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USL Weekend Preview – Week 25

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 09/08/17, 12:31PM EDT

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Key games arrive for playoff races in both conferences

TAMPA, Fla. – The race for the final positions in the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs takes center stage this weekend, as Week 25 of the 2017 USL regular season concludes with a handful of key contests that will help determine which teams are in the picture for the postseason.
 
Six points separate seven teams from sixth to 12th place in the USL Eastern Conference entering this weekend’s action, and the team that sits in the last of those positions, Ottawa Fury FC, is nearing must-win territory as it visits the fifth-place Rochester Rhinos on Saturday night. Another team looking to make a move above the red line are the 10th-place Pittsburgh Riverhounds, but they host first-place Louisville City FC in a major test of their postseason credentials.
 
The Western Conference also features a pair of crucial games to the playoff race, with eighth-place Phoenix Rising FC visiting seventh-place Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC on Saturday night with the teams even on points. 10th-place Orange County SC is also looking for a big victory to boost its playoff hopes, but will get a big challenge from the Swope Park Rangers at Champions Soccer Stadium on Saturday.
 
Two games of this weekend’s schedule have been postponed due to the potential arrival of Hurricane Irma. Saturday’s game between Bethlehem Steel FC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies is now set for Sept. 27 at Goodman Stadium, while the Charleston Battery’s game with the Charlotte Independence will now be played on Sept. 20 at MUSC Health Stadium.
 
The USL and its teams’ continue to support the relief efforts currently underway for both Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, and ask all fans to help raise funds for the American Red Cross disaster relief.
 
There are two very easy ways to donate:

  1. Visit the American Red Cross website using the link: www.redcross.org/donate.
  2. Call 1-800-RED CROSS

Every game of the 2017 USL season will be available on the league’s Match Center, with updates from across the league also available via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

GAMES TO WATCH


Photo courtesy Michael Rincon / Phoenix Rising FC

Saturday, Sept. 9
Rochester Rhinos vs. Ottawa Fury FC
6:05 p.m. ET, Capelli Sport Stadium

Ottawa Fury FC will try to gain ground in the race for the 2017 Cup Playoffs on Saturday night but will face a big challenge from the Rochester Rhinos, who would move into third place in the Eastern Conference standings with a win or a draw on their home turf.
 
The Rhinos (11-5-8, 41pts) enter the weekend in fifth place in the Eastern Conference but tied on points with the third-place Charleston Battery and fourth-place Tampa Bay Rowdies with two games in hand on both. After earning a third win in their last four outings last Saturday against Toronto FC II, Rochester would boost its chances of playing at least one home playoff game with a win.
 
Fury FC (7-9-9, 30pts) has scored late in each of its past two outings to earn a pair of draws but now sits five points out of the playoff positions with seven games to go in the season, meaning victories are a must at this point. Ottawa has yet to win under interim Head Coach Julian de Guzman, however, going 0-2-3 since he took the reins from Paul Dalglish in mid-August.

Pittsburgh Riverhounds vs. Louisville City FC
7 p.m. ET, Highmark Stadium

The Pittsburgh Riverhounds would move into the playoff positions in the Eastern Conference with a win against Louisville City FC on Saturday night, but they will get a stern challenge from a City side looking to take sole possession of first place in the conference with a win.
 
The Riverhounds (8-8-10, 34pts) are on a five-game undefeated streak (3-0-2) after earning a 1-1 draw against FC Cincinnati last Saturday, a game that saw Corey Hertzog score his 11th goal of the season. With a win, 10th-place Pittsburgh could end the weekend as high as sixth in the standings, depending on the result between the New York Red Bulls II and Toronto FC on Saturday night.
 
Louisville (14-5-5, 47pts) is closing in on its third consecutive playoff berth after taking a 1-0 victory against the Charleston Battery last Saturday night to remain on top of the Eastern Conference. City has already claimed victory once at Highmark Stadium this season, when Luke Spencer scored the only goal on May 20, and would complete a season-sweep of the three-game series with a win.
 
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC vs. Phoenix Rising FC
8 p.m. ET, Weidner Field

The two teams that currently hold the last two berths in the USL Western Conference playoff positions square off as Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC welcomes Phoenix Rising FC for the second meeting of the season between the teams.
 
The seventh-place Switchbacks (9-10-7, 34pts) grabbed a late draw last Saturday against Sacramento Republic FC through Pascal Eboussi’s stoppage-time equalizer, but Colorado Springs is under pressure to take victory at home. With fewer games remaining than all three of its closest rivals below it, Colorado Springs needs to end its three-game winless streak, fast.
 
