Playoff Update: Week 29
Prospects for each team still alive
With only 3 weeks to go in the USL Championship season, it’s time to take a close look at how the playoffs could shake out. We did this last year in the 4-division format and this year’s full conference schedule has made things much more confusing than they were last time out.
The graphic above shows how things stand after Week 29. At this point, 10 teams have 4 games remaining, 16 have 3 remaining, and 1 (Colorado Springs Switchbacks) has just 2 remaining.
The Eastern Conference playoff field is set, and has been for a couple of weeks already, but out in the West 10 teams are competing for the 5 open playoff slots, with only Orange County (the reigning champions) eliminated so far. Let’s take a look at the situation by conference.
Louisville City: 63 points. Max. points available: 72. Remaining games: @ Rio Grande Valley, Detroit City, Hartford Athletic.
Lou City is leading the conference, but last weekend’s loss to Memphis 901 made its position much more precarious than it had been. The men in purple have been shaky of late, with only 1 win in the past 4 games, and that was over Loudoun United. Of their closing schedule, only Hartford are out of contention and even they have been playing well lately.
Memphis 901: 61 points. Max. points available: 73. Remining games: @ Miami, Rio Grande Valley, New York, @Colorado Springs.
Area Code FC has a game in hand over Louisville and trail by just 2 points. That means they control their own destiny. But other than the Baby Bulls, their schedule is not easy, and the game against Miami will be played without top goalscorer Philip Goodrum and Rece Buckmaster who both received red cards in a bizarre incident at the end of the Lou City match.
Tampa Bay Rowdies: 55 points. Max. points available: 67. Remaining games: @ Monterey Bay, Loudoun United, El Paso Locomotive, New York.
The Rowdies could have a tough time catching either Louisville or Memphis for the top 2 spots, but their hold on the 3rd seed is pretty strong, as they have a game in hand over both Birmingham and Pittsburgh. The schedule is also in their favor, with 3 homes games to go, although the El Paso game originally scheduled for this week is now sandwiched into the final week due to the oncoming Tropical Storm Ian. Those 2 other games are pretty forgiving though.
Birmingham Legion: 55 points. Max. points available: 64. Remaining games: @ Oakland, San Antonio, Indy.
Not taking full points in Tampa rather hurts, and the prospects of a better finish than 4th now look fairly dim. The schedule isn’t easy either, with a long road trip to an unpredictable Roots team, and the best team in the league just 4 days before closing with Indy. And there are teams chasing them close.
Pittsburgh Riverhounds: 53 points. Max. Points available: 62. Remaining games: San Antonio, @Sacramento, Oakland.
Pitt just dropped 2 crucial home points, tying 1-1 with Orange County, and losing the opportunity to jump the Legion into 4th place. They now have a very similar schedule to the team they need to get by and most importantly they play San Antonio a week before the Legion does, such that Birmingham gets the travel advantage. And right now, they are the likely playoff opponent for the Legion. Again.
Detroit City: 51 points. Max. points available: 60. Remaining games: @ Loudoun, @ Louisville, Miami.
Detroit were our dark horse selection preseason, and they have fully justified that honor, punching well above their weight. They could pass the 3 teams directly above them, but they will have to finish very strong to do it. And that season-ending game against Miami could be huge.
The Miami FC: 49 points. Max. points available: 58. Remaining games: Memphis, @ Las Vegas, @ Detroit.
Miami faces a tough challenge to improve their position any, although the upcoming game against Memphis now looks a lot more winnable than it did just a couple of days ago. And they going to have to win it to stand any chance of avoiding a rematch just a few weeks from now.
San Antonio 70 points. Max. points available: 79. Remaining games: @Pittsburgh, @ Birmingham, Orange County.
Having locked up the Western Conference title, San Antonio doesn’t have much left to prove and could decide to rest up a bit prior to the playoffs. On the other hand, the USL season points record in the 34-game era is within reach. That’s currently at 77, set by FC Cincinnati in 2018 (the PPG record all time is not reachable, set by Orlando City in 2011 and 2012 at 2.375). And they have a couple of potential spoiler games to play.
San Diego Loyal: 58 points. Max. points available: 67. Remaining games: @ Orange County, New Mexico, @ Sacramento.
