Reno 1868 FC is on a six-game undefeated streak as it goes after victory against first-place Orange County SC on Saturday night. | Photo courtesy David Calvert / Reno 1868 FC
RENO, Nev. – Reno 1868 FC already knows it will open its second trip to the USL Cup Playoffs with a contest against Real Monarchs SLC, but as it enters its final game of the regular season the side is hoping it can find a way to gain homefield advantage for the contest next weekend.
Even though Western Conference-leader Orange County SC is the visitor to Greater Nevada Field on Saturday night (9 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+) the side is looking forward to the challenge in a game that brings together two of the hotter teams in the conference at present.
“It’s huge game against the top team in the West and we’re approaching this as a must win,” said 1868 FC defender Zach Carroll. “We’re really pushing for a home playoff game. I think we’re really going for it on Saturday.”
To take that spot Reno not only needs to take victory, but also needs to see the Monarchs – who sit a point ahead of 1868 FC in fourth place going into Saturday’s final contests – fail to pick up all three points on the road against Fresno FC (10 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+). In contrast to Reno, Real has sputtered over the final quarter of the season, but it broke a seven-game winless streak in its last outing against OKC Energy FC with a 2-1 win that left it poised to claim the No. 4 seed.
Getting to remain at Zions Bank Stadium would be significant for the Monarchs, which has recorded a league-best 13 wins on home turf this season and only five wins away from home. After picking up victory behind a pair of Sebastian Saucedo goals against Energy FC, Monarchs captain is hoping the confidence the side drew will carry through its game against the Foxes.
“This game can go a long away in giving the group the belief that we need that we can go on the road and get a win,” said Hoffman. “It has been quite some time since we picked up three points on the road and what better way to do it then the final game of the season to ensure home field for the first round of the playoffs. The biggest thing I want to see is the winning mentality carry over from our last match and into the post season.”
By contrast, Reno is undefeated in its last six games, a run that includes four consecutive shutouts after a 0-0 draw last Saturday night that saw goalkeeper Matt Bersano record a six-save shutout to be named to the USL Team of the Week on Tuesday. The club’s defensive stability will be tested by one of the best attacks in the USL on Saturday with Orange County sitting tied for second in the league with 69 goals, but Reno is hoping it can stifle the likes of forwards Thomas Enevoldsen and Michael Seaton and playmaker Aodhan Quinn.
“I think we’ve been very good defensively. The pressing up to has been great and it’s trickled down to the defense,” said Carroll. “When the time comes for a key tackle in the right moment, we’re making them. We’ve been bailed out by our goalkeeper with some amazing saves. From front to back it’s been very good.”
Reno has its own playmaker in Antoine Hoppenot, who is ties with Quinn on 13 assists this season, two off the league-lead of 15 by FC Cincinnati’s Emmanuel Ledesma. Hoppenot’s total has surpassed that by Chris Wehan in the club’s inaugural season a year ago, a fact that Hoppenot enjoyed reminding his teammate when he reached the mark.
“I told him at the beginning of the season I was going to break it. He was pretty upset that I broke it,” said Hoppenot with a laugh. “But really, he’s been extremely supportive and a great friend. A lot of great banter as I neared his record and I’m glad he was on the pitch with us when I broke it.”
The return of Chris Wehan to Reno 1868 FC on loan from the San Jose Earthquakes has helped Reno's recent surge in attacking form. | Photo courtesy David Calvert / Reno 1868 FC
Wehan has also chipped in three assists since his return to Reno on loan from the San Jose Earthquakes with the chemistry that the side had a season ago clicking back into gear as the playoffs approach. Whether or not Reno gets to open the postseason on home turf, the side appears to be playing its best as the playoffs approach, which could be a good sign for what’s to come.
“Obviously I think we struggled a little bit in July and August,” said Hoppenot. “It’s been nice to have a great September and right now it’s all about having a great October hopefully. What matters is winning that first playoff game. It all comes down to that first game.”