Week 28 Preview: what you need to know

The Riverhounds should be permanently banned from playing in Birmingham

riverhounds.com

With the exception of Monterey Bay (whose game last weekend got cancelled due to a waterlogged pitch in Las Vegas (someone must have left the sprinklers on in a Crash Davis move), no team has more than 6 games left in the 2022 season, and pretty much all of them have big implications.

The most important part

That is probably most true of the Legion’s game against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds (Wednesday, 7:00pm) this week. After dropping 5 of 6 points the past 2 games, the Legion saw Pittsburgh slip ahead of them into 4th place and the home playoff spots. Just 1 point divides the two teams. Since Pittsburgh won their home leg of the series 1-0 back in early May, the Legion needs to win this game to get the 2-point advantage in the standings, but they also need to do it by at least 2 goals to secure the tiebreaker.

This will be the Hounds’ first visit to the Magic City since 2019. It shouldn’t be, of course; they should have come here for the first round of the playoffs last year but forfeited due to COVID, allegedly contracted at a Halloween party. That deprived the Legion of its first ever home playoff game, so getting that home playoff spot ahead of them becomes even bigger. If it weren’t for Memphis, Pittsburgh would likely be the most hated opponent in this town. Throw in the fact that both are steel towns and its gets bigger yet.

Further, the Legion has lost every game it has ever played against Pitt, by an aggregate score of 13-1. That includes 3 games in 2019 and a 7-0 shellacking in the playoffs, which led to the Legion acquiring Neco Brett who scored a 4-bagger in that game. The only game in the series played here was a 1-0 Pitt win, though, and as previously mentioned, that’s a long time ago now. Much has changed, even since the game early this season.

So it’s a big game for any number of reasons. Obviously, given their position in the standings, this should be a pretty even contest. That being said, the Hounds are short on big wins lately. They have won 2 and drawn 3 of the last 5 games, but the wins were against Atlanta United 2 and Loudoun United (both 2-1 on the road). The draws were all at home, 2-2 against New York and 0-0 against the Charleston Battery and Louisville City. You have to go all the way back to July 9th to find a win against a team in playoff position in either conference when they beat Miami 4-1 and before that back to the Legion game on May 7th and before that back to the opening weekend when they beat Memphis 3-0. Just 3 wins over competitive opposition all season (the Legion aren’t a lot better though at 5).

The Lou City game was just this past weekend, and a fairly dreary affair it was. The two teams combined for just 4 shots on goal, and none of them was exactly challenging to the keepers. Shutting down Louisville is of course no mean feat, although Lou City are also stumbling a bit of late, with just 1 win in their last 5 games. In fact, that was probably the best defensive performance the team has put out all year, as they have allowed 32 goals so far, more than any other East team in playoff position. To do it, they kept the game mostly in the middle third.

They don’t particularly light the scoreboard up either, with 44 goals to date. Their main threat is Russell Cicerone, who is tied with Enzo Martinez for 12 goals, and plays mostly at left wing. Striker Albert Dikwa has 9 goals and behind him is long-time USL legend Dane Kelly on 7 goals.

The current starting keeper is Jamahli Waite, although the team has also used Kevin Silva and Chase Vosvick extensively. But is the midfield you have to really watch for. At central attacking mid is Robbie Mertz, who returned to the Hounds after a year and a half with Twonited and is a dangerous chance creator. Behind him is Kenardo Forbes in his 5th season with the team.

A final point: this game is Pitt’s last against Eastern opposition. the remaining 4 games (3 at home) are oddly all against Western teams. The road game is against Sacramento Republic and the other 3 are Orange County, San Antonio and Oakland Roots. The San Antonio game is right before San Antonio’s game here. That’s a lot of eastbound travel for the Texans, which could help us, especially if San Antonio has already cliched the first round bye (they need 5 points to do it).

Prediction: I said last week was a must-win game. Since it ended up a loss, this is even more a must-win. Overall, if the Legion plays its game whistle to whistle, they should be the better side. As a result, I’m calling it for the good guys.

Best of the rest

The Legion game is the only midweek game this week and the Legion is also off this weekend before heading to Tampa a week from Friday.

There’s one game on Friday: Area Code FC take on the Battery (7:00pm). The Battery are long since out of the playoffs, but beat the Rowdies last week 2-1 in convincing fashion. Never discount teams with nothing to lose. Except pride and player contracts next year, of course. Memphis, however, trail Lou City by 5 points but have a game in hand and have every motivation to get the win.

The Rowdies and Lou City also have big games, both on Saturday at 6:30pm. Tampa heads to Detroit. If they lose and the Legion win, that puts both teams on 54 points with that game in Tampa looming (Tampa has the tiebreak advantage). That would be huge (well, it’s huge anyway). Louisville has a somewhat easier task, hosting Loudoun, who have been shipping goals at a prodigious rate.

The big action out west will involve San Antonio. They have 6 games left and play 2 of them this week. First on Saturday (7:30pm) in an interesting matchup against New Mexico United, who on recent form are in danger of falling out of the playoffs soon (they have lost 4 of the last 5). Then on Tuesday (7:30pm) they play Colorado Springs. The Switchbacks are pressing San Diego for the 2nd spot in the standings and are in form. However, they play in Rio Grande Valley Saturday, so are stuck away from home. By the end of that game, San Antonio could have those 5 points they need and only have the Supporters’ Shield left to play for.

Also worth checking out on Saturday will be Monterey Bay v. Indy Eleven (9:00pm). Both teams are chasing playoff positions. Indy is barely hanging on to a chance, being 4 points from elimination, but are obviously playing very well. The Union is also playing well, though, and with other results going their way could find themselves above the playoff line (they could already be if not for that postponed game). They have 7 games remaining, so have plenty of chances to get it done, but it’s going to be a tiring end to the regular season for them.

That leaves Sunday, with just 2 Western games on the slate: SacRep v. OC (4:00pm) and LA Galaxy II (who will be missing 2 key players due to red cards) v. El Paso (7:00pm). Enjoy!

Back in the Old Country

The Blues would have been on ESPN+ last weekend against Swansea until all soccer games and a ton of other sports besides were postponed or cancelled due to the death of Queen Elizabeth II. That means everyone got a bye week, so the Blues having 2 games this week is not as rough as it might have been. Tomorrow at 2:00pm Birmingham City plays at West Bromwich Albion. WBA are currently in 18th, 1 point ahead of the Blues so it could be a close game. Then on Saturday (9:00am) they play at Coventry, who are dead last with just 1 point from 5 games and that was in the very first game of the season. This week could be a chance for City to pick up some much needed points. Unfortunately, neither game is on ESPN+, so you’ll need to shell out some cash for PPV.

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