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Race to the Championship Playoffs – Everything You Need to Know

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 09/21/20, 1:00PM EDT

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More than half the field is set with two weeks to go, but there’s a battle brewing in Group B

Welcome to the Race to the Championship Playoffs Presented by Synchronicity, where plenty has been decided, but the narrowness of the races for the best records in both conferences – and with it the seeding for homefield advantage – looks set to go down to the wire. Plus, we have a serious battle brewing in Group B, where three teams are now in a potential standoff for second place that will take more turns over the upcoming week.

Here’s an up-to-date look at where everyone stands after this weekend’s action, including Magic Numbers and each club’s potential to finish in one of the top two positions in their group. And to start us off, three contests that could prove absolutely crucial for both clubs involved over the next two nights.

 

Playoff Race Games to Watch

Austin Bold FC vs Sporting Kansas City II

Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET
Venue: Bold Stadium
Group D/E

What to Know - Austin Bold FC can take the upper hand over FC Tulsa in their battle for second place in Group D, but it’s going to have to turn its recent form around to do so. Austin hasn’t claimed victory in five games since its defeat to San Antonio FC last Wednesday night, and as a result has missed out on the chance to take advantage of Tulsa’s similar lack of wins over the same span. Finding all three points against Sporting Kansas City II isn’t a given, though. While SKC II may be virtually eliminated from playoff contention after its late defeat against Saint Louis FC on Saturday night, it has already handed defeats to Group D opponents Tulsa and OKC Energy FC this season. Austin can’t afford to be its third interconference matchup victory.

Indy Eleven vs. Saint Louis FC

Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET
Venue: Lucas Oil Stadium
Group E

What to Know - Thanks to Sam Fink’s late winner for Saint Louis on Saturday night, we’ve got a real, live playoff race in Group E as the visitors enter only a point back of Indy with three games each remaining. The two teams have split their first two meetings this season with each winning on home turf, but here it feels as though Saint Louis is going to be the side in need of victory more, since it faces presumptive group winner Louisville City FC in its weekend matchup while Indy hosts Sporting Kansas City II. As high as the stakes feel, this should be a must-see.

LA Galaxy II vs. San Diego Loyal SC

Wednesday, 10 p.m. ET
Venue: Dignity Health Sports Park
Group B

What to Know - It’s a three-team race for second place in Group B, but while San Diego Loyal SC appears to have momentum after its third consecutive victory on Saturday night it’sstill essential for the visitors to take all three points in its second recent visit to face the LA Galaxy II. Los Dos still have four games left on the schedule, so even a defeat here would still leave LA in a position to overtake San Diego with two games in hand going into the weekend. San Diego is also going to have to hope for Orange County to slip up along the way, too, but victory for SD Loyal would make the final few days of the regular season awfully interesting for The Locals and any neutral fans keeping an eye on the postseason race.

western conference

 

Group A

1. Reno 1868 FC
1. Reno 1868 FC
Record: 10-2-1, 31pts
Playoff Odds: Clinched
First Place Odds: 95%
Second Place Odds: 5%
Max. Points Available: 40pts
Magic Number: N/A
Up Next: vs. SAC (9/26)
Reno’s week went almost perfectly with two wins and Sacramento Republic FC being held to a draw by Tacoma Defiance on Sunday night. That means 1868 FC can clinch first place in Group A with a win on Saturday night against its Donner Pass Derby rivals while also remaining on course for the best record in the league as well.
2. Sacramento Republic FC
2. Sacramento Republic FC
Record: 7-1-5, 26pts
Playoff Odds: Clinched
First Place Odds: 5%
Second Place Odds: 95%
Max. Points Available: 35pts
Magic Number: N/A
Up Next: vs. TAC (9/20)
If Sacramento is going to have a shot at first place in the group, it almost certainly has to win at Greater Nevada Field against Reno 1868 FC on Saturday night. If it only earns a draw, 1868 FC would be able to clinch first place with a draw in one of its final two games as it holds a three-win edge on Republic FC in the first tiebreaker of total wins, and Sacramento would only have two games remaining.
3. Tacoma Defiance
3. Tacoma Defiance
Record: 2-8-2, 8pts
Playoff Odds: Eliminated
First Place Odds: N/A
Second Place Odds: N/A
Max. Points Available: 20pts
Magic Number: N/A
Up Next: at POR (9/24), vs. POR (9/27)
Tacoma’s season was already over on Sunday night, but it sure didn’t look like it from its performance against Sacramento. Two meetings with the Portland Timbers 2 this week are unlikely to be dull affairs either.
4. Portland Timbers 2
4. Portland Timbers 2
Record: 2-11-0, 6pts
Playoff Odds: Eliminated
First Place Odds: N/A
Second Place Odds:N/A
Max. Points Available: 15pts
Magic Number: N/A
Up Next: vs. TAC (9/24), at TAC (9/27)
Marcus Epps had himself a week with two outstanding goals. There’s only regional pride on the line now, but the two meetings this week with Tacoma should be entertaining, at least.
 

