Week 23 Preview: what you need to know

We are down to the last 8 games of the regular season (well, 10 if you are Memphis 901 and therefore a really slow starter). It gets very real at this point and all available points have to be grabbed. As of right now, the Legion is 6 points behind Louisville City and a bare 3 points ahead of FC Tulsa. That’s no breathing room at all. And there are some key matchups in the Central Division race this week.

For the Three Sparks it’s another double-game week, but fortunately this time without too much travel. On Wednesday evening they travel to Atlanta for the final stanza of the season series (6:30pm, ESPN+, my68) with Atlanta United 2. Twonited have had a tough stretch, earning just 4 points in the last 5 games, but they faced the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, FC Tulsa and the Tampa Bay Rowdies, so that’s not too surprising. Still, this has to be a game the Legion will look to as a kickstart for the sprint to the finish.

Also on Wednesday in the Central is Memphis 901 v. Indy Eleven (7:00pm). A win would see either team possibly in playoff position (partly depending on how Twonited fares). But for the Legion it’s important given what’s coming up at the weekend.

The next game in the Central is Friday evening, with Sporting Kansas City II hosting FC Tulsa (7:00pm). Points earned by SKC2 in this one would be very useful to the Legion, with possibly some space gained in the standings. SKC2 have been a little better lately, but still unpredictable – they beat OKC Energy 3-0 and then lost 1-0 to Indy. And they have a role to play in the stretch run too.

Then comes an important one on Saturday – Memphis v. Lou City (7:00pm). The Kentuckians have the midweek off and it’s a relatively short trip down the Mississippi for the away fixture, so they are not exactly at a disadvantage. But – and I hate to say this – we really want Area Code FC to win. Not just this one, but all three games against Lou City they still have to play. Yep, those two games Memphis has in hand are, in effect, both against the division leader. But they obviously need the points themselves and will look to get as many as they can. What they achieve against the Purple Dinosaurs could have a major impact on the season finale at BBVA Field (that’s when Lou CIty visits again, in case you haven’t been paying attention).

Also on Saturday, Atlanta make the trek west to Rio Grande Valley (7:30pm). Both teams are just below the playoff line, so it’s a fairly even matchup, but it could put paid the playoff hopes of one of the two sides.

The two remaining games in the Central Division are on Sunday. The Legion are back home to face the Charlotte Independence (4:00pm, ESPN+, my68). The infamous manbun (Enzo Martinez) returns to the scene of his crimes last year in what could be a tough game. The Independence are currently 4th in the Atlantic and are 7 points clear of 5th place. They host The Miami FC Wednesday (6:00pm), which is a game to keep your eye on. The Floridians are in 3rd, 5 points above Charlotte (the Atlantic is by far the most spread out division in the Championship). Both are playing well lately, and the Independence in particular is on a 3-game winning streak. We need Miami to give them a rough time.

The final Central Division game of the week is OKC Energy v. Indy Eleven (Sunday 5:00pm). That could affect the standings, but doesn’t have too much impact on the Legion at this stage.

So, Memphis is important going forward, and we noted that SKC2 is as well. That’s because 2 of the Legion’s last 8 are against them, home and away in October. So while Lou City may get challenged by Memphis, the Three Sparks should look to take a full 6 points from these games. As already stated, these last few games in the division are going to be huuuge.

Outside then division there’s some good action as well. Look for Championship rookies Oakland Roots to confuse the standings – they play San Diego Loyal Wednesday (9:00pm) and visit Orange County Saturday (9:00pm). They had the predictable tough start but have improved quickly and are not a pushover. This might also be the last few games Landon Donovan coaches for the Loyal – he has been interviewed for the open head coach position at MLS’ Real Salt Lake.

And then there’s Tampa Bay. The question is: when will they give up a goal? Their clean sheet stretch is a monolithic – and record – 801 minutes. This week’s challenger is Hartford Athletic (Saturday, 6:00pm). Hartford have cratered lately, breaking a 4-game losing streak with a win over Real Monarchs, which hardly counts. I doubt the Rowdies are scared.

And let’s not forget our friends back in the Old Country. Birmingham City need to recover from two embarrassing defeats as they face Preston North End this Saturday (9:00am). The game isn’t on ESPN+, so you’ll have to purchase PPV to watch.

And last but not least the Magic City Brigade will be hosting a watch party tomorrow night. A wild guess: it’s almost certainly indoors.

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