For the first time in a long time, the East has a new leader. Charlotte continues to rise, and Charleston continues to slip without their star, Romero Williams. The top of the standings had separation just a few weeks ago but now the top five teams are only five points apart. The bottom of the table is equally as interesting. Nearly every team still has a fighting chance to sneak into the playoffs. Below we recap the changes week eighteen brought to the playoff picture.
Harrisburg City Islanders vs. Charlotte Independence 1-1
The first match of the week was a stunner. Charlotte looked unstoppable, but Harrisburg has also caused some upsets. Harrisburg got on the board in the first half courtesy of Mensah. Holding the Independence back proved to be a difficult task. Herrera scored in the 51st minute, bringing his season total to eleven. Drawing against a team that had won sixth straight is still an achievement for the Islanders. Harrisburg will need to put the foot back on the gas in coming weeks to get back in the top eight.
Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Charleston Battery 2-0
Tampa may struggle on the road, but they play just fine in front of the home crowd. This match reminded the USL what a threat the former NASL club can be. Two goals were scored, but the real story is in how they were scored. Joe Cole scored off a teammate’s run into the box, and Schäfer fired off an unstoppable rocket. Fantastic chances were left on the field by both teams. The Battery may be slipping, but they still have a quality squad that can rebound.
Richmond Kickers vs. Bethlehem Steel FC 3-2
With games in hand, Bethlehem looked posed for a flight to the top three. That journey has hit a bit of a rough patch. After starting a youth squad last week, Steel FC failed to rebound against a struggling Richmond. These types of results are a reminder of how tough it is to win in today’s USL. The level of play is much higher and teams cannot overlook another just because they sit at the bottom of the table. Samuel Asante kicked the game winner for Richmond in the 87th minute. Bethlehem Steel still looks good in the overall playoff picture, but they need to stop the slide to ensure some home postseason matches.
Saint Louis FC vs. Louisville City FC 1-4
Saint Louis gave the rest of the East hope when they went up early. One red card later, and the wheels fell off. Saint Louis fans continue to be frustrated. Louisville moves to #2.
FC Cincinnati vs. Harrisburg City Islanders 3-0
A quick turnaround for Harrisburg as they traveled to Cincinnati after playing earlier in the same week. This rescheduled match was full of storms. Harrisburg started the game burning energy and chewing up possession. The first twenty minutes Cincinnati weathered the attack; then they waited on weather. After a lightning delay, the match was all FC Cincinnati. Great strikes from Djiby, Konig, and McLaughlin sealed the deal for the Orange and Blue. Cincinnati jumps Bethlehem with the three points and is now in fifth.