Week 17 Preview: what you need to know
They are wounded at the Alamo
By Saturday night the majority of the USL Championship teams will have hit the mid-point of the season. That will not include the Legion who will be playing game 16 this week. And it’s going to be a doozy. There are as total of 9 teams in league who will not be at 17 games this week, most notably perennial slow starters Memphis 901, who are just now getting to game 15.
The most important part
The Legion of course has the excuse of a deep Open Cup run for its own slightly delayed schedule, but has also had the luxury of several straight long stretches between games to rest and recover. And through July the team has just one game a week, although 3 of the 5 are road games. But in the 37 days between July 29th and September 3rd the Three Sparks will play 8 games, half of those on the road. It’s going to be a hot and crazy summer.
For now though the good guys head to San Antonio to meet the defending champions (Saturday, 8:00pm). The Texas team finds itself in 4th place in the West right now on 25 points from 16 games, 3 points and 1 game more than the Legion. They are also on what looks like something of a skid. They have not won since beating New Mexico United 2-1 on May 27th. In June they had three straight draws before losing last week 1-3 to Sacramento Republic. But those three draws were with San Diego Loyal, El Paso Locomotive and San Diego again.
So, a pretty tough schedule. But that loss to SacRep also had a bonus for the Legion. Goalkeeper Jordan Farr and center back Mitchell Taintor both lost their minds in the final 5 minutes, each earning a red card. By the time Farr got his red card they had already used up all the substitution windows and defender Fabien Garcia had to take over in goal, immediately giving up a golazo on the free kick that Farr’s foul generated.
Up to that point, Jordan Farr had played every minute in goal in league play. Second string keeper Jose Carlos Mercado has played one game this year, against Club de Lyon of NISA in the Open Cup, all the way back on April 4th He allowed a goal in the 2-1 win). Per Transfermarkt, that was only his second game this decade. The only other goalkeeper on the San Antonio roster is 18-year-old Jude Bosshardt whose entire pro career to date, as far as I can tell, was a friendly against Liga MX side Atletico San Luis last year.
So clearly San Antonio is vulnerable between the sticks. And having Mitchell Taintor also out will make things that much worse. They play typically with a 3-man back line, and sometimes a 5-man back line. Taintor is the center of that line and anchors it in a major way. HIs absence may force the team to change tactics at the back and go with 2 center backs, likely Garcia and Conor Manley. They do have the manpower on the roster to stick with 3 guys, but the third man will definitely be a downgrade from Taintor.
Whatever they end up doing, that back line will have a huge impact on this match, given how much the Legion has struggled against 3 center backs in the past.
At the other end, keeping San Antonio from scoring will also be a hard task. Even in the recent 4-game winless run they scored 8 goals. Which rather tends to suggest they were already leaky at the back even without the red cards, but still. Does the Legion have the right guys to hold them at bay?
Prediction: UP until last week I had been dreading this fixture. Now, not so much. San Antonio are looking vulnerable. The Legion are rested and had a masterful game against Loudoun United. I’m sticking my neck ever so slightly and calling for a road win for the Three Sparks.
Also this weekend, Legion WFC finish up their season. With the 0-3 loss to Tennessee SC Tuesday, they have dropped to 4th in the South Central Division and cannot make the playoffs. They can finish on a high note though, as they travel to Huntsville Sunday to play North Alabama SC (5:30pm, Sparkman High School). If South Georgia Tormenta lose or draw their final game with Chattanooga Red Wolves (which is highly likely), the Legion ladies can finish in 3rd.
Prediction: This is an easy one. NASC are horrifically bad. They are averaging 5.1 goals given up per game and the Legion trounced them 8-1 just a short while ago. This time won’t be any different.
Best of the rest
The Championship action starts tomorrow evening with two Eastern Conference matches that will have an impact on the Legion. First up, the Charleston Battery plays Loudoun United (6:30pm). The Battery have been wobbling lately and have been knocked off their perch at the top of the East by the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Loudoun followed its loss here with a 2-4 home loss to the Tampa Bay Rowdies but remain above the playoff line. Charleston has played 2 more games than the Legion, so if they drop points the gap tightens considerably. At 8:00pm will be FC Tulsa v. Detroit City. Both are below the playoff line and struggling. Skip that one.
On to Saturday. At 6:00pm is a major tilt: Pittsburgh v. Louisville City. Lou City are 3 points ahead of the Legion on the same number of games, but taking points from Pitt will help everybody. Keep an eye on Indy Eleven v. San Diego (6:30pm). Indy have been erratic, but can catch the Legion, and San Diego have also been very much not themselves lately, going winless in their last 5. They may not be in a position to do us any favors.
Two Eastern teams head West: Tampa go to Las Vegas (9:30pm) and Memphis to Phoenix (10:00pm). The Lights are execrable and the Rising have been surprisingly weak. Not good news. Other games out West will include the potentially attractive Orange County v. Monterey Bay tilt (9:00pm). OC have won 3 of their last 4 and the Union have a league-high 4-game win streak going. That one was probably not on anyone’s preseason must-see list, but it probably should be now. Last game of the week will be SacRep v. Rio Grande Valley (10:00pm). The Republic are best in the entire league right now, but RGV have found their feet lately, having won their last 2 games, including a 2-0 in Oakland yesterday. That one could be fun.
Yet again, no Sunday games in the Championship, but the USMNT will be finishing up group play in the Gold Cup, playing Trinidad & Tobago at 6:00pm.