Week 21 Preview: what you need to know
Must win week
OK, let’s get the easy part done first. Over in England, Birmingham City play Derby County on Friday at 2:00pm, and the game is on ESPN+. Derby barely avoided relegation last season and are currently 15th, so are not an especially strong opponent. However, the fun part is that they are managed by Wayne Rooney. So, if you hate Manchester United and/or Everton and/or DC United (which, to be honest, is a pretty big universe), this is the game for you.
Back here in the real world, there are a few games that will have a major impact on the Legion in midweek. First, Jamaica plays the last of this round of World Cup qualifiers tonight at 8:00pm (Paramount+ in English, Telemundo Deportes in Spanish for those who subscribe to either of those). Birmingham’s Junior Flemmings has played 73 minutes in 2 losses so far – Jamaica are dead last right now. If he doesn’t play much tonight he could be available for this weekend’s key game. Also tonight, the USA has a must win game against Honduras after 2 lackluster draws (9:30pm, Paramount+, Telemundo, Universo).
Also tonight, FC Tulsa host Indy Eleven (7:00pm). Tulsa are now on a 4-game win streak and will be looking to close the gap behind the Three Sparks to just 2 points ahead of Saturday’s head-to-head matchup. For their part, Indy have a chance to get back into playoff position with a win tonight, so it’s not as if Tulsa can take the game lightly. And there is the added bonus of a double-game week while the Legion gets a rest.
No one else in the Central Division has a midweek game -Louisville City’s game yesterday notwithstanding – and elsewhere in the Championship there aren’t really any games to grab the interest of neutral fans. So…
Moving on to Saturday, the Legion will have had a full week to stew over the embarrassing loss in Memphis. Instead of finding themselves temporarily at the top of the division (Lou City’s 4-2 win at Hartford yesterday would have put then back in the driver’s seat regardless), the Three Sparks are now 4 points adrift of first again with Tulsa breathing down their necks. Worse, in the updated Power Rankings released today, Tulsa is now 6th and the Legion has dropped to 10th. Questions abound for the Legion lineup too. Will Junior be able to play? Will Bruno Lapa be game fit (he is reportedly back in training)? Is Neco Brett hurt?
One issue at least the club does not have to worry about yet: yellow card accumulation. In most leagues (including MLS) a player racking up 5 yellow cards is suspended one game. Currently Mikey Lopez has 5, and Anderson Asiedu, Alex Crognale and Jonny Dean all have 4. In the USL Championship, 5 cards gets you a fine. Suspension (and an additional fine) is at 8 cards, then 2 games at 11 cards and 3 games at 14 cards. That last would be an impressive achievement in its own right. Also, accumulation drops by 1 card if a player goes 5 games without a card. Lopez’ 5th card was against Memphis this past weekend. As far as I am aware he was not fined but he may be at risk of getting one. Jonny Dean’s 4th card was also this past weekend.
All right – tangent over. Back to the action. The Tulsa-Legion game is at 7:00pm Saturday (ESPN+, my68). One hour earlier at 6:00pm Indy Eleven return home to face Sporting Kansas City II, who managed a surprising 3-0 win over OKC Energy last week, and keeping the Central extremely tight top to bottom. Despite that, OKC remain in playoff position, but face a difficult task to protect that as Lou City heads west (Sunday 5:00pm). Atlanta United 2 is off this week, and Memphis 901 remain at home with The Miami FC coming to town (Saturday 7:00pm). Miami has worked its way back into contention and is currently 3rd in the Atlantic with games in hand. The Atlantic has become very much a division of the haves and have-nots: the top four have a combined 12-1-7 record over the past 5 games (yes, just 1 loss between them), whereas the bottom 4 are 5-12-3.
Looking elsewhere, once again there’s not much to grab the attention. Outside the Central things are already beginning to solidify in terms of playoff contenders. The best of the bunch is Colorado Springs v. Rio Grande Valley (Saturday 8:00pm). That’s 2nd v. 4th in the Mountain with only 2 points separating them.