USL Week 17 Preview: Red Line Battles in East, West

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by ANTHONY J. MERCED

The battle for the playoffs heats up in Week 17 as teams just under the red line have a chance to pressure those barely holding on. In both Conferences the margins are thin with Richmond and Wilmington knocking on the door in the East in and OC Blues pushing out West.

The playoff structure in USL is similar to that in MLS with six teams making the playoffs. Slots three to six play one game playoffs with the first and second place teams advancing to the Conference Semi-Final. This format adds tremendous importance to mid-table fixtures as well as pushes the top of the table to solidify their spots and avoid an extra knockout game.

Richmond and Wilmington Coming on Strong

The Kickers and Hammerheads have had up and down seasons thus far but are battling for the last playoff spot currently held by the Charlotte Independence. Wilmington in particular has seen a tremendous turnaround from a last place finish and are poised to make waves should they manage to grab a playoff spot.

The Kickers will have a bit of an easier week with a Thursday game on the road against a woeful Pittsburgh Riverhounds side. The Kickers have only won two of the last five games but showed a strong offense against Harrisburg. The easier schedule can also provide the Kickers with a chance to pad their stats as the Riverhounds are the fourth worst defense in the East which suits Richmond who has had problems scoring goals of late.

The Hammerheads appear to be a bit more well rounded despite their seesaw form. After falling to New York last week 4-0, they have put together two straight wins and only allowed one goal over that span. Their opponents will certainly be a bit more challenging with Bethlehem Steel and Louisville City having motivation of their own.

Blues and Have Reason to Believe

Defending Western Conference Regular Season Champion Orange County had rough start to 2016. The tteam hasn’t been able to put together consistent performances despite showing flashes of quality. Last week’s draw against Sacramento felt like a win and helped the team crawl to within one point of the last playoff spot currently held by St. Louis.

This week the Blues will be on the road against OKC who have been formidable in their own right with games in hand that could be disastrous for the California side. Both teams have yet to play each other but the stakes are already high. OC will hope to find a renewed sense of defense since they’ve allowed a goal in all but one of their last ten games. A win would make life difficult for St. Louis who also has a tough road game this week against the Tulsa Roughnecks.

WEEK 17 PREVIEW:

OKC Energy vs. Swope Park Rangers on 7/12 at 7:30PM
Orlando City B vs. Charleston Battery on 7/13 at 7:30PM
Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 vs. Rio Grande Valley FC on 7/13 at 7:30PM
Wilmington Hammerheads vs. Bethlehem Steel FC on 7/14 at 12PM
Richmond Kickers vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds on 7/14 at 7PM
St. Louis FC vs. Tulsa Roughnecks 7/15 at 7:30PM
LA Galaxy II vs. Portland Timbers 2 on 7/16 at 2PM
New York Red Bull II vs. Charlotte Independence on 7/16 at 7PM
Sacramento Republic vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks on 7/16 at 7PM
FC Montreal vs. Rochester Rhinos on 7/16 at 7:05PM
Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 vs. San Antonio FC on 7/16 at 7:30PM
Orange County Blues FC vs. OKC Energy FC on 7/16 at 7:30PM
Seattle Sounders FC 2 vs. Arizona United SC on 7/16 at 7:30PM
Louisville City FC vs. Wilmington Hammerheads on 7/17 at 6PM
Harrisburg City Islanders vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds on 7/17 at 7PM