Late season drama in the USL Championship is upon us. Pivotal divisional soccer is on the docket this weekendas another week of high-level matchups awaits. While the Pacific Division enjoys its share of twists and turns, other divisions are seeing their respective playoff races close in. This weekend will move us one step closer to a clearer playoff picture.
After a surprise setback to Oakland Roots SC, Phoenix Rising FC has won its last two matches with three goals in each win and enters the weekend 11 points clear of second in the division with a USL-best +26 goal differential. Up next for Rising FC is an LA Galaxy II side struggling to find its footing in the playoff race with two wins and a draw in its last five matches.
While Rising FC stands on solid playoff ground, the rest of the divisional playoff picture is ripe with opportunities for teams in the Pacific. Three points separate three positions out west, as San Diego Loyal SC (33 points), Orange County SC (31 points), Tacoma Defiance (30 points) and Republic FC (26 points) all look for prime postseason standing. With most of the teams in the hunt with two matchups remaining against each of the division leading foes, there is plenty of time for a climb up the table.
FC Tulsa squeaked by Indy Eleven on Wednesday with a late penalty by Dario Suárez and is now six points out of first in the Central Division and two points out of second after reaching a club-record four game winning streak. Birmingham Legion FC, who has Tulsa on their heels in the division table, squandered a shot for first place last week after conceding twice in stoppage time against Memphis to drop much needed points. Needless to say, Saturday night in Tulsa will be a matchup of two sides with a crucial three points on the line.
Birmingham’s Neco Brett continues his chase for the USL Golden Boot with 12 goals on the season, while Rodrigo da Costa sits not too far behind with eight for FC Tulsa. Da Costa and the rest of the Tulsa offense have amassed 36 goals on the year, while Birmingham’s Matt Van Oekel has been a force in net with six clean sheets.
Brett is not the only member of the Golden Boot watch list in action. Frontrunner Hadji Barry, recently named USL Championship Player of the Month, will lead Switchbacks FC againstvisiting RGV FC Toros in their second straight home game after a three-game road trip. The two sides met on August 14 in Texas as Colorado Springs dropped a season-high five goals on RGV in a 5-2 win.
RGV is clinging to the fourth playoff spot in the Mountain Division with a one-point lead over Austin Bold FC. After losing three of their last five games, Toros will be poised for three points that will bump them up to third, and more importantly, give them a more comfortable postseason standing. Second place Colorado Springs holds a five-point advantage on RGV in a close divisional race with five points separating second and fourth place.
Sunday evening in Oklahoma pits together two sides hanging onto their playoff seeds in the Central Division. City FC retains its lead atop the divisional table at four points clear of Birmingham Legion FC, while Energy FC is a single point above the playoff line despite coming off a 3-0 loss to Sporting KC II.
LouCity is 2-1-0 against OKC this season with neither side suffering a home setback in the fixture ahead of this weekend’s clash. However, the East’s highest scoring team has been shut out twice in their last four matches, a fix they’ll need to make to best an Energy defensive unit that has posted seven clean sheets on the year. OKC will be looking for their first win over the East’s highest scoring club this season, having dropped their first two meetings and split points in their most recent matchup on August 22.