Week 8 Preview: what you need to know
Rubber, road; road, rubber
If last week’s game is anything to go by, attendance at this week’s Wednesday tilt should be good, and then we have a huge game this weekend as well. This will be a key week for the Legion to prove that the poorish start to the season was an aberration.
The most important part
The™ Miami FC head to the rainy climes of North Central Alabama with quite a lot on the line for both teams (7:00pm). Miami are riding fairly high in the standings at 5th in the East. The Legion have dropped back below the playoff line after being off at the weekend but a win Wednesday evening would put the Three Sparks in 4th place (by tiebreakers over Indy Eleven). It would also have the very desirable effect of dropping the Tampa Bay Rowdies out of playoff position, a situation they are not exactly accustomed to.
But it will not be a walk in the park. Miami has shown itself to be quite a strong team this year, as their standing suggests. They have won 3 of their last 4 league games, including road wins over the Rowdies and Memphis 901. They also beat Hartford Athletic at home. The one loss in that stretch was 1-2 in Phoenix, hardly a disastrous result. They also narrowly lost to Inter Miami of MLS 0-1 in the Open Cup.
The South Floridians have quietly put together an impressive roster. Last year they picked up midfielder Speedy Williams from Louisville City and this year added 2021 Golden Boot contender Kyle Murphy (who scored the winning goal this past weekend against his former team). They also signed former Legion defender Ben Ofeimu early in the season. He joins former Birmingham midfielder Bolu Akinyode on that team, so there will be a reunion of sorts tomorrow.
Despite adding attacking power, Miami rank dead last in shots taken with just 67, or 9.57 per game, and have scored just one more goal than the Legion. On the other hand, they rank 22nd in goals conceded, that is, 6th best. So they don’t score much, but they don’t give up many either.
Prediction: This is a tough one to call. A win would be a real signature result, but I don’t see it coming. I also don’t see the Legion ready to give up 3 points at home ahead of a tough road game this weekend. I’m calling it a draw.
The Legion started the season with a pretty tough schedule and its first double-game week of the season continues in that vein. After hosting Miami the Three Sparks head north to the fake steel town to face the Pittsburgh Riverhounds (Saturday, 6:00pm). Yes, that’s right: after having them steal our first ever home playoff game from us our first game against them this year has to be on the road. The schedulers are truly evil people.
The Hounds are 3rd in the East right now, and have looked very hard to beat. That being said, they have lost 2 of their last 3 games, 0-1 at Las Vegas and 0-2 at Louisville, wrapped around a 4-0 home win over a struggling Twonited. Those two losses are not really surprising, with both opponents being quality teams, but there is the possibility that the shine is off the apple.
Even being shut out twice in their last three games, Pittsburgh still rank 3rd in goals with 16 so far, so they can load it up when they want to. They were also involved in 4-3 goalfest with FC Tulsa earlier this season. They also have the league’s leading scorer in Dane Kelly (tied on 6 goals with Las Vegas’ Danny Trejo). Kelly is also of course the league’s career scoring leader. And this is where the game gets interesting. In last weekend’s game against Lou City, he was being rested, but came off the bench in the 60th minute. 20 minutes later he had to sit back down again after getting a red card for hitting Louisville’s Ian Pino in the head. So he will be a non-factor this weekend. Or will his absence be a factor? Perhaps.
Prediction: Another difficult one to predict. Pittsburgh can score, but they can also be pretty leaky at the back. The Hounds are perfect at home so far, but the wins were over Hartford, Loudoun and Atlanta. This is their first true test on home soil. I think they will win, but it will be close. That being said, I will be ecstatic for any kind of result for the Legion. And of the Legion can produce 3 or more points this week, that will be huuge.
Best of the rest
There are 3 other Wednesday games this week. Atlanta v. Lou City (6:30pm) is a hard pass even if it didn’t conflict with the Legion game. Also conflicting is El Paso Locomotive v. FC Tulsa (8:00pm). El Paso have finally started to show some life after an execrable start, and Tulsa are 2 points behind the Legion right now, so this game will have an impact on the good guys. The late game is Sacramento Republic v. New Mexico United (9:00pm) which promises to be a good one for neutral fans.
Thursday’s Colorado Springs Switchbacks v. Rio Grande Valley Toros game (8:00pm) seems fairly predictable, as does Friday’s Charleston Battery v. Memphis 901 (6:00pm). No need to rush home for that one, I’d say.
A long slate of games on Saturday. For replay viewing New Mexico United v. San Diego Loyal (6:00pm) showcases two powerhouses in the West. Tulsa v. Detroit City (7:30pm) is one to watch for its importance to the Eastern standings. At 9:00pm Monterey Bay finally gets a home game as they host the Las Vegas Lights is one for the curious, I guess, but the big late game is Phoenix Rising v. San Antonio (9:30pm).
Sunday’s lone game is New York Red Bulls II v. SacRep (12:00pm). I seriously doubt your mother will want to watch that one while you take her out for lunch.
The Old Country
Birmingham City closes out its season on Saturday. They play Blackburn Rovers (6:30am; ESPN+ games for this week have not yet been announced). Blackburn are in 9th place with no chance of reaching the promotion playoff spots. The Blues are in 20th place with no chance of relegation, so this will not be a match of any great interest to anyone. Note however that if not for the 21-point deduction assessed to Derby County and the 6-point deduction assessed to Reading, Birmingham City would be out of the relegation zone only by virtue of goal difference over Reading and so would be sweating it this week. All told it has not been a stellar season for the Blues.