By AARON CRANFORD
With the USL Pro playoffs set to kickoff, Orlando City begin their quest for their sixth USL Pro trophy in four years.
The Lions lifted their third USL Pro Commissioner’s Cup trophy after their 1-0 win against the Richmond Kickers on Saturday night, but they will hope their record-breaking year continues into the postseason.
Kevin Molino set the USL Pro regular season scoring record with 20 goals this year, and the Lions, who will move to MLS next season, set a USL Pro regular season record with 19 wins. The Lions will now look to continue with a USL Pro Championship Series victory. A win would give the team its sixth trophy in its four-year existence, which would be the most by any team.
Here is a look at the playoff games this weekend:
(4) Richmond Kickers vs. (5) Charleston Battery (Saturday, 7 p.m.)
The Kickers have the head-to-head advantage this year, but since these two sides drew in July the Battery have produced a 7-1-2 record, making them one of the hottest teams heading into the playoffs.
Meanwhile, since that same meeting, the Kickers have only produced a 3-2-3 record, with no wins in their last five matches. However, the Kickers’ recent record could be a bit misleading, as two of those losses were against 2014 regular-season champion Orlando City.
The Kickers will hope forward Matthew Delicate and midfielder George Davis continue to improve on their fine form this season, while the Battery will lean on leading-scorer Dane Kelly in an effort to edge past the Kickers.
(1) Orlando City SC vs. (8) Harrisburg City Islanders (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.)
If the Lions are to leave the USL Pro with their silverware case full, they will be likely need more goals to come from league-leading scorer Kevin Molino, who set a USL Pro regular season record this year with 20 goals.
Meanwhile, the Harrisburg City Islanders clinched the last spot in the playoffs, and may be one of few teams that actually feels comfortable facing the league’s top side. The Islanders won their first match against the Lions this season, but the following week the Lions extracted their revenge at home and won 3-1 in convincing fashion.
The Islanders have had no true standout player this year, as three players – James McLaughlin, Morgan Langley and Robbie Derschang – led the team with six goals each. It will take their collective effort to beat a Lions’ side that has not lost a single match within the friendly confines of the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex this season.
(2) Sacramento Republic FC vs.(7) Wilmington Hammerheads (Saturday, 10:30 p.m.)
One is a USL Pro original. The other is playing in their first USL Pro playoff match.
The Republic will play their first playoff match as a USL Pro team at Bonney Field, where the Republic have outscored opponents 21-8. The Hammerheads are goalless in both matches against the Republic this year, including a 2-0 defeat at Bonney Field on Aug. 20.
The Hammerheads’ Samuel Ochoa was the team’s top performer in the regular season, tallying six goals and five assists. Ochoa and co. will face a tough task against Republic stars Rodrigo Lopez Alvarez and Thomas Stewart, as Lopez Alvarez contributed 10 goals and eight assists, while Stewart led the team with 11 goals.
(3) LA Galaxy II vs. (6) Rochester Rhinos (Saturday, 10:30 p.m.)
The LA Galaxy II are another side making their first appearance in the USL Pro playoffs, as Los Dos’ first USL Pro season has been nothing short of a success thus far.
The Rhinos won the only match between the two teams this season, beating the Galaxy 2-1 in early June. However, LA II was able to sneak into third place late in the season with the help of Jack McBean, who was named USL Pro Player of the Week the season’s final week.
The Rhinos’ Jimmy Banks leads his side with nine goals, as the Rhinos look continue a two-game unbeaten streak that has seen the team knock off two fellow playoff teams, the Wilmington Hammerheads and the Harrisburg City Islanders.
Which match are you most anticipating? Which teams do you think will advance to the next round?
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