The final whistle of the 2016 USL regular season has blown, which means the table is set and the playoffs will soon begin. In anticipation of the exciting race to crown the 2016 USL Champion, we're taking a brief look at some of the advantages and disadvantages that each Eastern Conference playoff team brings to the party.
(Western Conference can be found here)
New York Red Bulls II
Lucky: 69. New York Red Bulls II set a new USL record for points earned in a single season. In addition to points earned, they also set records for the most goals scored (61) and most wins in a season (21). The route to the title goes through Red Bull Arena, unless it is the final.
Unlucky: 3. Since 2012, three #1 seeds have lost their opening match of the playoffs. In fact, last year’s Rochester Rhinos are only the second #1 seed to have won the USL championship - the early Orlando City SC of 2011 that won the title from the top spot of the American Division were the first.
Lucky: 4. It only takes four wins to claim the USL crown, and Louisville City has got hot at just the right time, having won four of their last five matches.
Unlucky: 3. All season, Louisville City won only three matches after their opponent scored multiple goals. Louisville will have to showcase its defensive abilities throughout the postseason to have a shot at the title.
Lucky: 2014. In 2014, Sacramento Republic set the bar for how first year clubs should perform by winning the USL PRO championship in their first season. FC Cincinnati, who have matched Republic’s off-field success with record-setting crowds at Nippert Stadium, will be looking to add to their name to the list of first year champions.
Unlucky: 1.13. FC Cincinnati are the odd team out among the top four, as they have the second fewest points per game against other playoff clubs (Orlando City B has the fewest at 1.06). In fact, FCC only posted one win versus another top-four club over the course of the regular season.
Lucky: 9. The Rhinos closed out the regular season on a nine-match unbeaten streak that included five games against playoff clubs. Rochester have been one of the East’s most consistent second half clubs, losing only one match in the season’s second stanza.
Unlucky: 18. Number of matches in the regular season that Rochester either failed to score, or only scored one goal. An offensive prowess will have to be present for the Rhinos in the playoffs to help take some of the pressure off their brick wall defense.
Lucky: 18. Team-leading goalscorers Enzo Martinez and Brian Brown account for over a third of Charlotte’s 48 goals this season. Having such a significant scoring threat from two players will make the Independence dangerous for any opponent. Charlotte can also rely on Jorge Herrera and David Estrada, who each had at least five goals during the regular season. Another player with five, Caleb Calvert, is back with home club Colorado Rapids.
Unlucky: 1. Just barely missing out on a chance to host a first-round match, Charlotte travel to Rochester for their first postseason bout in club history. Against playoff clubs, the Independence only had only one victory away from Ramblewood during the regular season, which came against New York Red Bulls II back in May. In order to make a deep run in the playoffs, form on the road must improve.
Lucky: 21. This season marks the Battery’s 21st trip to the postseason since the club was founded in 1993. Playoff appearances have become almost a tradition for the South Carolina club.
Unlucky: 2. The Battery only won two matches by multiple goals over the course of the regular season. If their upcoming matches are kept close until the final whistle, Charleston will always be at risk of the outcome changing in an instant.
Lucky: 1. Richmond have played well against the East’s top sides, as they only have one loss when facing a club from the top four. This success has led to the Kickers being one of two Eastern Conference clubs that New York Red Bulls II did not beat this season, the other being the Rochester Rhinos.
Unlucky: 5. You never want to drop points, but it is especially bad late in the season. Unfortunately for the Kickers, they did just that by finishing the regular season winless in their last five matches. With momentum such a decisive factor in the playoffs, Richmond will look to return to form in a trip to Louisville in the first round.
Orlando City B
Lucky: #8. Orlando City B should take notes from 2014’s Harrisburg City Islanders, the only #8 seed to reach the USL Final. The City Islanders began the playoffs by knocking off a record-breaking Orlando City side, and then defeated Richmond on the road. Anything can happen in the playoffs and OCB will be hoping for a little bit of 2014 HCI magic to come their way.
Unlucky: 3. In the second half of the season, the Baby Lions only posted three wins. Despite a win on the league’s final day that earned them a playoff spot, Orlando City B will need to find that winning mentality as they start off the playoffs traveling to face the league’s best team, New York Red Bulls II.
Are there any other pros and cons we are missing? Which club can overcome their disadvantages to reach the ultimate goal? Let us know in the comments below!