After a first round that produced more than a fair share of surprises, eight USL survivors move into the conference semifinals.
Four lower-seeded teams prevailed, including No. 6
Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2, No. 7 OKC Energy, and No. 8 Orange County Blues FC in the Western Conference. Crashing out was regular-season conference champ Sacramento Republic FC, runner-up Rio Grande
Valley FC, and third place Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC. Also eliminated was 2015 championship-game finalist Los Angeles Galaxy II, which labored to a fifth-place finish and was blanked by Swope
Park Rangers, 3-0.
The Eastern bracket started more formfully, though a league-record crowd of 30,187 at Nippert Stadium witnessed a stunning triumph by the lesser regarded yet more
experienced Charleston Battery in the playoff debut of FC Cincinnati.
The winners advance to the conference finals next weekend, with the winners of those games set to square off Oct. 23
(at a venue to be decided) in the championship game.
As of Thursday night, no changes to the USL playoff schedule had been caused by the landfall of Hurricane Matthew into Haiti, Cuba and
eastern Florida. USL Conference Semifinals Eastern Conference Friday No. 1 NY Red Bulls II vs. No. 4
Rochester, 7 p.m. ET.
The regular-season champions took care of business in their playoff opener by beating Orlando City B, 4-0. Aaron Long
tallied twice as NYRB II dominated to
the tune of 20-6 in shots. The Rhinos weren’t greatly troubled, either; goals by Wal Fall
and Steven Fortes dos Santos
in the first 23 minutes
set them on their way
to a 3-1 victory.
In three regular-season meetings neither team could prevail. They played a pair of 0-0 ties at Red Bull Arena in the first half of the season, and a month ago battled to
1-1 finish in Rochester. One-half of NYRB II’s six ties came against Rochester and on only one other occasion (May 1 at Charlotte) did it fail to score a goal. Thus the Rhinos have a real chance
to keep the run of upsets going. And they are the defending USL champions.
If Red Bulls II has a bogey team, Rochester is it. In addition to the three deadlocks this season, in the 2015
conference semis the Rhinos eliminated RB II, 2-0, at Rhinos Stadium. One more parallel: both teams are in good form. The Rhinos haven't lost in their last 10 games, RBII is undefeated in its last 11.
Yet the only game it hasn't won in that span is the 1-1 tie at Rochester. Saturday No. 2 Louisville City vs. No. 6 Charleston, 7:30
The other Eastern semi is also a 2015 playoff rematch; Louisville City won the 2015 semifinal, 2-0, in extra time. LCFC also needed extra time last week in its quarterfinal to beat
Richmond Kickers, 2-0, with goals by George Davis II
and Chandler Hoffman
. The Battery steeled its nerves in a raucous setting against FC Cincinnati and snagged a dramatic victory on a
late own goal.
LCFC's quarterfinal win extended its undefeated streak to six games and ended a 10-game scoring drought for Hoffman, whose 14 goals topped the squad during the regular
In their head-to-head games this year, Louisville came out on top with a 2-0 win at Charleston in late May -- Kyle Smith
notched a goal and an assist -- and a 1-1 tie
played at Slugger Field on July 9. Charleston will be missing defender Quinton Griffith
for the semifinal; he's playing for Antigua & Barbuda in the Caribbean Cup qualifiers.
Charleston head coach Mike Anhaeuser
says his team won’t drop deep this time around.
“You can’t sit back on Louisville because they’re too
good with the way they pass the ball through the middle with [Aodhan] Quinn
and then get the ball to their outside backs, and of course with Hoffman in the middle it’s the same way it was
last year,” said Anhaeuser. “They’re crossing the balls in, and if you don’t get pressure on those crosses, they’ve got guys coming in that seem to be putting it
in.” Western Conference Saturday No. 6 Whitecaps FC2 vs. No. 7 OKC Energy, 3 p.m.
Both of these
underdogs can take pride in their quarterfinal victories, both of which required comebacks. WFC2 knocked off a more experienced Colorado Springs team, 2-1, and OKC Energy scored twice in stoppage time
to stun a Rio Grande Valley FC team, 3-2, that had amassed a plus 23 goal difference during the regular season.
WFC2 started three teenagers last week and 15-year-old sensation
is available, as are Brett Levis
and Cole Seiler
. Making his comeback from injury last week was Will Seymore
, who appeared in 25 of their first 27
matches. Not available is Marco Bustos
, scorer of both goals in a 2-1 Whitecaps defeat of OKC in the regular season finale two weeks ago. Bustos is one of four Whitecaps summoned by Canada for
friendlies during the FIFA international window.
Coached by former Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen
, OKC hung tough at Toros Stadium until on-loan striker (from FC
Dallas) Colin Bonner
came off the bench. Shortly after his entry in the
68th minute, Eric Bird
scored to restore the Toros’ one-goal lead but Bonner banged in two goals
after the 90th minute.
OKC goalkeeper Cody Laurendi
has declined his first national team call-up by Puerto Rico to play in the semifinal. He posted 12 shutouts and a 0.92
goals-allowed average during the regular season. Sunday No. 4 Swope Park Rangers vs. No. 8 Orange County, 4 p.m.
Park extended the tenure of head coach Marc dos Santos
for at least one more week by beating Galaxy II, 3-0, after more than an hour of goalless play. Kris Tyrpak
’s goal in the
76th minute and two added-time goals by substitute Mark Gonzalez
assured Dos Santos of at least one more game before he takes up as head coach of NASL expansion team San Francisco Deltas.
The Blues’ only match with Rangers this season produced a 3-0 away defeat in late July but they are riding the momentum of two huge victories. A 4-0 thumping of Colorado Springs in the
last regular-season match ended a five-game losing streak and edged them into the playoffs on the third tiebreaker, goals scored; and a shootout dismissal of Sacramento earned by a Josh Cohen
save and five kicks without a miss.
Defeating Sacramento also ended a run of playoff failures. All previous postseason appearances had ended in losses: Harrisburg City Islanders in 2011,
Charleston Battery in 2015, and LA Galaxy II last year.