7 Games left…7 teams chasing: An Eastern Conference Playoff Look from a Pittsburgh Perspective

We take a look at the playoff picture from a Pittsburgh perspective.

With seven games left in the season, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC are pushing towards the USL Championship playoffs and even potentially a home playoff game (for the 2nd year in a row!). The question is, can they get there? The possibilities are endless with the table as tight as it is, but let us explore!

As of today, there are really seven teams that are vying for the top-six positions. With the playoff format the way that it is this year, those six spots are vitally important since the winners of the 7-10 and 8-9 playoff games will be going into their first round games on short rest. Though all of those bottom teams will have to travel, it makes a big difference doing it after a midweek game.

The current standings look like this (9/17/19):

  1. New York Red Bulls II- 56 (28 GP, 17-5-6)
  2. Indy Eleven – 56 (27 GP, 17-5-6)
  3. Nashville SC – 54 (29 GP, 16-6-7)
  4. Tampa Bay Rowdies – 53 (28 GP, 15-8-5)
  5. Pittsburgh Riverhounds – 51 (27 GP, 14-9-4)
  6. North Carolina FC – 47 (29 GP, 13-8-8)
  7. Louisville City – 47 (28 GP, 13-8-7)

Currently, the Riverhounds are five points off the pace, but they do have games in hand on almost everyone ahead of them in the table. They play Nashville SC on Saturday. Entering the game, they are three points behind the lads from Tennessee and hold two games in hand. After the game on Saturday, the worst they can be is six points back, still holding games in hand. They do control some of their own destiny with a win. That all makes sense and shows that the Hounds can make some moves this coming weekend.

Also, I’ve been looking at it another way. If we would back everyone up to have seven games left, as five of the top-11 teams in the East have, the table would look like this:

  1. Indy Eleven – 56
  2. New York – 53
  3. Tampa Bay – 52
  4. Nashville – 51
  5. Pittsburgh – 51
  6. North Carolina- 46
  7. Louisville – 44

I think that looking at it this way shows the tightness of the table. Nashville SC were sitting at 51 points with seven games left, now, they only have five games left and only have gained three more points. North Carolina’s also down to five games left and have only gained one point in their last two games. Based on just these facts alone, it seems as if the table is as tight as it can be and this season is going to run right down to the wire.

To get into this one step deeper, I thought I would look at each team and take a brief look at their week and what kind of moves they can make by gaining some points. Also, I want to see how that relates to the Riverhounds and their run into the playoffs.

Indy Eleven: The team that the Hounds are least likely to catch has the simplest mandate out of the entire league: Just keep winning. A couple of weeks ago, Indy had a couple of games in hand, but through a tough stretch has continued to gain points and now sits near the top of the table. With a win against Birmingham on Friday evening, the Eleven keep the pressure on every other team to get results. Prediction: W, finish the week with 59 points.

New York Red Bulls II: New York is the second team that the Hounds are least likely to catch. They hold their destiny for second place in their own hands and also just need to keep winning. They were able to beat Charlotte by two goals on Friday the 13th, but this week is much tougher. They play at Saint Louis on Wednesday (9/18) and at Louisville City on Saturday. It doesn’t get much harder than that. Prediction: D and D, finish the week with 58 points.

Nashville SC: Nashville got their midweek game done early with a Tuesday night win over Birmingham. But, the Hounds roll into town on Saturday for a top-six showdown. They were at home on Tuesday and are home again, but it is hard to play on short rest against a team that did not have a midweek game. Can the MLS-bound team stay ahead? Prediction: L, finish the week with 54 points.

Tampa Bay Rowdies: Tampa has a couple games this week. They travel to Ottawa on Wednesday and then double back to Florida to play Bethlehem Steel. Ottawa is fighting for playoff position and trying to hold off a couple of teams. Steel FC have played well in recent weeks and seem to steal a lot of points. This is a tricky week for the back and forth Rowdies. Prediction: L and W, finish the week with 56 points.

Pittsburgh Riverhounds: We already looked at their trip to Nashville. But, the Hounds will be hungry to get three points before having five games in 15 days. Prediction: W, finish the week with 54 points.

North Carolina FC: Slumping NCFC, who have only gotten one point from their last four games, get to watch everyone else play before going to Charleston on Sunday. Charleston is trying to scrape into the final playoff spot and won’t be an easy out. Prediction: L, finish the week with 47 points.

Louisville City: LouCity has the big matchup with the leaders NYRB on Saturday. Given no midweek game and a New York playing two games, I think that Louisville can steal a point. Prediction: D, finish the week with 48 points.

This prediction for the Hounds may seem negative and bad, I don’t really think that it is. Teams who have games in hand above them all play this week and for some of them, they increase the number of games that they have played more than the Hounds, so the Hounds can catch back up. These results would leave the Hounds in 5th still, but with some clear advantages:

  1. Indy – 59 points (28 GP)
  2. New York – 58 points (30 GP)
  3. Tampa Bay – 56 points (30 GP)
  4. Nashville – 54 points (30 GP)
  5. Pittsburgh – 54 points (28 GP)
  6. Louisville – 48 points (29 GP)
  7. North Carolina – 47 points (30 GP)

That’s looking a lot clearer by the end of the week. If Red Bull can get the right results, they will be sitting in an even better position. For the Hounds, it is important to keep the gap between yourselves and Louisville. But, you do have the games in hand.

As a side note: I went back and looked at the spot the Hounds were in last year at this same time. We had just come off a 4-1 win against Bethlehem Steel. We were 13W-10D-4L after that game with 49 points. That was good enough for second place in the east. However, we were 14 points behind Cincy. Given that context, I am glad we are in the position we are now.

For sure, these last seven games will be a fight to the finish, but we have the team and talent to make it a good one. Last year, our last seven games were 2W-4D-1L. Let’s see if the Hounds can get more than 11 points of the last 21 this year.

 

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