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The USL Kickabout: September 19, 2016

Welcome to your United Soccer League Matchday 26 roundup! It was a slightly underwhelming mid-week slate of games, but things started to get tasty once the weekend arrived. The playoff positions in the East are all but locked down. A few spots could be moved around by the time things are all said and done next week. The West by contrast is still wide open. The top 7 spots are locked in, but 5 teams could still technically make the last spot.  

Pittsburgh Riverhounds 0, FC Cincinnati 0

It was a fairly nondescript performance from these 2 sides last Thursday from the Steel City. FCC just needed a draw to lock down the third seed in the conference, and that’s what they came up with. The match itself featured just 5 shots on goal in total, 3 for the visiting Cincy outfit, 2 for the second-bottom ‘Hounds. Columbus Crew loanee and youth USMNT starlet Zach Steffen posted his second clean sheet in the last three for the floundering Pittsburgh squad. Steffen owns a .737 save percentage in his 7 games played. FCC will most likely face Charleston or Richmond in the playoffs if they beat Wilmington by more than 3.

Richmond Kickers 0, Charlotte Independence 0

It was another cagey and frankly boring performance from these two Eastern Conference teams last Wednesday. There was just a single shot on goal registered by each team. The stalemate sees Richmond forced to travel for their playoff opener, which will most likely be against Louisville City unless the Kickers beat Wilmington by more than 3 next Saturday at home. The Hammerheads are in dire need of a win themselves as they’re a point behind Orlando City B for the final spot in the East. Charlotte are a point ahead of Charleston for the last home playoff spot, and they play Lou City for their final match. Charleston visits NYRBII for their final match of the season, a team they have actually beaten this season.

Charleston Battery 2, Richmond Kickers 1

Charleston and Richmond played out an important tie last Saturday. It was a match that went a ways to deciding who plays who where when the playoffs start in 2 weeks’ time. Kickers’ leading goalscorer Yudai Imura tallied the opener in the 34th minute when a Shawn Ferguson handball inside the box gave the home team a spot kick, which the Japanese national converted. The goal was one of his 4 shots on the day and part and parcel to the Kickers’ 21 shots in this match.

Despite having so many shots and possessing the ball for a long while in the middle and attacking thirds, it was not enough to keep the Battery at bay. Round about the hour mark the Battery looked to find another gear and started pushing further and further up the field. In the 71st minute a scramble in the box found Romario Williams with both the ball and a narrow angle to finish from just outside the 6 yard box. He converted, finally shifting the momentum in the direction of the visitors.

Charleston pushed and pushed as Richmond looked desperate to cling to the single point, but eventually the levee broke. The Battery got the winner off of a Maikel Chang strike from just outside the 18 yard box that looked like it could have been deflected and just outside the reach of a diving Andrew Dykstra. If it wasn’t deflected, then it was one of the better goals you’ll see this season. Either way, the goal in the 86th minute left little time for the Kickers to regain any composure and get back in it. But by then, it was too late for them.

Charlotte Independence 0, Rochester Rhinos 1

Despite outnumbering the visiting Rhinos 15:3 in shots on goal, the Independence could not quite put the ball into the back of the net. The Rhinos defense, as it has so often in the past, will be the ones credited with the win, blocking 10 shots and Gomez in goal for the Rhinos came up with 5 saves on the game. The single goal came just before the half after a Rhino player was tripped in the box off of a corner and was awarded a penalty. Steevan dos Santos converted the effort. That would be one of just 3 shots on goal for the visitors, but it was all that would be needed as the staunch defense bent but did not break for the rest of the match. Rochester looks like it will finish 4th if Charlotte lose to LouCity and Charleston fall to NYRBII. Rochester plays Toronto FC II next week.

Sacramento Republic FC 1, LA Galaxy II 1

This match was an effort in salvaging points for Sacramento.  Visiting LA stormed into the lead in the first half off of a textbook Jaime Villareal assist and a nifty back heel finish from Ethan Zubak. It took the majority of the second half for the home side to get back into it, and they eventually did. Wilson Kneeshaw tucked away a simple goal after it was parried by Clement Diop in net for LAII in the 80th minute.

The goal was certainly helped by the home squad having a man advantage. LAII player Brayam Rebellion [Ed. Note: holy crap that name] was sent off with a second yellow in the 75th minute for a harsh mid-air challenge on Harry Williams for the Republic. The goal salvaged a single point for the Republic, which was not enough to hold onto first in the West, as Colorado Springs won against Sounders 2 earlier in the day. Despite the fact that (most) teams have just a single match left to play, there are still 12 teams mathematically eligible for the playoffs. St. Louis is not one of them.