FC Cincinnati fans can certainly agree on one thing – they want to win the 2018 USL Cup before moving up to the first division! It’s no surprise to many, including the analytical website and sports blog FiveThirtyEight, that the Orange & Blue are the USL Cup favorites.
With only nine weeks remaining in the USL regular season, it’s hard not to daydream about hosting several playoff matches. Heck, the club even put out their version of a “Save the Date” last week. The tease was real. Keep an eye on the weekend of October 20th for a first round playoff match at Nippert.
📅 As we continue our march through the regular season, keep an eye on the weekend of October 20 as we aim to lock up home field advantage in the @USL Cup Playoffs! #JoinTheMarch pic.twitter.com/NxO6ggdbsN
— FC Cincinnati (@fccincinnati) August 9, 2018
So what will it take to: a) make the playoffs, and b) secure a home playoff match on October 20th and beyond? Let’s take a look at recent USL water levels for likely points needed to answer these questions.
In 2016 and 2017, it took a minimum of 1.17 and 1.38 points per match respectively to make the Eastern Conference playoffs. Considering the current depth and talent of teams in the East, we will throw-out the 2016 figure as an outlier. Now let’s take a look at the current Eastern Conference standings ranked by points per match.
Of note, the teams currently in 7th through 10th are all hovering around this 1.38 figure. Extrapolating this mark over 34 regular season matches, this magical playoff line translates to a projected minimum of 47 total points. A light may have just clicked on in your head. Yes, that is correct, the Orange and Blue already have 48 points. It is extremely likely, as it would take an epic collapse, for FCC not to make the playoffs at this point. The first water level mark is reached.
But that’s not FCC’s goal, just making the playoffs. Digging deeper, what will it take to secure a first-round home playoff match, meaning a top four spot? Let’s go back to recent history again. In 2016 and 2017, the fourth-place East finisher tallied at least 1.70 and 1.65 points per match. The barometer for this next stage equates to a range of 56 to 58 total points to secure a first round home game. Taking the higher end of the range, FCC would need to earn 10 additional points this season (call it 3 wins and a tie) over the remaining 11 games to likely host a lower seed at Nippert. The second water level mark is within reach.
Why is this all important?
Recent playoff history shows us that in the first round the home team wins 75% of the time (see charts below).
FC Cincinnati’s home 2016 playoff loss to Charleston Battery was only one of two losing results in the past two Eastern conference quarterfinal rounds. If you’re studying the charts above, you’ve already come to the realization that the home team also won 75% of the Eastern Conference semifinal matches. The old adage of a home field advantage certainly has played itself out in the USL Eastern Conference playoffs.
To reach the club’s goal and win the 2018 USL Cup, the successful trend tells us we need to host each playoff match throughout the playoffs. Setting the bar at this highest of water levels, the squad will need to maintain the top position in the conference. Accordingly, this will require FCC to retain its present pace of earning 2.0 to 2.1 points per match. Keep watch closely over the remaining matches to see if (and when) the Orange & Blue can reach this 68 to 71 total point pinnacle.
If this level occurs, we will also likely earn the rights to host the 2018 USL Cup at Nippert against one of the following Western Conference teams. Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press as we continue to provide all of your 2018 FC Cincinnati coverage.