Week 19 Preview: what you need to know

A tough one coming up

The second half of the Legion’s league season kicks off this Saturday, and it’s a doozy for all sorts of reasons.

The most important part

Week 19 is in fact already well under way with 6 games played on Wednesday. All but one featured Eastern Conference teams and the news was largely good for the Legion. 3 of the games ended 1-1: Indy Eleven v. Charleston Battery, Detroit City v. Loudoun United (go watch the highlight reel for that one; it’s entertaining in bizarre ways) and Oakland Roots v. Memphis 901. The only Eastern teams to win were the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and FC Tulsa, who topped Louisville City and The™ Miami FC respectively, both by 1-0 margins. The final Wednesday game was El Paso Locomotive v. San Antonio, which ended 2-1 for the visitors.

So Pittsburgh goes top of the East by a point and yes, it’s the Tampa Bay Rowdies who are trailing them, so they have even more incentive to win this weekend than they already did. Other than that, the East is tightening up considerably, and the Legion, which has games in hand over everyone in the East except Memphis, has everything to play for. That’s especially true given that the Three Sparks have not yet played Charleston, Lou City or Memphis, all of whom are above them in the standings. They tied 1-1 and lost 1-2 to Pitt and beat Tampa 2-0 away, so they are currently 1-1-1 against the top five in the conference with 7 games left to play.

The Rowdies game kicks off at 6:30pm this Saturday. They come to the Magic City in a strange condition: after 5 years in charge, head coach Neill Collins managed his last game for the team last week, beating Oakland comprehensively 3-0 at home. Collins – who is Scottish – is heading to Barnsley FC of the English League One, taking assistant coach Jon Stead (an Englishman) with him. Barnsley missed out on promotion to the English Championship last season by the thinnest of whiskers, losing 0-1 to Sheffield Wednesday in the promotion final on a goal 3 minutes into stoppage time of the second half of extra time. Head coach Michael Duff left to manage Swansea City in the Championship last month, so Barnsley’s American ownership brought Collins in.

That leaves Tampa with Stuart Dobson as interim head coach. Dobson – another Englishman – played most of his career indoors. As a goalkeeper. So the Rowdies are left with a goalkeeping coach to run things for the time being. The question is: how will that affect their performance? Probably not too badly. For one thing, the players will want to prove themselves, as often happens with coaching changes. Not that they have much to prove. They are on a 3-game winning streak and haven’t lost since April 23rd (a 0-1 result in San Diego).

The Legion beat them in Tampa St. Petersburg by allowing zero shots on goal. That’s pretty much unheard of for this team. They have scored 30 goals in 18 games and have a xG of 26.68, so they are overperforming by 3.32 goals. Their xG against the Legion was 1.50, which is right at their season average of 1.48 despite not getting near Trevor Spangenberg’s net. Indeed, they even exceeded the Legion’s xG for the game, which was 1.20. The Three Sparks won that game with incredible defense. The Legion, as it happens, have an xG so far of 22.91 (1.35 per game) but have scored 25 goals so in production aren’t too far behind the Rowdies.

The Rowdies’ attack is fearsome. The 3-0 scoreline against Oakland was all due to Cal Jennings, who passed JJ Williams (!!) on 7 goals and Charlie Dennis on 6 to take the team lead with 8. Jennings was previously with Las Vegas on loan from LAFC of MLS and has seen his career take off in Florida. JJ has traveled a bit since leaving Birmingham, playing in Tulsa and Phoenix last year but is on track for a career year. Dennis was with Oakland last season so was probably a bit miffed that Jennings took all the glory. But keeping all three of them at bay is a big ask.

They are fairly stingy at the other end too, allowing just 19 goals to date. Connor Sparrow is an excellent keeper and he sits behind a  line anchored by man-mountain Forrest Lasso and Conner Antley. Aaron Guillen isn’t exactly shabby either (they usually run a 3-man line). Tough to penetrate.

Prediction: The Rowdies are a class organization, ugly kits notwithstanding. Hard to beat at any time, the Legion are catching them at the best and worst of times. They likely haven’t forgotten the loss earlier this season, they are on a tear in the league, need to catch Pittsburgh and want to show they can do it without Collins. I don’t like it, but I see them winning this one.

Best of the rest

The weekend action starts tomorrow evening with the Colorado Springs Switchbacks taking on San Diego Loyal (8:00pm). They are 4 and 5 in the West and are separated by 1 point. A lot on the line here.

All other games are Saturday evening and mostly overlap the Legion game. First up is Pittsburgh v. Detroit (6:00pm). Detroit haven’t been impressive, Pitt is very impressive. Both played Wednesday, which could have an impact. At the same time Miami plays Charleston, another matchup of teams on opposite tracks. Miami will likely do the Legion any favors.

The next important game is FC Tulsa v. Hartford Athletic (8:00pm). Tulsa have quietly crept up the standings and are just 1 point behind the Three Sparks, although they have played 2 more games. Hartford are execrable and have already fired coach Tab Ramos. The Legion could very easily drop a spot in the standings this week.

There’s one important game out west: Sacramento Republic v Memphis (10:00pm). SacRep are top of the West and have the league’s best PPG. Look for them to keep Memphis’ 3-game winless streak going.

That’s all for this week; see you at Protective!

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