With Week 20 in the rear-view mirror, the race for the playoffs is rounding the third corner and nearing the final stretch. With chances to pick up valuable points from rivals dwindling week after week, here’s how the competition stacks up as they fight to make the Final Eight.
Championship or Bust.
FC Cincinnati – 44 Points
- Six points ahead of all teams in the East, one of the most lethal attacking combinations we’ve seen in recent years, undefeated in their last 10 matches, and recently acquiring a top MLS striker, FC Cincinnati has laid down the gauntlet.
Louisville City FC – 35 Points
- “Growing pains” seems to be the tag-line for Louisville’s recent struggles after losing Head Coach James O’Connor. Nevertheless, the defending Champions are still the team to beat in the East.
Charleston Battery – 38 Points
- Quietly one of the most defense savvy teams in the USL, Charleston has skyrocketed to 2nd place in the Conference and is reminding everyone why they’re never to be underestimated.
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC – 34 Points
- Bob Lilley’s transformation of the new-look squad has been one of the greatest we’ve ever seen in the league. Don’t let their recent struggles fool you; this team doesn’t lose. But, come playoff time they’ll need to answer a bigger question: can they win?
On the bubble
Nashville SC – 30 Points
- The future MLS club currently fields the best defensive squad in the league. However, one must score to win, and their inability to do so consistently could be their downfall.
Indy Eleven – 31 Points
- In terms of this playoff race I think Katy Perry sums the Eleven up best… “they’re hot then they’re cold, they’re yes then they’re no, they’re in then they’re out…”
New York Red Bulls II – 32 Points
- The Baby Bulls are currently on pace to challenge Reno 1868 FC for the USL single season scoring record (75). However, they’ve also conceded more goals than any other playoff contender. Something has got to give.
Charlotte Independence – 28 Points
- If the season ended today the Independence would sneak in by the skin of their teeth. However, there’s another dozen or so games to be played and last year Charlotte finished their season with six straight losses. Have they learned their lesson?
Could sneak in
Tampa Bay Rowdies – 26 Points
- Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Beginning the year as a Championship favorite for many, the Rowdies have simply been… well, average. Desperate, they recently dropped a chunk of change to acquire offensive talents Bonomo and Poku. Time will tell if it’s enough to catapult them back into the Top 8.
Ottawa Fury FC – 27 Points
- Though they’re among the bottom five teams on the subject of scoring, Ottawa has kept their balance thanks to Maxime Crépeau putting together a strong Goalie of the Year candidacy. Reaching the playoffs in their final year in the USL would be a great accomplishment.
Bethlehem Steel FC – 27 Points
- One never really knows which Bethlehem Steel they’re going to get each match. Sometimes they look like playoff material, other times they’re losing to a bottom three team. A lack of identity seems to be the core of their problems.
North Carolina FC – 26 Points
- One of the USL expansion franchises for 2018, they’ve not been awful. However, what they’re producing now is not worthy of playoff contention. They’re conceding as much as they’re scoring and they’re losing as much as they’re winning. Nevertheless, they’ve got a few games in hand and they’re only a couple points out.
Penn FC – 26 Points
- The remainder of their schedule features FC Cincinnati (twice), four fixtures against other top of the conference teams, and five more match-ups against fellow playoff contenders. Good luck, Penn FC.
Better luck next year
Richmond Kickers – 18 Points
- I’m disappointed to put the Kickers this low on the list. However, little has changed since their underwhelming 2017 campaign. For the sake of their dedicated fanbase, hopefully we see encouraging changes in the offseason.
Atlanta United 2 – 15 Points
- Not quite on par with their MLS counterpart, perhaps the young team has been humbled and will learn from their struggles in Division 2 for 2019.
Toronto FC II – 6 Points
- Yes, they are that bad.