8 games down, 7 games to go.
The 2018 USL Cup Playoffs got off to a flying start as the opening weekend of action saw penalty shootouts, upsets and eight teams emerge from the fray with their USL Cup dreams intact. Here are 11 numbers to take away from the past weekend as we begin to look ahead to the Conference Semifinals.
4 – Orange County SC forward Michael Seaton made the most of his USL Cup Playoffs debut, scoring a hat trick in his side’s 4-0 victory over Saint Louis FC on Saturday at Champions Soccer Stadium at OC Great Park. Seaton's hat trick was the first of his USL career and just the fourth all-time in the USL Cup Playoffs, following Dom Dwyer (Orlando City SC, 2013, USL Cup), Rodrigo Lopez (Sacramento Republic FC, 2014, Semifinals), and Brandon Allen (New York Red Bulls II, 2016, USL Cup). It was also the fourth time this season that the 22-year-old Jamaican scored multiple goals in a game, having recorded a pair of braces against Las Vegas Lights FC and another against Phoenix Rising FC during the regular season.
7,511 – Speaking of Rising FC, the club hosted its first USL Cup Playoffs match on Friday night at the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex and marked the occasion with its first postseason victory in a 3-0 win over the Portland Timbers 2 in front of a record crowd of 7,511 fans. Didier Drogba, Jason Johnson and Soloman Asante found the back of the net for Phoenix, which will get the chance to play in front of its home crowd again this Friday night when it hosts the Swope Park Rangers in a rematch of last season’s two-day Western Conference Quarterfinal that saw Swope Park emerge victorious in a penalty shootout.
15 – Bethlehem Steel FC needed a penalty shootout to defeat Keystone State rival Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC on Saturday at Highmark Stadium. After playing to a 2-2 draw over 120 minutes, the two sides stepped up to the spot and put on a nerveless display that saw the first 15 penalty kicks of the shootout converted. In the bottom of the eighth round, Riverhounds defender Ray Lee pushed his attempt wide of the post to give Steel FC a 2-2 (8-7) road victory.
3 – Tom Barlow’s first-half strike gave the No. 5-seed New York Red Bulls II a 1-0 away win over the Charleston Battery on Saturday at MUSC Health Stadium as the visitors booked their spot in the Eastern Conference Semifinals for a fourth straight year. After failing to win away from home in their first 15 tries this season, New York has now won three straight road games and will look to continue its impressive away form against FC Cincinnati on Saturday afternoon at Nippert Stadium.
24 – Cincinnati put its home crowd through some nervy moments last Saturday, as the 2018 USL Regular Season champion needed a penalty shootout to see off Nashville SC. Ohio native Kenney Walker scored the deciding penalty in the sixth round to send the East’s top seed into the Conference Semifinals and extend the club’s USL-record unbeaten run to 24 games.
63 – FC Cincinnati’s historic run of form began back on June 2, when the side responded to a 1-0 setback against Louisville City FC with a 2-1 victory over New York at Red Bull Arena. The visitors looked like they could be on their way to a second straight defeat in the 63rd minute of that match as FCC trailed 1-0 and the Red Bulls II had just won a penalty kick, but Brian White missed that spot kick and Cincinnati responded with goals from Emmanuel Ledesma and Danni Konig to turn the tide of the match and its record-setting season.
2 – It’s impossible to look ahead to this Friday’s postseason rematch between Phoenix Rising FC and the Swope Park Rangers without looking back at their dramatic penalty shootout in the 2017 Western Conference Quarterfinals. After being pegged back in extra time, Rising FC failed to convert two penalties in its eventual 4-2 shootout defeat, which saw Kevon Lambert’s effort saved and Doueugui Mala miss the target. Notably, Rising FC captain and likely fifth penalty taker Didier Drogba did not get the chance to shoot as the Rangers converted all four of their opportunities.
61.4 – The Swope Park Rangers kept their hopes of representing the Western Conference in the USL Cup for the third straight year alive with a 2-1 victory over No. 2-seed Sacramento Republic FC on Saturday night at Papa Murphy’s Park. The Rangers, who led the league in maintaining possession (56.75 percent) and passes completed (14,198) in the regular season, managed that victory despite having the ball just 41 percent of the time. Swope Park will look to get back to their typical ways on Friday against Phoenix Rising FC, having maintained 61.4 percent of the ball against Rising FC in their penalty shootout victory last postseason.
0 – Louisville City FC will look to replicate its 2017 postseason success when the No. 2 seed welcomes No. 6-seed Bethlehem Steel FC to Slugger Field on Saturday night. Louisville cruised to a 4-0 victory over Bethlehem in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals last postseason but will face a more resilient Steel FC side this time around that comes off an impressive come-from-behind victory in Pittsburgh. Still, the hosts will like their chances having never lost any of its eight postseason matches at Slugger Field.
55.95 – After picking up its first postseason victory against Real Monarchs SLC last weekend, No. 5-seed Reno 1868 FC enters its Western Conference Semifinal matchup against top-seeded Orange County SC on the back of an eight-game unbeaten run. Reno was also unbeaten against Orange County during the regular season (1-0-1) and claimed an impressive 3-1 victory over OCSC at Greater Nevada Field on the final weekend of the regular season. Reno’s success against Orange County so far this campaign can be boiled down to a tenacity in defense and willingness to win 50-50 balls as 1868 FC averaged a 55.95 duel success rate in the sides’ two regular-season meetings.
81 – Bethlehem didn’t have a lot of success against Louisville City FC during its two regular season meetings – losing 3-1 in April and playing out a 0-0 draw in June – but the side will be encouraged entering its Eastern Conference Semifinal matchup after going unbeaten in its last five games. Midfielder Santi Moar has been an instrumental part of Steel FC’s offensive production, ranking second in the USL with 81 completed dribbles and first on Bethlehem in chances created (48) and assists (9). The Spaniard showed off that creative intent last weekend, setting up Michee Ngalina for Steel FC’s first goal in the second half of the side’s shootout victory over Pittsburgh.