Tampa Bay Sports Day

USL: Independence, Rangers Among Teams Aiming at Cup Playoffs spots

TAMPA –  Four places in the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs have been claimed, and another three could be clinched by the end of Week 27 of the 2017 season as the league gets set for a 13-game slate of action that could also see the race for the USL Regular Season Championship take another turn.

The Charlotte Independence and Charleston Battery will both hit the road on Saturday night with a playoff place within reach after the Battery’s midweek victory against Charlotte moved Charleston within a point of the second-place Independence in the Eastern Conference.

The Battery visit Orlando City B, which itself needs a win to boost its playoff hopes after back-to-back defeats, while the Independence will take on the fifth-place Tampa Bay Rowdies, needing just a draw to earn a return to the postseason.
 
The Swope Park Rangers can also book their second trip to the playoffs in as many seasons on Saturday night as the defending Western Conference champions visit Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC. The game is a massive one for the Switchbacks, however, who are locked in a three-way battle for the West’s eighth and final place in the USL Cup Playoffs.

A part of that battle, Orange County SC visit Real Monarchs SLC on Friday night, and OKC Energy FC visit Sacramento Republic FC on Saturday night.

Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Charlotte Independence
7:30 p.m. ET, Al Lang Stadium (Match Center)
The Tampa Bay Rowdies will take a shot at pushing back into the top four in the USL Eastern Conference, as they play host to a Charlotte Independence side that needs just a point to book a return trip to the USL Cup Playoffs when the teams meet for the second time this season.
 
The fifth-place Rowdies (11-7-8, 41pts) have seen results fall their way since the club’s last outing on Sept. 6 , when it took a 3-2 victory against the Harrisburg City Islanders, including Louisville City FC’s dramatic 2-1 win against the Rochester Rhinos on Wednesday night. That has put Tampa Bay in position to claim a top-four position, especially considering the side’s 9-1-3 record on home turf.
 
The Independence (13-6-9, 48pts) are taking their third crack at clinching a playoff spot after earning a late draw last Saturday night against Ottawa Fury FC and then falling in midweek to the Charleston Battery. That defeat also put pressure on the Independence’s position in second place, meaning earning all three points might be essential to retaining it when the week ends.
 
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC vs. Swope Park Rangers
8 p.m. ET, Weidner Field (Watch Live)
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC is in major need of a victory to keep itself in contention for a third consecutive trip to the playoffs as it enters on a five-game winless streak, but it will face a big test from a Swope Park Rangers side coming off its biggest offensive outing of the season as it tries to book a return to the postseason.
 
The Switchbacks (9-11-8, 35pts) dropped to 10th place in the Western Conference as it was held to a 1-1 draw by Seattle Sounders FC 2 last Saturday night, which allowed both OKC Energy FC and Orange County SC to overtake it in the standings. Energy FC’s loss in midweek kept the Switchbacks just two points out of the playoff positions with four games to go, but the side needs to get going again offensively with its two leading scorers, Masta Kacher and Kevaughn Frater, held scoreless in its current winless streak.
 
The Rangers (14-7-6, 48pts) have no such concerns in terms of reaching the playoffs, with the possibility the side could need only a draw to claim a spot depending on Friday night’s game between Real Monarchs SLC and Orange County SC. After a 5-2 victory against San Antonio FC last Sunday, though, Swope Park will be looking to close the gap on the top three in the conference with a win.
 
Saint Louis FC vs. FC Cincinnati
8:30 p.m. ET, Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis (Match Center)
The third and final meeting of the season between Saint Louis FC and FC Cincinnati will play a key role in the playoff fates for each team, with both coming off big victories a week ago as they enter on either side of the playoff line in the Eastern Conference.
 
Saint Louis (9-12-7, 34pts), currently in 11th place, sits two points behind eighth-place Orlando City B going into the weekend after taking a 2-0 victory against OCB last Saturday night at Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis. STLFC has been inconsistent for much of the season, with its last back-to-back victories coming in April. With four games to go, a loss on Saturday could be a fatal blow to its postseason hopes.
 
Sixth-place Cincinnati (10-9-9, 39pts) gave its playoff prospects a major lift with a 4-2 victory against the New York Red Bulls II in front of a USL-record crowd of 30,417 at Nippert Stadium last Saturday night. Now on a four-game undefeated streak (2-0-2), FCC would move seven points clear of ninth-place Bethlehem Steel FC with a win and has already taken two victories against Saint Louis FC this season while outscoring its host on Saturday night 6-0.
 
Sunday, September 24
Ottawa Fury FC vs. Louisville City FC
TD Place, 2 p.m. ET (Match Center)
Ottawa Fury FC’s playoff hopes are on the line when it welcomes Eastern Conference-leader Louisville City FC on Sunday afternoon, while the visitors may have the chance to ensure a home postseason contest for the third consecutive season with a victory.
 
Ottawa (7-9-11, 32pts) was held to its fourth successive draw last Sunday night, as a late equalizer by the Charlotte Independence’s Lewis Hilton earned a 1-1 draw and denied Fury FC interim Head Coach Julian de Guzman his first win in charge of the side. Now four points out of the playoff positions with five games to go, anything but a win on Sunday would likely bring an end to Ottawa’s chances of a postseason berth.
 
Louisville (16-5-6, 54pts) took a dramatic victory on Wednesday night when Luke Spencer’s stoppage-time penalty kick lifted the side to a 2-1 win against the Rochester Rhinos in front of 6,698 fans at Slugger Field. City is now only two points back of Western Conference-leader Real Monarchs SLC, and should either the Charleston Battery or Charlotte Independence fall, or the Rochester Rhinos be held to a draw in Richmond on Saturday, Louisville would claim a home playoff game in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals with a win on Sunday.