Group B

Phoenix Rising FC
1. Phoenix Rising FC
Record: 8-3-2, 26pts
Playoff Odds: 99 percent
First Place Odds: 93%
Second Place Odds: 6%
Max. Points Available: 35pts
Magic Number: 5pts
Up Next: vs. OC (9/26)
Phoenix’s loss to San Diego Loyal SC means there’s a chance it could be the team with the fewest points of the four group-winners in the Western Conference at the end of the season, with Reno, El Paso and San Antonio all having higher potential final totals. Rising FC would clinch a playoff spot on Saturday night with victory against Orange County, but the three points are as important to try and get a boost in the seedings for when the postseason arrives.
2. San Diego Loyal SC
2. San Diego Loyal SC
Record: 6-4-4, 22pts
Playoff Odds: 23 percent
First Place Odds: <1%
Second Place Odds: 22%
Max. Points Available: 28pts
Magic Number: N/A
Up Next: at LA (9/23)
San Diego has all the momentum behind it after its victory against Phoenix Rising FC on Saturday night, but it’s still not completely in the side’s hands as to whether it will make the postseason or not. Wednesday’s game against the LA Galaxy II is another must-win, and then SD Loyal will be rooting for Phoenix to defeat Orange County and Las Vegas Lights FC to beat the Galaxy II this weekend.
3. LA Galaxy II
3. LA Galaxy II
Record: 7-5-0, 21pts
Playoff Odds: 47 percent
First Place Odds: 5%
Second Place Odds: 43%
Max. Points Available: 33pts
Magic Number: 9pts
Up Next: vs. SD (9/23), at LV (9/26)
The Galaxy II’s playoff fate is still firmly in its grasp as it hosts San Diego Loyal SC on Wednesday night, and it would remain that way even with a loss thanks to its games in hand and superior wins total over SD Loyal and Orange County SC. If Los Dos can get at least a draw out of San Diego’s visit, though, it would smooth the potential path a bit more ahead of Saturday’s visit to Las Vegas. Should LA fall on Wednesday night, though, then the meeting with Lights FC would quickly become a must-win.
4. Orange County SC
4. Orange County SC
Record: 6-4-3, 21pts
Playoff Odds: 31 percent
First Place Odds: 2%
Second Place Odds: 29%
Max. Points Available: 30pts
Magic Number: N/A
Up Next: at PHX (9/26)
A win’s a win, but Orange County really looked like it was laboring on Friday night against Las Vegas Lights FC before it found the goal it needed thanks to Darwin Jones. A lot better is going to be required against Phoenix Rising FC on Saturday night with San Diego Loyal SC and the LA Galaxy II both rooting for the group leader to knock Orange County’s potential final total down.
5. Las Vegas Lights FC
5. Las Vegas Lights FC
Record: 2-8-3, 9pts
Playoff Odds: Eliminated
First Place Odds: N/A
Second Place Odds: N/A
Max. Points Available: 18pts
Magic Number: N/A
Up Next: vs. LA (9/26)
With games left against the LA Galaxy II and Orange County SC over the next two weekends, Lights FC is going to have a role to play in the playoff race, even though the postseason is now well out of reach for Head Coach Frank Yallop’s side.
 

