By AARON CRANFORD
Only three playoff spots remain in the 2014 USL Pro season as the Charleston Battery claimed the fourth Saturday evening.
With their 4-0 blowout over the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, the Battery secured their spot in the USL Pro playoffs. Dane Kelly scored a hat trick, giving him 10 goals on the season.
He opened his tab in the 38th minute with a powerful strike from the top of the box, while his second came in the 47th minute by beating a defender, sprinting toward goal and slotting it past Riverhounds goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap. Kelly scored his final goal in the 54th minute by receiving a ball sent over the defensive line from Adam Mena, rounding past Gilstrap, and passing the ball into the empty net.
The Battery’s Zach Prince added the fourth goal in the 67th minute. He deked a defender before placing the ball into the upper corner.
After the two-game weekend, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds only have one game remaining. They will host Arizona United SC at Highmark Stadium on Saturday.
Here is a look at the rest of the USL Pro action from last weekend:
RIVERHOUNDS TOP EAGLES LATE IN CHARLOTTE
After losing to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Charlotte’s hopes of making the playoffs are slim. The Riverhounds’ Miroslav Cabrillo scored the only goal of the game in the 76th minute, and with the win, the Riverhounds jump above the Eagles on the table, which puts them in ninth place.
The 10th-place Eagles have two games remaining. Still in pursuit of a playoff spot, they will play the Montreal Impact Reserves on Monday afternoon.
ISLANDERS RUN INTO RHINOS’ STAMPEDE
The Rochester Rhinos started their rout by forcing a Harrisburg Islanders’ own goal in the 1st minute. The first cross into the box bounced around and finally found its way into the back of the net, but the Islanders’ Morgan Langley tied the game by controlling a long, over-the-top pass from Yann Ekra and calmly slotted the ball past the keeper.
The Rhinos controlled the match in the second half. Alec Sundly quickly scored to give the Rhinos the 2-1 lead, and JC Banks scored his ninth goal of the season by intercepting a back pass and then bending it around the keeper.
After heading the ball into a defender off a corner in the 84th minute, the Rhinos’ Babacar Diallo scored by toe-poking the ball in the box into the net for the 4-1 victory.
With the win, the Rhinos sit in sixth place in the standings with one game left to play in the regular season. The Eagles have two games remaining, but the pressure is high.
WILMINGTON HOLDS SACRAMENTO TO SCORELESS DRAW
Sacramento had most of the shots, but neither side could find the back of the net in the 0-0 draw. Wilmington needed points against the second-place Republic to remain in playoff position, but for the Republic, the draw is not the result they wanted.
With two games remaining, the Republic will still want to finish the regular season in good form and hope to dethrone Orlando City SC.
The Hammerheads lie in eighth place on the table and have three games remaining to finish the season. They will play Orlando on Wednesday evening, the Dayton Dutch Lions on Friday and the Rochester Rhinos on Sunday.
THIRD-PLACE KICKERS RUE DRAW WITH BLUES
The Richmond Kickers were unable to put pressure on Orlando’s top spot. The already-eliminated Orange County Blues conceded the first goal, but responded quickly and held the Kickers to a 1-1 draw.
The Kickers Jason Yeisley scored from the top of the box after receiving the ball from Michael Callahan’s steal. The Blues Andrew Hoxie dived for a header in the 24th minute. His teammate, Seung Ju Kim crossed the ball into the box, and Hoxie beat his man to head it past the goalkeeper.
The Richmond Kickers remain in third place on the table, and with two tough games remaining, both away from City Stadium in Richmond, they will want to remain in third and hope to better their placement.
ORLANDO CLOSER TO SEASON TITLE WITH ROUT
Seven goals helped Orlando City SC move closer to being the USL Pro regular season champion. The last-place Dutch Lions were completely overwhelmed throughout the night and had no answer for league-leading scorer Kevin Molino, who scored a hat trick and currently has 19 goals this season.
Austin da Luz scored a brace, with both assists coming from Molino. Orlando’s Giuseppe Gentile and Adama Mbengue added the other goals on the night.
Orlando controlled the match throughout the night, and the buildup to their last goal by Austin da Luz in the 69th minute of play demonstrated their command. After a turnover, Orlando produced a 10-pass sequence before da Luz headed the ball past the goalkeeper.
First-place Orlando will only need a point from one of their last two matches to win the regular season crown, but eighth-place Wilmington Hammerheads and third-place Richmond Kickers will challenge the reigning USL Pro playoff champions.
Here are the midweek games:
Charlotte Eagles vs. Montreal Impact Reserves (Monday, 1 p.m.)
Richmond Kickers vs. LA Galaxy II (Monday, 10:30 p.m.)
Orlando City SC vs. Wilmington Hammerheads (Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.)
OKC Energy FC vs. Sacramento Republic FC (Thursday, 10:30 p.m.)
What did you think of Week 24? Who will fill the remaining three playoff spots? Which result stood out to you?
Share your thoughts below.