With nine games remaining, eighth-place Rising FC (9-7-7, 34pts) is in much better shape for a first trip to the postseason, even with Wednesday night’s 0-0 draw against Orange County SC. A visit to Colorado Springs’ high altitude could be a challenge after a busy week, but any kind of result for Phoenix would be a welcome continuation of the club’s current six-game undefeated streak.
 
Orange County SC vs. Swope Park Rangers
Champions Soccer Stadium, 10 p.m. ET

Orange County SC will try to break a nine-game winless streak as it looks to regain its footing in the race for the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs, but will get a strong test from a Swope Park Rangers side that is coming off a solid victory against one of OCSC’s rivals for a playoff place.
 
OCSC (7-8-9, 30pts) earned a 0-0 draw with Phoenix Rising FC on Wednesday night to snap a two-game losing streak, but the side is still looking for its first win since July 29 as it looks to remain in the playoff hunt. Orange County still has eight games to go, but has yet to win at Champions Soccer Stadium in its first four contests (0-2-2) at its new soccer-specific home.
 
The Rangers (13-6-6, 45pts) got out of a long winless streak of their own last Saturday as a 2-0 victory against OKC Energy FC solidified the club’s top-four position in the Western Conference. After playing to a 1-1 draw when the teams met at Children’s Mercy Victory Field earlier this season, Swope Park could do the other teams in the hunt for the playoffs a favor if it can take points from its trip to the west coast.

NUMBER CRUNCHING


Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

6,989 – Ottawa Fury FC captain Carl Haworth became the club’s leader in all-time minutes against Saint Louis FC, and is set to make his 100th professional appearance for the club when it faces the Rochester Rhinos on Saturday.
 
1,000 – Orange County SC’s Monday Etim recorded the 1,000th goal in the 2017 USL regular season last Saturday night, sending the league past the mark for a second successive year.
 
616 – Harrisburg City Islanders defender Lee Nishanian broke the club’s scoreless streak at 616 minutes with his first-half tally against the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Wednesday night, but Harrisburg fell 3-2 in the contest.
 
59Reno 1868 FC is three goals away from setting the USL single-season record for goals scored as it enters Saturday’s game against Seattle Sounders FC 2 with 59 goals this campaign. The New York Red Bulls II set the current mark of 61 goals a season ago.
 
12Orlando City B had its club-record undefeated streak ended at 12 games on Thursday evening in a 2-0 defeat to the Richmond Kickers. It was the second-longest undefeated streak of the season, trailing only San Antonio FC’s run of 14 games without a loss.

OTHER NEWS AND NOTES


Photo courtesy Keith Kountz / Fresno Football Club

- 2018 USL expansion club Fresno FC announced on Tuesday the addition of three key front office staff, officially welcoming Assistant General Manager Jeremy Schultz, Vice President of Ticket Sales & Service Fred Matthes and Director of Marketing & Communications Jordan Wiebe to the club in their respective roles.
 
- Sixteen cities with independent USL clubs have been ranked in the top 40 nationally as one of the best for soccer fans in the United States, according to a ranking by WalletHub.com released on Wednesday. Cincinnati was the highest-ranked city with a USL team in the survey at No. 18, while Sacramento claimed the site's highest USL ranking in addition to being named 21st overall.
 
- Tulsa Roughnecks FC (12-10-4, 40pts) strengthened its hold on a place in the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs with a 3-1 victory against Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 (5-14-7, 22pts) on Wednesday night at MacLeod Athletic Park. Joey Calistri had a goal and assist in a two-minute span after coming on as a substitute to see the Roughnecks home as the side took seven points from its three-game trip to Cascadia.
 
- The Tampa Bay Rowdies (11-7-8, 41pts) earned just their second road win of the season with a 3-2 victory against the Harrisburg City Islanders (6-14-6, 24pts) on Wednesday night at FNB Field. Georgi Hristov scored twice to reach 10 goals for the season, and Martin Paterson also found the net as Tampa Bay moved back into fourth place in the Eastern Conference ahead of this weekend’s action.
 
