What a wild ride to the finish the USL’s Eastern Conference playoff race it has been. And there’s one more week to go.
Nashville SC put the pressure on, but the Riverhounds did their part on Saturday to stay ahead inthe race by a mere point. With one more game remaining for each club, things won’t be decided until next weekend when Nashville hosts Atlanta United 2 on Saturday, and when Pittsburgh visits Birmingham Legion on Sunday.
As for the top four spots, there’s still a heck of a lot still in play for the elusive third through sixth place spots.
By the time the Hounds were still scrapping to get three points to stay in the top spot, still in a scoreless tie against St. Louis FC, Nashville SC had already put the heat on them. Nashville clinched a top-two finish after defeating North Carolina FC 2-0 at Nissan Stadium. For about a half hour, Nashville (now with 64 points) also moved ahead into first place.
Then, Pittsburgh got the goal it needed, when Steevan Dos Santos’ header in the 88th minute elevated the Hounds back into the top spot in the East. The Hounds secured a top-two spot with the win, and are three points away from clinching the top overall spot for the first time in modern USL history (since 2011).
“I think it was a really professional and solid performance for any game, especially a road game that meant a lot,” head coach Bob Lilley said. “The guys played great. They had to battle on the road and had to be persistent. They did a good job with a difficult opponent.
Massive 3 points boys!!! Let’s goooo!!!
— Neco Brett (@necobrettj) October 13, 2019
— Tobiloba Adewole (@TobiAdewole95) October 13, 2019
Nashville also received some help from Indy Eleven to secure the top-two spot, as Indy (now 60 points) maintained pole position for a top-four after coming back to earn a 1-1 draw with the Tampa Bay Rowdies (58 points) at Al Lang Stadium.
It was the final regular season match, and potentially the last-ever soccer match at Slugger Field — and it was a crazy one as Louisville City FC (now at 57 points) rattled off eight unanswered goals to defeat the Swope Park Rangers 8-3. This match set a new club record for goals in a league game and secure a top-six finish in the Eastern Conference for the defending champions.
NY Red Bulls II (57 points) remained idle on Saturday, and will have a chance to move up a high as third with two more matches remaining against Birmingham and Loudoun United this week.
The team that took the biggest hit on Saturday were North Carolina FC (now 53 points), who are now in 7th place after that critical loss at Nashville. NC and Ottawa Fury (52 points) are only separated by a point, and are certain to be the teams hosting 7 vs 10, and 8 vs 9 place play-in matches mid-week on Wednesday, October 23.
The final three spots in the East are still up for grabs, as St. Louis (42 points) will need at least a point to secure a spot, while Charleston and Birmingham (40 points) will have a lot to play for next week. These final three clubs in their last 15 combined matches, have just two wins,
The Hounds will play Birmingham in what’s essentially the final match of the season in the Eastern Conference, at 5 p.m. Sunday, already knowing all of the other results. If Nashville wins on Saturday vs Atlanta United 2, then they’ll have to win against a desperate Birmingham side playing for its playoff lives to secure the top spot.
||Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC||33||18||4||11||27||65||
||Tampa Bay Rowdies||33||16||7||10||29||58||
||New York Red Bulls II||32||17||9||6||28||57||
||Louisville City FC||33||16||8||9||16||57||
||North Carolina FC||33||15||10||8||19||53||
||Ottawa Fury FC||33||14||9||10||9||52||
||Saint Louis FC||33||11||13||9||0||42||
||Birmingham Legion FC||32||11||14||7||-16||40||
|PLAYOFF LINE ——————————————————–|
REMAINING MATCHES OF NOTE IN ‘RACE TO FIRST’
Wednesday, October 16
Swope Park Rangers at Indy Eleven (7 p.m.)
NY Red Bulls II at Birmingham Legion (8 p.m.)
Saturday, October 19
St. Louis FC at North Carolina FC (7 p.m.)
NY Red Bulls II at Loudoun United (7 p.m.)
Atlanta United 2 at Nashville SC (8 p.m.)
Sunday, October 20
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC at Birmingham Legion FC (5 p.m.)