San Diego needs 4 points to secure the 2nd seed. That doesn’t seem like too much of an ask, but they will really need to get it done over the next 2 games. Because that last game in Sacramento is against the only team who can catch them.
Colorado Springs Switchbacks: 52 points. Max. Points available: 58. Remaining games: @ El Paso, @ New Mexico.
The Switchbacks can tie San Diego on points, but the Loyal has the tiebreaker. And getting those 6 points is not going to be easy with both remaining games on the road. Worse, they are without Hadji Barry due to injury and Elvis Amoh will miss the El Paso game due to a red card. However, they only need 1 point to secure a spot in the playoffs.
Sacramento Republic: 49 points. Max. points available: 61. Remaining games: Phoenix, @LA Galaxy II, Monterey Bay, @ Orange County.
The Republic has already overachieved this season and is in a good position to finish 3rd with 2 games in hand over Colorado and a relatively low-travel schedule (by Western standards) to finish out the season. That being said, 5 of the 6 teams below them can all pass them, including Monterey. To lock up a playoff spot they need 4 points.
El Paso Locomotive: 43 points. Max. points available: 52. Remaining games: Colorado Springs, Orange County, @ Tampa Bay.
Of all the teams in the West above the playoff line, El Paso’s situation is possibly the weakest. 6 of the 7 teams still alive below them in the standings have a game in hand over them and their schedule is not the easiest, especially that season-ending trip cross-country.
New Mexico United: 43 points. Max. points available: 55. Remaining games: @ Las Vegas, LA Galaxy II, @ San Diego, Colorado Springs.
New Mexico are level on points with El Paso and have a game in hand, but their schedule is tough. And they have not been performing: they drew San Antonio 1-1 this week, but lost the previous 3 games. And they have 6 teams chasing who can all pass them in the standings. They need to right the ship fast.
Rio Grande Valley Toros: 42 points. Max. points available: 54. Remaining games: Louisville, @Memphis, Phoenix, Monterey Bay.
RGV holds the final Western playoff spot right now, and is riding a league-high 4-game win streak. But the next 2 games are going to be a massive hill to climb, facing the top 2 in the East. Monterey is hardly easy pickings either, and the Toros could find themselves on the outside looking in by season’s end.
Oakland Roots: 40 points. Max. points available: 49. Remaining games: Birmingham, @ Hartford, @ Pittsburgh.
The Roots are going to need to win some very difficult games to stand any chance of making the playoffs a second straight season. And with the Legion and the Hounds both battling it out for a home playoff spot in the East as well as an improving Athletic side to play, their chances are not that great.
Monterey Bay Union: 40 points. Max. points available: 52. Remaining games: @ Las Vegas, Tampa Bay, @ Tulsa, @ Rio Grande Valley.
The Union have blown 2 chances to vault the playoff line the past 2 weeks, drawing Phoenix and Miami. Their chances of joining Detroit as playoff rookies are still decent, with at least 2 if not 3 very winnable games still on the slate. But they cannot afford any more slipups with only 1 more home game to play.
Las Vegas Lights: 37 points. Max. points available: 49. Remaining games: Monterey Bay, New Mexico, Miami, @ LA Galaxy II.
With a mostly home schedule left, the Lights are still in with a chance, but the teams they are facing all have post-season goals of their own. And they will need Danny Trejo and Cal Jennings to perform at their best in order to make it.
LA Galaxy II: 36 points. Max. points available: 48. Remaining games: Sacramento, New Mexico, Atlanta United 2, Las Vegas.
The only MLS 2 team still alive, Los Dos will almost certainly have to win out to make the playoffs. 3 of the 4 games left are going to be challenging, though. They can’t be eliminated this week, but it could be close.
Phoenix Rising: 33 points. Max. points available: 45. Remaining games: @ Sacramento, New York, @ Rio Grande Valley, Atlanta United 2.
That the Rising are still in the playoff hunt is a major miracle, considering how poor a season they have had. A loss to Sacramento this Wednesday combined with an RGV draw or an Oakland or Monterey win this week sees them eliminated.
And that’s where we stand. If you want some more info to addle your brain with, try heading over to 538’s USL page, where you can find detailed predictions for every team.