Week 4 Preview: what you need to know
It should be warmer this week
Last week’s trip up north was ultimately successful, and was a welcome chance for #2 keeper Trevor Spangenberg and the team’s various youngsters to show their mettle. Which they did admirably. Leaving the chilly north Atlantic coast, the Three Sparks now travel to the rather more inviting climes of the Gulf Coast to face the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
The most important part
No Friday evening game, no silly early kickoff. This week will see the Legion play at a much more amenable time of 6:30pm Saturday.
It’s also worth noting that the good guys are the only USL Championship team on a win streak right now, and there are only 4 teams that can achieve that this week. Parity is reigning in the early season here. Of the 34 games played to date, 14 have ended in draws (12 of those 1-1). Interestingly, of the remaining 20 games, 11 were away wins. 5 home wins and 5 away wins were by a single goal. So things are generally pretty tight.
That being said, the Rowdies just got thoroughly pounded by the Charleston Battery, losing 3-0. That was on the road, admittedly. But their two previous games were both 1-1 draws (against Indy at home and at Orange County). Only 23 points from 3 games, then, and they are looking rather shaky. Add to that they have allowed a penalty kick (both converted) in 2 of those 3 games. No other team has given up more than 1 PK so far (a total of 6). One of them was arguably outside the box, but if it had been defender Forrest Lasso would have been red carded for DOGSO, so not much better. Lasso was also responsible for the other PK. The Rowdies are middle of the pack in cards received (8 yellows so far) but they are at risk of getting in trouble. And that includes their bench. Against Charleston an assistant was sent off (as was Charleston’s head coach Ben Pirmann).
Another issue for them right now is goalkeeping. Phil Breno has played all 3 games to date. He joined them midway through last season from League One’s Forward Madison in an unusual loan swap (GK Raiko Arozarena went to Madison). Breno signed a permanent deal for this season, as did Connor Sparrow, formerly of The™ Miami FC. Arozarena is also back. Sparrow was generally expected to be the starter, but it appears he has been dealing with an injury, although he was on the bench against the Battery. His availability as a starter is up in the air, but he is definitely the best choice of the 3 if he is available.
Defense was expected to be a strength for Tampa. With Lasso back from his one-year stint in Sweden, and adding former Legionaries Zach Herivaux and Freddy Kleemann1Freddy’s last complete game with the Legion, you may recall, was the season opener last year against Tampa. to an already stout lineup, 5 goals allowed is a bit of a surprise. Equally a surprise is the attack, which added Cal Jennings from Las Vegas this offseason (as well as JJ Williams). But their 2 goals were from winger Jake Areman and Zach Herivaux. As a team they have managed just 7 shots on goal in 3 games with a cumulative xG of 2.67. Not good.
There have been two big missing pieces so far this season for Tampa. The biggest one is reigning League MVP Leo Fernandes, who is out for the year due to an Achilles injury in preseason. The other is Lewis Hilton, who played just 9 minutes in week 1and has not been in the 18 since. He is reportedly listed as questionable, so like Sparrow his availability is up in the air. Both these players are midfielders, which leaves a big hole to fill.
All told, the Rowdies have not yet shown what everyone thought they would be this season. Which makes them unpredictable on top of being mad as hell about last week’s loss.
Prediction: This preview has zeroed in on Tampa’s problems so far, but that does not mean they are not a good team. Yes, there are things they need to work out, but they have a quality roster and a strong coach. They are not to be dismissed lightly. They are also at home for this one. Overall, I think the Legion probably has the edge, but I will go with a 1-1 draw here.
Best of the rest
Week 4 has in fact already started, with FC Tulsa hosting the Pittsburgh Riverhounds last night in a 0-0 draw, which worked out to the benefit of everyone else in the East. Tulsa also starts the rest of the week’s schedule, playing at home again Friday evening (8:00pm) against a resurgent El Paso Locomotive. The rest of the schedule is on April Fool’s Day, with 10 games on the slate. The earlier games in the afternoon aren’t frankly very appealing, so you can make your way to the watch party at Ghost Train Brewing without worrying about missing anything. f the 3 games, Detroit City v. Rio Grande Valley Toros (3:00pm) is likely the best of a bad bunch. at 6:00pm, and therefore overlapping the Legion game significantly, are 2 important fixtures: Indy Eleven v. Las Vegas Lights and Miami v. Memphis 901. Indy are 3 points behind the Legion but with a game in hand, so the Lights could help us out here. Memphis have serious problems, on top of which they made the trip to Oakland only to have the game postponed last week. Another long distance this week, and a Miami team that really needs to get into the win column.
Some big games out west finish out the schedule. At 9:00pm will be Monterey Bay v. San Antonio. Monterey are a good team that is going to cause problems; San Antonio’s quality is self-evident. Coming off a shock 0-3 loss to El Paso, Louisville City now head to California to play Sacramento Republic (9:00pm). SacRep are major contenders for the title this year. This could be a doozy. Last up, but of interest to Legion fans, at 9:30pm will be Phoenix Rising v. San Diego Loyal. The Rising will be the Legion’s next opponent (here on Easter Sunday). They were on a bye last week, but their last opponent thrashed them 3-0. Who was that? San Diego Loyal.
Back in the Old Country
The Blues are back in action after taking the week off for the international break. They now face Blackburn Rovers at home (Saturday, 9:00am, no ESPN+). Blackburn will be a tough task; they sit in 5th with a game in hand over Luton above them and are solidly in the promotion playoff chase.