Week 25 Preview: what you need to know
International break? What international break?
Most of the world’s club leagues are off this week as the FIFA international break sets World Cup qualification on stage. Although there really isn’t any hurry – the competition is delayed next year until late November due to the ridiculous (if not outright scandalous) selection of Qatar as host nation this cycle. Worse, there’s one more window to come next month – smack in the middle of the USL playoffs.
There is some good news to this, though. Although the Legion will be playing without Junior Flemmings, Louisville City will be without Jonathan Gomez (soon to be gone entirely to Spain’s Real Sociedad) and FC Tulsa will be short Joaquin Rivas. The Miami FC is probably the worst hit though: they are losing Josh Perez and Speedy Williams. Gomez, by the way, is not on Mexico’s full national squad, only the U20 team, which is traveling to Europe for a couple of friendlies. So he will be dealing with jet lag when he gets back as well. The Three Sparks are probably best equipped to deal with the personnel loss, so this could well work out to their favor.
As far as CONCACAF matches are concerned, Junior will be facing the US this time around (Thursday, 6:30pm, ESPN2) in Austin of all places. They also play Canada home and away (Sunday, 5:00pm and next Wednesday, 6:30pm, Paramount+, Universo). The other USA games are Sunday in Panama (5:00pm) and next Wednesday against Costa Rica (6:00pm, ESPN2).
So, no Birmingham City games this week, which given the recent run of atrocious form, is just as well. Which means we can focus our attention on the USL Championship. As if we don’t already. Play begins tonight, and a shuffling of the deck in the Central Division is highly possible, as Memphis 901 plays Sporting Kansas City II (7:00pm). A win or draw puts Memphis back into playoff position; anything less than full points eliminates SKC II. The Missouri squad is essentially already in spoiler status, and as we noted yesterday, their remaining games include visits to both Louisville and Birmingham. After this game, Memphis will still have games in hand over everyone in the division except Tulsa (they play later this month).
Also of possible interest to Legions fans this evening is Austin Bold v. Tacoma Defiance (8:00pm). Austin of course are headed here for the long-delayed game rescheduled from June 19. They are currently 6th in the Mountain Division, but only 1 point out of the top 4 and with games in hand. Tacoma, in contrast, is on a 6-game losing streak and are 7th in the Pacific. Despite that, they are only 2 points out of the playoff spots, and also have games in hand. Now this doesn’t seem like much of a match, but the key here is that Austin also plays this weekend (8:00pm Sunday v. OKC Energy). So they have two games before coming here, and will have had shorter rest after the Sunday game. The tougher time they have in these 2 matches, the better.
There are 2 other matches out west tonight that have some chance of entertaining: El Paso v. San Antonio (8:00pm) and later on Oakland Roots v. Sacramento Republic (9:00pm). Those two teams are 6th and 5th respectively in the Pacific – sitting above the aforementioned Tacoma – and have everything to play for. I’ll admit to not knowing much about either club, but you can’t help rooting for the rookies in Oakland to make the playoffs.
Unless you want to watch the Rowdies assault the Charleston Battery (Thursday, 7:00pm), the rest of the weeknight schedule is meh this time. Roll on the weekend: that LouCity-SKC II matchup is Saturday (6:30pm) and should keep all Legion faithful occupied. As should the FC Tulsa v. El Paso game (7:00pm). A loss here could make Birmingham’s chances of a first-ever home playoff game all the stronger (the magic number is currently at 8, that being the total points currently needed to ice that).
Three of those points are theirs for the taking Sunday afternoon as the Three Sparks host Indy Eleven (4:00pm, ESPN+, my68). This one should be very different than the first Indy visit to the Magic City, when they stole 3 points in the season opener in what was then an atrocious sandbox. Times have changed for the Eleven since then, and not for the better. They have just 1 win in their last 7 games, and that was against SKC II. In the last 5 they are 0-3-2. Just as revenge was taken on Charlotte in the last home game, it should be very much on offer this week too.
Just one more game in the Central to mention: Memphis head to San Antonio (Sunday, 7:30pm) as they begin to work on those games in hand. Points dropped by Area Code FC also improve the Legion’s magic number, but we need this team to be sharp for a pair of games against Louisville (the first of which is next Wednesday). Tough choices.
Two more good matchups on offer: New Mexico United v. Rio Grande Valley Toros (Saturday, 6:00pm). These two sit either side of the playoff line in the Mountain Division on the second tiebreaker, so this is big for both teams. They still play one more time later this month too. Last is the Pittsburgh Riverhounds taking on Tampa Bay (Sunday, 5:00pm). That obviously overlaps the Legion game, but could well be worth a late replay viewing. Pittsburgh are 4 points shy of locking up a playoff spot but have been struggling lately and need to get back in gear.
Other than that, see you at the Bank!