Week 25 Preview: what you need to know
Another goalfest coming?
The Three Sparks earned 3 points last week, but probably in entirely the opposite way most observers would have expected, with a poorly played home loss to Detroit City followed by an impressive display against Area Code FC in Memphis. No midweek game this week for the Legion, which to be honest feels kinda weird.
The most important part
The Three Sparks get a bit of a rest this week. After 3 games in 8 days, they now get an 8-day rest before facing the New York Red Bulls II at home this Sunday at 4:00pm. The Baby Bulls are dead last in the league on a puny 13 points. However, they avoid the ignominy of being the first team eliminated as Atlanta United 2 took that dubious honor after losing 1-3 to Loudoun United last week. Although they have 3 more points than New York, they have also played 2 more games. Nevertheless, anything less than a win sees their last USL season come to an effective end (as would also a Detroit win and a Miami draw or win). But of course they would have to run the table for the rest of the season, and that ain’t happening.
Their 13 points include just 3 wins. The first was all the way back in Week 2 against the aforementioned Twonited, the second in mid-July against Indy Eleven. Both of those were 1-0 scorelines. The most recent win was again over Atlanta, this time 2-1 3 weeks ago. Hardly wins to build a successful season on. They do have 4 draws, and those are a bit more interesting, the opponents being the Tampa Bay Rowdies, San Diego Loyal, FC Tulsa and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. The first 3 were all at home, but the draw with the Hounds was on the road and occurred just this past week. Pittsburgh have looked a little shaky of late, but even so, this was not a result expected by most and means that the Baby Bulls should not be considered an automatic 3 points. After all, they are essentially now in a spoiler role and that makes them dangerous.
That draw came after being 2 goals down as well, so there’s definitely some fight in these bulls, although overall the game was pretty evenly played. The team they put out was also very different than what the Three Sparks saw back in May. That’s hardly a surprise given that this is an MLS 2 team, but only 6 players started both games, and that doesn’t include the goalkeeper.
The biggest change in the team is the now permanent absence of midfielder Steven Sserwadda, who moved up to the MLS squad in early July. He leaves a big hole, which has partially been filled by Caden Clark. If you recognize that name, it’s because he has made the rounds of the Red Bull system and is currently on loan with the Baby Bulls from RB Leipzig1Trivia: RB in this case does not stand for Red Bull; it stands for RasenBallsport (“lawn ball sport”) . This was a sneaky way to slide around German FA rules against the use of corporate names.. The draw with Pittsburgh is even more concerning as it was achieved in his absence on a red card suspension.
Obviously, the New York defense is weak, but they are nowhere near as leaky as Atlanta, having allowed 51 goals in 25 games (Atlanta has a staggering 71 in 27). Even the Charleston Battery have conceded more (54). However, they are susceptible to the counter attack, which should work in the Legion’s favor. Their real weakness is an inability – most of the time – to score. They have just 17 goals on the season, 8 fewer than the next weakest attacks (Indy and Hartford Athletic) and have scored more than 1 goal just 5 times (and never more than 2). Which also means they have been shut out 13 times, more than half of their 25 games.
Prediction: The Baby Bulls are as unpredictable as you would expect an MLS2 team to be. That being said, they struggle to score and allow multiple goals on a consistent basis and have just 3 clean sheets this year. This should be another chance for the Legion to pad its goal difference, so long as they don’t go to sleep the way they did against Detroit. I would not be surprised to see a winning margin of 3 or more goals.
Best of the rest
To be brutally honest, the US Championship schedule this week is mostly blah, albeit with quite a few playoff implications. The headline game of the week was probably supposed to be Tampa v. Orange County (Saturday, 6:30pm), a rematch of last year’s final. But with the OC not having the best of seasons, it’s lot less interesting than it could have been. On the other hand, the Rowdies are riding a 2-game losing streak so who knows what might happen. Then again, they have the Legion and Pittsburgh breathing down their necks, so will need to maintain their lead over both.
Tonight’s games feature two teams with head coaching changes in the works. Tulsa host Hartford (7:30pm). The Athletic just hired USMNT legend Tab Ramos, who starts September 1st, so they have 2 more games without him at the reins. At 9:00pm San Diego plays Oakland Roots. The Roots just lost head coach Juan Guerra to Phoenix Rising in a rather testy exchange which saw the Roots charge the Rising with tampering. Oakland still has a good chance at the playoffs (4 points out with 2 games in hand) so this one could be an interesting game for the now leaderless team.
On Saturday, other than the Tampa-OC game, The™ Miami FC takes on Louisville (6:00pm). Lou City is on a 10-game unbeaten run and a 4-game win streak and looks to be taking control in the East, but Miami needs points to avoid dropping a spot in the standings (although falling out of the playoffs is not a real danger for anyone).
A key game though is Twonited v. Pittsburgh (6:30pm). The Hounds trail the Legion by 3 points with a game in hand so if the kids from Atlanta can take any points from them, that’s going to help. The Battery-Detroit game at 7:00pm is also of some importance to Legion fans. The Battery have shown glimpses of life lately and could keep Detroit from creeping closer to the home playoff spots.
The East is pretty firming up at this point, but the West is entirely up for grabs. San Antonio has a 5-point lead and a game in hand at the top of the standings, but everything else is very tight. At the bottom of the table are Orange County and the Rio Grande Valley Toros, both on 27 points. But they are only 7 points out of the playoffs; OC has 2 games in hand and RGV has 3. Right above them are Phoenix and Monterey Bay, both 5 points out of the playoffs and both with 3 games in hand. Then Oakland are 4 points away with 2 games in hand and the LA Galaxy II are just 1 point out with 1 game in hand.
So there are a few games this weekend that could see some shuffling. First El Paso Locomotive, clinging to the final playoff spot, host Phoenix, now under new management (8:30pm). Monterey play Los Dos (9:00pm) in a game that could really shake things up, and RGV travel to Las Vegas (9:30pm).
The Legion game is the only one scheduled for Sunday, so there’s nothing to distract you. As if it would.
Back in the Old Country
After an embarrassing 0-1 home loss to Wigan Athletic last week, the Blues travel to Rotherham this Saturday (9:00am, no US stream). Wigan went down a man in the 10th minute, but scored the game’s only goal in the 82nd minute with only their second shot on goal. The loss dropped City all the way to 19th. Rotherham are a point ahead of the Blues but up in 13th place, and have yet to lose this season. Of course, this early in the season the table doesn’t mean too much, but this should be a chance to regain some confidence after a tough week.