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USL’s Week Ahead – Playoff Berths Come into View

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 08/28/18, 11:30AM EDT

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Top-four contests feature in Eastern Conference over holiday weekend's schedule


Louisville City FC and the Charleston Battery meet this Friday night in one of two top-four contests in the USL's Eastern Conference this weekend. | Photo courtesy Zach Bland / Charleston Battery

TAMPA, Fla. – The first two places in the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs could be clinched in the next seven days as the league enters Week 25 of the regular season with plenty to be decided in the postseason race. Eastern Conference-leader FC Cincinnati needs a little help as it goes into a top-three clash on Saturday night against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, and Western Conference-leader Real Monarchs SLC potentially has its opportunity in its own reach as it hosts San Antonio FC in a special Labor Day-night clash at Zions Bank Stadium. Following a weekend in which the USL surpassed two million in total attendance, the league schedule remains busy with 22 games between now and next Monday night that kicks off on Tuesday with the second edition of the Silver State Cup between Reno 1868 FC and Las Vegas Lights FC at Greater Nevada Field. In addition to the contests featuring the conference leaders, Friday night brings a pair of key Eastern Conference contests, as the New York Red Bulls II and Ottawa Fury FC square off for a playoff six-pointer at MSU Soccer Park, and the other two teams in the top four of the conference standings meet at Slugger Field, as Louisville City FC hosts the Charleston Battery. Attention then turns to Sunday afternoon and a key game between Keystone state rivals Bethlehem Steel FC and Penn FC in the Eastern Conference, while in the Western Conference, the Swope Park Rangers host OKC Energy FC in what is both a rematch of the 2017 Western Conference Final and a crucial game for both in their pursuit of a return to the postseason this fall.

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Saint Louis FC's Lewis Hilton and his teammates celebrate with fans after Saturday's 3-2 win against Tulsa Roughnecks FC. | Photo courtesy Mark Guthrel / Saint Louis FC

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USL REGULAR SEASON SPOTLIGHT | RAPID-FIRE PREVIEWS


Real Monarchs SLC and San Antonio FC square off for the second time this season on a special Labor Day clash at Zions Bank Stadium. | Photo courtesy Darren Abate / San Antonio FC

Tuesday, Aug. 28
Louisville City FC vs. Toronto FC II

Slugger Field, Louisville, Kentucky | 7 p.m. ET
Louisville City FC (13-4-7, 46pts) plays host to Toronto FC II (2-18-3, 9pts) in a game that was rescheduled from June 18 to accommodate Louisville’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Quarterfinal against the Chicago Fire. Louisville enters off the back of two emphatic road victories over the past week that saw it score nine goals and concede none in victories against the Charlotte Independence and Richmond Kickers, with Cameron Lancaster and Luke Spencer bagging three goals apiece across the two contests. Toronto has shown better form recently, narrowly falling 3-2 to Indy Eleven last Wednesday in its last outing but will be in for a big test on the road against the defending USL Cup champion.

Nashville SC vs. Richmond Kickers
First Tennessee Park, Nashville, Tennessee | 8:30 p.m. ET
Nashville SC (9-7-8, 35pts) will look to rebound from defeat in its last outing and move into the playoff positions, as it hosts the Richmond Kickers (6-16-3, 21pts). Nashville suffered a late 2-1 defeat to Bethlehem Steel FC on Saturday night for just its second home loss of the season but would move into seventh position with a win, as it begins to make up its games in hand on the seventh-place New York Red Bulls II and eighth-place Ottawa Fury FC. The Kickers are also looking to rebound after suffering their heaviest defeat of the season this past Saturday, a 6-0 loss to Louisville City FC at City Stadium.

Reno 1868 FC vs. Las Vegas Lights FC
Greater Nevada Field, Reno, Nevada | 10:30 p.m. ET
The second Silver State Cup clash of the season sees Reno 1868 FC (10-6-8, 38pts) looking to reassert its playoff credentials, as it hosts Las Vegas Lights FC (7-12-6, 27pts), which desperately needs a win to stay in touch with the top eight. The teams played to a 1-1 draw at Cashman Field on March 24 in their first meeting and will meet once more in Reno in September, but both are looking to snap four-game winless streaks as they enter this matchup. Reno fell 2-1 to another rival, Sacramento Republic FC, this past Saturday to remain in sixth place in the Western Conference, while Las Vegas let a late lead slip in stoppage time in a 2-2 draw with Fresno FC and now sits in 14th place in the Western Conference, 10 points out of the playoff positions with nine games to go in its regular season.

