Week 7 Preview: what you need to know
Back in the winning mood?
OK, the painful trip north is behind us. This week the Three Sparks head the other transcontinental direction.
The most important part
The absence of Tommy Soehn obviously hurt the Legion significantly this past week, as did the presumable underestimation of the opponent. Tack on some odd lineup choices and disaster resulted.
Tommy is back, of course, and Tyler Pasher is in training again, so a couple of problems may be resolved. It will also help not to start Enzo Martinez on the bench. That being said, the team also has a midweek US Open Cup clash to consider before the Sunday game next week against Hartford. Rotation will be the order of the week more than likely.
So, who are Orange County? This will be the first ever meeting between the teams so everything will be entirely new. County have had a couple of bizarre years, winning it all in 2021 before finishing dead last in the Western Conference last season. At the same as winning the wooden spoon they also had the Golden Boot winner in Milan Iloski, who bagged 22 goals. Iloski wasn’t with the team for the championship year (his brother Brian was, though, and still is. His other brother Eric used to play for the Las Vegas Lights) so rather came out of nowhere. In an odd coincidence he had previously joined Real Monarchs in 2020, the year after they won the USL Championship, and in 2021 they finished last in their group.
He has 3 goals in 6 games this season, so is off his pace of last year. County as a team are struggling again this season, with a record of 1-2-3, although the only win came last week, 1-0 over Indy Eleven at home. The Legion will be the 5th Eastern team they have played this year, so they are getting their non-conference schedule out of the way early (they lost to Louisville, and tied Hartford and Tampa). They are something of a one-trick pony. This year they have scored just 6 goals, and no one other than Iloski has more than 1 goal. Last season, no other player hit double digits in scoring. They did acquire Thomas Amang from San Diego in the offseason, but he has yet to score, as does the impressive newcomer midfielder Ashish Chattha (formerly of UC Irvine).
At the back they have Cody Cropper in goal, a former MLS keeper of quality. He could be tough to get past, although his back line is not the greatest.
Formationally, County have played 4-4-2 the past 3 games after starting with a 4-3-3 against Louisville and a 4-5-1 in the following two games (against Las Vegas it was more of a 4-1-4-1 though). Like the Legion they are more of a counterattacking team than anything else, having the possession advantage in only 1 game this season (Las Vegas). Something has to give in this game, then.
All that being said, they have an xG of 8.26 (6th best in the league) and an xGA of 7.21 (11th worst in the league). Both are better than the Legion, by the way, who are at 7.22 and 8.80 respectively.
Prediction: After a terrible game last week, I anticipate the Legion will be mad as hell and looking to get back on the right track. Most importantly, the centerback duo will have to perform. By and large, if they can keep Iloski at bay (unless he’s playing as he sometimes does), defense should be fine. On the attacking side, they are going to have to generate far more opportunities than they did against Loudoun. I think they will do that and so I’m calling for a 1-0 Legion win.
Best of the rest
Games on Saturday and Sunday this weekend. FC Tulsa and Hartford Athletic have byes, but everyone else is busy. Obviously, with the late Legion kickoff on the West Coast, most Saturday games will precede that one (the only exception being Sacramento Republic v. Detroit City which also is at 9:00pm), so you have a wide choice of appetizers before the main course.
They all overlap to a degree, but the best option among the earlier games is the 6:30pm game between Charleston Battery and Louisville City, who are now 1 and 2 in the East. A draw would obviously be the best result for the Three Sparks, and a Legion win would see them back into 2nd (on tiebreakers, or on points if the Battery wins). At 7:00pm will be Colorado Springs Switchbacks v. New Mexico United. New Mexico have struggled so far this season, although they’ve only played 4 games, and Colorado just got waxed 0-4 by SacRep, so someone here is likely to break out.
A half hour after that at 7:30pm is San Antonio v. Phoenix Rising. San Antonio just suffered their first defeat of the year in Louisville, but Phoenix is getting into its stride so this could be a decent matchup. You could watch the first half of that one live. Important to the Legion at 8:30pm is El Paso Locomotive hosting the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. The Hounds are just a point behind the Legion so some breathing room would useful. El Paso has gotten over its horrendous start and have the home advantage.
On Sunday 2 of the 3 games may be of interest. At 3:00pm will be Loudoun United v. Oakland Roots. Obviously we are all well aware of what Loudoun can do, but Oakland will be coming to the Magic City May 6th, so some scouting could be useful. Forget The™ Miami FC v. Las Vegas Lights, also at 3:00pm, then there’s San Diego Loyal v. Tampa Bay at 5:00m. The Rowdies have just 5 points from 6 games and are looking extremely weak, and San Diego needs to keep pace with Sacramento in the Western race.
Back in the Old Country.
The Blues lost 2-1 at Sunderland on Saturday, then won 1-0 over Millwall on Tuesday. That leaves them in 15th place on 53 points with 3 games to play. They are safe from relegation (they were tipped at the beginning of the season to go down) and so have little to play for other than pride. This week they play Blackpool who are 23rd and desperately need points to stave off relegation (Saturday, 9:00am, no ESPN+), then next week 8th-place Coventry away (Saturday April 29th, 9:00am, no ESPN+) before finishing the season against Sheffield United (Monday May 8th, 9:00am; ESPN+ schedule not yet set). United are in second and currently need 2 points from 4 games to join already promoted Burnley in the Premier League.
Continuing on in the Birmingham City buyout saga, it appears that American hedge fund manager Tom Wagner is the potential buyer. The sale would initially be a minority stake in the team and stadium, with majority ownership to come later. Wagner’s only known previous foray into sports ownership is the Las Vegas Night Owls. In case you didn’t know, that’s a Major League Pickleball team. Yes, that’s a thing. Also part-owned by Tom Brady.