Week 20 Preview: what you need to know

Big games galore

Like MLS, the USL Championship plays through international breaks, and that will have some effect on what happens in what is in fact a busy week for the league. Over the first seven days of September there are a whopping 24 games to be played. That means a lot of double-game weeks, and the Central Division has its fair share and more.

As for the international break, as of this writing, 8 Championship players are known to have been called up for World Cup qualifiers, 4 each for Jamaica and El Salvador. That includes the Legion’s very own Junior Flemmings. Jamaica plays Mexico this Thursday, Panama on Sundays and Costa Rica next Wednesday. That means he will certainly miss both Legion games this week, and more than likely next Saturday’s game at FC Tulsa. Regardless of results this week, that game will have enormous playoff consequences so he will be sorely missed. Then again, at this point in the season virtually every game is highly consequential.

Anyway, the week kicks off tomorrow with 6 games on the slate. The Three Sparks head to Kansas City (7:00pm, ESPN+, my68) where the high-performing SKC await. Oh, sorry…that’s the MLS team. That team’s 2021 season has been pretty much the polar opposite of the USL team’s, which has been in or near the cellar all year long. Junior’s absence shouldn’t make too much of a difference in this one, which is possibly one of the least interesting matchups of the week. Not that you won’t watch it, of course.

Kicking off at the same time are Memphis 901 and OKC Energy. OKC are knocking on the door of the playoffs and are coming off a draw against Louisville City followed by a big win against Rio Grande Valley. They also beat Memphis 4-1 last time out. Memphis for their part need to make the most of their games in hand as they enter a very crowded schedule the last two months of the season. There’s also an Atlantic Division matchup that could have some implications for the Central (more on that later): Hartford Athletic v. Charleston Battery (6:00pm).

You can probably skip Thursday’s Tacoma-Las Vegas game, and head right on to Friday night and tune in to a game that all Legion fans need to aware of: Louisville City host FC Tulsa (6:30pm). As we tweeted out earlier this week, Louisville’s remaining schedule is heavily slanted to road games, and they are experiencing significant injury woes. This is one of their few home games left and they need to keep Tulsa at bay in order to maintain a lead over Birmingham. Tulsa of course need to tighten their gap with the Magic City’s own, and will be looking to take advantage of the wounded purple dinosaurs. So this one has major implications for the Three Sparks.

The late West Coast game could also be entertaining: the league’s current points leader, El Paso Locomotive, visit Orange County (9:00pm). The Housewives themselves are no slouches: they are 3rd in the Pacific, but only on tiebreakers.

And then comes Saturday. If Lou City drops points Friday night and the Legion take full points from SKC II tonight, the game at Memphis (7:00pm, ESPN+, my68) will be for the division lead. The Legion would also take the division lead on tiebreakers with 4 points from the 2 games if Lou City loses (the tiebreaker system has been updated to a rather arcane NFL-style system. In this case it would go to the 3rd tiebreaker – points v. divisional opponents). And, since the Three Sparks are visiting both Kansas City and Memphis this week, isn’t it time we dubbed this three-way rivalry the Smokeout Derby? On top of that the Legion still has to play Charlotte yet this month. But Carolina barbecue doesn’t count. Unless it’s Rodney Scott’s, of course.

If they need it, Lou City will have a chance to take the lead back Tuesday evening when they visit Hartford (6:00pm). Hartford started the season strong, but have lost 4 of their last 5 and have dropped out of the playoff spots. That game tonight we mentioned earlier could get them back into playoff position, but they will need to consolidate that with a win over Louisville. Or if they lose tonight, they will need the win even more.

And let’s not forget the other Central Division teams. Tulsa has been strengthening its hold on the 3rd spot and is obviously challenging the Legion for the 2nd right now, but 4 teams are contending for that final playoff spot, with just 4 points separating them. The rapidly improving OKC Energy travel to Kansas City Saturday (4:00pm) to make their case even further, while Indy Eleven host Atlanta United 2 (6:00pm). Keep a watch out on those games too.

As for the remainder of the Championship schedule, two games could be worth checking out: San Antonio v. Pittsburgh Riverhounds (Saturday, 7:30pm) could be interesting and there is some nostalgia value in San Diego Loyal v. LA Galaxy II (Sunday, 5:00pm), which will see Landon Donovan and his now high-flying team take on the little brother of his old team.

Last but not least, if you want some fan atmosphere tonight then join the Magic City Brigade who are hosting a watch party at Little London:

Tonight’s Hartford-Charleston game has been postponed due to weather risks. If anything, that makes the Hartford-Louisville game even more interesting.

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