The 2016 USL Playoffs start this weekend. Yay! The always-informed Kevin Kernen is here to fill you in on things:
Western Conference Round 1:
Sacramento Republic FC vs. Orange County Blues FC
Saturday, October 1st @ Bonney Field
It took until the last match of the season for SRFC to lock up the top overall seed in the West. They’ve tallied 12 clean sheets on the season and have allowed less than a goal per game. The most important thing for the Republic is that they find the back of the net. Time and time again they get 8,10,12 shots but only a handful on goal. Their defense ranges from good to stellar, they’ve kept clean sheets against Vancouver and ground out a couple of 1-1 draws against LA Galaxy II in the closing stages of the season.
Orange County, on the other hand, barely snuck into the show after they earned a very impressive 4-0 win against Colorado Springs on the final day of the season. They only earned a berth on goal differential, bettering Timbers 2 by a narrow 2 goal margin. If they want hope of beating a championship favorite in SRFC, they will need to keep a clean sheet, of which they have 9 on the year. Whoever scores first here will probably win.
Players to watch:
Brandon Miller will probably start in goal for OCBFC; he led the staunch Rochester Rhinos to the USL title last season. Blues Midfielder and Swiss National Didier Crettenand is game changing player that has an impressive 9 goal tally in just 23 appearances on the year and has 2 more assists to boot.
Sacramento Forward Cameron Iwasa has featured in every match this season, and leads the team in 12 goals on the year, with an impressive 30 shots on goal. Daniel Berrera has an impressive 9 assists on the year, and he too has 30 appearances on the campaign.
Swope Park Rangers vs LA Galaxy II
Friday, September 30th @ Swope Soccer Village
Swope Park comes into this fixture having won 6 of their last 7, including a 2-1 win over their first round opponents: LAGII. Swope Park’s biggest weakness is that they struggle to keep opponents off the board. That being said, they do excel in scoring, they have 4 players with 5 or more goals on the season. They have a bit of a carousel in goal, having 5 different players lining up in between the posts, indicative of their niggling problem of keeping teams from scoring.
LA have a slightly bigger problem in defense, having allowed the second most goals of teams in the Western conference playoffs, 1.40 per game. Not exactly championship caliber. That being said, they made it to the USL Championship last year from the 5th seed. Their form has fallen off a bit after leading the West most of the way through the first half of the season, although to their credit they do lead the conference in goals scored at an impressive 53 on the year.
Players to watch:
Jack McBean was Golden Boot runner up for LAGII with 15 goals on the year, coming in an impressive 17 appearances. You won’t see him, though, as he’s on loan to Coventry City in the English Football League. Ariel Lassiter provided a serviceable substitute for “Captain Jack” with 9 goals on the year to boot. Clement Diop leads the 4 man rotation in Goalkeepers for LAGII, with a 1.18 GAA. If LA’s offense shows up, it shouldn’t have too tough of a time breaking through SPR’s defense and dealing with the Goalkeeper, whoever they wheel out. They’ve managed just a .692 save percentage and 1.20 goals against average.
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Friday, September 30th @ Switchbacks Stadium
Colorado Springs come into this game getting only a 6-5-4 from the last 15 games, although they have posted an impressive 13 clean sheets on the year, only shipping 27 goals on the year, second lowest in the conference. With such a low goals against record, they can afford to have a slightly sluggish offense, which they have- just scoring 37 times in the regular season. They have a slightly concerning disciplinary record as well, with 53 yellow cards on the season and 6 reds.
Vancouver themselves have allowed an alarming amount of goals on the season, 44 which happens to be equal to the amount that they scored on the year. They have 6 different players scoring 4 or more goals on the year, including 20 year old homegrown player Marco Bustos who has 7 goals on the campaign.
What to watch for:
Vancouver’s great offense against Colorado Springs’ staunch defense.
Rio Grande Valley Toros FC vs. OKC Energy FC
Saturday, October 1st @ Toro Stadium
RGV earned a second seed on their first year via a 14-7-9 record, and come into this fixture looking good, winning 7 of their last 9 and posting a 21:3 goals for/against mark. Their team is marked by spreading the ball around, and getting scoring from several different players, with 10 different players getting multiple goals on the year. They’ve scored the second most goals on the year in the West and have allowed the fewest, 24 in all. This impressive goals-against mark is thanks in large part to UK product Callum posting a League best 0.65 GAA in his 14 appearances in goal for the Toros.
OKC come into this one having won just two games in their last 13. They’ve allowed 14 in their last 6 to boot, they have a glaring lack of offensive firepower, bagging just 32 in the regular season. Their defense has yielded them 13 clean sheets on the year, an impressive mark.
What to watch for:
If the RGV offense doesn’t get on the board early, look for a gritty back and forth match that may go into overtime.