Now down to just four remaining games, tensions remain high as ever for South Georgia Tormenta FC as they fight for a spot in the inaugural USL League One playoffs. Despite being on the outside looking in, hope is still alive for Tormenta as they battle for a place in the top four. To do it, they’ll need to play the best they have all season, returning to the winning form of the year’s start as they take on the first, second, and third place teams all within the next month. Tonight the blue and magenta welcome first place North Texas SC, so far the only team to clinch a playoff spot, in their next to last home match.
The playoff race has been heating up across League One, and with Tormenta FC stuck smack in the middle, results from around the league grow more and more important. Two teams in the pack, Greenville and Tucson, played to a massive 4-0 win for the South Carolina based team. This scoreline makes third place look more like a lock for the Greenville Triumph, meaning Tormenta might begin to focus on the fourth and final place in the table. It also helps South Georgia, as Tucson was climbing the table and predicted by many to jump into fourth by the year’s end. Instead they take a big hit, staying behind Tormenta, but things could still change as they play out the season in Arizona.
We might not even be talking Tormenta’s playoff hopes if not for the performance that took place last weekend in Madison. I said last week that the playoffs started now for Tormenta FC, as every game is a must win in order to keep up with the league. After 5-0 and 4-1 losses in the previous two games, a turning point was needed against the next highest team in the standings. In a closely contested first half, Tormenta showed a definite change from the past few weeks. Playing more openly and pushing higher up the field, Tormenta was not confined to possession in their defensive third, and was able to create more scoring opportunities. Despite this, Forward Madison would take the lead on an excellent cross into the box from J.C. Banks found the head of Paulo Jr. to give the home side the lead. That lead would be long lasting, continuing well into the second half of play. In the 80th minute, however, Marco Micaletto led a gorgeous attacking buildup towards the Madison 18 yard box. Cutting in from the right flank, Micaletto gave and received multiple one touch passes before firing off a shot that, admittedly with some luck, found its way across the goal line before Madison goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre threw it back onto the field. Not satisfied with a draw, Tormenta controlled the remainder of the game as they searched for a winner. After created a few more good chances, the two teams ultimately settled for a draw.
Despite remaining winless through eight matches, the result in Madison definitely felt like the turning point that was needed to halt Tormenta’s free fall and shift the focus back on playoff qualification. A boost to morale will be much needed for this weekend as South Georgia prepares to play the first place team in the league, a matchup that didn’t turn out well just a couple weeks ago.
North Texas SC, the only team to have a playoff spot clinched, was far and away the league leader for most of the year. Then, around the same time as Tormenta, the FC Dallas affiliate took a dip in form, allowing Lansing to catch up and briefly take the top spot. Unlike Tormenta, North Texas has returned to its dominant form, picking up multi-goal wins in each of their last four games. One of those dominant wins came against Tormenta, a 5-0 drubbing that was the Texans’ biggest win all season. A draw and a heavy loss makeup Tormenta’s record against North Texas, but both of those results came from visits to Frisco, Texas. On the road, North Texas’s form has been a different story. Four of their five losses have come on away days, meaning Tormenta will have an advantage tonight that they haven’t had before. However, their current form compared to South Georgia’s means that nothing will be given to Tormenta tonight. North Texas is still fighting to lock the first place spot up, giving them home field advantage throughout the playoffs, and are arriving from a 4-0 win over the Richmond Kickers. A win or draw here will secure them the inaugural USL League One regular season title.
Their positive results of late have been led by striker Ronaldo Damus, who holds the top spot in the golden boot race with 16 goals. Coming off of a hat trick and an assist against Richmond, Damus now holds the record for fastest goal scored in League One, scoring his first of three at just 17 seconds. Damus’ scoring run has been helped by winger Arturo Rodriguez, who not coincidentally leads the league in assists with 9 and in chances created with 59. Tormenta’s defense will need to come out focused from the start or risk falling behind quickly in this one, and launching a comeback against this North Texas team would be quite a task.
If Tormenta falls tonight, Sports Club Stats puts the odds of reaching the postseason into the single digits at 9%. A draw would also dampen the odds slightly, but a win would launch South Georgia up to a 39% chance to crack the top four. Other results from around the league could help out even more with Madison and Chattanooga also competing directly with Tormenta for fourth. Like I said last week, Tormenta needs to be in playoff mode if they want in. The draw in Madison was good, but this team needs three points desperately. Getting them against the top dog North Texas would make them even more deserving of a playoff spot.
North Texas SC
Prediction: Tormenta FC 1-1 North Texas SC
South Georgia Tormenta FC vs. North Texas SC
USL League One Regular Season, Week 25
Erk Russell Park, Statesboro, Georgia
Saturday, September 14, 8:00 P.M. EST
Watch on ESPN+ in U.S.; YouTube internationally