Making Sense of USL PRO Playoff Race
submitted by Chad Hollingsworth (@chadholl), USL PRO Editor for Reckless Challenge
With only three weeks left in the USL PRO regular season, there is still a lot to be decided with respect to the post-season. With four teams clinching a spot in the playoffs, half the field has been set. Each of the remaining 10 teams is still alive. Although none of the clubs are breathing easily, some are on life support.
Already Clinched a Spot
At this late point in the season, the league has been stratified into two groups, the top four and everyone else. Orlando, Richmond, Sacramento, and LA have all punched their tickets into the post-season, but there is still much for which to play. These are the only four teams with a chance to win the regular season championship, and there’s still the matter of home field advantage in the playoffs.
OCSC had lost two of three matches prior to posting a 3-1 victory against Harrisburg on Saturday, and the top spot in the standings became vulnerable.
Already Earned: With 52 points, OCSC is not only guaranteed of a playoff berth, but the Lions will also play at least one playoff match at home.
Still to Be Gained: OCSC controls its own destiny with respect to winning the Commissioner’s Cup and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
At Stake This Week: Despite having matches at Charlotte and Richmond this week, the only thing that Orlando can hope to lock up is a second place regular season finish. OCSC would need to win both its matches, coupled with a Sacramento loss against Wilmington, for that to happen.
The second place Kickers allowed a late equalizer against last place Dayton last Saturday and finished with a draw, something Richmond has done more than twice as much as any other team in the league. That is why the current unbeaten streak of 21 matches hasn’t pushed the Kickers beyond OCSC into the top spot.
Already Earned: Nothing is absolutely guaranteed for the Kickers at this point except a trip to the post-season.
Still to Be Gained: Richmond has yet to clinch a home playoff match, but it seems only to be a matter of time. With to matches remaining against OCSC, the Commissioner’s Cup is a very real possibility.
At Stake This Week: A victory at home against Orlando this week will guarantee a first-round playoff date at City Stadium (the same result will be achieved if Wilmington fails to earn all nine points in its three matches this week).
Sacramento has won four consecutive matches and is on a six-match unbeaten streak. The expansion side has faired well under the tutelage of Preki, and is poised to make a deep run into the playoffs.
Already Earned: Sacramento has secured an invitation to the post-season party.
Still to Be Gained: A playoff match at Bonney Field still looms on the horizon, and the regular season championship is still a possibility.
At Stake This Week: A victory at home on Wednesday against Wilmington will ensure that Sacramento plays its first USL PRO playoff match at home. If Wilmington wins that match, Republic will still earn a home playoff match with two Hammerheads losses later in the week.
Los Dos is another expansion team that has performed exceedingly well in 2014. Only the Richmond Kickers have scored more goals thus far in the campaign. If LA can tie up some loose ends on the defensive side of the ball, Los Dos will be a contender for a title.
Already Earned: Los Dos have clinched a spot in the playoffs..
Still to Be Gained: A home playoff game seems likely, but has yet to be earned. Los Dos have a mathematical shot at the Commissioner’s Cup, but it seems improbable given that OCSC and Richmond face each other twice before the season ends.
At Stake This Week: Los Dos face the Wilmington Hammerheads at home on Sunday. The Hammerheads would have to leave a number of points on the table this week for LA to shore up a first-round playoff match at home.
Control Own Destiny
There are four playoff spots that have yet to be filled, and there are four teams that control there own destinies with respect to earning one of those spots. If Wilmington, Harrisburg, Charleston, and OKC take care of their own business, they will be playing in the post-season.
Wilmington has made a slow descent toward the bottom of the table. The current five-match streak without a win includes four consecutive losses. The good news for the Hammerheads is that there are a lot of matches (8) left to be played. The bad news is that there is only a little time (3 weeks) in which to play them.
