2021 USL Championship Conference Final betting preview
Four teams remain in the USL Championship Playoffs presented by TwinSpires, after all four home teams won their matches last week.
The Eastern Conference Final will see perennial powers Tampa Bay and Louisville City square off for the second straight season, while the Western Conference Final features Orange County and San Antonio, two teams who held off lower-seeded upstarts last week.
Let’s look at both finals and give you a free pick for each one!
Eastern Conference Final: Tampa Bay vs. Louisville City
|Tampa Bay||Draw||Louisville City|
A rematch of the 2020 Eastern Conference Final, between the two best teams in the East all season, will clash for the right to play in the USL Championship.
Louisville City hosted the match last season, which Tampa Bay won 2-1, thanks to an 80th-minute goal from Sebastian Guenzatti. Both teams scored a first-half goal in consecutive minutes.
Guenzatti’s 22 goals leads the team this season, and along with Steevan dos Santos, he was one of two players to score double-figure goals for the Rowdies this year. Both found the back of the net in Tampa’s 6-2 win over Tulsa in the first round. A second-half goal from Yann Ekra was the difference in the 1-0 win over Birmingham last week.
Tampa led the USL in clean sheets this season, with last week marking the 15th time it kept its opponent scoreless.
Meanwhile, Louisville City scored a pair of 1-0 wins over Miami and Charlotte to get to this point. Cameron Lancaster converted a penalty late in regulation last week to break the deadlock, and a Jorge Gonzalez goal in the 74th minute was the difference in the first round.
Lancaster leads the team with 21 goals, and Louisville City has plenty of players with experience in the USL playoffs. In its seventh year of existence, Louisville City has now made the Eastern Conference Final each year, and has a pair of USL Cup titles in its trophy cabinet.
Picking a winner in this match is very difficult, especially with how good both teams are and how well both defenses are playing. The total might be the safer bet in this match.
Louisville City’s offense has sputtered a bit of late, having scored multiple goals just once in its last six matches, but the defense has improved and has conceded just twice in its last five.
Louisville City also has conceded multiple goals just twice in its last 12 contests and has allowed just four total shots on goal in its last three matches.
Tampa has allowed multiple goals just three times in its last 19 matches, and the Rowdies allowed just two shots on goal from Birmingham last week.
Take the Under (2.5) in what I believe will be a cagey, cautious match between one of the best defensive teams in the league and one of the most experienced units in the USL.
Western Conference Final: Orange County vs. San Antonio
|Orange County||Draw||San Antonio|
The top two seeds in the Western Conference both suffered shock defeats in the opening round of the USL Championship Playoffs, but both Rio Grande Valley and Oakland Roots were unable to repeat their first-round heroics last weekend. Orange County was given a battle by Oakland, as the match went 120 minutes without a goal.
However, Orange County keeper Patrick Rakovsky came up huge in the sixth round of the ensuing shootout, with a massive save to give his team the advantage. Then, Orange County’s Ronaldo Damus was stopped on his penalty, but he was awarded a retake after referees deemed the Oakland keeper left his line early.
Damus converted the second attempt and sent Orange County to the conference final.
Damus has scored 15 goals this season to lead the team in scoring, but he has had little help, as nobody else on the team has scored more than four times.
Orange County’s defense has been its calling card since Richard Chaplow replaced Braeden Cloutier as manager. The team has a 9-3-3 record since he took over and has won its last seven matches, with a clean sheet in six of them.
Meanwhile, San Antonio had an easier time, winning 3-1 over Rio Grande Valley behind a pair of goals from Santiago Patiño. Nathan added a third just minutes after Patiño’s second, with a penalty being the only goal Rio Grande put on the board.
San Antonio has won its last three matches by a combined score of 8-1 and has kept three clean sheets in its last four matches.
After scoring just five goals in 11 appearances in the regular season, Patiño has three in the first two playoff matches. He is part of a balanced San Antonio attack, with his eight goals being second best on the team, behind Nathan, who has 11 goals this season.
He is one of five players on the team with at least six goals this year.
Both teams are playing outstanding defense of late, and the Under (2.5) is tempting here, as well. However, I believe there is an even better value play in this match.
In their last five meetings, not once have both teams found the back of the net. Additionally, one team has been kept scoreless in three of their last four matches this season, respectively.
Given the historical trends and the recent form of both defenses, I recommend taking both teams to not score in this one.