The USL-Pro Playoff Race; Two Weeks Left

If the 2012 USL-Pro Playoffs started today, the six participating teams would be Orlando, Rochester, Charleston, Wilmington, Richmond, and Harrisburg.  However, because each of these teams has between one and four games remaining in the regular season, mathematically only Orlando is safe at this point.  Any of Rochester, Charleston, Wilmington, Richmond or Harrisburg could find themselves on the outside come playoff time.  Here is a team by team description of the rest of the season for each team and what they need to do to secure postseason soccer in 2012.

Orlando City sealed up home field advantage for their postseason adventure a few weeks ago by clinching the number one position in the 2012 USL-Pro regular season table.  Even though their match at home against Dayton Dutch Lions is largely an exhibition, head coach Adrian Heath won’t let Orlando City take a night off.

Rochester Rhinos look like a safe bet to claim the number two spot and the first round playoff bye that comes with it.  The Rhinos are sitting on 38 points with two matches remaining in the regular season, at home against Charleston and Pittsburgh.  Two wins at home would put Rochester at 44 points on the season and secure a second placed finish.  If the Rhinos can defeat Charleston this Saturday August 11, they will ensure a higher finish than the Battery.  Due to the unbalanced nature of the USL schedule, however, even if the Rhinos manage 3 points from their final two games, they are still susceptible to sixth placed Harrisburg and seventh placed Charlotte if those two teams win all of their four remaining games.

Charleston Battery have amassed 34 points from 21 games and can catch the Rhinos by grabbing four points from their two other games, at Harrisburg and home to Dayton, and by getting a result at Sahlen’s Stadium.  Despite being in second place, the Rhinos have not quite turned Sahlen’s into a fortress with a 5-3-2 record, so this task is not insurmountable.  If Charleston beat the Rhinos and get a win and tie in their other games, they will leapfrog Rochester into second place.

Wilmington Hammerheads have 4 wins, 3 ties, 1 loss in their last 8 games which include stealing a point on the road from each of Charleston and Orlando.  Buoyed by superstar loan signing Corey Hertzog (New York Red Bulls), the Hammerheads are tied for second most goals scored in the league and have not lost at home all season.  Wilmington has two matches against Charlotte left in their schedule, one home and one away.  The Charlotte Eagles will be fighting for a playoff spot, so those won’t be easy matches but mathematically Wilmington can still take second place out from under the noses of Rochester and Charleston if other results go their way.  Even if they don’t get the first round bye, look for Wilmington to storm into the postseason anyway.  The team has been playing well recently and will take that good form into the playoffs.

Richmond Kickers are not safe from falling out of the playoff picture, but likewise could still claim second place if they win their remaining three fixtures.  The Kickers host Harrisburg before flying to Antigua for two games in three nights against Barracuda FC.  Antigua is 3-7-0 at home, so Richmond have a realistic chance to leaving the Caribbean with six points but the Harrisburg match will be a much harder battle.  Two wins out of three games will give Richmond 6 more points to end the regular season on 38 points.  Though it is not certain yet, it is a safe bet that 38 points will be good enough for a spot in the 2012 USL-Pro playoffs.

Harrisburg City Islanders sit in the 6th and final playoff qualifying place.  They have collected 30 points from 20 games, which means that if they win their remaining four matches they could end the season on 42 points which may be good enough for second place.  The City Islanders host Charleston, and travel to Richmond before flying cross country to face the LA Blues twice in three nights.  Harrisburg has a strong 4-3-2 record on the road and will definitely put up a fight in order to ensure a run in the playoffs this season.

Charlotte Eagles are on the outside looking in at this point in the season despite being just one point back from Harrisburg with 29 from 20 games played.  The Eagles are in the same boat as Harrisburg meaning that if they can win their remaining matches (at Pittsburgh, at Dayton, at Wilmington, and a rescheduled match at home against Wilmington) they can finish the season as a high seed for the playoffs.  Charlotte knows they need to play the best soccer of their season and will play like a team on fire in their remaining games.

Los Angeles Blues finds themselves in 8th place after earning 26 points from 20 games.  The Blues play all their remaining matches at home in a couple of two games in three nights series.  Antigua comes to California to play on August 9 and 11 before Los Angeles hosts Harrisburg on August 17 and 19.  If they win 3 out of their 4 games left in the regular season, the Blues will jump safely into the playoff spots.  Antigua hasn’t won a game away from home all season, 0-9-1 on the road, so Los Angeles should be able to get 6 points from those two games.  It will be important for Harrisburg to finish the regular season in good form so those two matches will be much harder for the Blues.

Dayton Dutch Lions have been eliminated from the 2012 USL-Pro playoffs.  Dayton needs at least 11 points to take 8th place but there are only 9 points possible from their remaining three games.  Dayton fans should take solace knowing that in 21 games this season, the Dutch Lions have doubled their wins total and in their last few games have the chance to double their points haul from last year.  In 2013, Dayton will hope to continue their improving trajectory towards their first ever USL-Pro playoff appearance.

Pittsburgh Riverhounds are sitting on the outside at this point in the season.  The Riverhounds played some encouraging soccer at times this year and I hope the fanbase will swell upon completion of their new facilities in 2013.  Unfortunately the team has allowed 35 goals for a -15 goal differential at this point in the 2012 season.

Something we’ve known for a rather long time is that Antigua Barracuda FC will not be participating in the 2012 USL-Pro playoffs.  With only 3 wins from 20 games so far this season, the Caribbean team can not muster enough points from their remaining four games to make the 6 team cut.  But it’s not all doom and gloom down on the islands, as their membership in the league was part of a plan to increase the performance of the Antiguan-Barbudan national team.  As you may remember, the national side has made it to the Third Round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying for the first time in history.  Even though the league results have not gone their way (due not in small part to travel and scheduling nightmares), don’t expect Antigua Barracuda FC to bow out of the USL-Pro.

Only four teams in USL-Pro know the result of their playoff hopes at this point in the season.  Antigua Barracuda FC, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, and Dayton Dutch Lions are all eliminated from the playoffs while Orlando City has know for quite awhile that it has made the postseason.  All of the other seven teams in the league are fighting for the remaining 5 playoff spots.  Mathematically, any of these seven teams can finish in second place but I would look for Rochester or Charleston to wrap up the first round playoff bye.

The cliche is shockingly accurate in the case of the 2012 USL-Pro season; it’s all to play for…

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