Week 21 Preview: what you need to know
On the road again
Well, the return home didn’t exactly go as planned, but the loss doesn’t mean hopes of a playoff spot are out the window. There’s still plenty of soccer to be played; the Legion just needs to figure out howe to turn that home field advantage into an actual…advantage. Here’s what’s coming up this week.
Open or closed?
The last remaining non-MLS team in the Open Cup will be on display Wednesday night. At 9:30pm the Sacramento Republic take on Sporting Kansas City with a place in the final (September 7th) on the line. SacRep at least has home field for this one, although that didn’t help them much either last time they played there. In fact, they haven’t won at home since June 18th. On the other hand, SKC are dead last in the MLS Western Conference and 2nd worst in the league overall, so anything is possible. The other semifinal is Orlando City v. New York Red Bulls (6:30pm).
The most important part
This week the Legion uses up its game in hand over Detroit City and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Since Detroit are on a bye this week, and the Legion have yet another double-game week, they will end up with a game in hand. However, they are currently 3 points ahead of the Legion, so everything remains very tight. Pittsburgh are 5 points ahead, so it’s tight with them too.
Anyway, Wednesday evening (7:00pm) the Three Sparks play Loudoun United for the 4th and last time before they disappear into the black hole known as MLS Next Pro. The Legion is 2-0-1 against them, having won 2-1 most recently earlier this season in Virginia. They started the season looking potentially troublesome, but quickly faded and are now 12th in the East with just 4 wins and 15 points. The last of those wins was June 18th, a crazy 4-3 game against the struggling Phoenix Rising. Which means they can score, although they mostly don’t. It also means they are pretty leaky at the other end. Of course, that was also true of FC Tulsa, and look how that ended up. Loudoun don’t have much in the way of real attacking threats. Their best scorer is Tyler Freeman on 5 goals. The 19-year-old Freeman is an SKC product who played the past 3 years with SKC II. At the back is Luis Zamudio, a US-Mexican dual national, also young at just 24. He has 4 clean sheets and 24 goals allowed in 14 games.
On Saturday the Legion travel again already, this time to Hartford, Connecticut to play the Athletic (6:00pm), whom they beat 2-1 in Birmingham earlier this season. In the standings Hartford don’t look much stronger than Loudoun, with just 4 wins and 16 points, but they can be dangerous and unpredictable. That being said, they are on a 3-game losing streak, having been downed by the Tampa Bay Rowdies, Charleston Battery (1-3!!) and Pittsburgh. They haven’t won since June 28th, in a surprise home win over the Colorado Springs Switchbacks (2-0).
The best known player on the squad is recent acquisition forward Corey Hertzog, a long-time USL stalwart, although he has played just 13 minutes in the past three games. The team has in fact had roster issues all season, a source of much irritation to its fans. They have also been goalkeeping by rotation, having used 3 keepers already this season. The current starter is Yannik Oettl, a German on loan from New England Revolution II. There’s been front office turnover too: English manager Harry Watling resigned a month ago and just signed as an assistant coach with London side QPR. The current head coach is Ray Reid, who had retired as head coach at UConn and took on a technical director position in May this year with the Athletic only to find himself almost immediately in charge.
Additional good news for this game: Hartford have to travel all the way to Rio Grande Valley tomorrow (7:30pm). The Toros aren’t lighting it up this year, but that’s quite a hike anyway.
The two games have some similarities, as do the previous games against the opponents. Apart from the identical scoreline, the Legion was awarded a PK in both games (Bruno missed against Loudoun; Juan scored against Hartford). To refresh your memory check out the highlights here and here (including Ando’s last gasp game-winning header).
Prediction: This should, I repeat, should be a 6-point week. It needs to be. The trouble is, the Legion can be as unpredictable as both of its opponents this week. Still. I’m going with a win in both games.
Best of the rest
There are two more games Wednesday evening, neither of which should override the Legion game or the Open Cup game. Those are Oakland Roots v. Phoenix Rising (9:00pm) and Las Vegas Lights v. San Antonio (9:30pm). It’s hard to see anyone stopping the Texas juggernaut right now, and the other game is just meh.
While you’re watching the Legion Saturday, keep an eye on the Pittsburgh-Tulsa game which kicks off at the same time. The Legion need a Tulsa win out of this one, but the Hounds are in form going 4-0-1 in their last 5. Also at that time is Indy Eleven v. Tampa, which could have some impact on the Legion, especially if the hosts win (unlikely).
Not much else of great interest in the early games and the only late game that could be good is El Paso Locomotive v. Louisville City (8:30pm), which you should be able to tune in to right after the Legion game. El Paso have had a couple of bad games, but Lou City just tied with the Rising, so who knows what might happen in this one.
The weekend finished up Sunday with the Baby Bulls v. New Mexico United (5:00pm). You can safely skip that one, I would say.