Six Teams, Four Home Playoff Games: Who Gets ‘Em?

The latest look at the USL Championship Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Well, a week went by and the USLC Eastern Conference playoff picture has changed a bit! Last week, I wrote about seven teams chasing home playoff games. North Carolina FC had a really bad week dropping matches to both Swope Park and Charleston. So, with only four games left in their season, they would need to make up five points in four games to get into 5th, and that doesn’t even get them a home game. So, to simplify the article, I am going to drop them from contention.

In that, we are left with six teams chasing for first place and a home playoff game. New York Red Bulls II and Indy Eleven both dropped games this week which made the race for first possible for four-five teams potentially. Currently, there are six teams within six points of each other at the top of the table and it is going to go down to the wire. Let’s look at the current standings (9/24/19):

  1. New York Red Bulls II- 56 points (30 GP, 17-5-8)
  2. Indy Eleven- 56 points (28 GP, 17-5-6)
  3. Tampa Bay Rowdies- 56 points (30 GP, 16-8-6)
  4. Nashville SC- 55 points (30 GP, 16-7-7)
  5. Pittsburgh Riverhounds- 52 points (28 GP, 14-10-4)
  6. Louisville City FC- 50 points (29 GP, 14-8-7)

I did this last week as well, but I really like looking at the standings and getting the games in hand out of the way. Based on USL scheduling, and weather delays, I think it helps to see where everyone is at with the same number of games played. This week, we can back everyone up to 28 games played and the standings would look like this:

  1. New York Red Bulls II- 56
  2. Indy Eleven- 56
  3. Tampa Bay Rowdies- 53
  4. Pittsburgh Riverhounds- 52
  5. Nashville SC- 51
  6. Louisville City FC- 47

Looking at it like this shows you how big of a deal that games in hand can be. The Red Bulls had two chances to get points this past week and take a lead in the standings, but they lost twice. The Rowdies had two chances to gain ground in the standings this week and went 1-1 for three points. LouCity FC were behind in the standings but got three points and kept pace with the leaders. And North Carolina, who was right in the mix last week went 0-2 and sort of fell off the pace. Those results should concern Indy and Pittsburgh as they have two games in hand on almost everyone else in the top 6. Can they take advantage of those extra games, OR do the midweek games tire them out and they start dropping points?

So, let’s take a look at the week to come!

New York Red Bulls II: The Baby Bulls have a bit of a respite this week. After losing to Louisville on Saturday, New York does not play again until Friday when they face the Battery. Charleston are fighting for their playoff lives as they sit one point behind Birmingham and two points behind St. Louis. All three of those teams played well this week and helped their playoff chances. Can the Red Bulls hold off this pesky Charleston team? With Indy having two games this week, it is important that they get points.
Prediction: D, finish the week with 57 points

Indy Eleven: Indy has had a busy end to the season. They have games in hand, but they have had to play a lot of those games over the last month. This week, they play their 6th and 7th game of the month when they go on the road to face Atlanta United II and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. They will have played five games in 17 days at that point and seven in the last 24 days. At some point, tired legs and travel time become an issue. Can they find a way to get some points this week and stay in first place?
Prediction: W-L, finish the week with 59 points

Tampa Bay Rowdies: The Rowdies had an up and down week this week as they lost to Ottawa on Wednesday but came back and crushed Bethlehem on Saturday, 6-1. They also get to sit and watch the midweek games before taking on Louisville this Saturday. With only one chance for points, it is important to get them if they can. Otherwise, they could be sitting outside the top four by the end of the week.
Prediction: D, finish the week with 57 points

Nashville SC: With a chance to go top of the table on Saturday night, the Riverhounds defense kept Nashville quiet for a good portion of the night, despite being up a man. Depending on the results of the teams in front of them, they may get another shot at it on Saturday when they face Loudoun. Can they make the most of that opportunity?
Prediction: W, finish the week with 58 points

Pittsburgh Riverhounds: The Hounds were able to earn a draw at Nashville on Saturday. The results from the rest of the week mostly went their way, but after a red card, they were able to get a point off Nashville. But, they have two games this week and tired legs have come into play before for them. Both other times they played three times in eight days, they have lost the 3rd game. Both of those previous games were on the road but for this one, they are home against Indy. Something will break Saturday night: will it be the home streak without losing or will it be getting their first result with 3 games in a week?
Prediction: W-W, finish the week with 58 points

Louisville City FC: Louisville might be the team left behind a bit by the end of this week. Can they get points and maintain the gap between them and the leaders? Or will they fall out of contention for those home playoff spots? The position that they are in is perilous. But, they are getting late-season results like they usually do. They do get to sit around for a week and watch the Pittsburgh and Indy games and they take on Tampa on Saturday. It’s a good chance for a six-point swing and reeling in a team in front of them.
Prediction: D, finish the week with 51 points

Based on those predictions, here is where we would stand at the end of the week:

  1. Indy Eleven: 59 points
  2. Nashville SC: 58 points
  3. Pittsburgh Riverhounds: 58 points
  4. New York Red Bulls II: 57 points
  5. Tampa Bay Rowdies: 57 points
  6. Louisville City FC: 51 points

As I am writing this, it seems crazy to me. It seems crazy that after a Hounds draw on Saturday, they could march right up the standings with a six-point week. But, that is what happens when you have games in hand. You can make moves in a short amount of time. Even if the Hounds don’t get two wins this week, if they can take care of Memphis and then at least get a draw against Indy, that would get them to 56 points, four points out of first place. The highest first place can get this week is 62 points; that might be the worst case for the Hounds as that would mean a loss to Indy.

If there was ever a big regular-season game, this Saturday night for the Hounds is it. My concern is that they start looking at that game before getting points in Memphis. The Hounds have to stay focused on the game at hand and once they get the win in Tennessee, they can start thinking about the big showdown in Pittsburgh. But, for those of you unsure, you better get out to Highmark Stadium this weekend, cheer the boys on against Indy and see where the rest of this season takes us.