Week 18 Preview: what you need to know
The Legion get a breather
As previously mentioned, 7 of the 8 teams in the Central Division play on Sunday this week, with everyone except Indy Eleven getting at least 8 days rest. Memphis 901 obviously were thoroughly exhausted by getting a point from the Three Sparks; they don’t play again until Wednesday next week (which is absurd given that they have played only 16 games so far). That rest is especially needed for the Legion, who endured a 15-day 5-game stretch. The team earned 8 of 15 points from that stretch. That’s…not bad, but it’s not ideal either. Still, the Three Sparks remain in second place, 8 points clear of Atlanta United 2, who have played 2 more games. On the other hand, Louisville is currently 6 points ahead, so those two home games against Lou City, including the last game of the regular season, could be huge.
Sunday’s game is against FC Tulsa (4:00pm, ESPN+, my68), and revenge will surely be on the home squad’s mind. The 3-1 loss in Oklahoma was the worst in terms of goals conceded by Birmingham all season and the insult will surely not be allowed to stand. The win was also the only points earned by Tulsa in their last five games. Oddly, their previous win was 3-2 against Lou City, who just beat them over the weekend. So they managed to put 3 past both the top two teams in the division, but lost to Memphis, Atlanta and Indy, and then Lou City took their revenge. There’s some consistency there, I think…
The other Sunday games in the Central: Sporting Kansas City II host Indy (4:00pm), OKC Energy host Lou City (5:00pm), and Atlanta visit the Pittsburgh Riverhounds (6:00pm). Of those games, possibly the most interesting will be the Atlanta game, the others all being fairly lopsided. Pittsburgh is a strong team, currently 2nd in the Atlantic but only on tiebreakers. With Indy, Tulsa and OKC all 3 points behind them, Atlanta really needs points from this match. Of the three chasers, Indy looks to be the best bet to close the gap as they play SKC II, who are on a 5-game losing streak, and also, well, read on.
But there’s plenty of action before Sunday, of course, and it starts tonight. First up is Hartford Athletic v. Charleston Battery (6:00pm). After a hot start, Hartford has collapsed and is currently 6th in the Atlantic on tiebreakers behind…Charleston in 5th. A winner in that game would jump Charlotte into 4th place. Later tonight, Rio Grande Valley visits Austin Bold (8:00pm). Either team would jump a spot in the Mountain Division standings with a win, but both of them would do so if they draw. Things are tightening up all over the USL Championship. Also, Austin is on the cusp of a potential move to Fort Worth – the arrival in town of MLS’ Austin FC has the team fighting for support and having a hard time finding it.
On to a lengthy Wednesday lineup. Indy are the Central’s sole midweek representative. They go to Loudoun United (6:00pm). That means that this week they play the two worst teams in the Championship on a PPG basis. SKC II and Loudoun are also a combined 0-9-1 over the past 5 games each. That’s points in the bag, or should be.
The best game of the evening though is very early, a 5:00pm tilt between the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Pittsburgh, with top spot in the Atlantic on the line. The Rowdies have recovered somewhat from a poor patch of results, although they have still lost 4 of their last 7. The Hounds aren’t exactly on firm footing either, having lost their last 2 after a 4-game win streak. For those of us who work from home that could be a good reason to slap the laptop shut right on time and make the mad 10-yard dash to the fridge to crack open a cold one. That’s if you haven’t found a reason to take the afternoon off. Again, read on.
There’s also a good game out west Wednesday – Orange County v. Tacoma Defiance (9:00pm). They sit 2nd and 3rd in the Pacific respectively, and another potential flip is on. The remainder of the midweek schedule is, frankly, meh.
Saturday’s lineup isn’t all that great either. The best of the bunch is likely El Paso Locomotive v. RGV (8:30pm). El Paso lead the Mountain, of course, and RGV could be in 2nd if they win midweek against Austin.
But there is other soccer entertainment to be found on Saturday, and also midweek. After all, the European season is in full swing again, and our good friends at Birmingham City are off to a fairly hot start. They have played 3 games already (2 in the Championship and 1 in the League Cup) and have yet to concede a goal, winning 2 and drawing 1. They have another 2 games this week. The first is Wednesday (1:45pm) against Bournemouth, who are also on 4 league points. The second is Saturday at Luton Town (9:00am), who are 3rd in the table (the Blues are tied for 4th), although that doesn’t mean that much this early in the season. Neither game is on ESPN+, so to watch you’ll have to use Birmingham City’s pay-per-view system.