. With the experience both teams bring, a meeting between the sides in the Eastern Conference Semifinals would be an intriguing one.
Then there’s OKC Energy FC, which is currently the hottest team in the league with a four-game winning streak. There’s a hill to be climbed for Head Coach Jimmy Nielsen’s side arguably steeper than the one facing Phoenix, but with the club in its best form of the season, there’s an argument to be had that the winner of Saturday’s potentially high-octane clash with Reno 1868 FC could find a path to the final.
The five-person USLSoccer.com voting panel tabulates 10 points for first-place team votes, nine points to the second-place team and so forth to one point for 10th place. The accrued points among the group determines the final ranking.
Here’s your new top 10.
1. Real Monarchs SLC (50pts)
Last Week: W 2-1 vs. LA Galaxy II
The Monarchs will go into the postseason off a victory, the league-leading 12th at home this season. Real is now undefeated in its last five games, winning three of its last four outings, including a 2-0 win on the road against its opponent in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, Sacramento Republic FC. The Monarchs shouldn’t overlook the experience Sacramento brings but is in position to add to its USL Regular Season Championship.
2. Louisville City FC (40pts)
Last Week: W 3-1 vs. Richmond Kickers
Louisville seemed determined to enter the playoffs with a win on Saturday night, and two late goals made sure the celebration on the field came after another good victory. Louisville’s 18th win of the regular season was big in another way, too, with City sitting with the second-best overall record in the league on total wins ahead of San Antonio FC. If the Monarchs fall before USL Cup, Louisville could be in position to take advantage.
3. San Antonio FC (38pts)
Last Week: W 2-1 vs. Portland Timbers 2, W 3-1 vs. Rio Grande Valley FC
Two wins from two to clinch the No. 2 seed gave San Antonio a big final week of the regular season, and in Ever Guzman, the side might have the striker that could put it over the top now the playoffs are here. With a league-fewest four defeats, SAFC was always going to be a tough out. Having to go into Toyota Field to try and eliminate San Antonio is going to make that task even tougher over potentially the next two weekends.
4. Phoenix Rising FC (37pts)
Last Week: W 4-1 vs. Portland Timbers 2
Rising FC just missed out on a home playoff game, but the team’s third consecutive win to close the regular season showed plenty of what will make Rising FC dangerous when it enters the postseason for the first time. The side’s organization and ability to convert chances right now is scary, as is the side’s 11-1-3 run down the stretch to take the No. 5-seed in the West. Saturday’s game against the Swope Park Rangers has the potential to be a classic.
5. Tampa Bay Rowdies (25pts)
Last Week: W 2-0 vs. Orlando City B
The Rowdies were usurped for the No. 2 seed by the Charleston Battery despite a good road victory that eliminated Orlando City B from playoff contention last Thursday night. Tampa Bay is on a seven-game undefeated streak going into the playoffs, with the likes of Marcel Schäfer and Georgi Hristov returning to the fore. FC Cincinnati’s visit will be arguably the highest-profile game in the opening weekend of the playoffs on Saturday night.
6. Reno 1868 FC (24pts)
Last Week: D 2-2 vs. Sacramento Republic FC
Reno had plenty of chances to take victory against Donner Pass Derby rival Republic FC on Saturday, but the side was already set to finish in third place after San Antonio’s victory earlier in the evening. Making sure those chances get put away will now be the focus after scoring twice on 10 shots on goal against Sacramento. With OKC Energy FC coming in on a four-game winning streak, the potential for fireworks is certainly on at Greater Nevada Field as playoff pressure arrives.
T-7. Charleston Battery (16pts)
Last Week: W 1-0 at Charlotte Independence
There was pressure on the Battery to take victory on the road to earn the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, and they came through with victory on the road against their Southern Derby rivals, the Independence. Charleston’s goal at the start of the season was to celebrate its 25th anniversary season with the same success as its 20th – a USL Cup. Given the team’s experience, and homefield advantage for at least two games, it shouldn’t be ruled out.
T-7. Swope Park Rangers (16pts)
Last Week: W 2-1 vs. Seattle Sounders FC 2
The Rangers got back to some form of normalcy with their 2-1 victory to close out the regular season against Seattle but will almost certainly need to find another gear when it hosts Phoenix Rising FC in the Western Conference Quarterfinals this Saturday night. The teams played to a 2-2 draw when they met earlier this season at Children’s Mercy Victory Field thanks to a late equalizer by Rising FC’s Didier Drogba from the penalty spot. Swope Park will hope to have learned from that game to begin the defense of its Western Conference Championship with a win.
9. OKC Energy FC (14pts)
Last Week: W 3-1 vs. Seattle Sounders FC 2
Energy FC’s four-game winning streak going into the postseason is the club’s best run of form this season and couldn’t have come at a better time. Now OKC will get a chance to avenge one of the disappointing performances that came before its late surge to the USL Cup Playoffs when it visits Reno 1868 FC. A repeat performance of Energy FC’s upset victory on the road at the same stage last season is the goal for Jose Angulo and his teammates.
10. Rochester Rhinos (10pts)
Last Week: W 1-0 vs. Bethlehem Steel FC, W 2-1 vs. New York Red Bulls II
The Rhinos put in two solid displays to earn a home contest to open the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs and will have positive memories of both the side’s 3-1 victory against the Charlotte Independence in last year’s postseason and the 4-0 drubbing the team claimed at Capelli Sport Stadium earlier this season. Rochester will have a tough road to the USL Cup should it get past Charlotte, but there certainly won’t be a lack of effort put toward earning a second USL Cup in three seasons.
Also receiving votes – Bethlehem Steel FC 4, FC Cincinnati 1