Three-quarters of the inaugural USL League One season were complete after this weekend’s five-game slate, a sequence of games that kept the playoff picture still lacking clarity. Ahead of two weeks where teams will make moves and countermoves with games scheduled for nine of the next 13 days, what did we take away from what we saw this past Friday and Saturday?
1. PATHWAY CLEARED: Two weeks after going to face Chattanooga Red Wolves SC and suffering defeat, North Texas SC returned and put in one of its best performances of the season as a 2-0 victory put the side back on top of the League One standings after an overnight stay by Lansing Ignite FC and with a clear view to the No. 1 seed in the postseason. The difference this time around? Well, that would have been the presence of Haitian forward Ronaldo Damus. Absent from the first meeting this month between the clubs, Damus ensured NTSC turned its advantage in possession into attacking bite with three shots on goal, five shots overall and the insurance goal with three minutes remaining for his 10th of the season. With two games in hand on Lansing, and a seven-point lead on the rest of the field, North Texas’ magic number to clinch a playoff place is now 14 points.
2. PICKING UP STEAM: As narrow as Lansing Ignite FC’s margin for error remains in the postseason race, victory against last-place Orlando City B on the road on Friday night was essential. That 2-1 result was accomplished with a minimum of fuss, with the visitors clamping down defensively to ensure the hosts had only one more shot after Will Bagrou’s 71st minute goal halved the deficit With three consecutive victories under its belt, Lansing is in a strong position but still isn’t in complete control of its playoff fate – Ignite FC’s maximum available points total of 51 is fewer than South Georgia, Greenville and Chattanooga’s – but after seeing all three of those clubs drop points over the weekend there should be a confidence going into Thursday’s clash with North Texas that even a point from that contest would carry the side closer to the postseason.
3. FIT TO BE TIED: Draws can be the death of any serious playoff charge, which meant that while both Greenville Triumph SC and Forward Madison FC were probably both OK with taking a point in their 0-0 draw on Saturday night at Legacy Early College, it certainly wasn’t the result either was looking for. With Greenville seeing a goal disallowed for offside as Jake Keegan’s slight deflection on a shot by Paul Clowed that might have found the net on its own and Madison hitting the crossbar through J.C. Banks’ header later in the second half, both teams could stake a claim at having deserved all three points. What Saturday’s result did, though, was simply ramp up the pressure both will feel as they remain below the playoff line, with the rematch on August 28 in Wisconsin one to looking forward to.
4. SLIP-SLIDING AWAY: With their slim hopes of a playoff berth, there probably wasn’t a sequence of results this weekend that could have served the Richmond Kickers better as all-but the top two clubs in the standings dropped points. Unfortunately for Richmond, it was among that group to let potential points slip away as its two-goal halftime lead disappeared in a 2-2 draw against Toronto FC II that brought an end to the Kickers’ three-game winning streak. That makes it a nine-point gap to the playoff places with nine games remaining for Head Coach David Bulow’s side, and with visits to Forward Madison FC and South Georgia Tormenta to close out the month, the margin for error is paper thin once again.
5. LOVE FOR LUCAS: There are fewer harder on-field situations for a team to face than the situation that befell South Georgia Tormenta FC early on Saturday night when Lucas Coutinho was quickly taken to hospital following a serious head injury in the 9th minute. The sentiments expressed across the league on social media on Saturday night and throughout Sunday are shared here as we hope for a positive outcome to the situation, with the result of the 1-1 draw that came through Tormenta FC’s Marco Micaletto converting from the penalty spot secondary to everything else. South Georgia will return to action on Wednesday night against Chattanooga Red Wolves SC, thoughts of their friend and teammate in the back of their mind as they resume their pursuit of a postseason berth.