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USL Eastern Conference Playoff Race (updated 9/14/2015)

Vini Dantas scored the equalizer to keep the Riverhounds playoff hopes alive on Saturday.

Vini Dantas scored the equalizer to keep the Riverhounds playoff hopes alive on Saturday.

UPDATED — SEPT 14  (7:32 a.m. EST)    

The early Saturday matches had their share of drama as the Pittsburgh Riverhounds trailed early, then played down a man for the final 30 minutes — and managed to salvage a tie thanks to a Vini Dantas header that was set up by Matt Dallman in the 70th minute.   Harrisburg surrendered a 1-0 lead in stoppage time to Richmond — and each team also had to settle for a point.  These three teams are now jumbled between the 6th and final playoff spot inside the playoff line (Richmond 38 pts) — and 7th (Pittsburgh 37 pts) and 8th (Harrisburg 36 pts) spots outside the playoff line.  The good news for the Hounds and City Islanders, is that they each have a game at hand on Richmond who currently hold the 6th and final playoff spot.
Charleston (43 pts) clinched a playoff spot with 2-0 win over Louisville City FC while Charlotte’s 12-game unbeaten streak is in extreme danger as they are trailing 2-0 at Saint Louis FC.
League-leading Rochester had their game against Toronto FC II postponed due to an extremely waterlogged field at Shalen’s Stadium.  They will be well rested when playing against a Pittsburgh team on Wednesday that will be desperate to get three points.
NY Red Bulls II (42 pts) took the week off, and still clinched the fourth spot as the Richmond-Harrisburg result was favorable to them.
The playoff scenarios for the final three spots still have way too many possibilities to comprehend.  Basically, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg hold the cards with the extra game at hand on Wednesday.  They can swing things in their direction, and their final encounter on Saturday could be an elimination game.
The Keystone Derby — which has produced 25 goals and two incredible come-from-behind wins this year — has already had it’s share of drama this season.
It looks like there will be one more memorable encounter in store.
This week’s schedule:
Wednesday, September 16 
Rochester at Pittsburgh
Harrisburg at Montreal
Toronto FC II at Richmond
Saturday, September 19
Pittsburgh at Harrisburg
Charlotte at Charleston
NY Red Bulls II at Rochester
Louisville City FC at Saint Louis
And some more detail on where things stand into the last week of the season…
1. Rochester Rhinos (15-1-9, 54 points)
Games Remaining (3) 9/12 H vs Toronto PPD, 9/16 @Pittsburgh, 9/19 H vs NY Red Bulls II
Rochester clinched to top spot with tie at Richmond. The question will be, now that they’ve clinched, will they be resting key players in their final three which include a mid-week road game at Pittsburgh on September 16, and now potentially two more games since Saturday’s match with TFCII was postponed?  Will the USL make Rochester play that meaningless postponed game vs Toronto?
2. Louisville City FC (14-7-6, 48 pts)
Games Remaining (1): 9/19 @St. Louis
Suddenly Louisville City, maybe playing without as much desperation as their recent opponents, has faltered losing three of their last four. But, they’ve been locked into the second place spot since NY Red Bulls II lost to Montreal last Wednesday.
3. Charleston Battery (11-6-10, 43 pts) 
Games Remaining (1):  9/19  H Charlotte
Charleston has awakened.  After a stoppage time equalizer in Pittsburgh and a home win against Louisville City FC, they have clinched a playoff spot and surged past NY Red Bulls II to take the third place spot going into the final weekend.  With only one game remaining at home, they appear in good shape to host an early round playoff game.
4. NY Red Bulls II (12-9-6, 42 Pts)
Games Remaining (1), 9/19 @Rochester
The Red Bulls II lost to Montreal last week, were idle this past weekend, but still managed to clinch the fourth playoff spot.   With a win at Rochester, they can clinch either the third or fourth playoff spot.
5. Charlotte Independence (10-7-10, 40 pts)
Games remaining (1):  9/19 @Charleston
Charlotte’s impressive 12 game unbeaten streak came to a halt at Saint Louis on Saturday.  With only one game left, they are still hanging on to 5th place.  Having won only twice on the year on the road, a win at Charleston might be a tall order, and with the Riverhounds and City Islanders each with two games at hand, they may be in danger of getting caught at the end.
6. Richmond Kickers (9-7-11, 38 pts)
Games remaining (1): 9/16 H vs Toronto
Talk about a team hanging on in this playoff race, they hung on for a tie at Harrisburg to keep the race for the final playoff spot very tight — and while they only have one game remaining — it’s at home against Toronto FC II on Wednesday.  They will have to take care of business, get three points to get them to 41 points, which would pretty much force both Pittsburgh and Harrisburg to have to play for a win on Saturday night.
7. Pittsburgh Riverhounds (10-9-7, 37 pts)
Games remaining (2): 9/16 H vs Rochester, 9/19 @Harrisburg
The Hounds averted complete disaster on Saturday by battling back to get a point at Wilmington after trailing and being down a man.  Now they control their own destiny.  Two wins, and they’re in the playoffs. One win and a tie might not be horrible either as they hold the tie-breaker with Richmond and Harrisburg.  Anything less, and they will need lots of help.  As I’ve been saying — it will be hard to fathom this season without the final edition of the Keystone Derby having a lot on the line.
8. Harrisburg City Islanders (10-10-6, 36 pts)
Games remaining (2): 9/16 @Montreal, 9/19 H Pittsburgh
A week ago, it was Pittsburgh that were victims of giving up a goal in stoppage time that cost a couple of points.  Harrisburg picked up a point as Richmond got the late goal.  Now they must win their final two — of course which would mean they will have to beat their interstate rivals at home to get the last playoff spot.  While Harrisburg and Pittsburgh are merely separated by a point, they are miles apart in goal differential (Pittsburgh +10, Harrisburg -8)
St. Louis FC, Montreal, Toronto and Wilmington
St. Louis FC joins this party now. All of these teams could impact the playoff race as spoilers in the final weeks.  Montreal already has done some damage in beating NY Red Bulls II.  Now Montreal can spoil Harrisburg’s chances on Wednesday.

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

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