Although the four midweek USL Eastern Conference matches failed to clarify FC Cincinnati’s first round opponent, it raised the stakes for this weekend’s regular-season finale. Nashville SC was leading Toronto FC II 2-0 late in the second half Tuesday evening before relinquishing the lead. Inexplicably, the match ended in a 2-2 draw, unleashing the following ripple effect within the Eastern Conference playoff race:
- Charleston Battery cemented the 4th Eastern playoff seed
- Indy Eleven and New York Red Bulls II clinched a playoff berth
- Nashville SC missed out on clinching a playoff berth
- Nashville may now miss out on the playoffs entirely if the following occurs this weekend:
- Ottawa FC beats Charleston Battery Saturday at 2:00 PM
- FCC beats Nashville SC Saturday at 8:30 PM
- Bethlehem Steel FC tie or beat Tampa Bay Sunday at 3:00 PM
Wednesday’s 1-1 draw in Atlanta between the Atlanta United 2 and the Riverhounds resulted in the top four Eastern playoff seeds being solidified:
- FC Cincinnati
- Louisville City FC
- Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
- Charleston Battery.
Following the midweek action, here is your updated USL Eastern Conference Standings, ranked by projected points.
Determining FCC’s First Round Playoff Opponent
The one remaining question of the 2018 regular season is this … which team will FC Cincinnati face on October 20th at Nippert?
Let’s review the six teams in contention and their potential paths to the postseason.
The Eleven currently sit in 5th place and have clinched a playoff spot. They are on the road at Louisville City Saturday evening. A win will cement fifth place for Indy and a playoff visit to Charleston. A draw or loss could drop them into the 8th spot, contingent on other results, and a return to Nippert next week. Indy are 1-0-1 vs LCFC this season.
New York Red Bulls II
The Baby Bulls are riding a five-match unbeaten streak as they host Pittsburgh Sunday afternoon. A win will solidify 5th or 6th place for NYRBII. A draw or loss could see them in Cincinnati on October 20th. New York lost 0-3 to the Riverhounds back in the middle of June but could be facing a Pittsburgh side content to rest tired legs before the playoffs.
As mentioned above, Nashville holds the most interesting position of the remaining playoff contenders. They should have booked their playoff ticket earlier this week but now must beat FCC or seek help from others. A loss to Cincinnati, combined with a win by Ottawa and at least a draw by Bethlehem, sends them packing for the off-season. The “Fighting Six Strings” have played the Orange & Blue tough this season, earning two draws (home and away), but face a squad aiming for a USL record 23-game unbeaten streak. Here is your Match Program for Saturday’s influential contest.
Bethlehem Steel FC
The Steel control their own playoff destiny and host Tampa Bay at Goodman Stadium on Sunday. Bethlehem are 7-4-5 at home this season. They lost 0-2 at Tampa in the second game of the season; however, the Rowdies have been eliminated from the postseason and are only 4-9-3 on the road this year. Bethlehem is in an all-or-nothing scenario, as well. With a loss and an Ottawa win, they are eliminated. Should Indy, New York and Nashville all win in addition to the Steel, FCC would face Bethlehem at home October 20th. Bethlehem are able to finish as high as fifth with a win and ties or losses by Indy, New York and Nashville.
Ottawa Fury FC
Ottawa has been battling back into contention all season. After a dismal 0-4-1 start to the season, they are one win and some help from FCC or Tampa Bay in making the USL playoffs for the first time. The Fury host the playoff-bound Battery Saturday afternoon at TD Place Stadium, where they are 2-1-2 in their last five home matches.
North Carolina FC
The Dead Whales stumble into the final weekend with two losses in a row. They face their intrastate rival Charlotte Saturday evening in the North Carolina Derby. Not only do they need a win to take them to 47 points, they require Ottawa to draw or lose and Bethlehem to lose. That’s not all; they also need to overcome a plus-6 goal-differential with the Steel. NCFC has had the upper hand on the Independence this season, winning both matches with an aggregate 8-2 goal margin.
With many scenarios in play, what is your prediction of who FCC will play in the first round?
Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press this weekend for updates to FC Cincinnati’s match vs Nashville SC and the latest regarding FCC’s first-round playoff opponent.