Playoff contenders face key contests in penultimate weekend of season
TAMPA, Fla. – The race for the USL PRO Playoffs enters the final stretch this weekend as a number of playoff contenders meet in the penultimate weekend of action in the regular season. With six teams battling for four playoff berths separated by only eight points, contests in Richmond, Rochester and Los Angeles highlight a crucial weekend for all of the teams still alive for a berth in the playoffs.
The weekend schedule begins on Thursday night on the west coast as the Los Angeles Blues try to keep touch with the teams ahead of them in the USL PRO standings. The Blues are currently in eighth place, six points behind the Richmond Kickers in the race for sixth and final playoff berth, and they host Antigua Barracuda FC for a pair of games at Titan Stadium aiming to replicate their pair of victories against the Caribbean side earlier this season. Kickoff for Thursday and Saturday night’s contests are both set for 7:30 p.m. PT at Fullerton’s Titan Stadium, with the Blues knowing they need maximum points to keep their playoff hopes alive.
On Friday night, attention switched to the other team currently on the outside looking in, the Charlotte Eagles. Despite their current position, however, the Eagles are one of the hottest sides in the league, having won six of their past seven outings. They make a trip north to face a pair of sides that are out of playoff contention in the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on Friday night and Dayton Dutch Lions on Saturday looking to maintain their form and overtake one of the clubs currently sitting above them.
Saturday night brings a big slate of action, with two contests in particular that could have a major impact on the final playoff positions. The Rochester Rhinos have the chance to join Orlando City in earning a bye into the semifinals when they host the Charleston Battery at 7:05 p.m. ET at Sahlen’s Stadium. Victory will take the Rhinos out of reach in second place, but the Battery will provide stiff opposition as they try to snap out of a slump that has seen them get dragged back into the battle for the playoffs. Charleston has only won once in its past eight games after its 3-0 defeat against the Harrisburg City Islanders on Wednesday night, and needs a result to bolster its own playoff credentials.
The City Islanders, meanwhile, will try to put some space between themselves and the Richmond Kickers when they visit City Stadium at 7 p.m. ET. Harrisburg moved ahead of the Kickers with its win against the Battery, sliding up to fifth place in the standings, and with good results in its final three games of the season could possibly earn a home game in the quarterfinals.
The Kickers, though, have been formidable at home, having taken seven wins from their 11 games at City Stadium this season. With veteran goalkeeper Ronnie Pascale making his final home regular season appearance, and a playoff berth on the line, Richmond will aim to extend its five-game home winning streak to close out the slate.
For live updates from all the weekend’s games, plus news, features, previews and game reports from throughout USL PRO, follow the league on Twitter (@USLPRO) and on Facebook (www.facebook.com/USLPRO).
USL PRO is the strongest, best operated and most experienced North American men’s professional soccer league below MLS, both on and off the field. Focused on franchise stability and longevity, USL PRO features 11 teams in 2012 and an unprecedented six teams with more than a decade of operational experience. The league is focused on aggressive but deliberate growth by adding teams fully capable of meeting USL and USSF standards, which are located in markets that further promote regional league play. In addition to league play, USL PRO teams will compete in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup as well as various domestic and international exhibitions. USL PRO is affiliated with the USSF.