Week 29 Preview: what you need to know
Two huge games Friday
This week in the Championship has in fact already started. After last week, when no one had a double-game week, we will have several teams in that position as games in had start to get used up. The biggest impact will be on Monterey Bay, who have 6 games remaining and will play 3 of them between today and next Tuesday. The game already played this week was San Antonio v. Colorado Springs Switchbacks, a 1-0 win for San Antonio. The Texans are now just 1 point from clinching 1st in the West.
Another thing to beat in mind this week is that we are in an international break, which started Monday and lasts until next Tuesday. Numerous Championship players have been called up, but there are no Legion players among them. Of potentially the most benefit to the Legion is that Pittsburgh Riverhounds goalkeeper Jahmali Waite will be with the Jamaican national team as they face Argentina in New York next Tuesday.
The most important part
It’s hard to believe that we have not seen the Tampa Bay Rowdies since the very first game of the season (March 13th), but so it is. Much has changes since that 1-1 draw at Protective and Friday’s game at Al Lang (6:30pm) will likely be very different.
Still the same though is that the two teams are even on points, although Tampa has a game in hand. A Legion win is crucial then, as that would put them ahead by 3 points and nullify that game in hand as they would hold the tiebreaker edge.
The Rowdies have been scoring somewhat better than the Legion, on 58 goals to date. That’s 8 more than the Legion. Interestingly, they scored 8 in 2 games against Pittsburgh which accounts for most of the difference. They also smacked Phoenix 5-1, but they are hardly alone in that. Their best scoring game lately was a 6-1 win over the Las Vegas Lights, but since then they scored just once in 2 losses against the Charleston Battery and most recently Detroit City.
Leading scorer is Leo Fernandes on an impressive 15 goals, followed by Jake LaCava on 11. Fernandes didn’t play in the loss to Detroit and LaCava only played 24 minutes, so that game has a bit of an asterisk to it. Behind them is Steevan dos Santos with 7 goals. They are not short of threats. The key player though is likely Lewis Hilton, who plays various central midfield roles and had to be kept under control.
It should also be noted that the Rowdies are a very flexible squad, in similar vein to the Legion and play in a number of different formations. They play a more possession-oriented style, though, so this could be an interesting counterplay of styles.
The biggest issue though is the status of goalkeeper C.J. Cochran. Cochran incurred a leg injury in the Detroit loss in a collision with Detroit’s Antoine Hoppenot on the game’s only goal. He was stretchered off and is almost certainly out a few weeks. Tampa’s reserve goalkeeper is Phil Breno, who got his first 4 official minutes with the team last week. Breno is on loan from League One’s Forward Madison, who got Tampa’s Raiko Arozarena in a mirror loan. Breno’s only previous Championship experience was with Charleston in 10 games over 2 seasons. Thus, the Rowdies could be very vulnerable at the back.
Prediction: This one is hard. It’s a key game for both teams and in such games you generally have to favor the home team. That being said, the Legion’s last 2 performances are stronger than Tampa’s and the Legion nis pretty good on the road. Moreover, Detroit have shown how to keep the Rowdies at bay. I’m going out on a (fairly thick) limb here and am calling it for the good guys.
Best of the rest
The big game in the East tonight is New York Red Bulls II v Detroit City (6:00pm). A win for the red-hot Detroit would see them even on points with Pittsburgh. The Hounds currently have the tiebreaker edge on the third tiebreaker (PPG v. conference opponents) but by a razor-thin 0.008 PPG. City has a good shot to earn a home playoff spot. Over in the West the equally sizzling Monterey welcome the stone cold Phoenix Rising (9:30pm). The Union are coming off a 5-0 stomping of Indy Eleven and win would see them jump into the playoff positions.
Also tonight is Loudoun United v. Hartford Athletic (6:00pm). A meaningless game as far as the playoffs are concerned, but Hartford is the league’s hottest team right now with 13 points from the last 5 games and looking to impress new head coach Tab Ramos for next season.
Alongside the Legion game Friday is the East’s other biggest game of the week, featuring Louisville City and Memphis 901 (7:00pm). Somehow the schedulers managed to set up 1 v. 2 and 3 v. 4 for the same day. Well done them.
Pittsburgh’s game without Waite will be Saturday (6:00pm). Unfortunately, they host Orange County, so they may not be too concerned at his absence. Still, Pitt’s form lately ahs been poor, so you never know. At the same time will be The™ Miami FC v. Monterey. Monterey travel a long distance to potentially solidify a playoff position whereas Miami will be trying to keep pace with Detroit in an effort to eventually move up out of 7th place. That might be tough as Detroit host FC Tulsa (6:30pm). The visitors are not doing well and are playing merely for pride at this point.
Over in the West the only really good game will be San Antonio v. Sacramento Republic (7:30pm). SacRep are looking to get into the top three spots and San Antonio will be eager to get that 1 point they need. Should be a close game. You may also want to check out Colorado Springs v. Oakland Roots (7:00pm), as the Roots are the Legion’s next opponent. Oakland is barely out of the playoffs right now but is a very erratic team.
Sunday’s only game is Indy v. Loudoun (4:00pm). Yeah, you can skip that one.
Back in the Old Country
The Blues had a decent week last week, beating West Brom 3-2 and drawing 0-0 with Coventry. That saw them move up to 17th. They are off this week for the international break.