An Early Look at the Playoffs
Seeding is everything. Just ask a farmer.
With the Legion now qualified for the playoffs for the third year in a row, and continuing a perfect string since the team’s inception, it behooves us to take a peek at how the playoffs are shaping up overall.
As of right now, here is the playoffs would look. No adjustment was made for PPG; this is just on points earned to date:
The top team in each pairing is the home team. In the quarterfinal round, home field advantage goes to the top 2 teams in each division. After that, home field will be determined by points earned. Additionally, every team plays a team from the other division in the conference to start the playoffs.
Currently only four teams have clinched, the other three being Louisville City, the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Phoenix Rising. Amazingly, El Paso Locomotive has not yet booked its place despite sitting on 51 points. That 2 of the 4 qualified teams come from the Central Division is also surprising, as it remains the most tightly contested of the four divisions.
The two other teams in the Central currently above the playoff line are FC Tulsa and OKC Energy, but that is subject to change, shall we say. OKC is in over Memphis purely on tiebreakers, and Area Code FC has been playing well and has a whopping 3 games in hand over the Energy, and 1 over Tulsa who are just 4 points ahead of them. Atlanta United 2 and Indy Eleven are lagging, but still in the hunt. Mathematically, at least.
Similar scenarios exist in the Mountain and Pacific Divisions. Additionally in the Mountain, Colorado Springs and San Antonio are in a battle for 2nd place. In the Atlantic, the top four are pulling away from the rest of the division, with 4th place Charlotte leading the Charleston Battery by 15 points. But there’s only 2 points separating 2nd from 4th. Tampa Bay probably isn’t catchable, but the 3 remaining playoff spots could change several times before the season is over.
And that’s where it gets interesting for the Legion. Because of that, it probably doesn’t matter too much which Atlantic Division team they face to open the playoffs. They are all pretty much on a par as far as offering competition. And because the bottom 4 in the Atlantic are so weak, all of their point totals are somewhat inflated. Of the 3 teams already eliminated, 2 are from the division – New York Red Bulls II and Loudoun United (the other team is Real Monarchs, who are technically the reigning champion, since they won it all in 2019).
Obviously, the Rowdies also benefit from this, but they are so good it makes no difference; they would be favorite to win their division regardless. Simply put, they are the team to avoid in the East. You will doubtless remember that the Legion faced them in the opening round last year, losing 4-2. If the Three Sparks end up 2nd in the Central, they will be staring at a potential semifinal meeting with the same team, barring an extremely unlikely collapse by Tampa. 1st in the Central is currently in the vastly more favorable half of the bracket. And so winning the Central is important not just for bragging rights but for a deep run in the playoffs. Moreover, if we can get the Rowdies and Lou City to beat each other up, all the better.
So how is that looking? Obviously, that final game here in Birmingham could be for all the marbles. Note that for Birmingham to win the division, it must either end up with more points than the Barneys, or beat them in that last game and tie on points. The first two tiebreakers are head-to-head points and head-to-head goal differential. The two teams are 1-1-1 so far this season, but Lou City is +1 on goals. So even if the gap is 3 points, all is not lost until October 30 is done with.
But ahead of that, each team still has 4 games to play. Lou City has Sporting Kansas City II at home, Memphis 901 at home and away, and Indy Eleven away. The Legion has Indy Eleven, Austin Bold and SKC II all at home and OKC Energy away. And of course the final game is here too. SKC II is basically a wash here, and Indy Eleven more or less the same. Indy are 1-1-1 with Lou City and 1-2-0 with the Legion, although both wins were early in the season before the wheels fell off. And the Legion is unlikely to have forgotten the outrage perpetrated by Indy in the season opener here. The only difference is that Lou City travels for that matchup. The other games are difficult to predict: Austin, Memphis and OKC are all middling-to-good teams. The big question mark, of course, is how Memphis will handle 2 games with Lou City. They got thumped 3-0 early in the season and tied 1-1 just over a week ago. Even so, they are likely to be the difference maker in the Central Division.