Week 24 Preview: what you need to know
Legion riding high; can they keep it up?
The Legion keep rolling, but there’s a big double-game week now that could determine a lot of things for the rest of the season.
The most important part
The Three Sparks surprised yours truly – and a lot of other pundits – with a monumental win over San Diego this past Saturday to extend the win streak to 4, the league high right now. This week’s twofer are against Detroit City tomorrow (7:00pm) and at Memphis 901 Saturday (7:30pm). The Legion lost 0-1 in Detroit and beat Area Code FC 1-0 at home earlier this season, so revenge may be on everyone’s mind.
Detroit have performed well as an expansion team, currently occupying the final playoff spot in the East. But they are just 1 point behind The™ Miami FC with a game in hand, so a result against Birmingham could see them move up a place in the standings. The Legion of course want to solidify their home playoff spot and could get within a point of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds with a win. Motivation abounds on both sides here.
That being said, Detroit have flagged somewhat of late. The team’s biggest weakness, recognized by may early in the season, is its thin roster. They have seen a few injuries – especially on the back line – and results have become harder to come by as a result. They started the season with a very impressive 5-1-2 record, but have won only 4 of the 15 games since. Last week they drew 1-1 at home with the Oakland Roots and their last win was just over a month against Indy Eleven.
Scorelines have been relatively close, though. The goal difference over 23 games is just 7, with the team scoring 29. Which is to say, they don’t have a potent attack, but even with the injuries, their defense has been fairly tough. That is especially true of goalkeeper Nate Steinwascher. He currently has 7 clean sheets – not MVO good, but good – and has made 66 saves, 3rd in the league. Aside from a terrible error against the Roots, he is a very difficult shotstopper to get past. He is protected typically by a 3-man back line, and penetrating that defense can be a tall order.
In attack the main threat is Antoine Hoppenot (although Pato Botello Faz has 1 more goal), supported by Maxi Rodriguez. They will need to be shut down the way San Diego’s Kyle Vassell was. One guy we likely won’t see is former Legion player Macky Diop, who is apparently injured and has mostly featured as a a sub anyway.
Memphis is another matter entirely. Thanks to Tampa’s loss in Louisville they are now in second place in the standings with a game in hand and chasing Lou City hard. More motivation. They are a team with little in the way of weaknesses. They are coming off a very solid 2-0 win over Pittsburgh and have a 3-game win streak going.
The biggest factor in the Legion’s favor is that Memphis play in Albuquerque tomorrow (8:00pm) after playing on the road at the weekend in Pittsburgh. They play in a 4-3-3 as the Legion are currently, and tend to play a counterattacking style. So it will likely be a mirror image matchup. Interestingly, they allowing goals at exactly the same rate as Detroit. Although Trey Muse is also a very good keeper, he does not rank all that high in either saves or clean sheets. The low saves number is the big issue, of course, as it means the Memphis defense is very stout.
They score in bunches though. 44 so far on the season, or 1.91 per game. Phillip Goodrum is on 13 goals (4th in the league), but Aaron Molloy, Laurent Kissiedou and Jeremy Kelly can all score quite easily. It should be a very good game, especially for neutral fans.
Prediction: I was delighted to be completely wrong last week and the Legion have now established themselves as a very dangerous team. This week I think they are good for 4 points. 3 of those will come against Detroit tomorrow, and I don’t think it will be as close as the San Diego game. The trip up to Memphis will see the win streak end, but 1 point from that game would be more than acceptable.
Best of the rest
So: we’ve already mentioned Memphis’ trip to New Mexico, which all Legion fans need to keep an eye on. There are two other games tomorrow evening, both out in the West. Orange County, who have suddenly become every neutral fan’s favorite West team after the LA Galaxy’s skullduggery was exposed, take on Las Vegas (9:00pm), but the better game is likely to be Sacramento Republic v. Colorado Springs Switchbacks (10:00pm), which is important to Legion fans for reasons we’ll explain in a bit.
No Thursday or Friday games, so on to Saturday, and there are no daytime games. Quite a few East games to know about. First up is Hartford Athletic v. Miami and Pittsburgh v. New York Red Bulls II (both at 6:00pm). Any points taken from the two visiting teams will aid the Legion’s cause, especially the Pittsburgh game as they trail the Legion currently by just 1 point.
Right after those is Detroit v. Louisville (6:30pm). Detroit is obviously the underdog, even at home, but everyone in the East would love to see Lou City drop points and tighten up the playoff race.
Then at 7:30pm is an important match. The Tampa Bay Rowdies travel west to Colorado. Having seen their 13-game unbeaten streak come to an end in Louisville and themselves fall behind Memphis on tiebreakers, they will be eager to get back on track. The Switchbacks have been struggling badly after a very hot start and will be returning from that midweek trip out to California. The chances of them winning or even just tying this game are probably fairly low, but if they do, the Legion has a chance to jump Tampa in the standings.
Of the other games out west, New Mexico v. Monterey Bay (8:00pm) could be interesting. The Union have gelled after a difficult start to their rookie year and are just 4 points out of the playoffs with a game or more in hand. New Mexico on the other hand have been stumbling and this should be a fairly even contest. Most of the remaining western schedule looks pretty dull, however.
Back in the Old Country
The Blues had a tough loss in the Carabao Cup last week, going down 4-2 in a shootout after a 2-2 draw in regular time. They then lost in the championship for the first time against Cardiff 0-1 and drew 1-1 with Watford today to wrap up a busy 8 days. This weekend’s game is against Wigan Athletic (Saturday, 9:00am, no US stream). Wigan have drawn all 3 of their games so far and should provide an opportunity to keep the good league results going.