For the first time ever, we here at Firebird Rising have the opportunity to really take an in-depth look at the upcoming USL Playoffs because Phoenix Rising FC is involved for the first time in franchise history.
So as we have this opportunity, let’s look at all eight first round playoff matchups:
No. 1 Louisville City FC vs. No. 8 Bethlehem Steel FC
One of the more lopsided first round matchups in the playoffs features the top team in the East in Louisville City FC. Luke Spencer and George Davis IV lead the offensive charge for Louisville, who went 1-0-1 against Bethlehem this season. Philadelphia Union’s USL side counters with Seku Conneh and Corey Burke. Jeff Wendt’s prediction: Louisville 2, Bethlehem 0.
No. 2 Charleston Battery vs. No. 7 NY Red Bulls II
There is one scary match in the East. New York won the season series against Charleston 1-0-1, and scored more goals than Charleston (57-53). However, New York has allowed 60 goals on the season, fourth most in the USL. Romario Williams leads Charleston with his 15 goals on the season, while New York is led by Stefano Bonomo with 10. Jeff Wendt’s prediction: Charleston 1, NYRBII o (AET).
No. 3 Tampa Bay vs. No. 6 FC Cincinnati
If there’s one match in the East first round that could produce the upset, this could be the match. FC Cincinnati has proved it can handle the pressure of a one-off match, by taking down the big boys like Columbus Crew and the Chicago Fire of MLS in the US Open Cup. Mitch Hildebrandt could be the factor in this match. Tampa Bay won the season series 1-0-1, and are led by Georgi Hristov and Martin Paterson. FC Cincinnati counters with Djibi Fall and midseason acquisition Danni Konig. Jeff Wendt’s prediction: FC Cincinnati 1, Tampa Bay 1 (Cincinnati wins 3-2 in penalties).
No. 4 Rochester vs. No. 5 Charlotte
The season series between the two teams was split 1-1, with each team winning at its home ground. Charlotte comes in with a decidedly big advantage in goals scored (52-36), but Rochester, the 2015 champions, are proving once again they are solid in the back, only allowing 28 goals in 32 matches this season. Charlotte’s Enzo Martinez comes into the match with 16 goals scored on the season, while Rochester counters with Jochen Graf and Wal Fall. Jeff Wendt’s prediction: Rochester 1, Charlotte 0.
No. 1 Real Monarchs SLC vs. No. 8 Sacramento Republic FC
On paper this match seems to be a lopsided contest. Real Monarchs won both meetings this year between the clubs by identical 2-0 scores (not counting Republic’s win over Monarch-heavy RSL in Open Cup play), the last time being just three weeks ago in Sacramento. Chandler Hoffman and his 16 goals lead the USL regular season champions, while Samuel Ochoa and Trevin Ceasar lead the charge for Sacramento Republic. Jeff Wendt’s prediction: Real Monarchs 2, Sacramento Republic 1.
No. 2 San Antonio FC vs. No. 7 Tulsa Roughnecks FC
San Antonio won the season series 2-0-1 against Tulsa this season. While Tulsa has scored more goals on the season than San Antonio (46-45), it’s San Antonio’s defense that has them as the No. 2 seed, conceding just 24 goals in their 32 matches played this season, which is the best in the league, with Diego Restrepo leading the charge in net. On the offensive end, it will be a battle between San Antonio’s Billy Forbes and Tulsa’s Ian Svantesson. Jeff Wendt’s prediction: San Antonio 1, Tulsa 0.
No. 3 Reno 1868 FC vs. No. 6 Oklahoma City Energy FC
Reno started the season 0-3-2 before the team got its inaugural victory over Phoenix Rising FC, kick-starting its season. Reno and Oklahoma City split the season series 1-1, with each team winning at home. Oklahoma City will have to control USL Golden Boot winner Dane Kelly, who scored 18 goals on the season, and the USL assists champion in Chris Wehan, who had 12 helpers this year as a rookie. OKC will look to Jose Angulo, Miguel Gonzalez and Wojciech Wojcik, who recently returned to the lineup from injury. Jeff Wendt’s prediction: Reno 3, Oklahoma City 1.
No. 4 Swope Park Rangers vs. No. 5 Phoenix Rising FC
The best of the eight first-round playoff matchups out there between two teams with the same record (17-8-7). Phoenix Rising won the season series 1-0-1, winning at home and drawing at Swope. Kharlton Belmar leads Swope Park with 14 goals on the season, and Nansel Selbol has nine. Phoenix Rising counters with Jason Johnson, who scored 13 goals on the season, and Didier Drogba, who scored nine. Both teams only conceded 37 goals on the season, so goaltending could be the key. Jeff Wendt’s prediction: Phoenix Rising 2, Swope Park Rangers 1 (AET).
What are your thoughts on Jeff’s predictions? Tell us in the comments section below.