(UPDATE: Since the publishing of this article, FC Cincinnati earned a 1-0 victory at Louisville City FC Tuesday night. The match previously kicked off on Saturday night, but the match was postponed because of severe weather in the 38th minute. Cincinnati maintained its spot at the top of the Eastern Conference while Louisville sits at fourth.)
This weekend kicked off early when Toronto FC II (3-20-3, 12 pts) hosted fellow Canadian side, Ottawa Fury FC (11-13-5, 38 pts). Thanks to Adonijah Reid’s goal in the 78th minute, Ottawa was able to edge past the MLS affiliate minutes after Toronto scored an equalizing penalty.
The seven goal thriller ended with a score of 4-3, five of which were scored in an impressive second half when Toronto briefly came back from a 0-2 deficit. Toronto FC II put on a show for its home fans but it wasn’t enough to earn a result. Ottawa Fury FC, on the other hand, sits ninth in the table and is only a point away from the eighth place team, Nashville SC. Ottawa’s victory last Thursday gives the side increasingly better odds of securing a playoff position.
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (13-4-10, 49 pts) earned a dominant 4-1 victory against intrastate rival Bethlehem Steel FC (12-12-6, 42 pts) and reclaimed second place in the Eastern Conference. Riverhounds SC dominated from start to finish and outshot Bethlehem 24-6.
Joseph Greenspan started the scoring off for Riverhounds SC as he scored a 17th minute header off of a set piece to take a 1-0 lead. Bethlehem equalized in the 35th minute with James Chambers converting a penalty, but the stalemate did not last long as Kenardo Forbes slotted in the go-ahead goal before the end of the first half. Neco Brett and Jordan Dover ripped off goals in the 76th and 79th minute, respectively, to put down Steel FC for good.
Third place Charleston Battery (12-4-12, 48 pts) broke a tough three match stretch by securing a 1-0 win against the Tampa Bay Rowdies (8-12-7, 31 pts). Tampa Bay, needing a win to keep its playoff hopes alive, dominated the ball -- holding two-thirds of the possession. However, Charleston grabbed an early lead in the 22nd minute when Patrick Okonkwo scored the go-ahead goal from outside the box. The Rowdies generated its fair share of chances during the match and outshot Charleston 13-4, but Tampa Bay’s accuracy wasn't there as only three shots required Charleston goalkeeper Joe Kuzminsky’s attention.
In a crucial match between two potential playoff teams, eighth place Nashville SC (10-8-9, 39 pts.) faced off against 10th place North Carolina FC (9-10-5, 35 pts). While the match ended in a 3-3 draw, it most likely feels like a loss to NCFC who held a 3-1 lead until the 80th minute. Brandon Allen completed his brace by slotting in his second penalty of the match in the 80th minute before Lebo Moloto found the right upper 90, two minutes later, to equalize.
The comeback draw was hugely important for Nashville as it insulated the team’s position in the standings -- sitting one point ahead of Ottawa. Furthermore, had NCFC won the match, Nashville and NCFC would have finished Week 26 knotted up with 38 points each with NCFC possibly sitting ahead of Nashville on goal differential.
Charlotte Independence (9-11-8, 35 pts) moved up to 11th place and drew level in points with NCFC after it took a 2-1 win against the Richmond Kickers (6-18-4, 22 pts) at home. Richmond’s defensive woes continued as Charlotte forward Eamon Zayed scored in the 5th minute to put his side up 1-0. The Independence doubled its lead in the 58th minute after midfielder Jake Areman scored from close range. Richmond tried to mount a second half comeback and pulled a goal back in the 72nd minute, but Charlotte held on to win three crucial points.