Week 4 Preview: what you need to know

4 days of games this week

oursportscentral.com

The international break comes to a close tomorrow and life gets back to normal. Here at home, the USL Championship season is beginning to ramp up.

Around the World

By the end of Wednesday night, we will know 30 of the 32 teams in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The final two spots will be decided in mid-June when the 4th place team from CONCACAF meets the OFC champion and the 5th place team from CONMEBOL (Peru, Colombia or Chile) faces the AFC playoff winner (United Arab Emirates or Australia, to be played June 7th).

As it stands, the CONCACAF playoff team will be one of the USA, Mexico or Costa Rica. Canada has already qualified; Costa Rica trails both the US and Mexico by 3 points. Wednesday’s game (8:05pm, CBSSN, Universo) between Costa Rica and the US will be key. In order to qualify without the playoff, the US needs a result better than a 6-goal loss and so has a relatively easy mission after already handling Mexico 0-0 at the Azteca and Panama 5-1 in Orlando already this break. Mexico plays El Salvador and currently has a +4 goal differential advantage and +4 goals scored advantage (the first 2 tiebreakers) over Costa Rica and so has several paths to qualification. Costa Rica needs to beat the US by 6 or win by a margin sufficient to overcome its tiebreak disadvantage with Mexico, who they also need to lose.

The most important part

The Legion find themselves in unaccustomed territory sitting dead last in the Eastern Conference with just 1 point from 3 games. Improving on that isn’t going to easy with conference leaders Louisville City coming to town (6:30pm, ESPN+, my68) .

Lou City is the only team in the entire league on 10 points from 4 games, although Colorado Springs and San Antonio in the West both have perfect 9-point records to date. That being said, the men in purple have not quite lit things up yet. They started out with a 1-0 home win over Twonited, followed that up with another home win, 2-0 over The Miami FC (who not been impressive so far), then beat the Baby Bulls 2-0 in New York before returning home to a surprising 1-1 draw with Indy Eleven.

That tends to suggest that Lou City’s attack can be held off but that their own defense is very hard to crack. Yes, Indy had not scored a goal in their prior two matches but bear in mind that this was a derby game (the improbably but brilliantly named Louisville-Indianapolis Proximity Association Football Contest). That is, the generally listless Indy was much more invested in this one than they might otherwise be.

The Three Sparks, then, find themselves with their own strongest segment – the defense – back to near full strength (although word has it Freddy Kleemann will be for a while at least) but with their weakest segment – the attack – still not anywhere near in sync. The midfield is somewhat in flux with Eli Crognale now definitely gone and Thomas Vancaeyzeele looking to be likely pushed into a near-permanent centerback position. This one is going to be decided in the middle of the pitch.

Prediction: Is this a must-win for the Legion? Probably not, but falling another 2 or 3 points behind the leaders is not going to help things. That being said, as much as Lou City has been less than electric, they are looking much further along than the Legion. And they are stacked almost everywhere. A draw might be the best the Legion can get out of this, but I’m expecting a loss.

Best of the rest

There’s one game left in March: New Mexico United host Oakland Roots (Wednesday, 8:00pm). Neco Brett has already scored twice for his new team, who are looking to be a real threat out West. He has a good chance to add to that as the Roots have yet to earn a point, even losing 2-3 at home to newbies Monterey Bay.

If you like goals, then Friday night’s only game could be for you. The Charleston Battery host Las Vegas Lights (6:00pm). Battery is apparently what happens to this season’s Charleston team who got hammered 4-1 by Twonited last Sunday (with Atlanta’s Jackson Conway logging a hat-trick). The Lights for their part were on the positive side of a crazy 5-4 shootout last Wednesday in El Paso.

Saturday’s early game could be a goodie: Detroit City host Memphis 901 (3:00pm). Detroit has already proven itself not to be a pushover and Memphis isn’t an easy out either. The two occupy the last two playoff positions in the table right now so this has the makings of an entertaining contest. Of the games that clash with the Legion game, pencil in Pittsburgh Riverhounds v. Loudoun United (6:00pm) for later viewing. Loudoun continue to fight above their weight and the Hounds are reliably strong.

Out West the best game is likely to be San Antonio v. Phoenix Rising (7:30pm) so mark that one up too. Sacramento Republic v. Monterey Bay is the late game (9:00pm) and a chance to see the expansion side live.

Sunday’s only game has the chance to be a laugher: El Paso Locomotive visit San Diego Loyal (4:00pm). San Diego are a good side beginning to find their stride (they are typically slow starters) but El Paso has been a huge disappointment and have already allowed 10 goals.

The Old Country

Birmingham City and the entire EFL return to action this weekend, The Blues have a home game against West Bromwich Albion (Sunday, 9:00am, no US tv) who are currently in 12th place.

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