Week 6 Preview: what you need to know
Motor City Madness
We’re heading in to another crazy week, with the Open Cup third round about to start and a fairly hefty USL Championship schedule to fill up the Easter weekend. Lots to consider here.
Open for business
OK, I know the Open Cup isn’t until next week, but the Legion’s game is on Tuesday, which is within 7 days of this preview, so I’m going to count the first day of play. The Legion were drawn in the Southeast region pot, which had only 4 teams in it. With about half of the MLS teams entering the competition, a first ever official game against Atlanta United (who as 2019 winners are still the reigning champions) was a possibility. United have been hit by multiple injuries, including a long layoff for Josef Martinez to continue repairs on his knee. It could have been a very good time to get them. But it was not to be. Instead we get a home game against South Georgia Tormenta (Tuesday, 7:00pm, venue to be announced).
Tormenta currently play in USL League One, and in fact were the first ever team to join that league back in 2018 prior to the league’s inaugural season in 2019. Prior to that they were in the Premier Development League (now USL League Two) and as such played against the Birmingham Hammers, handling them rather easily in 2018. Thus we have something of a grudge match.
Tormenta advanced to the third round by beating the Charleston Battery 1-0 in Charleston. The Battery are not exactly firing on all cylinders (or cannons, I guess) this season, but defeating a higher division foe is still an achievement. In league play they lost 1-0 at home to North Carolina FC in the opening weekend. NCFC were abysmal last year, but may have improved somewhat. On Saturday they host Union Omaha and so have a short rest before coming here. Omaha are a big question mark this year, having lost a large number of players to higher divisions.
By the way, tormenta is Spanish for storm. The team’s crest features an ibis (not a pelican apparently). I have no idea what the connection is.
The most important part
With a league win in hand at last, the Three Sparks make their longest trip north this week, heading to Michigan and Detroit City FC. DCFC are of course an expansion team, having jumped ship from NISA last season. They had been in NISA since the fall of 2020. NISA has a split season, fall and spring, so DCFC played three seasons. They won all three. Moving on made complete sense.
So far this season they have played 5 games, with a record of2-1-2. The only loss was 0-1 in the season opener at San Antonio. Since then they have pretty solid, most recently winning comfortably 4-0 in Atlanta (scoring all 4 before Twonited were shown two red cards). They have scored a total of 7 goals, and have been spreading the wealth: only Antoine Hoppenot and Pato Botello Faz have scored twice. Hoppenot is their major threat. The Frenchman has played his entire career in the US, mostly in the USL but with a stretch of 69 games for the Philadelphia Union in MLS. He was most recently with Louisville City before joining DCFC at the start of this season. At the opposite end of the field Nathan Steinwascher has been DCFC’s long-time goalkeeper but has already established himself as a quality shotstopper at this level.
Add to that the problems of playing at Keyworth Stadium. The field itself is narrow – about 67 yards wide – barely enough for USL standards. The artificial turf is three years old so should be okay to play on, although the painted-over touchlines from prior seasons could be a distraction. On top of that there are the rabid fans, possibly the most energetic in the league. And if they score, beware the smoke. There will be a lot of it.
The game is being played Friday evening (6:00pm). It will be televised nationally on ESPN Deportes as well as on ESPN+.
Prediction: A tough one to call. DCFC are much stronger than most people expected them to be. On the other hand, the Legion looks to be improving and now has one of the more serious scoring threats in the entire USL in Juan Agudelo. With the win over Hartford, the Three Sparks are only 3 points behind Detroit, so a win could vault them into playoff position. That being said, this looks like an evenly matched game, so I am going with a draw.
Best of the rest
There are two games being played tonight. Of most interest to Legion fans will be Memphis 901 v. FC Tulsa (7:00pm). Area Code FC’s last game was a 1-1 draw at Detroit, and Tulsa are recovering from an epic 3-4 home loss to Pittsburgh. This one will have meaningful implications to how far the Legion rise in the standings this week. Later on, the Oakland Roots host the San Diego Loyal (9:00pm) is a match of teams apparently going in opposite directions.
The league didn’t have the good sense not to schedule games on Good Friday, but at least it didn’t schedule any for Easter Sunday. The only game Friday is also a 6:pm kickoff and features New York Red Bulls II and Rio Grande Valley Toros. Not worth split screening for that one.
Saturday’s games are all evening kickoffs, so you’ll have to be judicious in your viewing choices. One of the better matchups will be Tulsa at the Tampa Bay Rowdies (6:30pm). The two are both on 9 points, but Tulsa will have the disadvantage of a double-game week entirely on the road. Tulsa’s midweek opponent, Memphis, also travels Saturday, to the Colorado Springs Switchbacks (7:00pm), so they don’t have it much better.
The best games of the night though are all late starts. At 9:00pm, Orange County plays Sacramento Republic in an important game, but the best is really saved for last. At 9:30pm will be San Diego v. Louisville City and Phoenix Rising v. New Mexico United. The first of those features the two conference leaders (although San Diego has it over Colorado Springs only on the 6th tiebreaker). The other has the 6th and 7th teams in the West.
The Old Country
Like their Stateside counterparts, the Blues have a game Friday. They will be hosting Coventry City (9:00am, ESPN+). They also play Monday at Blackpool (9:00am, no US tv). With 5 games left in the season, Birmingham City, still stuck in 18th place, needs 3 points to ensure safety from relegation with 5 games left to play.