After previous success in 2010 by Charleston and Harrisburg in the US Open Cup against Major League Soccer opposition, it is time for the USL Second Division to once again come out of the shadows as it enters the final two weeks of the regular season.
Although the race for the regular season title is virtually over with Charleston merely needing to either pick up a point or Richmond drop one, the league has several races of intrigue as each club faces its final two games. Trailing the two league-leaders, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and Charlotte Eagles are battling for the third and final playoff berth. Meanwhile, the Harrisburg City Islanders and Real Maryland Monarchs are vying to avoid the stigma of finishing last.
Regular Season Championship
Charleston, unbeaten at home (6-0-3), sits six points ahead of Richmond in the chase for the regular season title which would make them the host for the league championship match. The pair split the regular season series with the Battery winning at home 4-1 and 1-0 while falling in Richmond 3-1 and 2-0, ironically the same aggregate scoreline for the respective hosts. Charleston finishes the season against third-place Pittsburgh on the road and fourth-place Charlotte at home. Richmond, four points clear of third, wraps up with a road match against fifth-place Harrisburg and a home match versus last-place Real Maryland.
The Remaining Playoff Berth
While Richmond has yet to ensure a finish no worse than second, the third-place Riverhounds more importantly must keep their eyes facing behind them as they also only hold a four point lead on Charlotte for the third and final berth. Pittsburgh, which holds the tiebreaker on Richmond should that become a factor in a battle for second and home field advantage, split the season series with Charlotte as both clubs splitting their two home contests.
Given their six-game winless start, which was part of a greater 1-3-5 run, the Riverhounds are fortunate to even be in the running for the postseason, but with only one defeat in their last six (3-1-2) the Hounds are the hotter team of the two. Charlotte has gone winless in their last five (0-2-3) with their last win coming in Pittsburgh July 2, but have since lost at home to Pittsburgh July 23. Pittsburgh hosts Charleston and visits state rival Harrisburg to close out the regular season while Charlotte is on the road to face Real Maryland and the Battery.
Avoiding Last Place
Leading by two points, Harrisburg is looking to keep ahead of last-place Real Maryland as the final two weeks play out. Like Pittsburgh, the City Islanders had a rough start, needing six games to find a victory as they opened the campaign on a 1-6-4 start. That hole was washed over with an successful run in the US Open Cup that included a 1-0 victory over the New York Red Bulls, which sparked a four-game unbeaten run (3-0-1) in league play. But a 2-0 loss to DC has been followed by three winless outings (0-2-1) heading into the final two weeks. Real Maryland, meanwhile, is in the midst of a longer stretch of unfortunate results having gone winless in their last seven league matches (0-5-2), dating back to their Open Cup loss in Richmond.
Harrisburg hosts Richmond and Pittsburgh to close out the season and the Monarchs host Charlotte before visiting Richmond looking for revenge to finish their campaign. With Charlotte only three points ahead of the City Islanders and five in front of Real Maryland, both could also conceivably jump the Eagles, on the road for two should they reverse their form.
Remaining Schedule (USL-2 Standings [+])
This Saturday: Charlotte @ Maryland; Richmond @ Harrisburg; Charleston @ Pittsburgh
Next Saturday: Pittsburgh @ Harrisburgh; Maryland @ Richmond; Charlotte @ Charleston