Week 10 Preview: what you need to know
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The Three Sparks have successfully rebounded from a horrendous week; how do things look for this weekend?
The most important part
That the last two USL teams standing is US Open Cup should meet immediately after clinching berths in the Round of 16 is a fortuitous piece of scheduling and sets up a game the USL should be advertising the heck out of. They aren’t, which is frankly dumb, as there really is only one other game of any real note this weekend (see below).
This will be the return fixture of the Legion’s home opener which saw the two teams battle to a 1-1 draw. The good guys were playing with less than a full deck, though. Enzo Martinez and Mikey Lopez were out with injuries, and Neco Brett and Prosper Kasim were limited to bench roles. Three members of the starting lineup, Ben Reveno, Diba Nwegbo and Collin Smith, had all been signed earlier that week. Collin was even played initially at left wing, so rough was the situation.
10 games in, things have changed. A ton. The Legion, by the way, is the only team to have played that many games, and with the two losses last week has something of a games in hand problem. Anyway, the squad is now more or less at full strength, although some members of the team are probably not at full match fitness (Mikey and Neco in particular). A new starting goalkeeper has emerged, too; it seems unlikely Trevor Spangenberg will be relegated back to the bench if he keeps playing the way he has been. The younger cadre has found its feet (with the possible exception of Ben Reveno). All that being said, results have been all over the map. The 1-4 loss to Oakland can probably be thrown out under the circumstances, the losses to Loudoun United and The™ Miami FC not so much.
The Oakland loss does have a bearing on this game, of course, and that will be the suspension of Phanuel Kavita (the outrageous red card has not been appealed). That could change things drastically. It likely means that Ben Reveno will start. As noted, he has been rather uneven in his performances so far, although centerback may be the best role for him.
As for the Drowned Puppies, their season hasn’t been that great other than in the Open Cup (and even there they got a freebie when Rochester folded and they were awarded a forfeit). Their record is a weakish 2-2-5. The wins were over Memphis 901 and the Rio Grande Valley Toros. That’s not very impressive, and they have just 2 points from the last 3 matches. In 9 games they scored 10 and allowed 9, so by and large things have been close.
But therein lies a weakness: of those 10 goals, 7 were scored by Albert Dikwa, who shares the league lead with Monterey Bay’s Alex Dixon. That includes all 3 goals in the Week 2 win over Memphis and both goals in last week’s draw with Monterey Bay. He hasn’t figured in the Open Cup though. No one else on the squad has more than 1 goal. Which, considering that the roster includes such names as Edward Kizza and Robbie Mertz (who scored against the Legion) is a bit surprising. So if the Legion can keep Dikwa locked down they should be able to limit scoring opportunities.
The other end is the problem though. Keeper Jahmali Waite is a known quantity, and I would describe him as an average US Championship level shotstopper. The issue for the Three Sparks is that he plays behind a 3-man back line. This will be third straight game against that setup in league play, and as we have seen, the Legion has problems breaking through that kind of defense. It’s going to take some meaningful changes to get that problem solved.
Prediction: This one could, unfortunately, be a yawner. Even without Phanny, I don’t see Pittsburgh cracking the Legion defense with any ease. I similarly think the Legion will get stymied. I’m anticipating a 0-0 draw.
Best of the rest
No byes this week, and everybody plays Saturday evening. So pretty much every game in the East will clash with the Legion game, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep up with them. First up is Louisville City v. Miami in a direct head-to-head against the Legion at 7:00pm. Louisville are 2 points behind the Legion but have 2 games in hand. They are much more erratic this year than historically, so Miami could do them some damage. The Three Sparks are themselves 2 points behind the Charleston Battery, who play San Antonio at 7:30pm in the major dustup we referred to earlier. The Battery will be chewing on a really unfortunate Open Cup loss to Inter Miami (if you aren’t aware they lost 0-1 as a result of a clearance rebounding off defender Juan Palma’s face). San Antonio have gone through a rough patch largely because of injuries and need to get back on track.
Also at 7:30pm will be the Tampa Bay Rowdies v. Detroit City. Tampa won the reverse fixture 1-0 two weeks ago and Detroit have been struggling mightily all season. They have scored just 4 goals in 9 games (easily the worst in the league). Look for Tampa to keep inching up the standings. Then at 8:00pm Area Code FC will have to lick their wounds as they host the Colorado Springs Switchbacks. Memphis are clinging to the final payoff spot ion the East, but Colorado are a lot better than most observers thought they would be.
The team most likely to knock them below the line is FC Tulsa, who travel to Las Vegas (10:30pm). The Lights are winless in 8 games. Enough said. Also at risk of falling out of the playoff spots is Loudoun United who travel to the surging El Paso Locomotive (9:30pm) after getting spanked 1-5 by the Columbus Crew in midweek. Tulsa could leapfrog both Memphis and Loudoun. Indy Eleven’s season probably won’t get any better as they head to the as yet undefeated Sacramento Republic (10:00pm). Rounding out the Eastern teams is Hartford Athletic, who head to Phoenix (10:30pm).
Of the all-Western games (there’s only three) the best will most likely be New Mexico United v. Monterey Bay (9:00pm). New Mexico has had a slow start to the season and the Union are much improved and won the other half of the series 4-2 earlier this year. San Diego Loyal v. Rio Grande Valley and Oakland Roots v. Orange County can be safely skipped.
Back in the Old Country
The Blues ended their season on Monday with a 1-2 loss to already-promoted Sheffield United. The season finished on a 3-game losing streak and just 1 win in the last 5 games. The good news is that the partial sale to American hedge fund manager Tom Wagner is going through with all paperwork signed.