USL Playoff Preview: Cincinnati on the hunt for a first playoff win, Lancaster looks to lead Louisville, and more

USL Playoff Preview: Cincinnati on the hunt for a first playoff win, Lancaster looks to lead Louisville, and more

USL

USL Playoff Preview: Cincinnati on the hunt for a first playoff win, Lancaster looks to lead Louisville, and more

All sixteen slots are filled for the 2018 USL playoff. Many teams looking for their first-ever playoff win, while some are hoping to keep stride.

Eastern Conference regular season champions, FC Cincinnati are looking to not fall victim to the MLS curse that has taken down Orlando City, Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, and the Vancouver Whitecaps. Louisville is aiming to play spoiler and be the first USL team to successfully defend their title. Sacramento looks keen to return the USL Championship to the west coast for the first time since 2014.

Here’s a closer look at the weekend’s marquee playoff matchups, and a rundown of all of the USL Round of 16 matches.

FC Cincinnati vs. Nashville SC

These two teams have met four times in 2018 with no match ending with a winner. Most recently they met in the last weekend of the season in a 3-3 draw in Nashville.

In this fifth matchup between them, FCC is hoping to make up for past failures in the USL Playoffs, having been knocked out in the first round for the last two seasons. The home side comes into playoffs on the USL’s longest unbeaten streak with 23 games with their last loss coming five months ago.

Nashville enters its first playoffs in its inaugural season as a club doing just enough to secure a playoff spot on the final day. A win for Nashville would come as a massive upset to the dominant Cincinnati side.

Louisville City FC vs. Indy Eleven

Louisville City is another top contender and the team has shown great resilience with several coaching changes after losing James O’Connor to Orlando City. To hope for a good run in the playoffs the team will need to continue to support Cameron Lancaster, the USL goal scoring record holder.

Indy Eleven is in a similar situation to Nashville as they have made the playoffs in their first USL season and just made it on their last day of the season. Indy has had an impressive season but at the end of its run only had one win in its final six matches, including a loss to Louisville on the final day.

Phoenix Rising FC v Portland Timbers 2

Portland travels to Phoenix for the first game in the 2018 USL playoffs with both sides are on the hunt for their first postseason victories. Didier Drogba’s Phoenix played a successful season while only seeing the prolific Ivorian striker make eight appearances. The teams strike force was led by Chris Cortez, whose 17 goals was a team record for the regular season.

Portland roll into its first postseason appearance off the back of a road win against Phoenix on the last weekend of the season. The MLS reserve side just needed a late goal from Augustine Williams to see off its eventual playoff opponents.

Sacramento Republic FC vs. Swope Park Rangers

Sacramento rounded out their season in fine form, winning seven of their final eight matches. Sacramento native, Cameron Iwasa led the team in both goals and assists all season and the hosts will be hoping he can continue his form against defending Western Conference champs, Swope Park.

The Rangers have had an attack-first mindset all season, led by Hadji Barry at 17 goals, tied for fourth in the league. Barry set a USL record for scoring in eight consecutive matches. SPR is also the only playoff team to have a negative goal differential, even after scoring five goals against LA Galaxy II on the final day of the season.

USL Playoff Schedule

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Saturday

FC Cincinnati vs. Nashville SC, 4 p.m. ET, Nippert Stadium
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC vs. Bethlehem Steel FC, 7 p.m. ET, Highmark Stadium
Charleston Battery vs. New York Red Bulls II, 7 p.m. ET, MUSC Health Stadium
Louisville City FC vs. Indy Eleven, 7:30 p.m. ET, Slugger Field

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Friday

Phoenix Rising FC vs. Portland Timbers 2, 10:30 p.m. ET, Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex

Saturday

Real Monarchs SLC vs. Reno 1868 FC, 5 p.m. ET, Zions Bank Stadium
Orange County SC vs. Saint Louis FC, 10 p.m. ET, Champions Soccer Stadium
Sacramento Republic FC vs. Swope Park Rangers, 10:30 p.m. ET, Papa Murphy’s Park

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