Week 32 Preview: what you need to know
A crazy final week of the season
Once again, our playoff update gives you the lowdown on what’s at stake this week. And there’s a lot of it.
The most important part
So: it comes down to this one game. Again. A Legion win secures 4th place. A Legion draw will require Pittsburgh and Detroit to lose, and Miami to draw or lose. A Legion loss will require all 3 to lose. Any other combination of results and the Legion would see itself drop to 5th, 6th or even 7th. It’s all that close.
The Legion is coming off back-to-back 1-2 losses. And playing poorly in them at that. Whatever is ailing the team needs to be fixed fast. The game is tomorrow evening (7:00pm) after all. Originally scheduled for this Saturday it conflicts with the UAB Blazers’ game against Charlotte. We were always going to lose that conflict, but it’s also the homecoming game, so no contest. In some ways, though, that’s good, as the Three Sparks will be able to play without worrying about what is going on other games. Just win, baby.
Since the 4-3 win over the Legion in Indiana, the Eleven have win 3 and lost 2 games. The losses were at Monterey Bay (0-5) and against Tulsa (2-4). The wins were over Loudoun United (1-0), Atlanta United 2 (1-0) and the Charleston Battery (4-1). Only the Twonited game was away. So, not exactly spectacular, but that 4-1 win was just this past weekend and they may well be relishing the opportunity not only to play spoiler but also to rack up another big score. They will not be easy to beat and the Legion had better be keeping that last game in mind too.
Since we previewed Indy just a few weeks ago, there’s not much more to add about this team. Of note are two points: first, the highest scoring player in the past 5 games is Ayoze Garcia Perez (known as Ayoze) with 3 goals, although Stefano Pinho has 2 goals. Second, Sean Lewis, not Tim Trilk, started in goal against Charleston. Trilk was on the bench, although it is not clear why. And Neveal Hackshaw has not scored since the last Legion game. I doubt he will be overlooked Wednesday though.
Prediction: As much as the Legion are in a late season funk, I expect them to break out of it and give the fans what they really want for Fan Appreciation Night: a win. They are also advertising $3 beers, but apparently it’s only Miller Lite, so they are brushing up tight against Truth in Advertising laws with that one.
Best of the rest
Also Wednesday are 3 other games, all of consequence. The Tampa Bay Rowdies host El Paso Locomotive (6:30pm). The Rowdies trail Memphis 9012 by 4 points but with an extra game to play, so need a win for any chance at the #2 spot in the East. El Paso are in a 3-way tie but sit in 7th in the West. This is also their final game in a race that’s even tighter than the East. Anything les than a win would almost certainly see them out of the playoffs. Tulsa welcomes Monterey (7:30pm). The Union have wasted 3 straight chances at getting above the playoff line and with 2 games left can get to 46 points. They are looking unlikely to make it into the postseason. Finally, New Mexico United play LA Galaxy II (8:00pm). A poor run of form finally saw United fall out of playoff position, but only by 1 point, so they can still make it with 2 games left.
All remaining games are on Saturday. Regardless of what happens tomorrow, there are 4 games of importance to the Legion. Detroit City plays The™ Miami FC (3:00pm) and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds host the Oakland Roots (6:00pm). Since there could be a complete shuffle of the final 4 playoff spots in the East, the results here will be the primary determinants for who plays who next week. Also of impact will be the Rowdies v. New York Red Bulls II (6:30pm) and Tulsa v. Memphis (7:30pm). It is entirely possible that the only playoff team in the East not to move position this week will be Louisville City (who play Hartford Athletic at 6:30pm in a largely meaningless game).
With the 4 final playoff spots still undecided and 7 teams competing for them, the West is a mess. If Monterey doesn’t win Wednesday, that will be down to 6 teams. Even so, for us neutrals here in the East, the biggest game will be San Antonio v. Orange County (7:30pm). San Antonio goalkeeper Jordan Farr chatted with myself and Kaylor Hodges during Sunday’s game and in between munching on protein bars and bananas (I kid you not). He confirmed that the team has every intention of going for the season points record, of which they are now just 1 point shy.
That aside, here are the remaining Western Conference games of consequence: Rio Grande Valley Toros v. Monterey (7:30pm), New Mexico v. Colorado Springs Switchbacks (8:00pm), Sacramento Republic v. San Diego Loyal (9:00pm) and Los Dos v. Las Vegas Lights (9:30pm). Oakland are the only Western team in the chase to play out of conference, and only San Diego and Colorado are assured of their final standings. Everyone else is in a dogfight. If you don’t have multiple TVs, it could be time to take advantage of Amazon’s Early Access Sale.
Back in the Old Country
The Blues managed to lose 0-1 to lowly Middlesbrough last Wednesday, but then recovered at the weekend to win 3-0 over Bristol City, getting a brace from Pennsylvania native Auston Trusty, who is on loan from Arsenal. Birmingham City now sit in 15th. This Sunday (9:00am, no US stream) they play at Hull City, who are 20th in the table, albeit only 2 points behind the Blues.
Also fun for US fans this weekend will be an unusual ESPN+ broadcast of an FA Cup qualifying game. ESPN doesn’t usually air the FA Cup until it starts the actual tournament, but this is a major exception. Blyth Spartans will be hosting Wrexham AFC (Saturday 7:00am, broadcast starting at 6:30am). For those not in the know, Wrexham AFC (in Wales) was bought by Ryan Reynolds (of Aviation Gin fame) and Rob McElhenney (of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) last year. The team and the city of Wrexham have been the subjects of FX’s Welcome to Wrexham docuseries that chronicles the club’s efforts to jump from the National League to the Football League under the new ownership. The show has been massively popular in the US and the UK and ESPN is cashing in on that. The series airs Wednesdays but should be finishing up this week. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out.