Another USL Regular season is in the books and we are on to the postseason once again. With familiar faces and first time qualifiers, the playoffs will be a minefield for even the most battle-tested sides. Today we will break down the teams in the first round, one key player to pay attention to from each team, and we will offer the approximate odds of each team advancing per our Elo ratings which we have maintained all season to go along with our own predictions.
#8 Sacramento Republic at #1 Real Monarchs SLC
Real Monarchs SLC 2 – 0 Sacramento Republic (May 13th)
Sacramento Republic 0 – 2 Real Monarchs SLC (September 27th)
#1 Real Monarchs
Elo Rating/Rank: 1173 – 1st
Goal Difference (overall): +28
Home Record: 12-1-3
Goal Difference (home): +23
Record Against Playoff Teams: 8-4-4
Clean Sheets: 11
Player to Watch: Chandler Hoffman – The ex-Louisville City player has found a home in Salt Lake as he led the team in scoring (16) and was second in assists (7). Hoffman either scored or assisted on nearly 40% of all of the Monarchs goals in 2017. His ability to score and to distribute the ball in the attack should help propel the Monarchs into a deep playoff run.
#8 Sacramento Republic
Elo Rating/Rank: 1099 - 8th
Goal Difference (overall): +2
Road Record: 5-8-3
Goal Difference (away): -7
Record Against Playoff Teams: 3-9-3
Clean Sheets: 7
Player to Watch: James Kiffe – Kiffe led Sacramento in interceptions, assists and chances created as he played in every match in the 2017 season. If Sacramento is to pull off an upset, he will need to be a key part of the attach and the defense.
Elo Prediction: Real Monarchs advances 67% of the time
Our Prediction: After dropping only one game at home all season, the Monarchs have proven that they are a tough team to beat at home, even if their late season form is not as strong as the side that saw them win 12 of their first 13 matches. Sacramento has been struggling on defense all season, and only logged three wins against playoff teams all season. There is no reason to expect either team to change their form. If Sacramento can keep it close, that should be a moral victory.
Real Monarchs SLC 3 – 0 Sacramento Republic
#5 Phoenix Rising at #4 Swope Park Rangers
Phoenix Rising 4 – Swope Park Rangers 3 (April 23rd)
Swope Park Rangers 2 – Phoenix Rising 2 (June 18th)
#4 Swope Park Rangers
Elo Rating/Rank: 1147 – 5th
Goal Difference (overall): +18
Home Record: 11-2-3
Goal Difference (home): +18
Record Against Playoff Teams: 6-6-4
Player to Watch: Nansel Selbol – In only 18 starts on the season, Selbol lead Swope Park in shots on target (26) and was second in total goals scored (9) including multiple USL Goal of the Week winners. If Selbol can capture that same magic in the playoffs, the Rangers will have a chance of recapturing the magic that saw them make the USL Cup finals from the 4th seed in 2016.
#5 Phoenix Rising
Elo Rating/Rank: 1148 – 4th
Goal Difference (overall): +13
Road Record: 6-5-5
Goal Difference (away): +2
Record Against Playoff Teams: 5-7-3
Player to Watch: Dider Drogba – Is it a cop-out to choose one of the best-known players of his generation? Sure it is, but he will still be important to Phoenix’s chances in this match. The veteran leadership that Drogba brings can be a lynchpin in a match against what will likely be an extremely young Swope Park side.
Elo Prediction: Swope Park advances 57% of the time
Our Prediction: In a game with Swope Park, so much will depend on what players are sent down on loan. If Kansas City decides to stack the Rangers, you can make an argument that they will return to the USL Championship match. By rule though, playoff loans will be limited to players with five or more regular season appearances. Phoenix has been on a tear after a slow start however, losing only one of their last fifteen matches. This will be a good match, and I will back the hot hand of Phoenix over a Swope Park team that is hard to beat at home.