Wednesday, Aug. 29
Indy Eleven vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana | 7 p.m. ET
Indy Eleven (11-7-7, 40pts) plays host to Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (12-3-9, 45pts) in a meeting between two strong playoff contenders that see both coming off draws in their last outings. Indy held a lead in its visit to ATL UTD 2 on Saturday night but conceded an equalizer in the 96th minute to finish in a 1-1 draw at Coolray Field to miss out on all three points. The sixth-place Eleven are now 3-0-3 over a six-game undefeated streak. The Hounds also let a lead slip last Wednesday night, as they played to a 1-1 draw with the Tampa Bay Rowdies at Highmark Stadium and are now 3-0-2 over the course of a five-game undefeated streak entering this week to put the side in third place in the Eastern Conference to start the week’s action.

Rio Grande Valley FC vs. San Antonio FC
H-E-B Park, Edinburg, Texas | 8 p.m. ET (ESPN3)
Rio Grande Valley FC (4-9-12, 24pts) will try to build on its first road win of the season when it takes on South Texas Derby rival San Antonio FC (9-9-7, 34pts) in the USL Game of the Week. The Toros claimed a 2-0 victory against Orange County SC on Saturday night, as goalkeeper Tyler Deric recorded a seven-save shutout against the Western Conference contender to allow a pair of first-half goals to stand up for the win. RGVFC now returns home to host its biggest rival, with SAFC needing to break a four-game losing streak that dropped the side to 10th place in the Western Conference after a 2-1 defeat to the Swope Park Rangers this past Saturday night. SAFC has conceded 11 goals over its past four outings, a major change to the defensive stability the club has been known for previously.

Swope Park Rangers vs. Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Children’s Mercy Park, Kansas City, Kansas | 8:30 p.m. ET
The Swope Park Rangers (10-9-7, 37pts) will try to bolster their top-eight position as last-place Tulsa Roughnecks FC (2-12-10, 16pts) visits Children’s Mercy Park. The Rangers ended an eight-game winless streak this past Saturday, as goals by Amer Didic and Hadji Barry earned a 2-1 victory against San Antonio FC to move the side back into the top eight in the Western Conference. Swope Park will look to add to that victory against a Roughnecks side that has dropped its past two outings, although Tulsa almost managed a major comeback this past Saturday in a 3-2 defeat to Saint Louis FC that showed the side isn’t going to go quietly down the home stretch of the season.

Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC vs. Real Monarchs SLC
Weidner Field, Colorado Springs, Colorado | 9 p.m. ET
Real Monarchs SLC (17-6-2, 53pts) will try to build on one of its most impressive recent performances as it visits Rocky Mountain rival Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (9-14-4, 31pts), which is in major need of a win to keep its flagging playoff hopes alive. The Switchbacks suffered their fourth defeat in the past five games on Saturday, falling 4-0 to Phoenix Rising FC, as all four goals came after a red card to Switchbacks midfielder Jordan Burt. They’ll now take on a Monarchs side that scored four goals in the first half to take a 4-0 win against the LA Galaxy II, as Chandler Hoffman bagged two goals and one assist to give him four goals over the past two games.

Seattle Sounders FC 2 vs. Saint Louis FC
Cheney Stadium, Tacoma, Washington | 10 p.m. ET
Saint Louis FC (10-7-8, 38pts) will try to add to its run of five wins in its last six outings when it opens a two-game trip to Cascadia by visiting Seattle Sounders FC 2 (5-16-2, 17pts). Saint Louis got a pair of goals by Wal Fall and a goal and assist by Lewis Hilton in a 3-2 win against Tulsa Roughnecks FC this past Saturday night at Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis to move into seventh place in the Western Conference. It will now take on an S2 side that it claimed a 2-0 victory against on home turf on Aug. 4 and that has dropped its past two contests, including a 3-0 defeat to OKC Energy FC this past Saturday night. Seattle has been a trickier proposition on its home turf, however, winning its last two games at Cheney Stadium against Las Vegas Lights FC and San Antonio FC.

