The USL has reached its Conference Final stage and the league is presenting us with a rematch in the Eastern Conference and a pair of newcomers in the West.
Here’s a look into these two single-elimination matches this weekend.
Louisville City vs. New York Red Bulls II (Friday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN+)
The defending USL champions Louisville City will once again square off with the New York Red Bulls II for all the Eastern marbles. It took penalties to separate the two sides a year ago at Louisville Slugger Field and this year’s edition should be just as close.
Louisville has got this far by dispatching Indy Eleven in the first round and the Bethlehem Steel in the Conference Semifinals. They are led by Cameron Lancaster, who had a whopping 26 goals in 32 games, including a pair of playoff appearances. Leading the way in the postseason has been Niall McCabe and Brian Ownby, who each have a pair of goals in the playoffs.
As for the Red Bulls, they are no strangers to this stage of the playoffs. It’s their third straight appearance in the Conference Finals, which they won on their way to lifting the USL Cup in 2016. Their goals scoring has been fairly balanced this year, with Amando Moreno leading the way with 11 regular season goals. No player has more than one in their two playoff games. They have a pair of road wins in the playoffs so far, beating the Charleston Battery in the first round and a heavily favored FC Cincinnati on the road in the second.
Orange County SC vs. Phoenix Rising (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., ESPN+)
Neither of these sides have ever made it this far in the USL Playoffs, so experience shouldn’t be a huge factor as one of these sides looks to challenge the Eastern Conference winners for the title.
Orange County won the Western Conference’s regular season title before hammering Saint Louis FC 4-0 in the first round of the playoffs and squeaking by Reno 1868 1-0 a week later. Michael Seaton has had a big playoffs, scoring three of their five goals in two games. He also had 15 in the regular season, second on the team behind Thomas Enevoldsen, who had 20.
Phoenix had never even won a playoff game in their brief history before scoring a 3-0 win over the Portland Timbers 2 in the first round. They followed that up with a 4-2 win over the Swope Park Rangers in the second and now Didier Drogba and company have a chance to knock off the number one seed in the conference. The player-owner and former Chelsea legend only scored four times in eight regular season appearances for Phoenix, but he’s played in both playoff games and has two goals in the playoffs so far.