By AARON CRANFORD
Orlando City SC are USL Pro regular season champions, but playoff spots are still up for grabs in the league’s final weekend.
After their scoreless draw against the Wilmington Hammerheads on Wednesday, Orlando City won the regular season title and will raise the trophy after their Saturday evening match against the Richmond Kickers.
Five teams are still alive in the playoff race, but only three spots remain.
Two teams, the Hammerheads and the Harrisburg City Islanders, play twice this weekend. Both will have two opportunities to qualify, but the extra game could also hurt their chances.
Here is a look at the upcoming games this weekend:
Wilmington Hammerheads FC vs. Dayton Dutch Lions FC (Friday, 7 p.m.)
After their scoreless draw against Orlando City on Wednesday, the sixth-place Hammerheads will play their final two regular season games away from Legion Stadium this weekend.
They begin the weekend with an important game against the last-place Dayton Dutch Lions, who were embarrassed 7-0 by Orlando City on Sunday.
Three playoff spot remain open, and the Hammerheads only need one point from their last two games to qualify.
Harrisburg City Islanders vs. Charleston Battery (Friday, 7:30 p.m.)
While others lost, the Charleston Battery secured their spot in the playoffs on Saturday and will be hoping to stay in fifth place after the slew of weekend games.
The eighth-place Islanders also play twice this weekend away from home, and with a win in either game can secure one of the coveted playoff spots. The Islanders have not won a match since Aug. 9, and their last away win was on Aug. 2.
Harrisburg City Islanders vs. Charlotte Eagles (Saturday, 7 p.m.)
The Islanders’ second match will be against the desperate Eagles. The Eagles need a win to have a chance of qualifying for the USL Pro playoffs.
After their disappointing 1-1 draw against the Montreal Impact Reserves, the Eagles play a must-win match against an Islanders’ squad that will play two games within 24 hours.
Arizona United SC vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds (Saturday, 7 p.m.)
Pittsburgh has the best chance of sneaking into the playoffs this weekend, as they play 11th-place Arizona at home.
A win would not automatically guarantee the Riverhounds a playoff spot. The Harrisburg City Islanders, Wilmington Hammerheads FC, and Rochester Rhinos all control their own destiny, but only one needs to slip up to let the Riverhounds sneak into the playoffs.
Pittsburgh suffered a disappointing 4-0 blowout against the Charleston Battery on Saturday, but Arizona also lost 5-1 to the Seattle Sounders Reserves on Monday, so neither side seems to be in perfect form.
Richmond Kickers vs. Orlando City SC (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.)
The Lions are the regular season champions, but they still have one more opponent to play before lifting the trophy Saturday evening.
The third-place Kickers settled for an underwhelming 1-1 draw with LA Galaxy II on Monday.
These two sides met in the beginning of August, when Kevin Molino broke the record for most goals scored in a USL Pro regular season to help the Lions beat the Kickers, 3-2.
Richmond will want to remain in third place, as LA Galaxy II still has a possibility of jumping them.
OKC Energy FC vs. Orange County Blues FC (Saturday, 10 p.m.)
Thursday night’s 1-0 loss to Sacramento Republic FC officially eliminated the Energy from playoff contention.
The Energy had a chance to climb the cluttered table with a win on Thursday night, but now will simply want to end the year on a good note.
The Blues played well last Saturday and drew with third-place Richmond Kickers, so they will hope to play a similar game in front of their home crowd.
LA Galaxy II vs. Sacramento Republic FC (Saturday, 11 p.m.)
In order for Los Dos to claim third place in the table, they need to win Saturday night.
The second-place Republic haven’t lost since July 12 and are cruising into the playoffs. LA II have not lost since Aug. 2, so one of these two sides may have their unbeaten streak snapped before playoffs begin.
With their win against the Energy on Thursday, the Republic officially clinched second place, and they did so in front of a sellout crowd. The match against LA II is already sold out, so expect a raucous crowd for this match between two top USL Pro teams.
Wilmington Hammerheads FC vs. Rochester Rhinos (Sunday, 4:05 p.m.)
The game of the weekend will feature two sides battling for the final playoff spots.
This match will be the Hammerheads second of the weekend, giving them two opportunities to clinch a spot. The Rhinos will likely treat this match as a must-win game because both the ninth-place Pittsburgh Riverhounds and the eighth-place Harrisburg City Islanders can jump the Rhinos by winning this weekend.
Rochester won, 4-1, against the Islanders on Saturday, but the Hammerheads won the last match between these two sides, 1-0, in July. The Rhinos’ top goalscorer, Jimmy Banks, has scored in their previous two matches, and will want to earn his 10th goal of the regular season on Sunday.
EAGLES DISAPPOINT WITH DRAW
The Charlotte Eagles needed all three points Monday, but settled for the 1-1 draw against the Montreal Impact Reserves.
In the fifth minute, Impact defender Maxim Tissot slotted the ball past goalkeeper Alec Kann for the opening goal, but the Eagles responded quickly with a goal by Jorge Herrera in the 10th minute. Herrera pounced on a saved shot to level the score, but neither side was able to find a goal for the remaining 80 minutes.
With only a must-win game left to play, the Eagles will also need the Harrisburg City Islanders to lose both of their matches this weekend and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds to lose or possibly draw in their last regular season game in order to claim eighth place in the standings.
KICKERS DRAW WITH LOS DOS AFTER HOFFMAN PENALTY
The Kickers responded to Chandler Hoffman’s penalty kick goal in the second half to level the score 1-1, and it would remain that way.
Los Dos’ Jason Bli was taken down in the penalty box, and Hoffman stepped up for the kick. Ryan Taylor dove to his left, but was unable to reach Hoffman’s shot.
In the 68th minute, William Yomby connected with Shay Spitz’ corner kick. Yomby’s powerful header left Brian Perk no opportunity to save the shot.
ORLANDO CLAIM REGULAR SEASON TITLE
The Lions and the Wilmington Hammerheads FC played to a listless 0-0 draw on Wednesday, but the score was enough for Orlando City to win the USL Pro regular season title.
With the draw, the Hammerheads also moved up the table and are sitting in a more comfortable position than teams below them. They will have two games to reach the playoffs this weekend.
SACRAMENTO REPUBLIC CLAIM SECOND PLACE
First and now second place have been claimed.
The 1-0 victory against OKC Energy FC on Thursday night guarantees Republic’s second-placed finish in the USL Pro this year.
The Republic’s Max Alvarez seemed to finish a deflected shot and give the Republic the lead in the 49th minute, but the referee blew his whistle for a handball in the box. Rodrigo Lopez coolly slotted it by the goalkeeper, and Sacramento held on to the lead for the reminder of the match.
Which matches are you most anticipating? Think anyone sneaks into the playoffs? Who looks most likely to drop out?
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