Week 17 Preview: what you need to know
Half way there
7ard to believe we have played half the season already; at this time last year the Legion had just 6 games under its belt. It’s also hard to believe that the Three Sparks have a divisional opponent they have yet to face. But that is the case – the originally scheduled first game at Sporting Kansas City II was moved due to the Gold Cup preempting the game. This will also be the first game ever against SKC II; the Legion played Swope Park Rangers twice back in 2019, losing 3-1 in Missouri and drawing 0-0 at home. Swope Park were dead last in the entire league that year. Other than the name not much has changed.
Instead, the Legion gets SKC II at home tomorrow evening (7:00pm, ESPN+, my68) and will be looking to rebound from a difficult 3-1 loss on the road at FC Tulsa. They will be attempting to do so against the bottom team in the Central Division on just 14 points from 18 games and dealing with a 3-gamne losing streak. And apparently the club didn’t run out of $1 hot dogs, $2 beers or even fireworks last Wednesday, because they are doing it all over again tomorrow.
But the Championship action starts tonight with two games scheduled. New York Red Bulls II v. Charlotte Independence (6:00pm) probably won’t draw much attention outside the local markets – they are 6th and 7th respectively in the Atlantic – although the Independence are a forthcoming Legion opponent (at home September 26th) and revenge for the outrageous loss to man-bun and co. last year is overdue. Of more interest to Legion fans is the 7:00pm game between Memphis 901 and the Colorado Springs Switchbacks. Area Code FC is looking for a rebound of its own, having been shellacked 4-1 at OKC Energy on Saturday. That’s not going to be easy: the Switchbacks are currently 3rd in the tough Mountain Division.
The – slightly – surprising OKC themselves have an interesting game on Wednesday (6:30pm) at the mercurial Atlanta United 2, who followed up their 3-1 loss here with a 6-2 pounding of Indy Eleven on Saturday. So the two teams in this one combined for 10 goals over the weekend (Including a Player of the Week performance from hat-trick scorer Tyler Wolff). The two are also tied on 17 points (although OKC has played 1 less game). I defy anyone to predict this one, and it should be a doozy. Since you of course will not be watching live, it could be some good late night replay entertainment.
The earliest game tomorrow is Pittsburgh v. The Miami FC (5:00pm) , and that has the makings of a good game too. That’s 1st against 3rd in the Atlantic, which is at the moment the tightest team as far as playoff spots are concerned – just 9 points separate 1st from 4th.
And the other two playoff spot teams in that division play Friday night – the Tampa Bay Rowdies host Hartford Athletic at 6:30pm. Both teams have faded since strong showings in the early going and are a combined 3-6-1 over their last five games. Still, it has the makings of a good game.
After that the Three Sparks have one more game before they get a full 8-day break. Saturday’s game at Memphis 901 (7:30pm) will finish up a 5-game 15-day stretch. Ouch. Fortunately, that’s the toughest stretch the Legion has all season, so it’s almost over.
Also on Saturday, FC Tulsa gets an opportunity to atone for the outrage this past weekend when they visit Louisville City (6:30pm). Hopefully that doesn’t mean they get to close the distance behind the Legion, but taking any points from the division leader will be helpful. After that get to come here the following weekend, and oh is that going to be interesting. Rounding out this week’s Central Division schedule, SKC II have Twonited (4:00pm) and the doubtless shell-shocked Indy Eleven get OKC Energy (6:00pm). At this point the Central Division is very short of unentertaining matchups. The division remains the tightest in terms of standard deviation of points per game, by the way, although the other three have also become much tighter. This is a very competitive league we find ourselves supporting.
On top of that, the whole division gets an 8-day break next week – all eight teams play on Sunday the 22nd. Relief all around. And yes, I am aware Indy go to Loudoun United on Wednesday. I stand by the statement.
The best of the rest of Saturday’s lineup (no Sunday games this week): Rio Grande Valley v. Colorado Springs (7:00pm) is 2nd against 3rd in the Mountain and is definitely worth a look. But the late game at 9:30pm is a must-see: Phoenix Rising and Orange County go head-to-head. OCSC trails the Rising by a whopping 11 points, the biggest gap between 1st and 2nd in any division, but the Real Housewives know this is a must-win 6-pointer and a potential statement game.