There are four places left to be claimed in the USL Championship Playoffs going into the final weekend of the season. As some look to return, though, one club is making a decisive late run to return to the postseason after a two-year absence and growing on and off the field in the process. Here’s your Morning Tea for Saturday.
In the final count, wins all count equally in the league standings. You take your three points, and you get closer to your goal.
In some ways, though, the way you earn those victories can have an important impact for a team. For FC Tulsa over the past week, finding a way to win late has reaffirmed the belief the squad feels that it has turned a corner.
From last Saturday’s dramatic 1-0 win off the stoppage-time goal by Eric Bird to Wednesday’s 3-2 victory against Black Gold Derby that saw Tobenna Uzo and Cristhian Altaminano come off the bench to turn a one-goal deficit into three points in the space of nine minutes, the ability to dig out a win when the team needed it most provided a major lift.
“For the morale, I think it is fantastic,” said defender Bradley Bourgeois after the game. “It’s what we have talked about: in moments where we need to come up big, can we? It doesn’t matter who it is. Look at Toby [Uzo] tonight. That is a guy you have to give credit to. All season long, he hasn’t really been called upon a lot and tonight when he was called upon, he came up huge. It’s a huge credit to every single one in the locker room.”
The victory against Energy FC was Tulsa’s first in just over a year, with the club’s 4-3 win against San Antonio FC on September 25, 2019 the last time the club had won a game in which it trailed. Tulsa had showed an ability to rebound from a deficit early in the year – it gained points on the road against Sacramento Republic FC to start the season and then against Energy FC in its first game after the resumption in July – but more regularly it had let leads slip.
Those eight points that were left by the wayside – including twice when the side had the upper hand against Group D rivals Austin Bold FC – could have come back to haunt Tulsa in the race for second place. Instead, it’s Head Coach Michael Nsien that has found a way to finish the season strongly while Austin has faltered to leave Tulsa needing only a point from its game on Saturday night against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC to clinch its postseason spot.
“We were that team early in the season,” Nsien said on Wednesday night. “We were the comeback kids and then we started finding our rhythm and started slipping with leads also. I feel like we can be resilient either way, but it’s important that if we want to be a playoff team and a contender and make a deep run in the playoffs. We know we have to execute better.”
Nsien appears to have found the right combination of players and potential moves to make an impact on the game. He’s been able to roll out the same starting lineup in three consecutive games going into Saturday’s game at the Switchbacks, and Uzo has made an impact in the last two games. He was almost the hero against San Antonio before Bird, hitting the crossbar late in the game after coming off the bench.
With the Black Gold Derby’s wrench in hand, and one point to go for a playoff berth, Tulsa is ready to take the next step not only this season, but into the club’s future.
“Hopefully going into the playoffs with this momentum, we can build camaraderie,” said Nsien. “I want players to love our city. This is big for them to know that you have a group of people, supporters behind you that try to help you get over those moments. It draws a good connection and makes us better.”
All @NorthCarolinaFC fans and @OCSRaleigh we hope you safely come out and support our team tomorrow in a huge game for our us vs. Charlotte. Our guys have belief and team Spirit. Along with your enthusiasm and voices we’ll be even more ready to compete.@OCSRaleigh— Dave Sarachan (@DaveSarachan) October 3, 2020
- There won’t be as much at stake when the Tampa Bay Rowdies host the Charleston Battery on Saturday night, but the big prize of finishing with the best record in the Eastern Conference is still out there for the Rowdies at Al Lang Stadium. The Tampa Bay Times’ Darek Sharp has more on one of the big matchups of the weekend.
- New Mexico United still needs help on Sunday afternoon from Real Monarchs SLC as it hosts current Group C leader El Paso Locomotive FC, but it’s not completely out of contention for first place. The Albuquerque Journal’s Ken Sickenger has more on what United would need to happen to finish ahead of its rival in the coming days.
- Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC is ready to go about its business against the Philadelphia Union II on Saturday night and then wait and see what happens to Hartford Athletic on Sunday against the New York Red Bulls II. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Craig Meyer writes the Hounds believe they can bounce back and will be ready to make a run at the postseason, whether their run begins at home or on the road.
- Memphis 901 FC goes into its 2020 finale with an eye on the future but is looking to build on one of its best performances of the season last time out as it hosts Birmingham Legion FC at AutoZone Park. The Memphis Flyer’s Samuel Cicci has more on what lies ahead for the club as it enters the offseason.