Week 26 Preview: what you need to know

The last three weeks start here

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The race to the finish is really under way now, with most teams having just 3 or 4 games left. That will change almost immediately, as there is a long slate of games to be played tonight. 8 in fact.

The earliest game is of little consequence; two eliminated teams going against each other (Loudoun United and Hartford Athletic).  But that’s pretty much the only game like that this week. For a start, at 7:00pm there are 3 very meaningful Central Division games going. The biggest one of course is here in the Magic City as the Legion take on Austin Bold (ESPN+, my68). A win for the good guys guarantees a home game in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs. The Bold, who have been inconsistent of late, also need the win to maintain a narrow lead over New Mexico United and the Rio Grande Valley Toros for the final playoff spot in the Mountain Division. This is a game in hand for them and they cannot afford to waste it. And to cap that excitement off we will have $1 hot dogs, $2 beers and fireworks.

The next vital game is Memphis 901 v. Louisville City. This is the first of two games these two have to play, and both will need the win. A Memphis win could put the Legion back on top of the Central if we win here at home; any points for Lou City keeps them on top (they have the tiebreaker edge over the Legion). Keep an eye on the score in that one as you root for the Three Sparks.

The last game in the Central tonight is Sporting Kansas City II v. Atlanta United 2. This is more or less do or die for Twonited, whose season could come to a very early end (their last regular season game is October 20). A loss sees them eliminated, as does a draw and any points earned by Memphis. SKC II is already playing a massive spoiler role, so this could be a good game.

There are a few attractive matchups out west tonight as well. At 8:00pm El Paso Locomotive will look to solidify their hold on the top spot in the Mountain Division against the Colorado Springs Switchbacks. A win won’t clinch it, but puts them just 21 point shy of doing so. Colorado will want to regain the home playoff spot they lost last week, and keep some space between them and the Bold, whose game here will only be half over at kickoff. An interesting late game will be Orange County v. Phoenix Rising (9:00pm). This one obviously favors the Rising, who have run away with the Pacific Division, but the OC needs the points to keep hold on a playoff spot, as there are 6 teams all in the hunt for the 3 that remain. A half-hour after that is Sacramento Republic v. LA Galaxy II, who are both in that hunt.

Friday is no big deal in the USL Championship (Tampa Bay v. New York Red Bulls II is the only game that night), but the EFL Championship is back in action and Birmingham City are visiting West Bromwich Albion. WBA are sitting in 2nd right now, and the Blues have been sinking badly of late, so this is a tough one to restart with after the international break. But the good news is that the game will be on ESPN+. Kickoff is at 2:00pm.

Saturday is another busy day – 10 games in all. The key one for the Legion is Indy Eleven v. Louisville City (6:00pm). Indy are in exactly the same position as Twonited vis-à-vis elimination, so this is a last gasp for them. Obviously, if Lou City drop points midweek against Memphis, they will be eager to get back on track. That being said, they nearly blew it badly against SKC II this past weekend, so anything is possible. Twonited visit Area Code FC (6:00pm), but may already be out of the playoffs if results don’t go their way Wednesday. FC Tulsa also has a difficult task as they head to San Antonio (7:30pm). The Flycatchers need the points to keep hold on a playoff spot, but San Antonio will want to maintain hold on their home playoff position, or take it back from the Switchbacks if they win tonight. The good news for Tulsa is that they have games in hand over OKC Energy, who are sitting in 5th place but still within reach of the playoffs.

Also on Saturday is the final instalment of this year’s boringly-named Southern Derby (Battle of the Charlies would be so much better). The Charleston Battery visit the Charlotte Independence (6:00pm). The Battery need a 5-goal win to take the Commemorative Cup. Any dropped points sees them eliminated and the 4 Atlantic Division playoff spots set. However, the Battery have won the Cup 9 times, more than any other team (it used to include several other clubs), so anything can happen. Also in the Atlantic is The Miami FC v. Pittsburgh Riverhounds (6:30pm). Playoff positioning is tight in that division, so this is a key match for both teams.

The late game to watch on Saturday is Oakland Roots hosting the OC (9:00pm). The Roots are still alive for a playoff appearance in their rookie season, so this could be a good one.

On to Sunday, the Legion have their last road game of the season, traveling to play OKC Energy (5:00pm). OKC don’t have a midweek game this week, so will be well-rested, and need every point to keep any chance of postseason play alive. They have just 3 games left, the other two both away at El Paso and Tulsa, so this is also their home closer. They are also the last team not to lose to the Three Sparks, so this could be a doozy.

Three other games are on Sunday. Two of them overlap the Legion game, but right after it is LA Galaxy II v. El Paso (7:00pm). The Locomotive are clearly the stronger team, but Los Dos are in that tough Pacific playoff battle and could surprise.

That’s it for this week. The great news for fans, even neutral ones, is that virtually every game has playoff implications right now, and it looks like that will remain the case through the end of the season. Gonna be a helluva ride, folks.

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