Despite the fact that the Richmond Kickers' (13-7-6, 1st) contest against Central Valley Fuego FC (9-10-6, 8th) features the first-place team versus the eighth-place team, the pair’s third meeting of the season may serve as the first big domino to fall in the race to the playoffs. Fuego FC may have lost its magic number over the weekend thanks to its 3-0 loss to Charlotte last week, but a Central Valley win over Richmond on Saturday would mean that no teams can clinch a spot in the playoffs this week. However, should Richmond defeat Fuego FC for the first time, that would potentially allow Richmond, Omaha or Greenville to clinch this week.
RIC - Nil Vinyals: Aiding the Kickers’ strong run to end the regular season, Vinyals recorded a goal and pair of assists in Richmond’s win against Omaha and draw against Chattanooga last week. The Spaniard created four chances and notched 12 recoveries.
CV - Cherif Dieye: Even though the Senegalese winger was in action for just 13 minutes on Wednesday against Madison, Dieye converted an eight-minute brace to ensure a crucial three points for Central Valley.
Following a loss to Tucson on Tuesday, North Carolina FC (7-13-5, 11th) are on the brink of postseason elimination as it visits the in-state rival Charlotte Independence (10-10-6, 6th) on Saturday evening. If NCFC knock off the Jacks at American Legion Memorial Stadium, the side won't face elimination this week. However, if North Carolina loses to Charlotte and Tormenta FC and Chattanooga pick up victories, John Bradford's side will have to sit out of the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
CLT - Adrían Zendejas: Player of the Week Adrían Zendejas exploded for a league-record 12 saves in a single match to keep the Jacks in the playoff conversation. Despite playing just 19 matches so far this season, the 27-year-old goalkeeper is now tied for fourth and third in saves and clean sheets, respectively.
NC - Garrett McLaughlin: Still tied for second in the Golden Boot race, NCFC need to see continued production from its leading goalscorer down the stretch.
Like Richmond and Central Valley’s match earlier in the evening, Forward Madison FC’s (7-9-11, 9th) matchup with South Georgia Tormenta FC (10-9-7, 5th) has a number of implications on the first postseason eliminations. Of 11 total Week 26 elimination scenarios, 10 would be impossible should FMFC take down the visiting Tormenta FC. A Madison win would mean Northern Colorado, North Carolina and Madison would still have a chance at the postseason for another week. A positive Tormenta FC result, though, would push the Ibises to the brink of postseason confirmation.
MAD - Raiko Arozarena: Despite a slight slump in form, Madison will need Arozarena to return to his midseason form if they want to stave off postseason elimination.
TRM - Kazaiah Sterling: Sterling is enjoying a career season in Statesboro as the Londoner sits at second in the Golden Boot race with just a few matches left.
Thanks to a pair of early-week results (Tucson over North Carolina, Northern Colorado over Omaha), Northern Colorado Hailstorm FC (9-10-8, 7th) is safe from postseason elimination this week and Greenville Triumph SC (11-8-7, 3rd) is unable to clinch its playoff spot this week. Regardless, a pivotal late-season matchup will see the hosts look to remain hot and pick up a fourth win in its last five matches, and Greenville aim to claim three points for the first time in over a month.
NCO - Brecc Evans: The defender had a career evening on Wednesday as he claimed his first career brace to lead Northern Colorado over Omaha.
GVL - Aaron Walker: Walker helped Greenville complete the unthinkable as he converted a penalty in stoppage time that propelled his nine-man side to the unlikeliest of draws in Omaha last week. Walker also won 9 of 15 duels and earned five recoveries.
Despite sitting at the bottom of the table for the majority of the season, FC Tucson (7-12-6, 10th) continues to defy expectations as will continue its remarkable late-season push for the postseason by hosting Chattanooga Red Wolves SC (10-9-7, 4th). Equally surprising, Tucson will look to confirm its season sweep of the Red Wolves after picking up a pair of wins against Chattanooga earlier in the year.
TUC - Louis Perez: Continuing his strong inaugural season in League One, Perez converted the match-winning penalty kick against NCFC on Tuesday to add to his scoring total.
CHA - Moe Espinoza: Espinoza knocked in his sixth score of the season last Saturday to spark Chattanooga’s remarkable comeback to salvage a draw against the Kickers. In his last four matches, Espinoza has recorded three goals and one assist.