Whether it’s March or in our case October, there’s nothing quite like looking at a freshly printed bracket and imagining the possibilities of the postseason drama yet to unfold.
And what’s even better than that feeling is the process of filling out said bracket(s) to test your knowledge of the sport against your friends, co-workers and so-called experts like myself.
At this point, you’re probably (justifiably) wondering why I’m talking about brackets in mid-June with more than half of the 2019 USL Championship campaign still ahead of us.
Well, I’m from New York City and we New Yorkers don’t necessarily have a lot of patience. So, with the Fourth Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup providing the longest break in the Championship calendar between now and October, I decided to take the opportunity to create an alternate universe where the USL Cup Playoffs start today and fill out a bracket four months ahead of schedule.
Let’s have some fun!
The Rowdies enter their first USL Cup with both home-field advantage and additional rest after Rising FC needed a penalty shootout to advance to its second straight title game. However, Tampa Bay’s young roster doesn’t have the widespread experience on this big stage that Phoenix does after its 1-0 loss to Louisville City FC in 2018. Those early nerves get the best of the Rowdies and a poor defensive clearance allows Adam Jahn to put the visitors ahead just before the half-hour mark. Tampa Bay starts to turn up the pressure in the second half and gets a deserved equalizer through midfielder Andrew Tinari. After the teams trade chances late on the game heads to extra time, where substitute Brandon Allen heads home the game-winning goal to secure his second USL Cup – having previously won with the Red Bulls II in 2016 – and Tampa Bay’s first in front of the adoring home crowd at Al Lang Stadium. Tampa Bay wins via extra time.