The League One trophy currently resides in Greenville, but where will it be come November? / Photo courtesy Greenville Triumph SC
If there’s one word to describe the League One season thus far, it’s parity. At the time of writing this piece, just three points separate the teams in third and eleventh places in the standings - and as a result of that, the playoff picture looks quite murky as we begin the final two months of the campaign.
That makes predicting how the table will look on October 30 tricky, but this writer has never been afraid of a challenge before. Here’s how I think the playoff picture will end up looking when all is said and done. As a reminder, in this year’s new League One playoff format, the top six teams qualify for the postseason, with the top two receiving byes through the first round to the League One Semifinals.
Current Record: (8-2-7) | 31 Points
As we all expected at the start of the season, Omaha looks to be one of the strongest contenders for the title in 2021. Los Buhos are two points behind league leaders Chattanooga at the moment, but have played one less game than the Red Wolves. The key to their success is their defense, which is by far the league’s stingiest, having allowed 12 goals in 17 games to this point.
Mix in that they have no major injury concerns at the moment, and that 7 of their 11 remaining games are at home where they’ve yet to lose this season, and I see Omaha topping the table once the regular season is done.
Remaining Games: 11 (7 HOME, 4 AWAY)
Current Record: (8-1-9) | 33 Points
Chattanooga has been one of the most fun teams to watch in League One this season - plenty of goals, and plenty of late drama. Though the Red Wolves don’t keep a lot of shutouts (just three so far), they rarely allow more than a goal per game, and Head Coach Jimmy Obleda has made them very tough to beat - evidenced by only one loss in 18 games, and a current league record 13-game unbeaten run.
With most of their remaining schedule on the road, including two tough away trips to an increasingly-desperate Greenville and one to Madison, I see Chattanooga falling just short of finishing top of the pile, but having a great chance to lift the trophy come postseason time.
Remaining Games: 10 (4 HOME, 6 AWAY)
Current Record: (6-5-7) | 25 Points
If the first two seasons of League One taught us anything at all, it was to never write off North Texas. That was especially true last year, when the team was languishing near the bottom of the standings before a late season run saw them finish third.
At the moment, Head Coach Eric Quill has NTSC firmly pointed in the right direction - on an eight-game unbeaten run and having conceded just five goals in that stretch. When you factor in that during that run, North Texas has picked up results away against Omaha (twice), Chattanooga, and Madison, it makes it all the more impressive. This is not a team I’d want to play down the stretch.
Remaining Games: 10 (5 home, 5 Away)
Current Record: (6-7-6) | 24 Points
This might sound crazy with how bad Triumph SC looks at the moment. The defending champions have been a shell of their former selves recently, but I’m backing them to turn things around and get into the playoff places when all is said and done.
A big key to doing so is getting healthy - the sooner Greenville can get Lachlan McLean and Alex Morrell back fit and firing, the better. Even without those guys, this is still a team capable of playing much better than it is. With six of its remaining nine games at home, John Harkes’ side can dig deep and make the push it needs to reach the postseason.
Remaining Games: 9 (6 home, 3 away)
Current Record: (7-7-3) | 24 Points
The Revolution II have been a pleasant surprise this season. Not much was expected of them back in April, but the team finds itself in a great spot at the start of September, right in the middle of the pack but having played one or two less games than all the teams around it.
Remaining home games against Madison (twice) and Richmond, both of whom figure to be in and around the cutoff line along with New England come crunch time, are going to be vital to determining this team’s success. Given the Revolution II have recorded five shutout wins from their last six home games, I like their chances.
Remaining games: 11 (5 home, 6 away)
Current Record: (6-6-7) | 25 Points
I see the battle for the final playoff spot coming down to Richmond and Madison, and with three remaining games between the pair this season, those games will likely determine which of the two clubs participates in the postseason and which watches from home. Two of the three are in Richmond at City Stadium, and that just might give the Kickers a slight edge.
Richmond is also in better form at the moment - aside from an away loss to Toronto FC II in which the Kickers were without many of their best players, they’ve picked up results in the other five of their six most recent games. The sting of last season’s late collapse, which cost the Kickers a spot in the League One Final, will also still be there, and could give the squad that extra bit of motivation it needs to get over the line.
