El Paso Locomotive FC will continue its drive toward the Mountain Division title on Wednesday night as it hosts third-placed Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC. | Photo courtesy Ivan Pierre Aguirre / El Paso Locomotive FC
After both El Paso Locomotive FC and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC joined the teams already in the field for the 2021 USL Championship this past weekend, and the Tampa Bay Rowdies became the second division title winner, Week 26’s midweek slate can’t see any teams clinch a playoff place immediately, but contains some key games in the Central, Mountain and Pacific Division races as teams vie for a top-two finish, or even a division title.
Here are four games to watch as the picture comes further into focus, and where everyone stands in the big picture as we start the third-to-last week of the season.
Memphis 901 FC fell on Sunday night to San Antonio FC, but thanks to Austin Bold FC’s late equalizer against OKC Energy FC they still hold an eight-point cushion in the available point column going into this midweek contest against Louisville City FC. If 901 FC can find a way to take a point – as it did when these teams last met at AutoZone Park – it would not only edge the side closer to a postseason berth, but would also open the door a little wider for Birmingham Legion FC’s bid to take first place in the Central Division. LouCity will want to avoid that, take victory and maybe raise the temperature a little more on 901 FC before its game with Atlanta United 2 at the weekend.
El Paso Locomotive FC has clinched its playoff place, and still has a shot at the best record in the league after the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ setback on Sunday night. If it’s going to earn that spot, it needs to find a way to beat Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC on its home turf, with the sides having played to three draws so far this season. For the Switchbacks, Wednesday night is a chance to get what was a well-below par performance behind them and also take another step toward closing out its return to the postseason. If the visitors take victory, a playoff place would certainly be within reach this weekend.
The baton for the chance to close out the best record in the league was handed to Phoenix Rising FC on Sunday night after the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ loss to Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which meant Rising FC now has the highest ceiling at a maximum of 74 points. If it’s going to hold on to that edge, it will need to take a second victory in the past 11 days on the road against an Orange County SC side that is still well set, but not completely out of the woods yet when it comes to its playoff spot after last Saturday’s defeat against Tacoma Defiance. Both teams need three points, and that should make this fascinating.
There’s no way around it – it’s getting close to do-or-die time for Republic FC, especially with the LA Galaxy II coming to Heart Health Park. After Los Dos’ victory last weekend in Las Vegas and Sacramento’s defeat in San Diego, there’s now a six-point difference between the maximum available points for the two sides, with the Galaxy II currently projecting to end the season in fourth spot. If Republic FC falls here – as it did to the Galaxy II on September 26 when they last met in Northern California – it might mark the beginning of the end for the host’s season.