NASHVILLE – It is no secret that a goal for Nashville Soccer Club in the 2019 season has been to finish in the top four of the USL Championship Eastern Conference and host at least one playoff match at First Tennessee Park. That fact has been stated by head coach Gary Smith on numerous occasions. A top-heavy East, more so than in any previous USL Championship season, means that NSC has a battle on its hands for one of those four coveted spots.
As it stands currently, Nashville has 51 points through 28 matches with 15 wins and sits in fourth place in the East. That win number might prove to be incredibly important at the end of the season as total wins is the first tiebreaker the league uses to differentiate clubs in the standings.
Nashville SC has the benefit of having five of its final six matches at home (four at First Tennessee and one at Nissan Stadium) to close out the regular season.
But how many points will Nashville SC need to secure a top four spot? Past USL Championship seasons can help give us a better idea. However, in 2016 and 2017 the USL played 30 and 32 matches in the season respectively, so we will use points earned per match to “extend” those two seasons to 34 matches for a better comparison to 2019.
Here are the last three seasons of the Eastern Conference top four:
|NYRB II||21-3-6||69 (78)|
|Louisville City||17-4-9||60 (68)|
|FC Cincinnati||16-6-8||56 (63)|
|Rochester Rhinos||13-5-12||51 (57)|
|Louisville City||18-6-8||62 (65)|
|Chas. Battery||15-8-9||54 (57)|
|TB Rowdies||14-7-11||53 (56)|
|Rochester Rhinos||14-7-11||53 (56)|
|FC Cincinnati||23-3-8||77 pts|
|Louisville City||19-6-9||66 pts|
|PGH Riverhounds||15-5-14||59 pts|
|Chas. Battery||14-6-14||56 pts|
Using the three previous seasons (and projected point totals) you would think that Nashville SC would have to get at least 56 or 57 points to clinch a top four spot. However, it likely will take more than that to earn a home match with how top-heavy the Eastern Conference is. It’s not a stretch to think that the current top seven teams in the East might all hit that 56-point mark in 2019.
Every point will matter, but for Nashville SC, it could come down to who the points are earned against. Nashville has matches remaining (all at home) against 5th place Pittsburgh, 6th place North Carolina and 7th place Louisville City. Those three matches present a golden opportunity to put distance between itself and that trio of teams all looking to break into the top four.
It would be purely speculative to benchmark a specific number of points that Nashville SC would need to hit. Even with the regular season hitting its home stretch, injuries, schedule congestion and home or road matches could work for or against any team. For example, Indy Eleven is in the midst of a brutal stretch that includes 10 matches in a 36-day window. New York Red Bulls II plays only two of its final seven matches at home. Tons of factors are in play for each contending team.
With five more home matches, mixed with plenty of rest during the final five weeks of regular season play, Nashville SC remains in prime position to secure a home playoff match in 2019.