Remaining games: 9 (4 home, 5 away)
Current Record: (5-4-9) | 24 Points
This might be the one I feel least sure about - when you look at Madison’s team, it’s full of extremely talented players, and it’s a group that absolutely has the tools to not only make the playoffs, but to win them.
Yet the team has three nasty habits which I see placing it just under the playoff line come the end of October. First, it doesn’t score a whole lot of goals - its tally of 19 to this point is the second-fewest in League One. Second, it concedes late in games quite often, and drops points as a result. Third, and perhaps most worrying, it’s not very good on the road, where 6 of its final 10 games will be played.
In eight road games this season, Madison has just one win. It has only two losses to be fair, but at this point in the season, draws are simply not going to cut it. Two away games with Richmond, one with Omaha, two with New England, and one against Toronto FC II - where Madison will almost certainly need to be shorthanded due to travel restrictions - is not an easy stretch to navigate.
Remaining games: 10 (4 home, 6 away)
Current Record: (6-6-7) | 25 Points
For most of the season, TFC II had arguably the least home-field advantage of any team in League One. Now, they arguably have the most, as visiting teams to BMO Training Ground are usually forced to leave many players behind thanks to COVID-related travel restrictions.
With five of its remaining nine games north of the border, and a bevvy of young, talented players, TFC II is more than capable of reaching the postseason. However, its form has yo-yoed a bit too much to be fully confident that they’ll get there. The four remaining road games are about as tough as it gets as well, with visits to Omaha, Greenville, Richmond, and Chattanooga still on the cards for the Young Reds.
Remaining games: 9 (5 home, 4 away)
Current Record: (6-8-4) | 22 Points
After a slow start to the season, Tucson has done really well to pull itself back into the playoff conversation. But it’s still a team that can be frustratingly inconsistent, and that’s not something that lends itself well to postseason success.
Let’s look at their season since May 26: back-to-back away wins were followed by a four-game winless run, which was followed by three games unbeaten. That mini-renaissance was followed by four straight losses, during which time the team failed to score in three games. But Tucson snapped that streak by putting four past Fort Lauderdale, and followed that up with a 2-1 win over Greenville.
In short, you never know which Tucson is going to turn up. If it’s the good Tucson from now until October 30, they could very well prove me wrong and lock up a playoff spot.
Remaining games: 10 (5 home, 5 away)
Current Record: (7-9-4) | 25 Points
Fort Lauderdale currently has both the league’s highest-scoring offense and its most generous defense - probably because it has played a few extra games than everyone else except for Tormenta FC.
The team might sit in third place at the moment, but I foresee them sliding down the standings as other teams play their games in hand. With away trips to Tucson, Greenville, Omaha, and Toronto still on the schedule, taking maximum points from remaining home games against Tormenta (twice), Chattanooga, and North Texas is going to be vital if this team hopes to be playing in November.
Remaining games: 8 (4 home, 4 away)
Current Record: (7-11-3) | 24 Points
With only seven games left, Tormenta’s postseason chances aren’t looking great, but they’re not dead yet. Factor in that 5 of those 7 are away from home, and it’s certainly going to be a challenge for South Georgia to make a first League One playoffs appearance in club history.
The team has shown flashes of brilliance this year, most notably by beating Greenville twice at Legacy Early College. But losing 6 of 7 games to start your year is always going to weigh you down in the points column, and with two away games against Fort Lauderdale - which Tormenta lost to twice at home already this year - still to come, Tormenta would have to be pretty much flawless from this point on to reach the postseason. Never say never, though.
Remaining games: 7 (2 home, 5 away)
Current Record: (4-10-4) | 16 Points
NCFC deserves a ton of credit for the way it has improved throughout the season - no easy feat with a team full of talented, but inexperienced players. Though they’ve been sitting bottom of the table for some time now, they’re certainly not easy to play against, and won’t be for the remainder of the campaign.
However, with a six-point gap to the team currently in 11th place, it seems like there’s just too much work to do to reach the postseason. Like Tormenta, it would take near perfection to get NCFC playing in November at this point, and while I see them playing a role in the playoff race by taking points off the teams above them, it may be a case of too little too late for the Cary club in their inaugural League One season.
Remaining games: 10 (6 home, 4 away)