Playoff Race Tightens In Final Week
Rhinos, Battery are in, leaving three spots available
USL PRO Feature
Monday, August 13, 2012
TAMPA, Fla. – The final weekend of the season is shaping up to be a tense one, with only three teams having clinched their places in the USL PRO Playoffs, five teams competing for the three remaining berths, and the all-important second bye to the semifinals also up for grabs.
The playoff picture was given some clarity after Saturday night’s action, with the Rochester Rhinos and Charleston Battery both clinching berths in the playoffs after their clash at Sahlen’s Stadium. While the Battery took a 4-0 victory, snapping a five-game winless streak, both teams are now mathematically into the postseason, with only seeding to play for in their final game of the season.
The Rhinos currently sit in control of second place, and can join Orlando City in earning a bye to the semifinals with victory against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on Saturday night at Sahlen’s Stadium. The Rhinos have had a strong record against their rivals at home since the stadium was opened, going undefeated with an 11-0-1 record after their 2-0 win earlier this season.
Should the Rhinos fail to take victory, however, the door would open for the Battery, who host the Dayton Dutch Lions on Saturday night at Blackbaud Stadium. A victory is imperative for Charleston no matter the result in Rochester however, with the margin between hosting a quarterfinal contest and having to go on the road a slim one.
The Rhinos and Battery have both clinched their berths thanks to the final weekend’s schedule, which sees the Wilmington Hammerheads and Charlotte Eagles meet twice in a home-and-home series that opens at Wingate College on Friday night. Due to their two meetings, while one of the sides could overtake the Battery and Rhinos with a pair of victories, both sides cannot overtake the two teams. Coupled with the Los Angeles Blues being unable to catch either the Rhinos or Battery, those two teams cannot drop below sixth in the standings no matter the results this weekend.
The Blues, meanwhile, need a pair of victories to give themselves a chance to reach the playoffs for the second consecutive season. The Blues would also need help, with the pair of games between the Hammerheads and Eagles offering their most likely route into the playoffs. The Blues will face a tough task in the visiting Harrisburg City Islanders, however, who need points of their own to seal their place in the playoffs.
Currently sitting seventh in the standings, trailing sixth-placed Charlotte on the second USL PRO tiebreaker of most wins, the City Islanders would clinch a place in the playoffs with a four-point weekend in Los Angeles, thanks again to the two games between the Hammerheads and Eagles. Harrisburg accomplished that last season in their trip out west, taking a 1-1 draw and 2-1 win against the Blues.
Fourth-place Richmond would appear to be in the best spot among the remaining teams yet to clinch a berth in the playoffs as the Kickers make the trip to Antigua for a pair of games against the Barracudas on Friday and Sunday evening. Still in with a chance to earn a semifinal bye should they take a pair of victories, the Kickers will hope to emulate their recent 2-0 victory against Antigua on August 3 at City Stadium as they try to extend their three-game winning streak.
The rest of the league’s eyes will be principally focused on the series between Wilmington and Charlotte, which will likely determine which side earns, and which side misses out on, a place in the USL PRO Playoffs. The two rivals have met once so far this season, playing to a 1-1 draw on May 19. The Hammerheads hold the advantage, with a one-point lead entering the final weekend of the season, and they would advance to the playoff should the teams play to a pair of ties this weekend.
Charlotte, however, has been one of the hottest teams in USL PRO down the stretch, going 8-1-1 in its past 10 USL PRO outings. With the Eagles determined to earn a place in the playoffs after missing out the past two seasons, they will certainly give Wilmington everything it can handle as the two teams battle for a place in the playoffs.
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