Group C

1. El Paso Locomotive FC
1. El Paso Locomotive FC
Record: 8-2-3, 27pts
Playoff Odds: Clinched
First Place Odds: 72%
Second Place Odds: 28%
Max. Points Available: 36pts
Magic Number: N/A
Up Next: vs. NM (9/26)
El Paso’s victory against Real Monarchs SLC on Saturday night combined with New Mexico United’s defeat to Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC turned the tables in the race for first place, where previously United was favored to come out on top. Now Locomotive FC can clinch first place if it wins on Saturday night against United, but even if it loses it can still win out its final two games against the Switchbacks and the Monarchs and claim first place.
2. New Mexico United
2. New Mexico United
Record: 7-4-2, 23pts
Playoff Odds: Clinched
First Place Odds: 28%
Second Place Odds: 72%
Max. Points Available: 32pts
Magic Number: N/A
Up Next: at RGV (9/23), at ELP (9/26)
New Mexico has a four-point gap to make up on El Paso in its final three games, and even with Saturday’s clash between the two clubs, first place will be out of United’s hands if El Paso wins its final two outings. All New Mexico can do now is win against Rio Grande Valley FC on Wednesday night, then against El Paso on Saturday, and hope either Colorado Springs or the Monarchs can do it a favor in the final week of the season.
3. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
3. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Record: 2-6-5, 11pts
Playoff Odds: Eliminated
First Place Odds: N/A
Second Place Odds: N/A
Max. Points Available: 20pts
Magic Number: N/A
Up Next: vs. SLC (9/26)
The Switchbacks gave a massive boost to El Paso with its comeback win against New Mexico United on Saturday night, and will be hoping to build on that this Saturday when it welcomes Real Monarchs SLC to Weidner Field. Planning for 2021 is underway.
4. Real Monarchs SLC
4. Real Monarchs SLC
Record: 3-9-1, 10pts
Playoff Odds: Eliminated
First Place Odds: N/A
Second Place Odds: N/A
Max. Points Available: 19pts
Magic Number: N/A
Up Next: at COS (9/26)
Real can try to regain third place in the standings as it visits the Switchbacks on Saturday night, but that’s all that’s left to play for this season.
 

Group D

1. San Antonio FC
1. San Antonio FC
Record: 10-1-3, 30pts
Playoff Odds: Clinched
First Place Odds: Clinched
Second Place Odds: N/A
Max. Points Available: 39pts
Magic Number: N/A
Up Next: Up Next: at TUL (9/26)
San Antonio remains in line for the second-best record in the Championship behind Reno, but it’s still got a key role to play in which team joins it in the playoffs this season from Group D. With a trip to face FC Tulsa up next on Saturday night and then a trip to face Austin Bold FC on the final weekend of the season, SAFC should get a couple of good tests before the playoffs arrive.
2. FC Tulsa
2. FC Tulsa
Record: 3-2-7, 16pts
Playoff Odds: 47 percent
First Place Odds: N/A
Second Place Odds: 47%
Max. Points Available: 28pts
Magic Number: 13pts
Up Next: vs. SA (9/26)
Tulsa will be rooting hard for Sporting Kansas City II to hand Austin Bold FC a defeat on Tuesday night, just as SKC II did when it faced Tulsa earlier this season. If that happens, then the door opens a little bit wider for Head Coach Michael Nsien’s side to emerge in the postseason as it prepares to face San Antonio on Saturday.
3. Austin Bold FC
3. Austin Bold FC
Record: 3-3-6, 15pts
Playoff Odds: 53 percent
First Place Odds: N/A
Second Place Odds: 53%
Max. Points Available: 27pts
Magic Number: N/A
Up Next: vs. SKC (9/22), at OKC (9/27)
It’s going to be a sprint to the finish for Austin with four games scheduled in the final 13 days of the season. Picking up victory against Sporting Kansas City II would flip the pressure back onto FC Tulsa as the sides go into their weekend matchups.
4. OKC Energy FC
4. OKC Energy FC
Record: 1-6-6, 9pts
Playoff Odds: <1 percent
First Place Odds: <1%
Second Place Odds: <1%
Max. Points Available: 18pts
Magic Number: N/A
Up Next: vs. ATX (9/27)
Energy FC is still technically alive in this playoff race, but a win by FC Tulsa on Saturday against San Antonio or loss to Austin on Sunday would officially bring an end to those hopes.
5. Rio Grande Valley FC
5. Rio Grande Valley FC
Record: 0-9-3, 3pts
Playoff Odds: Eliminated
First Place Odds: N/A
Second Place Odds: N/A
Max. Points Available: 15pts
Magic Number: N/A
Up Next: vs. NM (9/23)
RGVFC is set to get visited by a highly-motivated New Mexico United team on Wednesday night, but El Paso Locomotive FC would love it if the Toros could find their first victory of the season.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

 

