As the USL enters the penultimate week of regular season play, four Eastern Conference teams have already guaranteed their postseason spots while four teams have been eliminated from the playoff race. FC Cincinnati (23-3-6, 75 pts) clinched the regular season title as well as first place in the Eastern Conference while Louisville City FC (16-6-9, 57 pts), Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (15-4-12, 57 pts) and Charleston Battery (13-5-14, 53 pts) were able to clinch a playoff position with several matches to spare.
This Saturday, Indy Eleven (13-10-9, 48 pts) will kick off its final home match against Bethlehem Steel FC (13-12-7, 46 pts). Indy currently sit in fifth place one spot ahead Bethlehem. Two points separate the teams before their third meeting of the season, and the winner of this fixture takes the season series.
Indy dropped points in its last match -- a 3-0 defeat -- against the Eastern Conference leaders, FC Cincinnati. Bethlehem is in better form after taking a point from its last match versus Ottawa Fury FC which ended 0-0. The match should showcase some goals as both Indy and Bethlehem have conceded 40 goals this season. A victory on Saturday is vital for both teams as neither side has secured a playoff position yet.
Another match with playoff implications will take place at Sahlen’s Stadium on Saturday when eighth place North Carolina FC (12-11-8, 44 pts) hosts 10th place New York Red Bulls II (10-8-13, 43 pts) as a single point separates the sides. Red Bulls II are coming off back to back 1-1 draws and have yet to win a road match this season. If New York can turn around its away form on Saturday, its odds of making the playoffs increase drastically.
However, Red Bulls II have to get the win without the help of midfielder Jose Aguinaga who picked up a red card in the 24th minute of last Saturday’s match against Nashville SC. North Carolina will look to Kyle Bekker to continue his good run of form. The Canadian midfielder was crowned the USL player of the week after netting two goals against the Richmond Kickers.
Ninth place Nashville SC (11-9-11, 44 pts) look to enter the top half of the table with a victory against 15th-place Richmond Kickers (6-22-4, 22 pts) on Saturday. Richmond has been down on its luck, winless in its last eight matches. On top of that, it’ll be without one of its top goal scorers, Heviel Cordoves, who was taken off last week in the 79th minute following his second yellow card of the match.
Nashville SC will rely on defender Liam Doyle to keep its lines clear. The defender made 22 clearances, three blocks and an assist during last week’s matches which secured his spot in the USL team of the week. If Nashville can stay strong defensively and find the back of the net, it’ll have a real chance of breaking into the top half of the table.