Week 5 Preview: what you need to know
Easter eggs aren't spherical
There’s no denying it – the Legion are on a hot streak right now. 4 wins in all competitions and the only goal given up in the last three games was when they were a man down (and still scored twice under those conditions). That was the Chattanooga Red Wolves game, of course, which remains a mystery to most of us who weren’t able to travel north on Wednesday, but a 4-1 road win in the US Open Cup seems pretty satisfying. And as luck would have it, the Legion now face the other Chattanooga team (the older NISA team) in the third round on April 25th or 26th, this time at home. The Three Sparks have never advanced beyond the third round before, so this could be the year.
The most important part
More immediately, the Legion have to deal with Phoenix Rising at home this Sunday (4:30pm). This will be the only game in the USL Championship on Easter Sunday, and there are no games tonight and only 9 ion Saturday.
Leaving aside the oddity of playing a team with that name on that day, this should be an interesting matchup. Part of that is that Phoenix are rather unpredictable right now. They have played just 3 games, losing 1 and drawing 2 and sit firmly in the Western Conference cellar. However, in a bizarre piece of scheduling, of those 3 games 2 were against San Diego Loyal. They lost 0-3 in San Diego before resting a week and then opening their brand new stadium in front of a huge crowd of 10k+ getting a 2-0 lead before losing it late and drawing 2-2. The other draw was 1-1 in Week 1 against the Charleston Battery. So, a small and biased sample to read anything from.
Another reason is that the Rising had a major roster overhaul this offseason. Most notably, they have 3 new strikers on the squad. First is Manuel Arteaga, a Venezuelan formerly with Indy Eleven, who scored both goals in the second San Diego game. Next is Danny Trejo, the Mexican standout who was an LAFC loanee to Las Vegas Lights last year and is now permanently at Phoenix. He scored the only other league goal. Last up is Englishman Jackson Conway on loan from Atlanta United and probably familiar to Legion fans for his previous performances with Twonited against the Three Sparks. That’s a three-headed monster that can cause serious headaches. Trejo was not in the squad for the last two Rising games, including the 1-0 midweek win over Greenville Triumph, and his availability is currently unknown.
The Rising have changed things at the back too. The current starting goalkeeper is Rocco Rios Novo, also formerly with Atlanta, and originator of some netminding heroics. He is on loan from Lanus of Argentina (he holds dual Argentinian and US citizenship) and although small is tough to get past. There are a few other changes too, so this is a team that can’t really be scouted too well.
They have used 3 different formations in the 4 games this season. Against Charleston it was a very defensive 5-3-2, in both San Diego games a similarly defensive 3-4-3 and against Greenville a more aggressive 4-2-3-1, which is not surprising. I would expect them to revert to a more defensive posture here, but even so they do appear to spread the field. All told, this is going to be a weird one.
Prediction: The Rising are almost certainly better than their record. As a newly-formed squad they are still finding their feet to an extent, but it’s unlikely to take too much longer. That being said, the Legion have also made a habit of being unpredictable this year. Both sides have some injury question marks, so it’s a shot in the dark as to who will be on the field Sunday afternoon. With that, I am going to hedge my bets and call for a 1-1 draw.
Best of the rest
Four teams are off entirely this weekend (Loudoun United, Memphis 901. Las Vegas Lights and Rio Grande Valley Toros). But the rest of the league are offering a pretty attractive slate of games Saturday. First up is Louisville City v. Detroit City (2:00pm). Lou City have been shocked to their core the past two weeks, getting outscored 0-8. Detroit’s only points this season were against a then-struggling El Paso Locomotive. Something’s gotta give here. At 4:00pm San Diego could give the Legion a hand as they host FC Tulsa, currently second in the East (albeit on tiebreakers). Tulsa were upset 1-0 in the US Open Cup this week by Tulsa Athletic, so this could be a very bad week for them. Indy Eleven v. Oakland Roots at 6:00pm is a probable pass, as is Charleston against Hartford at 6:30pm. At the same time is the Florida derby, Tampa Bay Rowdies v. The™ Miami FC, which could be interesting. More importantly, at 7:00pm is Colorado Springs Switchbacks against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. The Hounds are one of 3 teams in the East on 6 points behind the Legion (the other being Lou City), so rooting for the Switchbacks is a must.
But that all pales in comparison to the biggest game of the weekend at 7:30pm. That will be San Antonio v. Sacramento Republic, the top two teams in the West. This will be a matchup of powerhouses to say the least.
Skip over El Paso v. Orange County at 8:30pm and then at 9:00pm (or tune in late if you’re watching the big game) to see Monterey Bay v. New Mexico United. New Mexico have played only 2 games so far this season and have quite a bit to prove, and Monterey are far better than year ago and will not be gracious hosts.
Back in the Old Country
The Blues handled Blackburn Rovers 1-0 last week, and their Easter weekend has already started, with a 1-1 draw at Reading earlier today. They play again Easter Monday (a public holiday over there and a traditional day for soccer games) against Stoke City (9:00am, no ESPN+). They have clawed their way up to 16th and a win Monday could get them to 14th (where Stoke currently sit).