Group E

1. Louisville City FC
1. Louisville City FC
Record: 9-3-2, 29pts
Playoff Odds: >99 percent
First Place Odds: 98%
Second Place Odds: 2%
Max. Points Available: 35pts
Magic Number: 2pts
Up Next: at STL (9/26)
LouCity will officially clinch a playoff place before it returns to action, with any outcome of Wednesday night’s match between Indy Eleven and Saint Louis FC enough to confirm LouCity’s playoff berth once the result is official. Beyond that, a win against STLFC on Saturday would keep Louisville in contention for the best record in the Eastern Conference, where it is currently projected third behind Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
2. Indy Eleven
2. Indy Eleven
Record: 7-5-1, 22pts
Playoff Odds: 78 percent
First Place Odds: 2%
Second Place Odds: 76%
Max. Points Available: 31pts
Magic Number: 9pts
Up Next: vs. STL (9/23)
Indy is still a strong favorite to reach the playoffs given the strength of its squad and its one-point edge on Saint Louis FC going into their two meetings over the final three games of the season. Finding a way to take victory on Wednesday night would certainly settle any nerves the side might have about sliding out of the playoff positions late, too.
3. Saint Louis FC
3. Saint Louis FC
Record: 6-4-3, 21pts
Playoff Odds: 22 percent
First Place Odds: <1%
Second Place Odds: 22%
Max. Points Available: 30pts
Magic Number: N/A
Up Next: at IND (9/23), vs. LOU (9/26)
It’s going to be a question of taking on one task at a time this week for Saint Louis. If it can find a way to win on Wednesday night against Indy Eleven, then it doesn’t necessarily matter what happens against Louisville City FC on Saturday as Indy won’t be able to put itself out of range in its penultimate game. If STLFC fails to win, though, the pressure will be squarely on Saint Louis to get victory against LouCity to ensure it still has a chance at the postseason going into its final game of the season. A draw in both games for Saint Louis this week would mean Indy could clinch a playoff place next Wednesday against Sporting Kansas City II with a win, which would put Indy three points ahead and out of reach on the total wins tiebreaker with eight wins to STLFC’s six.
4. Sporting Kansas City II
4. Sporting Kansas City II
Record: 4-8-1, 13pts
Playoff Odds: <1 percent
First Place Odds: <1%
Second Place Odds: <1%
Max. Points Available: 22pts
Magic Number: N/A
Up Next: at ATX (9/23)
Sporting Kansas City II has already taken victories against two members of Group D this season. FC Tulsa – which it already vanquished – would love it if SKC II could pull the same trick on Austin Bold FC on Tuesday night. With Sporting’s playoff chances only mathematically alive, it should at least provide some entertainment.
 

Group F

1. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
1. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
Record: 10-3-1, 31pts
Playoff Odds: Clinched
First Place Odds: 97%
Second Place Odds: 3%
Max. Points Available: 37pts
Magic Number: Clinched
Up Next: vs. HFD (9/26)
The Hounds had to work for their victory against Loudoun United FC on Saturday night, but got there in the end to remain in with a chance at the best record in the Eastern Conference. Pittsburgh closes out the regular season with home games against Hartford Athletic and the Philadelphia Union II. If it wins both, then the road to the USL Championship Final will go through Highmark Stadium in the Eastern Conference.
2. Hartford Athletic
2. Hartford Athletic
Record: 8-3-1, 25pts
Playoff Odds: Clinched
First Place Odds: 3%
Second Place Odds: 97%
Max. Points Available: 37pts
Magic Number: N/A
Up Next: vs. PHI (9/23), at PIT (9/26)
The Athletic are into the playoffs but are going to be busy over the final two weeks of the season to wrap up their schedule. Another matchup with the Philadelphia Union II awaits on Wednesday where victory would move Hartford within three points of Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC ahead of their game on Saturday night at Highmark Stadium.
3. New York Red Bulls II
3. New York Red Bulls II
Record: 4-8-0, 12pts
Playoff Odds: Eliminated
First Place Odds: N/A
Second Place Odds: N/A
Max. Points Available: 24pts
Magic Number: N/A
Up Next: at ATL (9/23), vs. PHI (9/26)
The Red Bulls II’s playoff streak comes to an end officially at five seasons after Hartford’s win on Saturday night. Now they’ll look to finish the season strongly and try to get back to .500 with wins in their remaining games.
4. Philadelphia Union II
4. Philadelphia Union II
Record: 2-8-2, 8pts
Playoff Odds: Eliminated
First Place Odds: N/A
Second Place Odds: N/A
Max. Points Available: 20pts
Magic Number: N/A
Up Next: at HFD (9/20), at NY (9/23)
The Union II’s loss to Hartford ended their playoff chances, and now they’ll play out the remaining games looking to try and jump past the Red Bulls II for third place.
5. Loudoun United FC
5. Loudoun United FC
Record: 1-9-3, 6pts
Playoff Odds: Eliminated
First Place Odds: N/A
Second Place Odds: N/A
Max. Points Available: 15pts
Magic Number: N/A
Up Next: at CHS (9/26)
Loudoun showed a lot more in their defeat to Pittsburgh than in some recent outings, but it gets a big test this weekend as it heads to face a Charleston Battery side that needs a win to remain in contention for first place in Group H.
 

