Week 3 Preview: what you need to know

International break? We don't need no stinkin' international break!

The world’s leagues are stopping for the international break as everyone is chasing World Cup spots. That doesn’t mean spit to the USL Championship, though, which actually has a large slate of double-game weeks coming up. And then there’s this little thing called the Open Cup…

Around the World

This is the final round of World Cup Qualifiers, so it’s make or break time everywhere.

As far as CONCACAF is concerned, each team has three games to play in this window. For the US, the hardest game of the competition is on Thursday when they travel to Mexico (9:00pm, CBS Sports Network, Univision, TUDN, Paramount+).  Then on Sunday they face Panama in Orlando (6:00pm, UniMas, TUDN) and end up in Costa Rica next Wednesday (8:05pm, Universo). The US is currently tied with Mexico on 21 points behind Canada on 25 and ahead of Panama on 17.  The US has several paths to qualification; the easiest is probably beating Panama and taking at least 1 point from Costa Rica would guarantee qualification and avoid a potential playoff against the Oceania champion (most likely New Zealand). Points in Mexico City – very hard to achieve – would make the process a bit easier.

The most important part

The Legion returns home after a disappointing performance in Tulsa, and needs to get full points on the board against the Colorado Springs Switchbacks on Saturday (6:30pm, ESPN+, my68) in the first ever meeting between the two sides.

For the first time in what seems like forever, the Three Sparks will be without a member of the Crognale family in the lineup. Alex will be suspended due to his red card this past weekend and his younger brother Eli today announced his retirement from professional soccer. The two siblings have been with the team since the start of the 2020 season and at least one has been in the 18 ever since.

Complicating problems is the status of Freddy Kleemann, who sustained what looked like a knee injury in the Tulsa game and was subbed out early. He was standing pitch-side for a couple of minutes before they decided to switch in Thomas Vancaeyezeele, but if he’s not ready to go, the Legion will be very thin at centerback. That might force a formation change, probably with 4 at the back. Eli’s retirement also leaves the squad down to 5 healthy midfielders (assuming Matthew Corcoran is still injured).

The Switchbacks will also be missing a couple of pieces: Left back Triston Hodge will be with Trinidad & Tobago for a tournament and forward Kharlton Belmar is headed to Europe with Grenada. Hodge played the full 90 in both games so far this season and Belmar appeared off the bench in both. That could upset their game plan somewhat, especially the absence of Hodge.

This will also their first road game of the season, having beaten Orange County and Monterey Bay at home by 1-goal margins in not overly impressive manners.

Prediction: Calling this one is a toughie. Both teams are in unfamiliar situations. Colorado needs the win far less than the Legion, but the Legion is still struggling mightily to get on the scoresheet. 3 points are really an absolute must here, but I’m opting for a draw.

Best of the rest

Between Wednesday and Sunday there is a total of 17 USL Championship games this week. Quite a few should be worth checking out. Unfortunately Colorado does not have a midweek game, so put that out of your mind.

Starting tomorrow’s slate will be the Baby Bulls hosting Louisville City (6:00pm), putting New York on 4 games already. That’s not the interesting game of the evening however. FC Tulsa might get their comeuppance against the surging San Diego Loyal (7:30pm), but the big game of the day is probably El Paso Locomotive against Las Vegas Lights (8:00pm). El Paso have had a dismal start with no points earned and the Lights upset the Rising in Phoenix on Saturday.

On Saturday, the earliest game is Detroit City v. Pittsburgh Riverhounds (3:00pm), which is the only game you can watch before heading to Protective. At 6:00pm The Miami FC hosts Loudoun United. The latter have won both games so far this season and may not be the walkover most are expecting.

Most of the remaining overlap the Legion game, with the notable exception of Phoenix v. San Diego (9:30pm), which promises to be a doozy.

Of the three games on Sunday, you may want to opt for Sacramento Republic v. Tulsa (4:00pm) and Rio Grande Valley v. San Antonio (6:30pm), both of which could have some fireworks.

By the way, the Legion will not have a double-game week until the end of April, so almost every other team has an opportunity to get ahead on points.

Opening Back Up

After a 2-year hiatus, the US Open Cup is finally returning, and the first round starts tonight and continues tomorrow. The official website is here; you can also follow on thecup.us (for which this correspondent covered the Legion’s only USOC home game to date back in 2019!).

Even better, every USOC game will be streamed either on ESPN+ or on the USSF YouTube channel. The game of most interest to Legion fans is tonight, when Southern States SC Stars and the Georgia Revolution face off in Hattiesburg for the privilege of coming here for round 2. The game kicks off at 7:30pm and will be on YouTube at this link.

The Old Country

Birmingham City has no game this week as the EFL Championship follows the international break.

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