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2016 USL Playoffs Preview: Eastern Conference

The 2016 USL Playoffs start this weekend. Yay! The always-informed Kevin Kernen is here to fill you in on things:

Eastern Conference Round 1:

FC Cincinnati vs Charleston Battery

Sunday October 2nd, 4pm Nippert Stadium

Cincy come into this playoff fixture having secured the 3rd seed in the East behind a 16-6-8 record, a conference 3rd best defense and the USL golden boot winner in Sean Okoli. Charleston are owners of a 13-8-9 record, winning one and drawing one against FCC in their two meetings this season.

The Battery will look to keep Okoli and the potent FCC attack at bay in this one. They’ve got the personnel to do it with Panathinaikos FC product Alex Tamkabis in goal and a strong centerback duo in Taylor Mueller and Shawn Ferguson. The Battery spread goal production around a fair bit, with 6 players getting multiple goals this year, along with 7 players getting multiple assists. FCC have scored 41 goals on the year, with an impressive 30 of them being assisted.

Players to Watch:

Okoli is a threat to make a run behind the back line, or stand up with his back to goal and distribute to other dangerous players like seasoned veteran Omar Cummings and Andrew Wiedeman.

Maikel Chang is a game changer for the Battery. The first year Charleston midfielder has an eye for goal as well as distributing to another dynamic player up top in Romario Williams.

Rochester Rhinos vs Charlotte Independence

Saturday, October 1st, 6pm Sahlen’s Stadium

Rochester grabbed the last home playoff spot courtesy of a 13-5-12 record. With twelve (TWELVE) draws, Rochester are holders of the most draws in the Conference. They only allowed 25 goals on the season, second best in the Conference behind only NYRBII. The Rhinos’ calling card is their staunch defense, conceding multiple goals just 5 times this season. They haven’t lost for 9 games heading into the playoffs, dating back to a 1-0 loss to the Kickers on August 3rd.

Charlotte come into the playoffs off of a heartbreaking draw to LouCity that saw home field advantage slip through their fingers. They have 5 players with 6 goals or more on the season, and all of them started 20 or more games.

Players to Watch:

Enzo Martinez and Brian Brown both have 9 goals and 5 assists on the year- they play well off of each other in a 9/10 role that will look to give the strong Rhino’s defense fits.

Steevan dos Santos is the keystone of the sometimes underwhelming Rhinos offense with 8 goals and 5 assists on the year. The strong defense means goal minder Thomas Gomez leads the league in goals allowed average at an impressive 0.69 a game.

New York Red Bulls II v Orlando City B

Sunday, October 2nd, 4pm, Red Bull Arena

OCB limped into the playoffs on a 2-7-1 record in the last 10, waiting till the last matchday to clinch a spot in the playoffs. They managed just a 7:20 goal differential in that span, dropping decisions to Pittsburgh, Wilmington and Charlotte by a 4 goal margin. New York, on the other hand, locked up the top spot with 4 games to spare, and have only lost 3 games in the entire USL campaign. They have a USL low 21 goals against and have netted a Conference high 61 goals, thanks in part to Brandon Allen’s 15 goal mark. Ryan Meara has a 0.79 goal against average, helped in part by one of the bigger and stronger  back lines in the League.

Players to Watch:

Michael Cox is the only real goalscoring threat for OCB, netting 11 goals on the year while there is no one else with more than 4.

Brandon Allen may lead the team in goals and points, but Derrick Etienne and Florian Valot have made the most of their minutes this year contributing 6 assists apiece.