Just two weeks remain in the 2017 USL campaign and the race for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff places now feels even tighter than when we last checked in two weeks ago. Like, really, really tight. And with a series of influential remaining fixtures kicking off tonight, there’s the potential for things to get even tighter.
Ironically, the playoff picture hasn’t changed all that much since our last check-in, at least when it comes to who is currently in and out. The same eight teams currently occupy the playoff places as did two weeks ago, though Orlando City B and New York Red Bulls II have swapped positions the final two places. If there’s one major change in the playoff picture since then, it’s in the number of clubs that actually have a shot of being in that picture when the season closes.
Only one side was eliminated from contention at that time, while right now there are four: Richmond Kickers, Harrisburg City Islanders, Ottawa Fury and Toronto FC II. Those last two are the opponents we’ll face in our two remaining regular matches. Additionally, both Saint Louis FC and Pittsburgh Riverhounds – while still not mathematically eliminated – will be out of the picture if New York picks up a single point in their remaining three fixtures, or if Bethlehem Steel FC pick up two in their final trio. Considering both teams have averaged over a point per match in 2017, Saint Louis and Pittsburgh are pretty much dead men walking.
As it currently stands, it is just Bethlehem that has a statistically real shot of overcoming one of the teams currently slated for playoff participation. Depending on how results go, Steel FC could potentially finish as high as fourth and even wind up hosting a first-round playoff match. Though as things currently stand, their expected points total for the season leaves them on the outside looking in.
Just above them, however, is where things get really tight.
Only six points separate fourth from ninth, with a single point gap existing between each of fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth. And there’s even the possibility for any of the sides fifth or lower right now to sink out of the playoffs altogether. Currently occupying the sixth position in the East table on 43 points, the Orange & Blue’s spot is anything but guaranteed at this point. But unlike some of the other teams behind us, our destiny remains entirely in our own hands.
If we win the two remaining road matches on our schedule, our playoff fate is guaranteed. Should we win out, the points are even still there for us to slip into a hosting position in the top four. In order for that to happen, Tampa Bay Rowdies need to pick up no more than two points in their final three matches, while Rochester can accumulate no more than three in their own.
In all likelihood, just the three points our expected points total predicts at present would be enough to guarantee our inclusion. Where exactly we finish in that scenario remains entirely dependent on how action elsewhere pans out.
Looking ahead, there are some decisive matches you’ll want to keep an eye on in East’s playoff race. That starts tonight when the fifth-placed Rowdies host eighth-placed New York (7:30 pm | Stream). That starts tonight when the fifth-placed Rowdies host eighth-placed New York (7:30 pm | Stream). Each will be back in action again at the weekend in equally pivotal matches: New York battle seventh-placed Orlando (Saturday | 7:30 pm | Stream), while Tampa Bay travel to San Antonio FC (Saturday | 8:30 pm | Stream) who are fighting to maintain a home playoff match of their own out West. The next week, we’ll then see ninth-placed Bethlehem face fifth-placed Rochester (Tuesday | 7:30 pm | Stream) and Florida derby between Orlando and Tampa Bay (Thursday | 7:30 pm | Stream) in midweek action.
So while the playoff picture hasn’t changed too much over the last fourteen days, a tight table and a handful of matchups within it almost a guarantees that we’ll see plenty of change over the next fourteen.