Friday, Aug. 31
New York Red Bulls II vs. Ottawa Fury FC

MSU Soccer Park, Montclair, New Jersey | 7 p.m. ET
The New York Red Bulls II (9-7-10, 37pts) and Ottawa Fury FC (10-12-5, 35pts) meet in a playoff six-pointer at MSU Soccer Park, separated by just a point in the middle of the race for the playoffs in the Eastern Conference standings. New York has claimed all nine of its victories at home this season and is coming off back-to-back draws that included a dramatic 4-4 result against the Charleston Battery this past Saturday that saw Tom Barlow score a second-half hat trick after coming off the bench to help the visitors salvage a point at MUSC Health Stadium. Fury FC has suffered defeats in its past two outings, including a 2-0 loss to Penn FC at TD Place this past Saturday that put a major dent in the club’s postseason hopes. With seven games to go in its regular season, Ottawa could really use a road victory to keep itself in the middle of the playoff hunt.

Louisville City FC vs. Charleston Battery
Slugger Field, Louisville, Kentucky | 7:30 p.m. ET
Louisville City FC returns to action at Slugger Field for the second time in Week 25, as it plays host to a top-four clash with the Charleston Battery (11-4-11, 44pts). The Battery took a 2-1 victory when the sides met in Charleston on July 14, but since then, Louisville has gone on a seven-game undefeated streak to move ahead of Charleston in the Eastern Conference by two points. The Battery are coming off a 4-4 draw with the New York Red Bulls II this past Saturday night that saw the side lose a three-goal lead at halftime, with a red card to Tah Anunga in the second half one of the catalysts for New York’s rally to earn a point.

Toronto FC II vs. ATL UTD 2
Lamport Stadium, Toronto, Ontario | 8 p.m. ET
Toronto FC II returns to action after its midweek trip to Louisville to host ATL UTD 2 (3-13-8, 17pts), which will be hoping to build on its dramatic draw with Indy Eleven this past Saturday. Atlanta earned a 1-1 result at Coolray Field thanks to a 96th-minute equalizer by Dylan Gaither, his first professional goal. Atlanta took a 5-4 victory against Toronto when the sides met for the first time this season in one of the more entertaining contests of the USL season so far.

Saturday, Sept. 1
Indy Eleven vs. Richmond Kickers

Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana | 7 p.m. ET
Indy Eleven and the Richmond Kickers return to the field for the second time in the week, as Indy tries to complete a season-sweep of the series after taking a 1-0 victory against the Kickers on March 24 at City Stadium that saw Jack McInerney score the only goal of the game. This contest marks the second match in a three-game homestand for the Eleven that concludes on Sept. 5 against the New York Red Bulls II.

North Carolina FC vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies
Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, N.C. | 7 p.m. ET
North Carolina FC (9-9-7, 34pts) will try to add to its biggest win of the season when it hosts the Tampa Bay Rowdies (7-11-7, 28pts) for the third meeting between the clubs this year. Each team has claimed victory on the road in the previous two contests, with Tampa Bay winning 3-1 on the opening weekend of the regular season at Sahlen’s Stadium before North Carolina took a 2-0 victory at Al Lang Stadium on Aug. 11. North Carolina is coming off a 6-2 victory against the Charlotte Independence that saw Zach Steinberger record two goals and one assist in his debut for the club on loan from Indy Eleven, a win that moved NCFC into 10th place in the Eastern Conference. The Rowdies suffered a tough 2-1 defeat to FC Cincinnati in their last outing despite outshooting their visitors 31-7, leaving the side seven points out of the playoff positions with nine games to go in its regular season.

Charlotte Independence vs. Nashville SC
Sportsplex at Matthews, Matthews, North Carolina | 7:30 p.m. ET
Nashville SC heads on the road following its Tuesday-night contest to visit the Charlotte Independence (7-11-8, 29pts), who are looking for a major rebound to end their seven-game winless streak. Charlotte suffered a 6-2 defeat to North Carolina FC last Saturday night as its playoff hopes drifted further away, but there could be some hope in the fact that the Independence’s last victory came at home to Nashville on July 11, when Kevan George scored the only goal of the game just before halftime.

FC Cincinnati vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio | 7:30 p.m. ET
FC Cincinnati (17-3-6, 57pts) could be within range of clinching a place in the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs should other results go their way on Friday and Saturday night, but it should get a strong home test from Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, as it visits Nippert Stadium for the second time this season. The Hounds complete a two-game trip in Cincinnati after visiting Indy Eleven on Wednesday night. Pittsburgh claimed a 2-2 draw when it last faced FCC. Cincinnati is looking to add to a four-game winning streak that continued this past Saturday, as Emmanuel Ledesma scored twice from the penalty spot in a 2-1 win against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the club’s first all-time at Al Lang Stadium.