Group G

1. Birmingham Legion FC
1. Birmingham Legion FC
Record: 7-3-4, 25pts
Playoff Odds: >99 percent
First Place Odds: 51%
Second Place Odds: 48%
Max. Points Available: 31pts
Magic Number: 1pt
Up Next: vs. NC (9/26)
Birmingham is in for a serious battle for first place from the Charlotte Independence, who are now only a point behind with a game in hand. Legion FC could clinch its playoff spot before it returns to action on Saturday – if North Carolina fails to take victory against Memphis 901 FC on Wednesday then both Birmingham and the Charlotte Independence are in – but it will probably need all three points against North Carolina on Saturday if it’s going to have a chance to remain on top of the group.
2. Charlotte Independence
2. Charlotte Independence
Record: 7-3-3, 24pts
Playoff Odds: >99 percent
First Place Odds: 49%
Second Place Odds: 51%
Max. Points Available: 33pts
Magic Number: 2pts
Up Next: at NC (9/19)
Now on a four-game winning streak after Saturday’s victory against North Carolina FC, Charlotte can move into first place in the group if it takes victory against Miami FC on Wednesday night. That would also clinch a return to the playoffs, which would also come about regardless of any result for the Independence if North Carolina FC fails to take victory against Memphis 901 FC on Wednesday.
3. North Carolina FC
3. North Carolina FC
Record: 4-7-1, 13pts
Playoff Odds: <1 percent
First Place Odds: <1%
Second Place Odds: <1%
Max. Points Available: 25pts
Magic Number: N/A
Up Next: at MEM (9/23), at BHM (9/26)
Saturday’s loss to the Charlotte Independence signaled the presumptive end of North Carolina FC’s playoff bid for this season. It would now need to win out, and hope for defeats for Birmingham Legion FC and the Independence in their remaining games that aren’t against NCFC, to find a way into the postseason. Anything other than three points on Wednesday in Memphis means it’s officially over.
4. Memphis 901 FC
4. Memphis 901 FC
Record: 2-7-4, 10pts
Playoff Odds: Eliminated
First Place Odds: N/A
Second Place Odds: N/A
Max. Points Available: 19pts
Magic Number: N/A
Up Next: vs. NC (9/23), at CLT (9/26)
Memphis’ loss to Louisville City FC officially brought down the curtain on its season. Now all that’s left is to try and finish the year in a positive manner.
 

Group H

1. Tampa Bay Rowdies
1. Tampa Bay Rowdies
Record: 9-2-3, 30pts
Playoff Odds: Clinched
First Place Odds: 74%
Second Place Odds: 26%
Max. Points Available: 36pts
Magic Number: N/A
Up Next: at MIA (9/26)
The Rowdies will look to claim victory on the road against Miami FC on Saturday night to keep their lead in Group H going to the final game of the regular season against the Charleston Battery. Tampa Bay will certainly be aware of Charleston’s presence only three points back in the standings with a potential showdown looming at Al Lang Stadium.
2. Charleston Battery
2. Charleston Battery
Record: 8-2-3, 27pts
Playoff Odds: Clinched
First Place Odds: 26%
Second Place Odds: 74%
Max. Points Available: 36pts
Magic Number: N/A
Up Next: vs. LDN(9/26)
The Battery continued to roll as they clinched their playoff place on Sunday night against Miami FC. Now they’ll look to find another three points against Loudoun United FC on Saturday night and hope the Tampa Bay Rowdies slip up in their visit to South Florida the same night.
3. Atlanta United 2
3. Atlanta United 2
Record: 2-9-3, 9pts
Playoff Odds: Eliminated
First Place Odds: N/A
Second Place Odds: N/A
Max. Points Available: 15pts
Magic Number: N/A
Up Next: vs. NY (9/23)
Atlanta is set to play out the final two games of the season, starting with a visit from the New York Red Bulls II on Wednesday night. The side might be eliminated, but it can still try to end on a high note.
4. The Miami FC
4. The Miami FC
Record: 2-7-3, 9pts
Playoff Odds: Eliminated
First Place Odds: N/A
Second Place Odds: N/A
Max. Points Available: 21pts
Magic Number: N/A
Up Next: at CLT (9/23), vs. TBR (9/26)
Miami’s elimination means it’s now in full-on spoiler mode for its final games of the season. Birmingham Legion FC and Charleston Battery fans would certainly like to see Miami take points off the Charlotte Independence and Tampa Bay Rowdies this week.

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