Still to Be Gained: Despite sitting near the bottom of the table, Wilmington has the best shot of any club outside of the top four of getting a home playoff match. While the gauntlet ahead will test Wilmington’s mettle, it is better than having your fate in the hands of others’ results.
At Stake This Week: Even with three matches this week at Sacramento, Orange County, and LA, the Hammerheads can neither clinch a playoff spot, nor be eliminated from the postseason this week.
Harrisburg has been heading the opposite direction of the Hammerheads. It doesn’t seem that long ago that the City Islanders were hovering near the bottom of the standings. A recent run of good form that included five consecutive wins helped to push HCI up to fifth in the standings.
Still to Be Gained: It is a long shot for Harrisburg to host a first-round playoff game in Dauphin County, but entry into the post-season is well within the City Islanders’ grasp.
At Stake This Week: Harrisburg travels to face Rochester on Saturday, but the City Islanders will not be able to clinch a playoff berth this week.
Two words: Oatmeal Power. Charleston has not lost a match since a superstition about eating oatmeal cookies on match day was born on July 22, a streak that was extended to seven matches last Friday.
Still to Be Gained: Charleston is realistically just trying to fight its way into the playoffs. It is highly improbable that a first-round playoff match will be hosted at Blackbaud Stadium.
At Stake This Week: Charleston heads to OKC on Sunday, but the result will not clinch a playoff spot this week. Charleston is also not in danger of being eliminated this week.
Three consecutive losses to western compatriots has hurt, but not crippled OKC’s chance to become the third USL PRO expansion side to qualify for the playoffs in 2014.
Still to Be Gained: Pribil Stadium will not host a playoff match in the first round, but OKC still controls its own destiny when it comes to getting into the playoffs at all.
At Stake This Week: OKC travel to Arizona on Friday, then host Charleston on Sunday. Nothing will be decided for OKC at the end of this week.
Still in the Hunt
The league’s remaining six teams are still alive for the playoffs, but they’ll need help from other clubs to get there.
Rochester currently sits in seventh position in the table, but a loss at Charlotte last Saturday, the Rhinos’ third in a row, stripped them of their ability to control their own destiny.
At Stake This Week: Rochester hosts Harrisburg on Saturday and cannot be eliminated from post-season contention this week.
The orange flag is still flying for the Charlotte Eagles’ final season in USL PRO. The victory over Rochester on Saturday kept the outgoing franchise in the thick of the playoff hunt.
At Stake This Week: Charlotte hosts OCSC on Wednesday evening. Even with a loss, Charlotte cannot be eliminated from the playoffs this week.
After an impressive run in May and June, Orange County appears to have run out of steam in July and August. Orange County has lost eight of its last nine matches and plummeted in the standings.
At Stake This Week: Orange County host Wilmington on Sunday. The Blues cannot be eliminated this week. (Edit: It was previously reported that elimination was a possibility.)
Arizona staved off elimination last week with big wins at OKC and at home against Pittsburgh. The two points that were deducted from United earlier in the season for the participation of an ineligible player loom large now.
At Stake This Week: Arizona host OKC on Friday, and cannot be eliminated this week. (Edit: It was previously reported that elimination was a possibility.)
Pittsburgh is not the team we thought they would be at the outset of the regular season. A slow start to the season has been followed by inconsistent performances. Now the Riverhounds need help to make it to the playoffs.
At Stake This Week: Pittsburgh hosts FC Dallas Reserves on Sunday, but cannot be eliminated from the post-season, regardless of the outcome.
Somehow, Dayton has managed to hang on to a sliver of a chance to qualify for the playoffs. The team has not lost under new Head Coach Matt Weston, but a perfect finish to the season will not be enough to get the Dutch Lions into the post-season.
At Stake This Week: Dayton hosts Colorado Rapids Reserves on Saturday. There are any number of ways that Dayton could be eliminated from the playoffs this week:
- Dayton fails to win against Colorado Rapids.
- OKC wins one of its two matches.
- Wilmington wins two of its three matches.