Phoenix Rising 3 - 2 Swope Park Rangers
#3 Reno 1868 FC v #6 Oklahoma City Energy
Oklahoma City Energy 1 – 0 Reno 1868 FC (August 2nd)
Reno 1868 FC 3 – 0 Oklahoma City Energy (September 20th)
#3 Reno 1868 FC
Elo Rating/Rank: 1163 – 2nd
Goal Difference (overall): +36
Home Record: 9-2-5
Goal Difference (home): +28
Record Against Playoff Teams: 6-4-2
Clean Sheets: 10
Player to Watch: Chris Wehan – The (what should be) rookie of the year will be pivotal for Reno moving forward. Despite the dangerous attacking tandem of Dane Kelly and Antonie Hoppenot up front, the young midfielder has led the league with 12 assists and has contributed with eight goals of his own. For Reno to have success moving forward, Wehan will have to step up to keep the strong Reno attack working.
#6 Oklahoma City Energy
Elo Rating/Rank: 1127 – 6th
Goal Difference (overall): +5
Road Record: 3-9-4
Goal Difference (away): -9
Record Against Playoff Teams: 7-7-3
Clean Sheets: 9
Player to Watch: Jose Angulo – Angulo led Oklahoma City in goals (15) and assists (7). Against a Reno team that can seemingly score at will, the Energy will need to come together offensively to stand a chance and Angulo will be their best bet as a player who can score when needed, but also provide support to the other Oklahoma City players.
Elo Prediction: Reno 1868 FC advances 62% of the time
Our Prediction: While Oklahoma City has played well against the top teams in the West netting seven total wins, they have only been able to log three wins on the road all season and they carry a -9 goal differential. Reno is on fire at home as well, dropping only one of their last fifteen matches. When the sole victory for Oklahoma City against Reno came at home and up a man for nearly an entire hour, I cannot see the Energy replicating that type of success against a Reno squad that will be hungry to prove they deserve more than the third seed.
Reno 1868 FC 3 – 0 Oklahoma City Energy
#2 San Antonio FC v #6 Tulsa Roughnecks
San Antonio FC 3 – 1 Tulsa Roughnecks
Tulsa Roughnecks 0 – 2 San Antonio FC
#2 San Antonio FC
Elo Rating/Rank: 1158 – 3rd
Goal Difference (overall): +21
Home Record: 8-1-7
Goal Difference (home): +14
Record Against Playoff Teams: 6-4-2
Clean Sheets: 15
Player to Watch: Diego Restrepo - A player who was snubbed for MVP and should easily be the keeper of the year in the USL, Restrepo came into the season as the backup and was promoted due to injury. With 12 clean sheets to his name in support of the best defense in the USL, a strong performance by one of the best players in the league could help propel San Antonio to a title.
#6 Tulsa Roughnecks
Elo Rating/Rank: 1105 – 7th
Goal Difference (overall): -3
Road Record: 4-8-4
Goal Difference (away): -11
Record Against Playoff Teams: 4-10-1
Clean Sheets: 10
Player to Watch: Juan Pablo Caffa – While he finished second on the team with nine goals, Caffa had more than twice as many assists on Tulsa than the next leading player. Caffa led the west with 70 created chances, and was second in the entire league. This ability to create chances of the rest of the Roughnecks will be critical if Tulsa has a chance of upsetting San Antonio.
Elo Prediction: San Antonio advances 61% of the time
Our Prediction: San Antonio proved to be one of the toughest teams to score on all season, and one of the hardest teams to beat at home. For a Tulsa side that enters the playoffs with a negative goal differential and only recorded four wins against playoff teams all season long, the task at hand will likely be too much out the gate. San Antonio should take a win, but given their scoring difficulties will be hard pressed to run away with the game.
San Antonio FC 2 – 0 Tulsa Roughnecks
With the first of the four USL West matches starting Friday, which teams can overcome a road match? Will any team turn a regular season sweep around in the playoffs? What games will need extra time or penalty kicks to decide an ultimate victor? Let us know in the comments below!