Week 13 Preview: what you need to know
The season heats up. Literally.
Another weird schedule this week, with games every day from tonight through Saturday. And lots of stuff to think about.
Open Cup magic
OK, there are no Open Cup gamers this week, but it it worth noting that 2 of the 3 remaining USL teams made it to the quarterfinals last week. Union Omaha of League One surprised Minnesota United 2-1 and Sacramento Republic handled the San Jose Earthquakes 2-0. Louisville City took the early lead but eventually succumbed 1-2 to Nashville SC on an 89th minute goal. Omaha now goes on to play at Sporting KC (June 22) and SacRep are at the LA Galaxy (June 21).
The most important part
The Legion now are officially in the toughest stretch of the season. In the 81 days between this Saturday and August 20th they play 12 games. That’s barely more than 1 game a week, except that 7 of them are on the road. And it’s not as if the opposition is going to be easy. Phoenix Rising, New Mexico United, Louisville, Atlanta United 2, SacRep, Charleston Battery and Memphis 901 all away, and Memphis (again), FC Tulsa, Twonited (again), San Diego Loyal and Detroit City at home. Right now only Tulsa, Charleston and Atlanta have poorer records than the Three Sparks. This is going to be rough.
The stretch starts off this Saturday in Phoenix with a very late game at 9:30pm. That’s an hour after sunset and therefore thankfully avoids the worst of the desert heat: the predicted high for the day is 102°F. This will also be the first ever meeting of the two teams.
The Rising have been, well, unpredictable of late. They have lost 3 of their last 5 games, incurring 15 goals in those losses. The 0-7 humiliation at New Mexico can probably be discounted though. That game, played last Tuesday, was rescheduled from the previous weekend due to COVID issues in the Phoenix camp. That and some ongoing injury problems forced the Rising to field a very underpowered squad. Even so, the 1-5 loss at home to a not especially strong Tampa Bay Rowdies team and a 0-3 loss to Los Dos made for a very bad May. On the other hand, the highlight of the month was a 3-0 win over San Antonio.
The key players who missed time during the past month include Aodhan Quinn, Kevon Lambert, James Musa and Channing Chasten. Of those four, Lambert and Musa played last weekend against Hartford Athletic. They edged that game 2-1, with Lambert scoring one of the 2 goals. The team’s historic big threat, Santi Moar, has been pretty quiet this season, having scored no goals in 9 games. The scoring duties have instead been carried by Greg Hurst and Luis Seijas, who are both on 5 goals so far.
The way they line up is also unpredictable (which I guess can also be said of the Legion), with 4 different formation used in the last 5 games, and not necessarily effectively. Against the Rowdies they went with a heavily defensive 5-4-1 and still got thrashed. All of which makes for a very confusing opponent.
Prediction: Despite the fact that Phoenix have been struggling of late, I don’t see them allowing another defeat at home. Theoretically, this is a fairly evenly balanced matchup, but the Legion’s scoring problems remain unfixed and the team is now also thin at the back. Coming home with a point would be great, but I expect a Phoenix victory in this one.
Best of the rest
Three games tonight, of which only one will be of great interest to Legion fans. That will be Tulsa v. Tampa (7:30pm). The best result would I suppose be a Tulsa win as they are currently 4 points behind the Legion and Tampa is ahead by 3. A draw would also serve purposes fairly well. The other two games (Twonited v Rio Grande Valley Toros and Oakland Roots v. Orange County) feature teams all well below the playoff line.
Next is a rare Thursday game (New York Red Bulls II v. San Diego) at an even rarer 4:00pm kickoff. The game was originally scheduled for this Friday evening, then was moved up a day, and then moved up a couple of hours. Go figure. Not that you are going to miss anything worthwhile, probably.
That leaves the only Friday game as Colorado Springs Switchbacks v. Las Vegas Lights (8:00pm). The Lights are limping along now after a decent start and Colorado are probably smarting after last week’s 2-4 loss in Monterey.
With the late Legion kickoff you will have some choices for earlier viewing and there are some good Eastern Conference matches to select from. Pittsburgh Riverhounds v. Detroit (6:00pm), Rowdies v. Lou City (6:30pm) and Tulsa v. The™ Miami FC (7:30pm) are all pretty juicy. Not as great a matchup but of importance to the Legion is Charleston v. Indy Eleven (6:00pm). The Battery are bad this year, but if they can take points from Indy that improves the Three Sparks’ chances of jumping the playoff line. Indy are currently 1 point ahead of the Legion in the last playoff spot; an Indy loss and a Legion draw or win would flip that.
Most of the later games are not particularly interesting, which is just as well since the Legion plays late.
Finally, don’t drink too much during the early games; falling asleep during the Three Sparks game would not be good. Possibly.