Week 11 Preview: what you need to know
A big game before the big game
The Legion are on a 3-game skid in the league and looking entirely vulnerable. What are their chances this week?
The most important part
The big issue as far as this game is concerned is that the Three Sparks are manifestly tired after a hefty schedule the past three weeks. 7 games in 22 days is hard on the body, even with squad rotation. And with the big Open Cup game next Wednesday, the full week break is only a brief respite. It also raises the question of who will play this Saturday. Will the team go all in for Charlotte FC and sacrifice this game against El Paso Locomotive (Saturday 6:30pm)?
My hunch is that they won’t. As important as the Open Cup game is, it’s also a big risk to give up points in the league even at this stage, which is still relatively early. 4 straight games without a win in the league would be rough, especially since at least 2 of those were entirely winnable.
Also part of this equation is Charlotte FC’s schedule. They got a slightly surprising 3-1 win over a 10-man Atlanta United last weekend, but they play Jonny Dean and the Chicago Fire tonight (6:30pm) in what is easily the most interesting game of the day for Legion fans. Charlotte are 12th in the MLS Eastern Conference and Chicago are 13th. But Charlotte also play on Saturday (again 6:30pm) against Nashville SC as part of MLS’ Rivalry Week. Nashville, 3rd in the East are a serious opponent for them. They have similarly had a busy schedule lately and with a double-game week right now could well have some very heavy legs. Pittsburgh get the same Open Cup assist, by the way: the Columbus Crew play tonight against the LA Galaxy and Saturday at Cincinnati.
A secondary issue is the health of Neco Brett, who had to leave the game in Pittsburgh early. If he’s unable to go, at least not for a full 90, that reduces Tommy Soehn’s options.
The good news for the Legion roster is that Phanuel Kavita will be back from suspension, so the strength of the back line will be heavily reinforced. As became clear at Highmark, Ben Reveno is not equipped to play centerback in this league.
As far as the weekend’s opponent is concerned, the Locomotive have more than recovered from losing their first 3 games. They are on a league-best 5-game win streak and have won 6 of the last 7. Admittedly it took an 89th minute goal against Loudoun United to keep that going this past Saturday, but a streak is a streak. They are a runaway 1st in our Power Rankings.
The primary scoring threat is Argentinian Luis (“Lucho”) Solignac, who has bagged 5 goals this season. However, Swede Petar Petrovic and Ricardo Zacarias also have 3 each, so the team has a three-headed monster up front. If they are all playing, that is. Only Solignac played against Loudoun last week and the other two weren’t in the 18. In goal is Benny Diaz, who has 4 clean sheets already this season despite that rocky start. The good news is that the Locomotive generally play with a back 4, not a 3 (which the Legion have singularly failed to penetrate adequately this season). Depending on attacking availability, the formation will be a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2.
Prediction: This is another game that is difficult to call. Logic suggests that El Paso is the better team, certainly right now, and they are the strongest team the Legion has seen yet this season. Everything points to a 4th straight loss. However, the Legion have a history of showing up against tougher teams. I’m going to call this one a draw.
Best of the rest
All told it’s a busy week in the championship, with 13 games between tonight, Friday and Saturday. Only one team on a bye this week: Louisville City, who are already 2 games behind the Legion.
Starting things off tonight are two not overly interesting games. First is Loudoun United v. New Mexico United (6:00pm). New Mexico, along with Memphis 901, have played the fewest games to date (8), but even with the midweek game are off this weekend. Loudoun are on a 3-game losing streak and lost momentum, so this will be a good chance for New Mexico to get over the playoff line. Later tonight at 9:00pm is Orange County v. Sacramento Republic, two teams going on opposite directions, and the OC’s league-worst 4-game losing streak looks to extend.
One game on Friday: FC Tulsa v. Area Code FC at 8:00pm. Tulsa’s only win this season was against Loudoun, all the way back on March 25th. Other than the Open Cup loss to the Legion, Memphis are faring rather well having won 3 of the last 4 games. If Tulsa can take points from this game, that will serve the Three Sparks’ interests excellently.
On to Saturday. The Charleston Battery look to rebound from the 0-7 thumping by San Antonio last week against Monterey Bay (4:00pm). Monterey are suffering from some injury issues and have the long trip, but if they can win and the Legion beat El Paso (both unlikely I think), the Three Sparks would be back on top of the Eastern Conference. Next, several games clash with the Legion game. Loudoun United are back in action at Hartford Athletic (6:00pm) in a less than appealing game. At the same time Indy Eleven hosts the Colorado Springs Switchbacks. Neither team is playing great right now so not a great loss to miss this one. Also at 6:00pm is The™ Miami FC v. San Diego Loyal. Both teams need to recover from tough losses last week and this could in fact be a good matchup. The last 6:00pm game is Pittsburgh Riverhounds v. Las Vegas Lights. I would say that the USL not rescheduling the weekend game for either of its two Open Cup survivors is a tad strange, but in PIttsburgh’s case a match against the winless Lights is as good as a rest anyway.
At 6:30pm Detroit City’s woes probably won’t end as they welcome San Antonio to Keyworth Stadium. Last week at Charleston San Antonio scored 2 more goals than Detroit have scored all season. Enough said.
Next up at 7:30pm is Rio Grande Valley v. Tampa Bay. RGV got a surprise win over San Diego last week, but the Rowdies are surging lately and reality is likely to return for the Toros. That leaves two games at 9:00pm. If they lose tonight, Orange County have a better than even chance to run the losing streak to 7 games as they host Phoenix Rising. Then, to round out the schedule, possibly the best game of the week: Sacramento v. Oakland Roots. SacRep are easily the league’s best right now, but the Roots have a run of good results lately.
That’s it for this week in the Championship. We are off on vacation until June 1st, so you won’t be hearing much from us for a while!