Week 17 Preview: what you need to know

A busy week in the USL Championship

Update: It turns out the USFL Championship game is on Sunday, not Saturday. So you can watch both the Legion and the Stallions with impunity. My bad. And if you’re interested, there are watch parties for both too. The Magic City Brigade will be at Ghost Train Brewing Saturday and Avondale Brewing has one for the Stallions game.

This has to be the busiest week of the USL Championship season so far: between today and Monday there are 18 games being played. For the first time this season, no one is on a bye. A total of 7 teams have double game weeks and the Colorado Springs Switchbacks have a triple-game week. Ouch.

The most important part

OK. The Legion game kicks off at 7:00pm. The USFL championship game kicks off at 7:30pm. DO NOT even think about changing the channel. Go buy a second TV if you really have to. Better, find a bar somewhere that is showing both of them side by side.

Anyway, the visit to Kentucky to face Louisville City will be the first season series against an Eastern Conference that the Legion will complete. The first game here ended 0-0 back in early April but was an entertaining game nonetheless. Much has happened since then of course. For once, the men in purple are not sitting atop the Conference standings. That honor belongs to Memphis 901 who are on 35 points from 16 games. Lou City are 2 points behind, also on 16 games.

However, City have had a relatively soft schedule to date. Of their 10 wins, only two have been against teams currently above the playoff line (San Diego Loyal and Pittsburgh Riverhounds, both back in April). Their 3 losses are a bit confusing: they lost to the Tampa Bay Rowdies (fair enough) but also to LA Galaxy II and the lowly Monterey Bay Union. The three draws include the Legion of course, as well as Indy Eleven and the Charleston Battery.

2 of the 3 losses were over the past 5 games. The 3 wins over that stretch were FC Tulsa, Orange County and Hartford Athletic. Thus it is not too surprising that despite having the 4th-best record they stand only 10th in the Forge’s Power Rankings (which will be out tomorrow, and no I’m not telling you where the Legion stands).

Lou City’s roster is of course stacked, but it would take forever to go through all of them. On the other hand, the team has suffered from one big hole left open by the extended injury of English forward Cameron Lancaster who was absent for much of the early part of the season and came back for just 2 games before going back out again. Without him, the team has been playing with a solo striker, usually in a 4-2-3-1. That is generally either Brian Ownby or Wilson Harris. Ownby has scored only 3 goals. Harris, on the other hand, has 8, but has come off the bench in the past 2 games.

At the other end, goalkeeper Kyle Morton leads the league with 7 clean sheets (Matt van Oekel, Jordan Farr, Connor Sparrow and Evan Newton are 1 behind him). But unlike that chasing group, who are all also in the top 7 for saves, Morton is way down the list at 24th. Which is to say, he plays behind a very tough back line. As a team they are allowing just 0.8125 goals per game, 3rd best in the league.

Buuut…the Legion is tied with Sacramento Republic for 1st in that stat on just 0.8000 goals per game, a very big reason why the team is doing so well. Moreover, of the 13 goals they have allowed, 5 have been in the past 5 games, whereas the Legion has given up just 1 goal in the same stretch.

Prediction: There are 2 games this week on big ESPN, but this is not one of them. A shame, because this could easily be the best matchup of the long week. That being said, for casual viewers it might not be that great, as I expect this to be a low-scoring affair with 2 very solid defenses in action. I do not expect a 0-0 draw again, but goals will be hard to come by in this one. Before the recent stratospheric improvement in the Legion’s form I would have tagged this one as a loss but right now I am looking for the teams to split the points.

Best of the rest

As noted above, the festivities start tonight, although neither game looks all that appealing (Hartford v. Colorado, 6:00pm and San Antonio v. Tulsa, 8:00pm). Personally, I will be signing in at 8:00pm to the USL Show on YouTube hosted by our good friend Kaylor Hodges, which is always fun.

Tomorrow we have a chance to check out the Legion’s next opponent as Atlanta United 2 visit Charleston (6:30pm). Maybe not such a great game otherwise. The two other Wednesday games are both out West and feature teams above the playoff line against teams below it. Again, not must-see TV.

Thursday is the only day without a game; on to Friday. The early game is New York Red Bulls II v. Pittsburgh Riverhounds (6:00pm). The Baby Bulls are atrocious but Legion fans should be rooting for them, as the Hounds are just 1 point behind the Legion (but after 1 additional game) and have been struggling severely of late, with only 2 points from the last 5 games and a current 3-game losing streak. A couple of fairly interesting games in the West too: Colorado v. Sacramento (8:00pm) is #2 against #4. Los Dos play the Oakland Roots (9:30pm). They are tied on 24 points and are both 1 point below the playoff line. Additionally, it’s a chance to hear everything on the field as Los Dos don’t sell tickets for their home games. Go figure.

Saturday is of course watch it later day. The best non-Legion game in the East will be the Rowdies and Area Code FC going at it (6:30pm). Indy and The™ Miami kick of at the same time. They are tied on 21 points, not too far behind the Three Sparks, and are straddling the playoff line.

Also look for the Las Vegas Lights to give the Legion a hand as they host Detroit City (9:30pm). Detroit is a point ahead of the Legion, so them dropping points and the Legion coming home with a win would flip spots in the standings. Vegas are just above the playoff line in the West and are a better team than usual, as we found out earlier this season.

Loudoun United v. Tulsa on Sunday (6:30pm) is probably not a reason to miss early fireworks shows, but Monday’s game (8:00pm, and on ESPN 2) could be fireworks itself: the Switchbacks end their tough week against the Loyal. That’s also 2 v. 3 in the West. COuld be real\ly good.

That’s it folks. Have a great 4th of July!

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