Jacksonville Sports Day

Penalty Kicks, Record Crowds Highlight Opening of 2018 USL Cup Playoffs

TAMPA, Fla. – From a pair of penalty shootouts, to the advancement of four lower seeds and a record total attendance, the opening weekend of the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs produced an action-packed slate of eight games on Friday and Saturday night to kick off this year’s road to the 2018 USL Cup.

The excitement of the postseason brought 59,492 out to the USL’s venues – including club-record attendances for Phoenix Rising FC and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC – as the league averaged almost 7,500 fans per game, the most for the opening weekend in the USL Cup Playoffs in the league’s history.

FC Cincinnati – which entered as the No. 1-seed in the Eastern Conference – narrowly avoided being one of the sides to suffer an upset as it defeated No. 8-seed Nashville SC 6-5 in a penalty shootout at Nippert Stadium, while defending champion and No. 2-seed Louisville City FC had far less trouble as it swept past No. 7-seed Indy Eleven. But the other two contests in the Eastern bracket produced surprises as both the No. 5-seed New York Red Bulls II and No. 6-seed Bethlehem Steel FC claimed road victories with Steel FC defeating No. 3-seed and in-state rival Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC in a shootout after a compelling clash before 5,189 fans at Highmark Stadium.

The highest seed to fall came in the West, where No. 2-seed Sacramento Republic FC fell 2-1 to the two-time defending conference champions and No. 7-seed Swope Park Rangers before a sellout crowd of 11,569 at Papa Murphy’s Park. The Rangers will now visit No. 3-seed Phoenix Rising FC after Didier Drogba helped power his side to victory with his second career USL Cup Playoffs goal. On the other side of the bracket, No. 1-seed Orange County had little difficulty in claiming its first playoff win in club history as it became the first Western Conference top seed to take victory in its postseason opener since the league moved to a two-conference structure in 2015, while No. 5-seed Reno 1868 FC got a stoppage-time winner to earn its first postseason win by defeating No. 4-seed Real Monarchs SLC.

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