by Paul O'Donnell
On Sunday, July 22, the PDL’s regular season will be over and 16 of the 63 teams will engage in their respective conference playoffs leading to the championship match. The format this year has the top two teams from each division appearing in the conference semifinals. The division winners will face the second place side in the other division of each conference in the semifinal round. The winners then face off for their conference titles and a berth in the PDL’s final four.
So who is ’locked in’ or looks to have the inside track? (Visit the PDL Standings on the USL website for the latest)
In the Mid-Atlantic division the Hampton Roads Piranhas (11-0-2) have all but locked up the division with a 10 point advantage over the Ocean City Barons (7-1-4) who hold a three point lead over the Virginia Legacy (7-5-1) for the second slot in the conference playoff round. A twice postponed match with the Barons at Reading has yet to be played. The Barons end the regular season campaign with 3 straight matches at home with the finale against the division leading Piranhas on July 22.
The Northeast division currently (as of July 9) is being led by the Brooklyn Knights (8-3-2) who have a two point lead over the two time champions (2002, 2003) Cape Cod Crusaders (6-1-6). The Long Island Rough Riders (6-3-3) hold third with Westchester Flames (5-2-5) a single point behind and both have a game in hand over the top two teams. Long Island is looking ahead to a very big week for them as they’ll cash in the game in hand at Rhode Island (3-7-1) on Friday then move on for the pivotal match of their challenge at Cape Cod on Saturday.
The Flames of Westchester, last season’s division winner, will know by their match on Sunday with Rhode Island what is required of them to stay in the fight and they’ll be looking ahead to their key Wednesday game with the division leading Knights. This is a very intriguing division fight with the top four very closely matched and facing one another over the final two weeks. Which teams appear in the conference playoffs will surely not be determined until the final Sunday, July 22, when the Flames entertain Long Island while the Knights travel to Cape Cod.
Defending PDL champion Michigan Bucks (8-1-3) have the division firmly in their grasp which includes two games in hand over the second placed Chicago Fire Premier (7-3-4) who also hold a five point advantage over the third place West Michigan Edge (5-3-5).
The Heartland division has recently become a toss-up as last weekend saw the previously unbeaten Kansas City Brass (7-2-4) drop two games, surrendering first place to the Lions from St Louis (9-5-0) and fell into the grasp of third place Thunder Bay (7-2-3). The Brass lost heavily, conceding nine while scoring only two in those consecutive defeats on the road. With the top team stumbling the door might have been opened just enough for the Des Moines Menace (6-5-1) to clamber back into the fight with their four remaining games a possible advantage. Thunder Bay finishes with four consecutive at home including the last two against the Menace. St. Louis could find their stay in the top spot short lived because they only have two to play, with both of them on the final weekend. That finale with the Brass looks likely to determine at least one spot in the conference playoffs.
Expect El Paso (6-4-2) and Laredo (6-2-3) to be the two teams from the Mid South division that move on to the playoff round with Mississippi Brilla (6-5-3) falling from contention. Which finishes on top is yet to be determined as only a single point separates all three but the Brilla have only two games remaining. That final match of the campaign has Brilla entertaining Laredo with a possible chance of determining the outcome on the last weekend of the season.
The Southeast division is home to former champion (2004) Central Florida Kraze, the current leader and highest scoring team in the PDL (43 goals scored and a +28 goal difference). They seem solidly in command at the top (10-2-1) with four teams in the fight for second. The Carolina Dynamo (8-2-2) may hold the real key having four games to play. The Atlanta Silverbacks U-23s (7-2-4) will have something to say about who moves on with their home-and-home against the Nashville Metros (2-8-3) and the finale against Carolina.
The BYU Cougars are solidly in charge of the Northwest division with their 11-1-1 record holding an 11 point edge over the Tacoma Tide (7-3-2). The Tide have a five point pad over the Spokane Spiders (6-7-0) in third. The order of finish here isn’t likely to change so we’ll see the Cougars and Tacoma in the conference playoffs.
The Southwest is a very different animal as well as the PDL’s largest division (10 teams). The leader, San Fernando Valley Quakes (8-2-5) hold a one point edge over first year side, the Ventura County Fusion (9-4-1) with the Fresno Fuego (8-4-2) two poins behind them. The leaders have only one game remaining while both Fresno and Ventura have two. Besides that, there are two other teams that could end up in the mix; the San Jose Frogs (8-5-1) and the Los Angeles Storm (6-4-3). The Storm do still have an outside chance with their three games remaining.
The PDL’s conference playoffs don’t "officially" begin for another two weeks. Truth be told, the early playoff round is well underway with as many as four or five teams in several divisions still having a good chance at advancing to those official conference semifinals. Good stuff!