Welcome to another edition of USL Round Table. The lower-league version of Round Table is going to go on a bit of a hiatus for now, as I’m looking to focus on a couple of other series that align more closely with my vision for the blog. I do, however, want to continue covering the USL leagues as the playoff race continues to develop.
As usual, we’ll get under way with the USL Championship. To stick with the script even further, we’ll look at the Western Conference first as we’ve done each previous time. Maybe some of you feel like that’s too mundane for you. Oh well.
Returning to the reason you’re here, the Western Conference is largely unchanged. Reno 1868 squandered an opportunity to catch up with second place Fresno FC in a 3-2 thriller, and as a result, Fresno have a three point cushion and two games in hand over Reno, who sit in third. Phoenix Rising continues to dominate, adding two more victories to their tally even though they’ve already locked up a playoff spot. A little selfish if you ask me. Sacramento Republic beat Austin Bold during the week to usurp them and reach the coveted top four, but their lead over 13th-placed San Antonio is a somewhat unstable 6 points.
The playoff race is still wide open, but El Paso Locomotive, Portland Timbers II, and San Antonio FC are on the outside looking in, in that order. Above the playoff line, Orange County SC, LA Galaxy II, Real Monarchs, New Mexico United, and OKC Energy fill out sixth through tenth place. Tacoma Defiance’s moment of brilliance in a 5-1 victory against San Antonio is long-forgotten now, as they still sit at the bottom of the table and suffered two shutout losses this week.
In the Eastern Conference, my new hometown club, Nashville SC, has suffered in recent times for a variety of reasons. Though injuries, a difficult schedule, and a long away stretch ate away at their opportunities in the last month, the chief reason for their downfall is clearly the fact that I’ve begun to support them since I’ve moved here. NSC, if you’re listening, I’m so sorry. This happens with all my teams. But I can’t give up on the Boys in Gold now; I love y’all too much.
Either way, the Music City’s soon-to-be MLS franchise has fallen off a bit after this week’s results. They sit on 51 points from 28 matches, which is currently good for fourth place. However, that doesn’t take into account that fifth-place Pittsburgh Riverhounds are, well, hounding Nashville for the fourth spot, having earned 48 points in just 26 matches. An absolutely crucial meeting between the two will take place next week, so that should be an exciting one that tells us a lot about who grabs the last home-field advantage spot in the playoffs.
If they play to a draw and split the points, North Carolina (47 points, 28 matches) and Louisville City (44 points, 27 matches) are only one call away, as Charlie Puth might describe it, and also have opportunities against Nashville before the regular season ends. Long story short, it’s going to be an interesting fight for fourth, as four clubs battle for one spot.
At the playoff line, Ottawa Fire and Saint Louis, who are bolstered by a big home win against Nashville this week, look fairly safe in eighth and ninth. Birmingham Legion sit in the hot seat at position number ten, but Charleston Battery have a game in hand and are only one point away. That’ll be something else to watch closely in the East.
Also, big shouts to Swope Park Rangers, who are probably pumped about their otherwise boring 0-0 draw against Charleston. Why? It’s the first game they didn’t lose in their past eight matches. If that sounds snarky, that’s because it is.
Austin Bold take on Reno in a Western duel, but hopefully one without twirly mustaches and gun shots. That could decide positioning in the top four, so Sunday’s (9-15) match in Austin at 6 PM Central would be a great one to tune into. As always, USL Championship matches are streamed live on ESPN+.
In USL League One, a lot of teams had chances to make some major moves, but none of them really did. Richmond Kickers had a great chance, albeit difficult, to get back in the playoff conversation against league-leaders North Texas SC, but they were soundly beaten 4-0. They now sit in ninth on 28 points with just four matches left to play. They’re mathematically still alive, but it’s tough to see them finding the top four at this stage in the season. Above them, Toronto FC II benefitted greatly from facing the tamest Lions anyone has ever come across in Orlando City B, and they predictably took home the three points. That gives them a glimmer of hope, as they sit on 29 points with three matches left. The cutoff is at 33 points right now, so they aren’t far away, but there are a lot of clubs between them and the line, as they’re situated in eighth.
Greenville Triumph lived up to their name and took care of FC Tuscon earlier today, which gives them a much better feeling about progressing to the playoffs while doing the opposite to their opponents. Greenville are in third, four points clear of the playoff line, while Tuscon are two points behind fourth place, residing in seventh. Chattanooga Red Wolves haven’t been in the best of form, but they’re still very much alive in the race for the top four, just seven goals of goal differential away from Forward Madison and South Georgia Tormenta. All three clubs are still even on points and matches played, but Madison holds the edge in goal differential by six over Tormenta and by seven over Red Wolves. Madison and Tormenta shared the points in their meeting this week, which was a missed opportunity for both sides to pull away. As it stands, these last few matches for every club in the league will be very exciting to follow.
Speaking of, all three deadlocked teams around the fourth-place mark are in action on Saturday the 14th, with Chattanooga traveling to second-place Lansing Ignite at 6 PM Central, Richmond hosting Forward Madison at the same time, and Tormenta welcoming North Texas SC to Statesboro at 7 PM Central. All of those games are available for live streaming on, you guessed it, ESPN+.
That’s it for this edition of Round Table, everyone. A bit more angsty teen came out of me this week for whatever reason, so hope you enjoyed that. Thanks so much for reading, and as always, my admonition to you is the following:
Watch local soccer, unify those around you, and seek out diversity!