Fresno FC vs. Reno 1868 FC
Chukchansi Park, Fresno, California | 10 p.m. ET
Fresno FC (8-9-10, 34pts) is facing a must-win contest at home, as Reno 1868 FC heads to Northern California for its second outing of the week. Fresno grabbed a late point in a 2-2 draw with Las Vegas Lights FC this past Saturday night despite being down to 10 men, as Renato Bustamante scored the equalizer in the 94th minute. Having played one game more than current eighth-place side the Swope Park Rangers while sitting three points back in the standings as the week begins, however, the Foxes will need to start picking up victories to put themselves in the picture as the playoff race picks up steam.

Portland Timbers 2 vs. Saint Louis FC
Providence Park, Portland, Oregon | 10 p.m. ET
The Portland Timbers 2 (13-11-3, 42pts) will try to rebound from defeat in their last outing as they host Saint Louis FC, which completes its two-game trip to Cascadia with the potential to overtake T2 should it have taken victory in its first game of the trip against Seattle Sounders FC 2. Portland battled back twice against Orange County SC last Wednesday night but conceded a late goal to fall 3-2 at Merlo Field, snapping a three-game winning streak. Despite the loss, leading scorer Foster Langsdorf continued his hot run of form that has seen him record four goals in the past three games to remain in the mix for the USL Golden Boot.

LA Galaxy II vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
StubHub Center, Carson, California – 10:30 p.m. ET
The LA Galaxy II (7-13-6, 27pts) will try to rebound from the end of their three-game undefeated streak when they host Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, which returns to action for the second time in the week. Los Dos suffered a 4-0 defeat to Real Monarchs SLC this past Saturday night, as the hosts scored all four of their goals in the first half at Zions Bank Stadium. The Galaxy II could see the return to the lineup of Ulysses Llanez, who over the past weekend helped the U.S. Under-18 National Team claim the International Youth Tournament of Vaclav Jezek in the Czech Republic.

Sunday, Sept. 2
Bethlehem Steel FC vs. Penn FC

Goodman Stadium, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania | 3 p.m. ET
Keystone state rivals Bethlehem Steel FC (12-10-6, 42pts) and Penn FC (7-9-8, 29pts) face a crucial clash in the race for the USL Cup Playoffs, as both teams look to add to big road wins the last time out. Steel FC took its sixth victory in its past seven contests in a 2-1 victory against Nashville SC this past Saturday at First Tennessee Park that saw Adam Najem score a 93rd-minute winner for the visitor. Steel FC sits 13 points ahead of Penn in the standings, but the visitor on Sunday has played four fewer games than Bethlehem as it enters its final stretch of the season. Penn took a big 2-0 victory against Ottawa Fury FC in its last outing to stay in touch with the playoff positions but could use another road win here before it closes the season with nine consecutive games at home.

Seattle Sounders FC 2 vs. Orange County SC
Cheney Stadium, Tacoma, Washington | 4:30 p.m. ET
Orange County SC (15-7-5, 50pts) will look to rebound from the end of its four-game winning streak as it visits Seattle Sounders FC 2, which returns to action at Cheney Stadium for the second time in the week. Orange County fell 2-0 to Rio Grande Valley FC this past Saturday to slip to third place in the Western Conference and will be hoping to bounce back against a side that it swept the regular-season series from a season ago, as the teams meet for the first time this season.

Swope Park Rangers vs. OKC Energy FC
Children’s Mercy Park, Kansas City, Kansas | 5 p.m. ET
The Swope Park Rangers return to action at Children’s Mercy Park for a second time this week when they play host to OKC Energy FC (10-12-5, 35pts), which will try to continue its late push for a place in the postseason as it heads on the road. Energy FC has taken four consecutive victories to move into ninth place in the Western Conference and has scored 13 goals in that span with Christian Volesky scoring five goals across the four games and Jose Barril chipping in seven assists. OKC enters the week two points back of Swope Park, but with the Rangers playing host to Tulsa Roughnecks FC on Wednesday night, it could need a win to try and keep pace with its fellow Western Conference contender.

Monday, Sept. 3
Real Monarchs SLC vs. San Antonio FC

Zions Bank Stadium, Herriman, Utah | 9 p.m. ET
Real Monarchs SLC could be within range of clinching a place in the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs as it hosts San Antonio FC, with both clubs returning to action after contests the previous Wednesday night. The Monarchs have claimed 11 consecutive home victories after its 4-0 win against the LA Galaxy II this past Saturday, two back of the league record set by Orlando City SC in the 2014 season of 13 consecutive home wins, meaning the Labor Day clash will also see the hosts pursuing history as well as a potential return to the postseason.

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