Week 3 Preview: what you need to know
On the road for a couple of weeks
After a reasonably successful two-game home stand to start the season, the Legion are now out on the road traveling up and down the east coast for a couple of weeks, with Hartford Athletic up this weekend (an early kickoff at 1:00pm Saturday) and the Tampa Bay Rowdies next weekend. Obviously, it\’s still very early in the season, but these two games could have a fairly sizeable impact.
The most important part
The big question for the Three Sparks is how close is Enzo Martinez to 90 minutes fit? The longer he can go in a game the better, naturally, as the gaping hole at central attacking mid is otherwise not going to get filled. The distribution is sorely needed, but when we get it this Legion attack will be fearsome. A similar question applies to Neco Brett as well, although he at least is not recovering from an injury, just from immigration-related lack of training. His game-winning goal last week suggests that he is in good form at least. If nothing else, having a proven goalscoring option on the bench is a huge advantage.
There is one more hole now, at assistant coach, with Khano Smith off to Rhode Island. Pawtucket is about 90 miles from Hartford so perhaps he will be in attendance as a not-so-neutral observer. He got a great send-off though and will be sorely missed.
Other than that, the Legion appears to be in fine shape and should be feeling confident going into this game.
Hartford Athletic, for their part, have been a little underwhelming so far this year despite looking much improved late last season after Tab Ramos took over as head coach. The 3-5 loss in Monterey was a shock result, including a 6-minute stretch in which 4 goals were scored, including a Monterey PK and goals in both nets by Hartford’s Kaveh Rad (and let’s not forget Alex Dixon’s hat-trick and Prince Saydee’s brace). That was followed by a 1-1 draw in Colorado Springs, which was much more sedate affair, in which nothing really happened until Elvis Amoh’s 70th minute goal. After that, the Switchbacks’ Zachary Zandy tied it up, but the big event was the 10-minute or so delay tending to Andre Lewis, who was ultimately taken to hospital.
Lewis was responsible for a goal and an assist already this season, so his almost certain absence this week will hurt Hartford’s chances. That being said, Saydee and Amoh are serious scoring threats and cannot be ignored. The Athletic defense is suspect, however. It is anchored by left centerback Niall Logue (formerly of Memphis 901) but is still rather leaky and subject to bucking under pressure. Anticipate the Three Sparks using a high press this week.
Prediction: Hartford are not a pushover, and are likely to want o impress the home fans in their first chance to see their team this season. All told, though, the Legion is better at almost every position and has a very strong bench. As the Three Sparks get closer to having the full squad available, they will become harder and harder to beat. The Legion are notoriously low-scoring, but I’m going out on a limb with this one and calling for a 3-1 road win.
Best of the rest
No midweek games this week, but there are two Friday night games, on of which has a direct impact on the Legion. At 7:00pm the Pittsburgh Riverhounds will play The™ Miami FC. If Miami can take points from the Hounds this will give the good guys a chance to climb in the standings. At 8:00pm Rio Grande Valley plays Monterey Bay, which could well be a good game, but of less immediate interest to Legion fans.
The rest of the weekend schedule is all on Saturday, with the Legion game leading it all off. An hour later is Louisville v. El Paso Locomotive, which means El Paso will likely sink to a terrible 0-4-0 start. They’ve already lost 3 at home so going on the road is a plus, I suppose.
If you’re not at Ghost Train for the Magic City Brigade watch party, the 3:00pm game between Detroit City and Indy Eleven would be a good chaser to the Legion game. Detroit have looked rather better than most expected preseason and Indy were good in the opening week draw with Tampa (they were off last week).
Later in the evening are two more good Eastern Conference games. At 6:30pm will be Charleston Battery v. Tampa Bay, who both have 2 1-1 draws so far. Something is likely to break here. Then at 7:30pm FC Tulsa hosts Loudoun United. Tulsa will want to get over the tough loss here last Friday, and Loudoun United are showing themselves to be slouches. Tulsa, by the way, has a busy week ahead. They host Pittsburgh Tuesday and El Paso Friday.
That game coincides with one of two worthwhile Western Conference games: San Antonio v. Colorado Springs. San Antonio were held to a draw by Loudoun (and could easily have lost) and the Switchbacks have already created a fair amount of drama with late goals in both games to date. The nightcap though will be Sacramento Republic v. San Diego Loyal at 9:00pm. These are two quality teams, and San Diego is the only team with two games played who yet to give up a goal and trounced Phoenix 3-0 last week. Fireworks could easily happen.
Back in the Old Country
The Blues handled QPR 1-0 last weekend and rose 1 notch in the standings to 17th as a result. As previously noted, they are now off for the international break until April 1st.