Louisville City FC will again compete for the United Soccer League’s championship this year after clinching a playoff spot.
A Bethlehem Steel FC loss to FC Montreal on Sunday mathematically cleared the way for LouCity. The club’s 47 points are enough to ensure it a position in the 16-team, single-elimination bracket that starts play the first weekend of October.
The top-eight teams from the Eastern and Western conferences will be seeded according to their point totals, with the top-four granted host status for the opening round. From there, the better-seeded team in each matchup will play at home throughout the postseason.
Twenty-nine teams in all are competing in the USL this year.
Last week, coach James O’Connor said “it’s critical” LouCity — which at one point this season rattled off 17 consecutive games unbeaten — play its best late in the campaign.
“It’s a case of making sure that you peak at the right time, but equally, it’s a challenge because you want to peak to win the league and after that you want to peak in the playoffs,” O’Connor said. “I think for us, it’s controlling what you control. We can’t necessarily at this stage think, ‘Oh, we peaked at the start of the season.’
“You have to make sure your training is right, your focus is correct and that you’re concentrating on the action, not the result.”
LouCity could have clinched its playoff spot Friday night with a win over the New York Red Bulls II. But in a battle between first-place clubs, the Red Bulls netted a late penalty kick to secure a 1-0 win. Still, Wilmington Hammerheads FC and Bethlehem both had to win their games Saturday and Sunday, respectively, to not be eliminated from the playoffs.
With a 13-4-8 record, LouCity sits second on the Eastern Conference table behind New York, which also has two games in hand. FC Cincinnati sits five points back of Louisville, also having played two fewer games. The Charlotte Independence, Richmond Kickers and Rochester Rhinos each have 39 points while battling for fourth place and the chance to host a playoff game.
If the season ended now, LouCity would match up against the Charleston Battery in the first round of the playoffs.
Last year, LouCity finished second in the East’s regular-season standings and won its home, quarterfinal matchup with the Charleston Battery in front of 8,517 fans at Louisville Slugger Field. The eventual USL champion Rochester Rhinos then defeated O’Connor’s club in the Eastern Conference final.
Five games remain before the 2016 postseason for LouCity, which has its next opportunity to pick up points at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. The club plays Bethlehem on Cancer Awareness Night at Slugger Field.