We are down to the final four in the USL Cup Playoffs: Swope Park Rangers vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 and New York Red Bulls 2 vs. Louisville City FC
#4 Swope Park Rangers vs. #6 Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2
Western Conference Final
Swope Soccer Village
Saturday October 15th at 8:30pm EDT
How we got here: The Western Conference playoffs have truly been the Wild Wild West in 2016. When the dust settled from the first round, all three top seeds were eliminated. That left #4 Swope Park, Sporting KC’s USL affiliate, the top remaining team after they dispatched 2015 Western Conference champion LA Galaxy 2.
Their next match, against Orange County Blues, was quite an adventure. They were dropped down to 9 men, but an extra time distance strike from the USL’s all time leading scorer Dane Kelly gave the expansion side a win. Vancouver led the Western Conference for a large chunk of the regular season before dropping to the 6th best. They handled a tough Colorado Springs side on the road, before holding off a OKC Energy FC comeback north of the border.
Preview: Swope Park will need Oumar Ballo and the rest of the backline to play as well as they did against Orange County to stifle a potent Vancouver attack. Kyle Greig finished the season as the Whitecaps 2 leading scorer, and alongside Daniel Haber, they make for a tough, versatile duo to deal with. The Rangers will start either the crafty, efficient Mark Anthony, and the aforementioned USL all time top scorer Dane Kelly up top. Whichever one doesn’t start, is an elite sub off the bench, as Kelly proved last round. Whitecaps 2 are not a top-notch defensive side, so they will need their offense to prevent Swope getting a lot of chances.
Prediction: Swope Park 2-1
While Vancouver is probably the better overall offensive side, Swope clearly has the better defense. The way I see the match playing out is Vancouver leading in shots, possession, and dangerous chances, but Swope capitalizing on their fewer opportunities with one of their top-notch attackers.
#1 New York Red Bulls II vs. #2 Louisville City FC
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Eastern Conference Final
Red Bull Arena
Sunday October 16th at 6:30pm EDT
How we got here: While the top three seeds were wiped out after the first weekend in the West, the final two Eastern Conference teams are #1 and #2. NYRB2, the USL record holders for regular season points, wins, and goals, sent defending champion Rochester home in a penalty shootout. The match was back and forth for the full 90′, plus the 30 minutes of added time. Louisville City was able to defeat historically strong Charleston by a 1-0 margin.
Preview: The New York Red Bulls put numbers on the board. They are a prolific offense, lead by Brandon Allen and Derrick Etienne Jr. Louisville City boasts Chandler Hoffman, a young MLS veteran that has a knack for goals as well. This match will be won by which defense can make the timely stops on the other side’s potent attack. Either team can blow the other away at any time, it will be important to even momentum out quickly if one club falls behind, because the way these offenses score, you can be down two goals in a blink of an eye.
Prediction: NYRBII 3-2
In a battle of great offenses, New York has a few more options attacking than Lou City. Louisville will try to possess the ball more, and they will certainly score, but the record-setting Red Bulls will head to the USL Cup final.