The USL Eastern Conference playoff field is almost set, at least in the sense that we know seven of the eight teams that will be in it: New York Red Bulls II, Louisville City FC, FC Cincinnati, Charlotte Independence, Richmond Kickers, Rochester Rhinos, and Charleston Battery.
Of those seven, we know NYRB II has won the East (and the league) and will have home advantage for as long as it is in the playoffs.
We also know that NYRB II's first opponent in the USL playoffs - the eighth seed in the East - won't be any of the other six teams already qualified. The eighth and last spot for the Eastern Conference post-season remains open, and only two of the bottom seven in the East are definitively out of it. But none of them can catch seventh-placed Charleston Battery.
Toronto FC II and FC Montreal know they won't be in the playoffs this year. But there are five teams still nurturing hope of playing NYRB II at Red Bull Arena in the opening round of the USL post-season. None of them have been particularly good, which is why they are competing for no better than eighth in the East.
Here is a look at NYRB II's prospective first-round playoff opponents, and the scenarios they face heading into this weekend's round of USL matches.
OCSC B is currently best-placed to claim the eighth and final ticket to USL's post-season. With 32 points from 27 games, it is the eighth-best team in the Eastern Conference standings at the moment. One more win, and it can eliminate at least Harrisburg City Islanders from the race. And it needs to drop points in order for any of the other teams in the hunt to catch up.
OCSC B's problem: it isn't dropping points, it's hemorrhaging them.
The team has lost five of its last six games (and tied the other). It has been shut out in four of its last five. The last two losses were to teams still alive in the hunt for eighth in the East: Pittsburgh and Wilmington. And all three of its remaining games are on the road.
Next game: @ TFC II; 7:30 pm, September 11, 2016
TFC II is out of the playoff hunt and in even worse shape than OCSC B. It has lost its last five games, of which the last four were at home. And it has conceded nine goals in its last two outings. If OCSC B can't win this one, it's hard to see how it can prevent itself being reeled in by the chasing pack in the East.
Thank Wilmington for keeping the race for eighth interesting by keeping OCSC B down for another round, and allowing the rest of the pack to stay in the hunt. The Hammerheads had gone 10 games without a league win before they welcomed OCSC B on September 7 and picked up a 3-0 win. Those three points put the Hammerheads on 30 with three games left to play: just two points behind Orlando.
"Just" two points is a lot for a team that got four out of that 10-match winless skid, of course.
Next game: vs FC Cincinnati; 3:00 pm, September 11, 2016
The Hammerheads won't be mathematically eliminated if they lose this game, but they likely have to beat at least one playoff contender to make the post-season (Richmond is their final opponent of the season), and Cincy would be a good pick.
Cincinnati plays three of the five teams chasing eighth in the East to close out its season, starting with Wilmington, then Pittsburgh (twice) and Orlando. So points against Cincinnati almost count double in the race for eighth. Best case for Wilmington: win this game and hope Cincy wrecks the post-season hopes of its rivals.
Harrisburg City Islanders
On the bright side, the only team to beat HCI in its last nine games is league-champ NYRB II. On the less bright side, HCI's reward for an extremely unlikely playoff berth will be a match-up with NYRB II, who have beaten Harrisburg 5-0 and 4-1 in their last two meetings (but only won 1-0 when the teams met for the only time this season at Red Bull Arena).
HCI only has two games left, and it needs to win them both and hope for substantial help from other results. It will know more about how much help after the upcoming weekend's matches. Harrisburg isn't in action again until September 17, so it just has to hope results go its way before it is next in action.
With 27 points from 28 games, only two wins will do: OCSC B already has 32, and HCI can't get to 33 without six points. And it will be eliminated from the race for eighth if OCSC B beats TFC II on September 11.
Next game: vs Wilmington Hammerheads; 7:00 pm, September 17, 2016
From HCI's perspective, this game only counts for anything if TFC II gets at least a point off OCSC B this weekend. And it may not count for much if Wilmington beats Cincy to bring itself up to 33 points heading into this match.
Not looking good for Bethlehem. The Steel is winless in its last nine games.
It has 27 points and three games left, so can get to 36 points by winning out. And it gets to play Pittsburgh and Orlando at home in its last two matches, which gives it a direct shot at two of the teams it needs to knock out of the way if it is to get to the playoffs.
But first it has to get past Charleston on the road. And if it doesn't beat Charleston, then it can be eliminated from the race for eighth if OCSC B beats TFC II on Sunday.
Next game: @ Charleston Battery; 7:30 pm, September 10, 2016
Charleston's form is almost as bad as Bethlehem's: one win in its last eight games, and currently on a two-game losing streak. But even a tie won't do for the Steel, as it would mean much the same as a loss: elimination if OCSC B wins against TFC II the following day.
The Riverhounds should have been out of this race a while ago, but they have won three of their last five - each against fellow contenders for that open eighth place in the playoffs. So Pittsburgh still has a shot. A very long shot.
It has 23 points from 26 games played. Win out and it can make 35. That total only gets it through if its playoff rivals keep losing, and it only gets to influence that once - against Bethlehem Steel on September 18. If it can win the two games it has before then, and 35 points still might get a team into the post-season, then it has a shot.
Next game: @ Charlotte Independence; 7:00 pm, September 10, 2016
Pittsburgh will do well to even get a point out of this. Charlotte is closing the season in fine form: one loss in its last nine games, and eight goals scored in its last two (winning) outings. If Pittsburgh loses, then a win for Wilmington - or a win or draw for OCSC B - this weekend knocks the Riverhounds out of the race for eighth. And tie would see Pittsburgh eliminated by an OCSC B win.