By JOHN BOSCHINI
After 20 weeks of regular season play, the playoff picture in the USL Pro came into focus in dramatic fashion with a flurry of high-scoring games.
The Charlotte Eagles failed to lock up a playoff spot with a mid-week loss to the Harrisburg City Islanders and fell late in a 4-3 shootout with Charleston, which would claim the final post-season berth in the American Division.
Orlando City wrapped up the top seed in the American Division with a 4-0 thrashing of Harrisburg and in the process gifted the National Division title to the Rochester Rhinos, who finished with a three-point lead.
The Wilmington Hammerheads didn't manage to catch Orlando but will be happy with the second seed in the American Division and are followed in third by the always-dangerous Richmond Kickers. The Los Angeles Blues claimed the third seed in the National Division, while Pittsburgh rounds out the playoff field despite a 1-0 loss to Rochester on the final weekend.
Here is a look back at all the weekend action and the schedule for this weekend's first round of the playoffs:
Orlando City 4, Harrisburg City Islanders 0: A Jamie Watson hat trick put the exclamation point on what has turned out to be a stellar regular-season campaign by Orlando.
Dennis Chin put the home side ahead in the 22nd minute in the only goal in the first half as Harrisburg actually had the majority of scoring chances. Watson's first came in the 55th minute with a penalty, and the former Real Salt Lake forward added two more in the final 10 minutes.
Charleston Battery 4, Charlotte Eagles 3: The Battery put on a dominating display but almost squandered the victory thanks to a couple of late defensive lapses.
Charleston found itself up 3-1 after just half an hour with a goal from Zach Prince and a double from Mike Zaher. Charlotte's lone goal came from Dane Kelly but Jorge Herrera extended the lead to three on the stroke of halftime. Two goals in stoppage time from Salieu Bundu and Miguel Ferrer weren't enough to finish off a dramatic comeback for the Eagles.
Richmond Kickers 0, Los Angeles Blues 0: A defensive first half gave way to a more open and free flowing second period but neither team could put the ball on target.
Ronnie Pascale was called into action only twice for Richmond while Oscar Dautt had but one save to make for the Blues.
Rochester Rhinos 1, Pittsburgh Riverhounds 0: The Rhinos were held to a single goal thanks only to the brilliance of Pittsburgh keeper Richard Gilstrap.
Gilstrap made seven saves on the day but couldn't keep out Richard Costanzo's goal just after the restart and a stagnate Riverhounds' offense was unable to threaten to create an equalizer.
Wilmington Hammerheads 2, Dayton Dutch Lions 1: The Dutch Lions closed out their woeful season with their 16th loss of the season.
Jack Avesyan gave Wilmington the lead before halftime, but Eric Kissinger managed to equalize for Dayton 13 minutes into the second half. The tie was short lived, however, and Chris Banks gave Wilmington the lead for good just three minutes later.
Richmond Kickers 0, Los Angeles Blues 0: Richmond and Los Angeles battled to their second consecutive scoreless draw, albeit with a little more offensive potency.
Ryan Jones was forced into four saves while Oscar Dautt was under less attack, requiring only two saves.
USL PRO Playoff Schedule (all games start at 7:30 p.m.)
Los Angeles Blues at Harrisburg City Islanders
Pittsburgh Riverhounds at Rochester Rhinos
Richmond Kickers at Wilmington Hammerheads
Charleston Battery at Orlando City
What did you think of last weekend's games? Any predictions for the upcoming playoffs? Who do you see winning it all?
Share your thoughts below.