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A guide to the USL playoffs for New York Red Bulls II fans: Conference Semifinals

Orange County Blues are still in it, and Once A Metro is still behind them. (And NYRB II, of course)

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

There are just seven games left in USL's 2016 playoffs, and four of them will be played between October 7 and October 9.

New York Red Bulls II and Rochester Rhinos kick off the USL's playoff weekend with an Eastern Conference semifinal on October 7. If NYRB II loses, that ends the team's interest in the post-season.

But if the Red Bulls still have a presence in the USL playoffs after October 7, then there is cause to be alert to what happens thereafter.

As with the last round of playoff games, NYRB II's primary ambition is to get the USL Cup final - and to be able to host that match, as was initially promised by the league's rules of competition. The priorities of USL have since shifted, and the USL Cup host will be - effectively - the team deemed best able to put on a show for a national broadcast.

NYRB II plays very good and entertaining soccer, but there aren't a great many people out there who can tell you about it: the team is fortunate to draw a "crowd" above 500. That stubbornly low attendance is the biggest - indeed, only - argument against letting Red Bull Arena host the USL Cup final, if the II team make it that far.

Indeed, in the first round of playoff games this year, NYRB II did report attendance significantly higher than its season-long average (taking figures from Wikipedia), but still the lowest of the USL 2016 playoff quarterfinals.

Match Host Stadium Attendance Host Team 2016 Average Attendance
Swope Park Rangers vs LA Galaxy II Swope Soccer Village 1,885 1,753
Colorado Springs Switchbacks vs Vancouver Whitecaps 2 Switchbacks Stadium 2,405 3,152
Rochester Rhinos vs Charlotte Independence Rochester Rhinos Stadium 2,080 3,655
Rio Grande Valley FC vs Oklahoma City Energy H-E-B Park 2,701 1,994
Sacramento Republic vs Orange County Blues Bonney Field 10,926 11,514
New York Red Bulls II vs Orlando City B Red Bull Arena 1,088 589
FC  Cincinnati vs Charleston Battery Nippert Stadium 30,187 17,296
Louisville City FC vs Richmond Kickers Louisville Slugger Field 5,467 7,218

Once A Metro is rooting for a Western Conference Cup finalist who is an even less attractive host than NYRB II. The ideal candidate is Orange County Blues (for reasons explained here) - and the Blues are still in these playoffs.

Here's a look at USL's Conference semifinals from the perspective of OAM; i.e.: a II team fan that wants to see this year's USL Cup final at Red Bull Arena.

Eastern Conference Semifinal 1: New York Red Bulls II (1) vs Rochester Rhinos (4)

7:00 pm, Eastern; Friday, October 7, 2016; @ Red Bull Arena

Watch on USL YouTube Channel

A tough match-up is to be expected now that the playoff field has thinned. This match stands out from the rest for the simple reason that it pits the current regular season champion (NYRB II) against last season's league and USL Cup double-winner, the Rochester Rhinos. A champion will fall in this game.

OaM's pick: NYRB II, of course.

Western Conference Semifinal 1: Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 (6) vs Oklahoma City Energy FC (7)

3:00 pm, Eastern; Saturday, October 8, 2016; @ UBC Thunderbird Stadium

Watch on USL YouTube Channel

OKC Energy is the USL's best hope for a decent crowd on the Western side of the draw - but the Energy might not get the chance to prove that until or unless it reaches the final and is selected to host, since it is the seventh seed inthe West.

An average home crowd of close to 5,000 is better than the league-wide average (a little under 3,500) and comfortably the best attendance of the remaining teams in the West.

So USL is probably cheering for OKC Energy. Once A Metro is not. Despite the suspicion that VWFC's young, talented team would be a bigger headache for NYRB II than the Energy, OaM mostly wants to see Red Bull Arena host the USL Cup final. That requires the II team to keep winning, and the teams with the best average attendance to keep losing.

OaM's pick: VWFC 2

Eastern Conference Semifinal 2: Louisville City (2) vs Charleston Battery (6)

7:30 pm, Eastern; Saturday, October 8; @ Louisville Slugger Field

Watch on USL YouTube Channel

Louisville looks a certainty to host USL Cup if it gets that far - and if it does, it means NYRB II has not made it through the Eastern side of the draw to the Championship game.

Louisville looked likely to win the USL regular season championship before a slump in form allowed NYRB II's relentless winning to come to the fore. Charleston beat the II team at the Red Bulls training facility during the regular season.

The II team won't take either opponent lightly if it does make the Eastern Conference final. But the Battery has former NYRB II player Chris Tsonis on its roster, so we're taking that as the excuse to favor Charleston over Louisville.

OaM's pick: Charleston Battery

Western Conference Semifinal 2: Swope Park Rangers (4) vs Orange County Blues (8)

5:00 pm, Eastern; Sunday, October 9, 2016; @ Swope Soccer Village

Watch on USL YouTube Channel

We have said it before and we'll say it again: go, Orange County Blues.

At first, OaM's support for OC was purely about the fact that it seems to the only team in the USL playoffs that is clearly a worse option to host the USL Cup final than NYRB II. And that is still mostly the reason OaM is standing behind OC Blues.

But after watching OC head coach Barry Venison's delightfully counter-intuitive tactical maneuverings (he subbed out his two most threatening attacking players against Sacramento Republic in the opening round of the playoffs as the game stretched into extra time), OaM has also developed an affection for the Blues' style.

Go Blues.

OaM's pick: the mighty Blues of Orange County