Things did not go as planned this past weekend in FC Cincinnati’s second-to-last match of the 2017 USL regular season in Ottawa. But while the heavy-handed defeat in Canada leaves our playoff soccer hopes dented, they’re still far from totaled after the weekend’s action.
Before we get to our own playoff picture though, let’s have a quick look at the lower portions of the Eastern Conference table.
At our last update, four teams were completely out of the running for the 2017 post-season: Toronto FC II, Richmond Kickers, Ottawa Fury and Harrisburg City Islander. But following the action at the weekend, that number has grown by two. Both Saint Louis FC and Pittsburgh are now mathematically out of contention.
At the opposite end of the standings, there are now five sides who have guaranteed their playoff participation. Louisville City FC officially wrapped up the first seed and home-field advantage a week or so ago. Meanwhile, Charleston Battery (2nd), the Tampa Bay Rowdies (3rd), Charlotte Independence (4th) and the Rochester Rhinos (5th) – along with the not-yet-secure, seventh-placed Bethlehem Steel – are all duking it out for the remaining three first-round home playoff matches.
So where do we stand?
Coupled with results elsewhere around the league, Sunday’s loss at Ottawa leaves the Orange & Blue teetering on the edge of qualification in the eighth and final East playoff place. If the season ended today, we would make the cut – but only just. Though we are level with seventh place Bethlehem Steel FC on 43 points, their superior goal difference (+2 compared to our -3) and an extra match in-hand gives them the edge. Lurking just below us on the outside-looking-in, Orlando City B are on 42 points and a +3 goal difference.
With just a single match remaining on our own schedule, we can deduce a few potential outcomes at this point.
First and foremost, we are now out of contention to host a first-round playoff game as there’s no way to get to the 48 points Charlotte currently sit on in fourth. However, if we manage to beat Toronto on Saturday – no easy task, despite their last place ranking – there’s the possibility to finish as high as sixth.
Picking up all three points back up in Canada would also be enough to put us out of reach of Orlando, who host a Floridian derby for their final match of the season on Thursday against Tampa Bay. Should Orlando lose that match, the result of our match on Saturday would be inconsequential outside of our final playoff seed. If they win, we too would have to win to assure our playoff berth. If OCB draw and pull level on points, the first tiebreaker is regular season wins; we would edge them there even with a loss on Saturday.
Long story short, we can control our playoff destiny with a victory. Undoubtedly, Coach Koch and the boys will be aiming for that outcome. But it’s nice to know that there’s potentially a little breathing room even if we don’t pick up all three points.
In the meantime, all eyes will be on Orlando-Tampa Bay on Thursday night. By then, we’ll all know what needs to be done.