Week 7 Preview: what you need to know
Back in the winning mood?
The Legion made the most of the trip out to the Pacific Coast last week, and then eked out the Open Cup win last night. Are they back on the right track?
The most important part
The 4:00pm Sunday home game against Hartford Athletic will be the first conference series the Legion complete this year. It also starts off a stretch of 5 games in 14 days, with a trip to Miami on Wednesday before the Oakland Roots come in next Saturday. The following league game is at Pittsburgh the Saturday after that, but the US Open Cup round of 32 game will be sandwiched in between them. Add in the two games just completed and that will be 7 games in 22 days. Busy times, but at least the upcoming league schedule is relatively easy.
Relatively being the key word, of course. The USL Championship has become much more competitive this season, although a few tiers of quality are beginning to emerge. Hartford Athletic is a slight surprise, though. And not a good surprise. The arrival of Tab Ramos as head coach late last season held promise for an improving future, but this season has so far failed to show any results. Through 6 games the Athletic are 1-3-2. The one win was two weeks ago – they were on a bye last week – in Oakland where they won 2-1 fairly convincingly. They lost Tuesday evening 1-2 to the New England Revolution in the Open Cup.
Not much has changed with them since the Legion beat them 1-0 just over a month ago. If you need a refresher as to how the Legion won that game, check our analysis. The Three Sparks should also be back to more or less full strength. Tyler Pasher made a late appearance last night and looked back to normal. Neco Brett was not in the 18 last night, but was on the field and getting checked out just prior to the game. Whether the team will use its mixed-up tactics again is an open question as the Legion has rather settled into a basic 4-2-3-1 since then, albeit with some variations in-game.
Even when the Legion is at less than full strength, the emergence of the team’s youth contingent has more than shored up any gaps. Matthew Corcoran is established as a regular starter and Diba Nwegbo is developing quickly. The future is now.
Prediction: The only possible issue is how tired the Legion are after the 120-minute slog last night in Tuscaloosa. Chattanooga FC pushed the team as hard as possible after the first half and were not an easy out, to say the least. That being said, the Three Sparks have to get used to a crammed calendar, especially if they want to continue progressing in the Cup, and need to maximize points from the next few games. They remain the better team in this game and should be able to get the win, possibly by multiple goals.
Best of the rest
The Legion’s game is the only one on Sunday, and all the 22 other teams are in action on Saturday, making this the first week in the season with no one on a bye.
First up at 3:00p, is Detroit City v. Tampa Bay. Usually one would not expect a Rowdies game to be a pass, but these two sides are in the Eastern Conference cellar and have, well let’s be kind, an underwhelming 8 goals between them in 14 games. And given up 16.
Next at 5:00pm is FC Tulsa hosting Sacramento Republic. That’s a likely road win for the league leaders even though Tulsa had no Open Cup game and SacRep played late.
Then come 3 games all of which Legion fans should be aware of. Indy Eleven play Pittsburgh Riverhounds at 6:00pm. Indy are one of seven Eastern teams with only one win so far and have scored just 4 times. The Hounds have only 2 wins, but are close to the conference leaders, so we need the Eleven to break out here. A huge game at 6:30pm: the Charleston Battery hosts the Colorado Springs Switchbacks. The Battery are one of two unbeaten teams left in the Championship (SacRep is the other) but Colorado are in a battle themselves in the upper reaches of the West. A Charleston loss would open it up for the Legion to retake the conference lead on Sunday. Another matchup with big implications a half hour later at 7:00pm is Memphis 901 v. Louisville City. Lou City are tied with the Legion on points (but trail on tiebreakers). Area Code FC just got their first win of the season last week 3-0 at RGV and then just yesterday got the cupset in Georgia over Atlanta United 2-1. Lou City lost in the Cup 0-1 at FC Cincinnati. This one could go any way.
The later games out west are mostly relatively uninspiring, especially for fans of eastern teams, although San Diego Loyal v. El Paso Locomotive at 9:00pm could be good. The Loyal are a strong side and will be smarting from a tough 4-5 loss to the Seattle Sounders after a PK at the end of the second half of extra time. El Paso are surging after a terrible start. Lastly, at 9:30pm will be Phoenix Rising v. Loudoun United. The Rising are so-so, but Loudoun are soaring. Including last night’s Open Cup game, they have won their last 3 games by an aggregate 10-0 and are just 3 points behind the Legion with a game in hand.
Back in the Old Country.
The Blues lost again 1-0 against Blackpool who were far more motivated. They remain in 23rd though, but still have a chance to avoid relegation. This week they play Coventry away (Saturday April 29th, 9:00am, no ESPN+). Coventry are now 5th and need all 6 remaining points to guarantee a promotion playoff spot. before finishing the season against Sheffield United (Monday May 8th, 9:00am; ESPN+ schedule not yet set). United clinched automatic promotion yesterday with a 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion; they can’t catch Burnley for the league title so they also have nothing to play for.