Week 30 Preview: what you need to know
Much to play for still
Yesterday’s playoff update will have shown just how much the Championship still has left to decide, and with that in mind a ton of games have a great deal of importance this week, and likely for the remainder of the campaign. Here’s what’s going on over the next seven days.
The most important part
The Legion saved its longest road (well, air) trip of the season until late, but this week they head to Northern California to play the Oakland Roots (9:00pm Saturday). Obviously, this will be the first ever meeting between the two teams, Oakland having joined the league just this past year and being in the Western Conference.
The Roots surprised everyone a bit last season, making it to the playoffs in their rookie year and even getting to the second round, where they lost to eventual champions Orange County 5-6 in a penalty shootout after playing to a 0-0 draw. This season, however, they have been rather mercurial and unpredictable. Right now they sit in 8th, 2 points behind Rio Grande Valley but having played one more game. They also have Monterey Bay breathing down their necks. In fact, if Monterey gets at least 1 point tonight and Las Vegas beats New Mexico Friday, the Roots would be in 10th going into this game.
For their part, the Legion will know the result of the Pittsburgh-San Antonio and Loudoun United-Detroit City games. A Detroit win would put them 1 point behind the Legion and seriously challenging for a home playoff spot. A Pitt win would put them ahead of the Legion by 1 point. There is no room for error here.
So who are the Roots? Well, that’s pretty hard to say. They have been relatively weak of late, their only wins n the past 5 games being against Phoenix and the Baby Bulls. They have also been embroiled in a coaching dispute. Head coach at the beginning of this season was Juan Guerra, who had been an assistant at Phoenix. When the Rising decided to part ways with Risk Schantz, it turned out that Guerra had been in covert discussions for the Phoenix head coaching job. Oakland cried foul, but Guerra ended up back in Phoenix. HIs first game as head coach there was the loss to Oakland. I’m sure the Roots weren’t up for that game at all. Currently they are being led by Noah Delgado on an interim basis.
On the field their biggest scoring threat is obvious. That’s Icelander Ottar Magnus Karlsson, who has an impressive 17 goals, 3rd best in the league. He does play for the Iceland national team, who played today (drawing 1-1 with Albania in the UEFA Nations League). Unfortunately, he’s not with them. The good news is that the Legion has become very adept at controlling single strikers. He’s 6’3″, though, so will be eye to eye with Alex and Phanny. After him in scoring is Juan Azocar on just 7 goals.
At the back is goalkeeper Paul Blanchette, who got the starting job after Benny Diaz moved to Liga MX’s Tijuana. He has just 3 clean sheets on the season. He’s a decent keeper but prone to mistakes.
Otherwise the most recognizable name on the squad is midfielder Charlie Dennis. Legion fans will probably know him from his years at South Georgia Tormenta, going back to 2017. The Englishman was also briefly on the Nashville SC (that is, the old USL version) roster in 2018, but never played.
Overall, the Roots have scored 45 goals and allowed 41. Not overly impressive. They tend to play in a 4-3-3 or a 3-4-3, the latter of which may cause some problems. They are also a relatively poor 8-5-3 at home, which happens also to be the Legion’s road record. But the Legion have also won all 3 road games against the Western Conference.
Finally, the Roots play at local Laney College’s football stadium. It was laid with new artificial turf last year, but is also just 110 yards x 70 yards, the smallest allowed under USL rules. At least it’s not a baseball field.
Prediction: If the Three Sparks can get a point on the road in Tampa, then they most certainly can take all 3 in Oakland, despite the long distance. This one should be a fairly comfortable win to keep pressure on the Rowdies for 3rd place in the East.
Best of the rest
First up this week is a Tuesday night game, featuring Las Vegas and Monterey Bay (9:00pm). The Union have missed 2 chances to move into playoff position, but a win tonight will do it for them against a struggling Lights team that has lost 4 straight (allowing 16 goals in the process) but is still in playoff contention itself.
Wednesday’s best game is Sacramento Republic v. Phoenix Rising (9:00pm). A win would move SacRep into a points tie for 3rd with Colorado Springs (who hold the tiebreaker edge). The same result would see the Rising 1 point earned by Rio Grande Valley from elimination.
The only game Friday is Las Vegas again, this time against New Mexico United (9:00pm). That one is unlikely to clear much up and could even complicate matters as noted above.
With the late Legion kickoff, there are several games to check out in the earlier schedule. First up is Loudoun United v. Detroit City (5:30pm). A win would see Detroit move up into 5th, for at least 30 minutes, because…
At 6:00pm is Pittsburgh Riverhounds v. San Antonio. This one is of course of particular importance to the Three Sparks. San Antonio only have the regular season points record to chase at this point, and are also the Legion’s next opponent. That’s a fair amount of travel for the Texans, but if they can take points from Pitt the Legion’s home playoff position becomes a bit stronger. At the same time is The™ Miami FC against Memphis 901. Area Code FC will be without 2 key players (Phillip Goodrum and Rece Buckmaster) due to red cards last week, but will still want the win, which would put them a point ahead of Louisville City at the top of the East. Miami also have playoff seeding to play for.
The said Lou City will be travelling west to play RGV (7:30pm) smarting from last week’s loss to Memphis and will know the Memphis result not long after kickoff. The Toros are in the final western playoff slot and are on a 4-game win streak. They won’t be a pushover.
Then, kicking off at the same time as the Legion, the Tampa Bay Rowdies will make a similar long road trip to the Pacific coast to play Monterey Bay in another game that could see some shuffling in both conferences. This will also be Monterey’s last home game (a bit odd considering that they started the season with a 7-game road trip) and they will be wanting to impress their fans, especially if they fail to get into playoff position tonight.
Sunday’s only game is LA Galaxy II v. Sacramento (7:00pm). That could see some movement out west, but will be dependent on results in other games.
Back in the Old Country
The Blues are still off for the international break and won’t return to action until Wednesday October 5th.