- The New York Red Bulls II (10-11-5, 35pts) are on a five-game undefeated streak as they visit Toronto FC II (5-15-7, 22 points) at BMO Field on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET | Match Center), which has moved the side into the top eight in the USL Eastern Conference. The Red Bulls II earned a 4-2 victory against the Tampa Bay Rowdies last Saturday to continue their recent run (3-0-2), with Andrew Tinari and Florian Valot both scoring their second goals in as many games in the win. Toronto was held to a 1-0 defeat by the Rochester Rhinos on Saturday night, and remains in last place in the Eastern Conference. The Reds might take inspiration from the chance to play at BMO Field, however, where earlier this season they played to a 2-2 draw with the second-place Charlotte Independence.
 
- Sacramento Republic FC (10-8-6, 36pts) is looking to break a four-game winless streak when it visits the Rio Grande Valley FC (7-12-7, 28 points) at H-E-B Park on Saturday night (8:30 p.m. ET | Match Center), with the Toros fast slipping out of playoff contention with a five-game winless streak of their own. Sacramento was on course for victory in its last outing until a late equalizer by Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC earned a 2-2 draw at Papa Murphy’s Park. Republic FC is now nine points back of the fourth-place Swope Park Rangers as their hopes of a home playoff game are fading. Rio Grande Valley’s hopes of being part of the postseason at all are in similar shape, with a six-point gap to the playoff positions. After a 1-0 loss to the LA Galaxy II on Sunday the Toros are now in must-win territory with six games to go.
 
- Saint Louis FC (8-11-7, 31pts) is in major need of a victory as it returns home from a three-game road trip to host the Harrisburg City Islanders at Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis (8:30 p.m. ET | Match Center). Saint Louis took two points from its trip to face Rochester, Toronto and Ottawa, including a 2-2 draw last Sunday against Fury FC that had seen the visitors rally to take a second-half lead at TD Place only to concede late to their hosts. Sitting four points out of a playoff position with six games to play, STLFC will hope to take all three points against a Harrisburg side that fell in midweek to the Tampa Bay Rowdies for its sixth consecutive defeat.
 
- Real Monarchs SLC (17-4-4, 55pts) will look to rebound from its first home defeat of the season when it visits the Portland Timbers 2 (2-18-5, 11pts) on Saturday night at Providence Park (10 p.m. ET | Match Center). Real clinched a place in the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs despite falling 2-1 against San Antonio FC last Saturday night, with a pair of late goals by the visitors earning victory at Rio Tinto Stadium. The Monarchs still hold a seven-point lead at the top of the Western Conference but will be looking to rebound quickly to keep their cushion intact. T2 has earned back-to-back draws coming into Saturday’s game after holding Tulsa Roughnecks FC to a 1-1 tie last Sunday.
 
- Seattle Sounders FC 2 (9-15-2, 29pts) is in must-win territory when it faces the challenge of second-place Reno 1868 FC (14-5-6, 48pts) on Saturday night at Starfire Stadium (10:30 p.m. ET | Match Center). 1868 FC took a 2-1 victory against the LA Galaxy II on Wednesday night to extend its winning streak to six games and is now level on points with San Antonio FC in the race for playoff position at the top of the Western Conference. Seattle suffered a 2-0 defeat against Phoenix Rising FC last Saturday to further diminish the club’s playoff hopes as it suffered its second consecutive loss. S2 is now five points out of the playoff positions with six games to go, putting the pressure on if the side is to reach the postseason for a second time in three seasons.
 
- San Antonio FC (13-2-9, 48pts) will look to build on a big road victory when it visits the LA Galaxy II (7-14-4, 25pts) at the StubHub Center Track and Field Stadium on Saturday night (10:30 p.m. ET | Match Center). San Antonio moved within seven points of Real Monarchs SLC at the top of the Western Conference with a 2-1 win last Saturday against Real and also has a game in hand to try and close the gap further. SAFC’s win against the Monarchs also gave the side its first back-to-back wins in league action since May 20-26, with the side having gone 4-2-7 since that point. Los Dos are coming off a 2-1 defeat against Reno 1868 FC on Wednesday night that put the side close to elimination from playoff contention, sitting nine points out of a playoff spot with seven games to go.
 
- OKC Energy FC (9-10-6, 33pts) is looking for a bounce-back performance when it hosts Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 on Sunday evening at Taft Stadium (6 p.m. ET | Match Center). Energy FC slipped out of the playoff positions last Saturday as it fell 2-0 to the Swope Park Rangers. OKC is still in fair shape to make the postseason despite the loss but will need to pick up wins in games like this against sides below it in the standings to do so. Fourteenth-place Vancouver is coming off a 3-1 loss on Wednesday night to Energy FC’s Oklahoma rival Tulsa Roughnecks FC, its second defeat in the past three games.

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