A playoff picture that could have achieved more clarity instead remained foggy after Saturday night’s results, but there’s little doubt as to which team will enter as the favorite in the first top-two clash of the season next Saturday night. Here are five things we learned from the past week.
DRAWN DOWN: Chattanooga Red Wolves SC’s undefeated streak is at eight games after its 1-1 draw with Forward Madison FC, but while that’s a good run of form overall Saturday marked a third consecutive draw that has stymied Head Coach Tim Hankinson’s side from making better progress in creating separation between itself and the sides chasing it in fourth place in the standings. Of course, one point is better than nothing – especially when it comes thanks to an equalizer with 13 minutes to go against a solid opponent. But having now played one game more than fifth-place Toronto FC, Chattanooga is in danger of seeing its place above the playoff line slip if it can’t find its way back to the win column quickly.
HOME COMFORTS: The question going into Friday evening’s contest between Toronto FC II and South Georgia Tormenta FC at the BMO Training Field was whether the visitors would rebound from its first home loss of the season. The question coming out of it should now be whether TFC II can make a sustained run and find a place in the postseason themselves. In a game where the stats might have indicated a game that was balanced, the reality was that Toronto created and then converted the better chances to become the first side to put three goals past Tormenta FC this season. With Noble Okello back in the midfield after his time at the Concacaf Gold Cup with Canada, TFC II has another talented young player to work with and eight of its final 13 games at home. The push for the Reds should be on.
MISSED OPPORTUNITY: Toronto FC II is now within range of second place when it plays host to Lansing Ignite FC on Friday evening. A victory against the Ignite on its home turf would be Toronto’s seventh of the regular season and move the Reds ahead of both its visitors and second-place South Georgia Tormenta FC. Lansing missed out on its own chance to jump past Tormenta FC on Saturday night in a 2-2 draw with FC Tucson that saw the side twice take the lead on home turf at Cooley Law School Stadium but surrender it quickly each time. Head Coach Nate Miller might have voiced criticism of the officiating after the game, but the reality is that Tucson outshot his side overall (10-8) and in shots on goal (6-4) despite holding far less possession. Having 10 games to go in the season, Lansing is the side currently in the playoff positions most susceptible to being overtaken and left below the playoff line – sportsclubstats.com rates its chances at 36 percent – meaning this was a big two points dropped.
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER: You could have forgiven members of Greenville Triumph SC if they had felt like the goal it needed to reward a strong performance in difficult conditions wasn’t going to arrive. After a missed early penalty kick by Jake Keegan and a three-hour lightning delay, the hosts had much the better of the game against Orlando City SC at Legacy Early College on Saturday night. Then with two minutes to go Aaron Walker’s first league goal for the club gave it a victory it not only deserved but desperately needed, leaving those thoughts to dissipate into the night sky. Triumph SC’s issues with finishing chances has been well documented this season – Walker moved into a six-way tie for second place on the team in goals thanks to his first tally – but now it feels like the breaks might be going the club’s way after taking seven of nine points from its last three outings.
IN THE CATBIRD SEAT: The hallmark of a good frontrunner is that it takes care of business it’s supposed to with minimal fuss. You can definitely say that about North Texas SC, which moved eight points clear of the rest of League One with its 2-0 victory on the road against the Richmond Kickers at City Stadium on Saturday night. Two goals in the first 15 minutes – both by defenders in Thomas Roberts and Callum Montgomery – put NTSC on the road to a third win in its last four outings as Richmond’s anemic attack continued to struggle. The Kickers are now at 550 minutes of league action with a goal since their 3-2 loss to Orlando City B on May 22, six consecutive games scoreless. As NTSC prepares to host Tormenta FC on Saturday night, it looks comfortably like the team to beat in League One right now.