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March to the Playoffs: Yes, first in the conference is still in play

By Brandon Jones, 09/30/20, 11:30AM MST

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After last Saturday’s win at home against Orange County, Phoenix Rising FC punched its ticket to the 2020 USL Championship playoffs. The win put Rising at 29 points with two games remaining, six points ahead of LA Galaxy II. With a point tonight, Rising officially clinches first place.

(We say “officially” because mathematically, Los Dos could still win the group. If Rising dropped its final two matches and Los Dos won its last two matches, both clubs would be level in points (29) and level in total wins (9), which is the first tiebreaker. The second tiebreaker is goals. Rising’s goal differential is currently +23 while LA’s is -2. 

At a minimum, Rising would need to be shutout in its final two matches while Los Dos scored 26 goals over the course of two matches. We don’t even need to look this up to safely assume this has never happened in USL Championship history. That said, we must respect the math.)

So, with a win or draw tonight in San Diego OR a win or tie on Saturday at home vs. Los Dos, Rising FC will finish at the top of Group B.

But the club is pushing for more than just first in the group. Home-field advantage throughout the playoffs is up for grabs. Rising sits third place overall in the Western Conference, behind Reno 1868 FC (32 points, 2 games remaining) and San Antonio FC (33 points, 1 game remaining). 

Finishing at the top of the conference is still possible. 

It begins with Rising winning its last two matches. If San Antonio losses or draws its final match, Rising can push past them and be the No. 2 seed. If Reno loses or draws in its last two matches, Rising would then finish at the top of the conference and gain home field throughout the playoffs. 

Neither San Antonio nor Reno are expected to drop any points in their final matches, but short of a +25-goal differential evaporating in two games, weirder things have happened at the end of a season. All Rising can do is focus on winning its final two matches and build momentum heading into the playoffs.