Week 12 Preview: what you need to know
A strange schedule this week
Week 12 kinda sorta already started, although it was also a late finish to week 11. The postponed game between New Mexico United and Phoenix Rising was played last night, a staggering 7-0 New Mexico win including 2 penalties and an own goal, and Neco Brett wasn’t even in the 18. Phoenix has now given up 12 goals in its last 2 games. Wow. Here’s what you can look forward to in this week’s schedule, which includes no Sunday games:
Still open, but the doors are beginning to close
There are 3 USL teams still alive in the US Open Cup, whose Round of 16 is being played in its entirety tonight. As usual, all games are on ESPN+. First up, Louisville City hosts Nashville SC (6:00pm). Lou City head into this game on a 2-game losing streak, including an 0-2 home shocker against Monterey Bay. Not a good state of mind to have facing even a middle of the table MLS team. Next, at 7:00pm League One’s Union Omaha head to Minnesota United, 9th in MLS’ Western Conference. The Owls are the defending USL1 champions, but have been struggling this season after losing a large number of players after taking the title. Lastly, Sacramento Republic take on the San Jose Earthquakes at 9:30pm. Neither squad has exactly been lighting it up this season, but if anything SacRep probably has the best chance of survival to the next round.
The most important part
If there is any prescription to a goal-scoring drought, it’s probably a Friday night game (6:00pm) against the current wooden spoon leader (at least in terms of PPG; the Charleston Battery are currently bottom of the table on tiebreakers). The Three Sparks head to the Big Apple Friday to play New York Red Bulls II. Well, ackshually, they head to New Jersey of course, but let’s not quibble. Right now the Baby Bulls have just 4 points from 11 games and have allowed a total of 20 goals. Their only win was against Atlanta United 2, who currently have the second longest losing streak in the league at 6 games. That was also the only game in which the Baby Bulls did not allow a goal.
The go-to goalkeeper is Anthony Marcucci, although they have also used Derrek Chan and Ioannis Nikopolidis. They combine for 12 appearances in 11 games, by which you may correctly conclude that one of them got a red card (shown to Nikopolidis, who is the son of legendary Greek goalie Antonis Nikopolidis. Be impressed). Marcucci has 24 saves so far this season, good enough for 9th equal in the league.
At the other end, New York has scored just 6 times all season and have been held scoreless in 8 games. That being said, their shot conversion rate is in fact equal to the Legion’s. Their attacking threats, such as they are, would be Jeremy Rafanello and Jordan Adebayo-Smith. Rafanello is in his second year with the team, having previously been with Indy Eleven, although he is still only 22. The American-British-Nigerian Smith is a year younger and is loan from the Tampa Bay Rowdies, which I am sure he is really happy about.
Despite being part of an MLS club’s development system, the Baby Bulls seem also to have an injury problem. In last week’s 0-2 loss at Indy Eleven, they rostered only 16 players, including only one goalkeeper (Chan). They played all of them, but if that carries over and their keeper goes down, they will have a huge problem.
On top of all that, they are naturally a very young team as well and should have a hard time facing off against a physical squad like the Legion. Especially a Legion who are likely not in a generous mood.
Prediction: This should be 3 points in the bag. And if the Legion does not score more than 2 goals, then they will need to take a really serious look at the scoring problems, because that will just be embarrassing.
Best of the rest
There are two other games Friday evening. Twonited v. Orange County (6:30pm) clashes with the Legion game and is an obvious skip choice anyway. At 9:00pm the Legion’s last opponent Las Vegas Lights host El Paso Locomotive, 7th and 5th in the West respectively and separated by just 1 point, which has the makings of an entertaining nightcap.
From the 9 Saturday games there a few good choices. The earliest game is Louisville v. FC Tulsa at 1:00pm. After tonight, Lou City could be on 3 straight losses, and if the Legion win Friday, Tulsa (currently a point behind the Three Sparks) could do us a big favor by taking points in this one. Similarly, at 3:00pm Indy Eleven take on New Mexico United. The Black and Yellow have got to be feeling pretty good right about now, and with Indy currently 4 points ahead of the Legion could also do us quite a solid.
The best Eastern Conference game this weekend though is probably The™ Miami FC against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds (6:00pm). That’s two quality sides, although Miami have been a bit erratic of late and the Hounds just lost to Tampa Bay, who apparently have suddenly woken up from an extended early season hibernation
The four Western Conference games this week all look like they have heavy favorites, although you may want to check out Monterey Bay Union v. Colorado Springs Switchbacks (9:00pm). Colorado are of course still top of the table and the Union at the bottom, but with last week’s massive Monterey win over then Eastern Conference leader Lou City anything could happen.
The real most important part
That the league has stayed clear of the Memorial Day holiday is to its credit.
The Forge sends its heartfelt gratitude to all those who have died, served or are currently serving in the nation’s armed forces. Thank you for your service and sacrifice. We will never forget.