FC Tucson opened a stretch of nine road games in its next 10 outings with victory against Orlando City B on Wednesday night. | Photo courtesy Mark Thoreson
After FC Tucson’s midweek road victory against Orlando City B pushed the side into the top four of the USL League One standings, and a thrilling six-goal draw between Toronto FC II and North Texas SC, a four-game slate on Saturday night has the potential to further shape the playoff picture as we approach the midway point of the regular season. Here are five things to watch out for.
ROAD TEST: FC Tucson began its most important stretch of the regular season with a victory on Wednesday night against Orlando City B, a contest that opened a stretch of nine road games out of the club’s next 10 contests overall that continues on Saturday night against Forward Madison FC at Breese Stevens Field. The win pushed Tucson into the fourth and final playoff place in the standings, and with a chance to create the type of separation from the pack that third-place Toronto FC II has managed in its current five-game undefeated streak. In order to do that, FCT will need to find a more consistent level than it has previously this season. After each of its previous three wins of the season, the side has suffered defeat in the next contest. That means even a point against the Flamingos would be a more positive result for FCT. If it can at least tread water above its competition for a playoff place during this road test, Tucson should be well positioned for its final stretch at home.
GETTING LATE EARLY: On the other side of Saturday’s game at Breese Stevens Field, there’s still almost two-thirds of the season left for Forward Madison FC, but to paraphrase Yogi Berra, it’s getting late early for the Flamingos. Four consecutive losses have left the side adrift at the bottom of the standings, four points back of the cluster of four clubs on 12 points above it, and another defeat on Saturday night against Tucson on home turf would make the gap to the playoff places 10 points. The Flamingos vowed resolve after their narrow home defeat two weeks ago to Lansing Ignite FC, but then fell on the road last weekend to Orlando City B. Getting back in the win column for the first time since May 4 is an absolute must if the preseason hopes the experienced squad held are going to be fulfilled in October.
FINDING A SPARK: The regular-season series between Greenville Triumph SC and Lansing Ignite FC concludes on Saturday night, and victory for either side would provide a major boost as they sit side-by-side in the middle of the League One standings with Lansing a point ahead of Greenville in fifth place. Triumph SC has held the upper hand in the prior two meetings, however, going 1-0-1 thanks to a 2-1 victory on home turf on April 6 at Legacy Early College. That stands as the lone game this season in which Greenville has scored multiple goals in a game – the club’s five percent shot conversion rate is last in the league – but if Triumph SC can figure out a way to be as successful on Saturday as in that prior encounter it will have a chance to keep close to the playoff positions.
MID-TABLE TUSSLE: Saturday’s other mid-table tussle features the Richmond Kickers and Chattanooga Red Wolves SC, who meet at City Stadium level on 12 points with the Red Wolves holding a game in hand on its Virginia rival. That could make the stakes higher for the Kickers, who last week broke a three-game losing streak with a 0-0 draw against FC Tucson to remain in the middle of the pack outside the playoff positions. Richmond will have the memory of its 1-0 victory against Chattanooga when the teams first met on the Kickers’ home turf this season when Joe Gallardo’s goal early in the second half proved the difference. With the teams set to meet again in Chattanooga in two weeks, this contest will set a marker for the playoff race that’s still got a long way to go.
REBOUND OR REGRESS: Orlando City B pulled itself into the playoff conversation with a run of three wins in four contests before Wednesday night’s setback to FC Tucson. Now the big question for the side is whether it can find a response and regain its positive momentum as it visits one of the toughest places to play in the league. South Georgia Tormenta FC is 3-0-1 at Erk Russell Park this season, a record that has helped the side sit in the top two of the league standings throughout the campaign. If there’s a glimmer of hope for the Lions, though, it’s that it claimed its first point of the season at home to Tormenta FC back on April 14 when only a goal in the fourth minute of stoppage time by Lars Eckenrode kept OCB from claiming victory. While Orlando has yet to win in its prior three games on the road this season, Saturday night is a big opportunity to change that and keep itself firmly in the playoff picture.