Week 8 Preview: what you need to know
Tulsa gets a much needed break
Technically Week 8 already kicked off, as the Charleston Battery visited Loudoun United Tuesday evening and came away with a much needed 1-0 win over their hapless hosts, who are now 1-4-0. Loudoun’s week isn’t likely to get any better, as they travel all the way south to Tampa on Friday to play the Rowdies smarting from that loss at Charlotte last week. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t much to look forward to, and it all starts tonight.
First off, the two most surprising teams in the increasingly crowded Central Division face off tonight as Atlanta United 2 welcome Sporting Kansas City II to the Fraction (aka Fifth Third bank Stadium) at 6:30pm Central. A win for Twonited would see them jump the Three Sparks to the top of the division; a KC win would take them above Louisville City, who currently shockingly sit out of the playoff spots and potentially also above FC Tulsa.
Tulsa get the week off, by the way, and they really need it after getting shellacked three games in a row on the road. Will they recover in time to beat SKC on the 16th? We shall see.
Also with a chance to leapfrog the Legion tonight is Indy Eleven, who travel to Texas to play the tough El Paso Locomotive (8:00pm). El Paso has 8 points from four games, but at 2-0-2 is one of only two undefeated teams remaining in the Championship (the other being Hartford Athletic). Indy has been inconsistent at best and needs both the points and the psychological boost.
Things heat up on Saturday. Along with our boys heading to Oklahoma City (7:30pm, ESPN+), Louisville City and Memphis 901 round out the Central Division schedule for the week (6:30pm). Louisville City is still without a permanent head coach, and has lost two straight games. Memphis 901 on the other hand is looking rather better than anticipated and beat Indy Eleven last week without two of its stronger players in Dominic Oduro and Dre Fortune. That one could be very entertaining.
Over in the West, the best late game on Saturday is likely to be Phoenix Rising v. Tacoma Defiance (9:30pm). This will be a battle of contenders, although Phoenix got lucky last week with a last gasp goal to draw against San Diego Loyal.
Sunday’s only game is Charlotte Independence v. Hartford Athletic (6:00pm). The two currently are 3rd and 2nd respectively in the Atlantic Division and will likely put on a show.
Which brings us to the Legion game. The Three Sparks have a 3-game win streak on the line against the weakest team in the division who were also the first opponent in that streak. The Energy have drawn both games since then and are currently 0-3-4. That means they have the dubious distinction of being of two winless teams in the league alongside the Real Monarchs. This will also be their first game under interim head coach Leigh Veidman, having parted ways with John Pascarella early this month. Veidman is a Liverpudlian (ugh) but has been in the US quite a while, probably because he is persona non grata in Liverpool, having managed to play in the academies of both Everton (double ugh) and Liverpool (triple ugh). His prior coaching experience includes an assistant stint at the now defunct Fresno FC, but not much else.
OKC was also the first team to experience the Legion’s 3-5-2, which is now more developed and should be a tough nut for them to crack. They have managed to score just 5 times in 7 games, so the defensive stoutness of the newfangled Legion will cause them problems. they have also shifted formations: previously in a 4-2-3-1, for the past two games they have used the 4-4-2. That has the advantage of being time-tested, but it’s hardly inventive. It has earned themn two draws though.
The Legion should be nearly at full strength; the status of Mikey López is still in question, but Jaden Servania should be available. After scoring for Puerto Rico in a 7-0 rout of the Bahamas last Wednesday, he did not play in the 2-0 win against Guyana yesterday, so should be rested.
Also of interest is Neco Brett’s scoring. Right now he is tied for second in the league with 3 others, sitting on 5 goals behind the Rising’s Santi Moar on 6. So he has that incentive to continue finding the back of the net, but is also on 49 career regular season goals. He has plenty of reasons to chalk up more goals. He’s in pretty good company in that 4-way tie: the others are Santiago Patiño 9San Antonio), Aiden McFadden (Atlanta United 2) and Jorge Hernández (LA Galaxy II).
At the other end of the field, Matt van Oekel is leading all keepers with 25 saves. He’s 2 saves clear of San Diego’s Trey Muse. Will OKC give him enough shots to keep that lead? They only gave him 2 to handle last time out, so maybe not.
We shall see.