After Wednesday night’s USL Championship action produced some intriguing changes to the standings – including in the Central Division and the race for the best overall record in the league – we’re back on watch for teams looking to book their places in the 2021 USL Championship Playoffs this weekend with up to five playoff berths within reach across the four divisions.
As important, though, are the games being played around the playoff line in both divisions with particular focus on the Mountain and Pacific Divisions in the Western Conference as teams try to keep their postseason goals alive.
Here are four games to keep an eye on this weekend, and where everyone stands with three weekends to go.
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC clinched its playoff place last weekend, while Miami FC is on the verge of wrapping up its place with a win or a draw or defeat for the Charleston Battery against the Charlotte Independence on Saturday night, but the biggest storyline going into this meeting between the second-placed Hounds and fourth-placed Miami is the battle for seeding in the Atlantic Division. The Hounds are second at this moment primarily because they’ve played one additional game compared to the Independence – who have the most available points – and Miami. To solidify that spot, the visitors really need a win here, but that’s something they’ve not been able to accomplish yet against Miami this season with the hosts 2-0-1 this season and both victories seeing Miami rally after conceding first. If Miami wins here, it keeps itself in position for a potential home game and could also quickly sink Pittsburgh to fourth place with a serious challenge to get out of that spot in its final two games.
San Antonio FC can lock up its spot in the postseason if it takes victory on Saturday night and sees two of New Mexico United or Rio Grande Valley FC fail to take victory in their games on the road against San Diego Loyal SC and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC or Austin Bold FC lose at on the road to Real Monarchs SLC. Fulfilling its own end of the deal with all three points could be a challenge, though, with FC Tulsa arriving in need of a positive result to not only move closer to the playoff places but keep its chances of a third-place finish moving after being overtaken by Memphis 901 FC on Wednesday night. These two teams squared off three times last season as members of the same group and went 1-1-1 against each other while advancing to the postseason. That shared history could also add some edge to what’s now an interconference matchup.
Both Sacramento Republic FC – in a 1-1 draw against the LA Galaxy II – and Tacoma Defiance – in a 1-0 defeat to Las Vegas Lights FC – failed to take victory on Wednesday night which made the margin of error that much slimmer for both sides as their odds to make the playoffs according to fivethirtyeight.com both took a serious dive. That will only amp up the pressure to win when the teams meet on Saturday night in Sacramento with both Oakland Roots SC and the LA Galaxy II getting difficult assignments as well. The pressure is probably more squarely on Republic FC; with only three games to go compared to Tacoma’s four games remaining, a loss here would drop Sacramento’s maximum available points below 40, which doesn’t seem likely to get a playoff spot as the standings currently sit. That should make for a highly compelling rematch from Republic FC’s 3-1 win when the teams last met at this venue on October 2.
New Mexico United and Rio Grande Valley FC were boosted on Wednesday night when Birmingham Legion FC took victory against Austin Bold FC to keep the race for the final playoff place in the Mountain Division close going into the final four games of the season. But now United hits the road to take on a major test from San Diego Loyal SC, which can not only book its first trip to the playoffs with a draw on Sunday afternoon at Torero Stadium, but with a win would move close to clinching second place in the Pacific Division and a guaranteed home game in the Western Conference Quarterfinals in November. New Mexico hasn’t fared well in its non-division games this season – overall it has gone 1-3-3 as it wraps up its eight games against San Diego – and that may need to change with Austin taking on Real Monarchs SLC on Saturday afternoon with a chance to add pressure to its rivals for fourth place.