Week 19 Preview: what you need to know
The season gets real
OK, technically week 18 in the USL Championship started Monday with 2 games. Or was that the end of week 17? It would be in the NFL, I guess. Either way, the Tampa Bay Rowdies beat Loudoun United 2-0, who remain the worst team in the league despite thumping Indy Eleven 4-1 last week, and Austin Bold and New Mexico United fought to a 1-1 draw, keeping those two teams in the same places straddling the playoff line on the Mountain Division.
Week 18 gets serious tonight though, and a key game for the Birmingham Legion is first up: FC Tulsa hosts Memphis 901 (7:00pm). If Memphis can take this one, the Legion’s second-place position gets a tad safer. This will also use up Tulsa’s game in hand over the Three Sparks.
The big game of the week of course is the Legion hosting Louisville City (Saturday 6:30pm, ESPN+, my68). Lou City are coming off a surprising 0-0 draw at OKC Energy, but remain 7 points clear of the Legion, who, well, have been struggling of late. This is of course a classic 6-pointer and also a statement game for Birmingham, who really need to get the season back in top gear. The Three Sparks are going to need to show up far more strongly than they did last Sunday.
Other games in the Central Division include another key matchup: FC Tulsa v. Atlanta United 2 (Saturday 7:00pm). The two are currently tied on 25 points (although that could change tonight, naturally), although Twonited have played 3 more games. From Birmingham’s point of view, a draw is probably the best result, followed by an Atlanta win (since they have played 2 more games than the Legion). Beyond that, Indy play Real Monarchs (Saturday 6:00pm). The Monarchs are currently in the Mountain Division cellar, and Indy aren’t exactly lighting it up either.
The remaining teams in the Central play Sunday: SKC II v. Memphis (4:00pm) and OKC Energy get Rio Grande Valley (5:00pm). Not too much to get excited about there, I don’t think, except that with two good results this week Memphis could actually find themselves in playoff position come Sunday night. And they still have games in hand over everyone.
As for the rest of the Championship, it’s pretty slim pickings for neutrals. The Colorado Springs Switchbacks welcome Austin Bold (Saturday 8:00pm) in a contest that could see the chase pack in the Mountain tighten up. Colorado are in second, but Austin in fourth is just 3 points behind. 2nd place is really as good as it gets in that division: El Paso Locomotive leads by 12 points already, with a game in hand to boot. That’s about the best of a not so great bunch.
That being said, the league is getting more compressed everywhere, such that apparently uninteresting matchups might surprise. Regular readers will know that we have been tracking the league for competitiveness. Up to now, the Central has been the most competitive. That has just switched, but just barely. Measured by standard deviation of points per game, the Pacific is now at 0.410, the Central at 0.413, the Mountain at 0.415, and the Atlantic is at 0.503. The league as a whole is 0.419. Considering that 1 is normal distribution, that is very clustered.
Almost forgot – Birmingham City’s game at Barnsley will be aired on ESPN+ this Saturday with kickoff at 8:55am.