All you need do currently to see how complicated the playoff race in USL League One has become is take a glance at the form guide in the League One standings right now, where the two hottest teams in the league reside below the playoff line and the fight for a place the top four remains as tight as when we entered this past weekend’s action. Here are five takeaways from what we saw.
RED WOLVES REV UP: The longer the nine-game undefeated streak Chattanooga Red Wolves SC put together across June and most of July ran, the more it was starting to threaten the club’s playoff chances. Four consecutive draws and a subsequent loss to Lansing Ignite FC brought the streak to an end on July 31 and moved Chattanooga below the playoff line astrailing sides that might have had losses on their recent resumes were also racking up wins. After the past two weeks, however, it seems the Red Wolves have learned the lesson that wins are the thing that will carry them into the postseason, with Saturday’s 2-1 victory against South Georgia Tormenta FC a major result in the big picture. At other points this season, Chattanooga might have settled for a draw on the road, especially given the pressure Tormenta FC applied throughout the second half, but when the chance to find a winner arrived, Josue Soto was clinical with a finish that put the Red Wolves into the driver’s seat for a playoff place.
POSITIVES IN DEFEAT: South Georgia now sits fourth in the standings after a frustrating night in front of its home fans that saw the side produce enough chances to take something from the contest, only for Red Wolves goalkeeper Alex Mangels to keep them to a lone goal byLucas Coutinho. That makes it one win in seven games since the start of July for Tormenta FC, a run that the side needs to turn around quickly. If there was a silver lining for Head Coach John Miglarese, it was that offensively the side equaled its highest total of Chances Created during its current downturn in form with 12 – a far cry from the lone chance it created against Greenville Triumph SC the previous weekend. If the creators can keep getting the side in position, the goals should start arriving in time to ensure a postseason berth is secured.
ALIVE AND KICKING: In the time I’ve been writing about playoff races, a good rule of thumb for whether a club is in or out of the playoff race has been whether the number of points it sits outside the playoff positions is greater or fewer than the number of games it has remaining. Thanks to their 1-0 victory against Forward Madison FC on Saturday night – which stands as a third consecutive victory overall – the Richmond Kickers are now narrowly in the category of playoff hopeful when it comes to this rule with 10 games remaining to bridge a nine-point gap. It’s still awfully long odds for the Kickers to actually make the four-team field – sportsclubstats.com rates it a 4.4 percent chance – but with an eminently winnable game against backsliding Toronto FC II up next on Saturday night, those odds have a chance of increasing once again, leaving Richmond with a glimmer of hope all is not lost.
GETTING THEIR DUE: The other team currently sporting a three-game winning streak almost found itself above the playoff line at the end of this weekend. Greenville Triumph SC would have if not for Chattanooga Red Wolves SC’s late winner against South Georgia Tormenta FC, in fact, but after its 3-1 victory on the road against Toronto FC II on Friday evening there must be renewed hope among Head Coach John Harkes’ squad that a playoff place is there for the taking. With its shot conversion rate now finally in the double-digits at 10 percent, the attacking endeavor the side has shown is starting to pay off. Combine that with the best defense in the league and you’ve got a combination that may be difficult to withstand for its postseason rivals.
FINE LINE FOR FLAMINGOS: The expectation going into Saturday night was Forward Madison FC would take care of business at home against the Richmond Kickers. The fact the Flamingos did not – and in doing so failed to register a shot on target out of the 11 they took over the 90 minutes – ramped up the pressure on the side to put in another run of wins quickly to stay in touch with the top four. Madison is more than up to that task going off its form prior to the contest with the Kickers and will be focused on bouncing back when it visits Greenville Triumph SC Saturday night. Another defeat there, however, and it’s going to be long way back to the top four if results fail to fall their way elsewhere.