The inaugural Wisconsin Soccer Leagues Major Division playoffs start Sunday at Croatian Park in Franklin.
But the pairings for the four-team tournament won't be settled until Friday night, when a hectic final two weeks of the regular season wraps up with the two teams battling for the top seed both in action.
The defending champion Croatian Eagles (10-2-5) lead the race with 35 points, one ahead of Bavarian SC (11-4-1), but the Bavarians control their own destiny because they have two matches remaining compared to one for the Eagles.
Thursday night's match between the Bavarians and Milwaukee Brewers in Glendale will set the stage for Friday, when the Bavarians host United Serbians and the Croatians entertain Milwaukee Sport Club (8-6-3) in the completion of a match that was suspended due to severe weather last week with the Eagles up 1-0 at halftime. Sport Club can move past the Milwaukee Kickers (8-5-5) and claim the No. 3 seed with a comeback victory.
Wednesday night's 0-0 draw between the Croatians and United Serbian opened the door for the Bavarians. Had the Eagles won, they could have clinched the title by beating Sport Club on Friday regardless of other results.
A late start to the spring season because of wet conditions has made it challenging for the seven Majors teams to get all 12 of their scheduled matches played. Games will end up being scheduled for 11 of the final 21 days of the season.
"It's been really tough with all the rainouts we had from earlier in the season," said Bavarians coach Patrick Hodgins, whose team will be playing its sixth match in 11 days in Sunday's playoff semifinal. "It just made scheduling games really difficult."
In addition to the weather, the Croatians postponed some games due to their participation in the inaugural U.S. Adult Soccer Association National Amateur Championship last month in Greensboro, N.C., and the Wisconsin Amateur Cup.
"Unfortunately, sometimes you get caught in that situation where your success hurts you a little bit," Eagles coach Alex Toth said. "Because if we didn't have the Carolina trip, we'd probably be done by now."
The Croatians did get one break as the Milwaukee Serbians forfeited rescheduled games on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Before the forfeits, the Eagles had been scheduled to play Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday's 45-minute second half heading into Sunday's playoff match.
"The only little issue that I really have is that we aren't training, all we're doing is playing games," said Toth, whose team hopes to play four games in three days at next week's U.S. Adult Soccer Association Region II tournament.
Hodgins said the Bavarians likely will have to use several players from the club's reserve team – which will playing in the Reserve Division quarterfinals Sunday – for the Thursday and Friday matches.
"It's just tough," said Hodgins, who won't coach this weekend as he'll be coaching the Bavarians' Under-19 boys team at the U.S. Youth Soccer Association Region II tournament in Des Moines, Iowa.
"You want to win the championship, you want to get all the games in, but now you feel like you're doing it at the expense of the health of your players and your opportunity to win come playoff time."
WISCONSIN SOCCER LEAGUES PLAYOFFS
Sunday, June 23
At Croatian Park, Franklin
Majors Semifinal 1, 2 p.m. (1 vs. 4)
Reserves Quarterfinal 1, 2 p.m. (3 vs. 6)
Majors Semifinal 2, 4 p.m. (2 vs. 3)
Reserves Quarterfinal 2, 4 p.m. (4 vs. 5)
Sunday, June 30
At site TBA
Reserves Semifinal 1, 2 p.m. (2 vs. 3/4/5)
Reserves Semifinal 2, 4 p.m. (1 vs. 4/5/6)
Saturday, July 13
At Time Warner Cable Stadium, Uihlein Soccer Park, Milwaukee
Reserves final, 6:30 p.m.
Majors final, 8:30 p.m.