Week 20 Preview: what you need to know

A day at the races

There could be quite a bit of movement in the standings this week. Some critical matchups on the schedule.

The most important part

The Legion are coming off what was arguably their best performance of the season. Louisville City…just got a black eye. Last night Lou City headed to Detroit likely expecting a win. A mere 22 seconds into the game Detroit were denied a goal as Brett Levis’ shot bounced off the crossbar, into the goal and back out. Close, but the ball looked all the way over the line. That didn’t stop Detroit, though. They took the lead a mere four minutes later on their way to a surprise 2-0 win. They hit the post later on, too. All told, Detroit were by far the better side.

Louisville have in fact been less than spectacular over the past few weeks. They are 2-2-1 over the past five games and have scored just 2 goals. Yup, they have been shut out 3 times lately, Pittsburgh being the culprits both the other two times. Indeed, that it was the Riverhounds who have imposed a fair portion of that poor record softens it somewhat, but even so this is not your typical Lou City.

For the season to date, Louisville are 8-6-5 for 29 points. That’s not much different from the Legion’s 8-8-2 and 26 points. Both teams have a -4 goal difference as well. However, Louisville has scored a mere 17 goals in 19 games. They have scored multiple goals just 3 times this season (and only once against a team currently in playoff position: Phoenix Rising, who are 8th in the West) and have been shut out a total of 7 times, including once by Hartford Athletic. Danny Cruz’ squad hasn’t changed much since last season but for whatever reason they are not clicking as they normally do.

Crux has been tinkering with the formation a lot. Over the past five games he has played a 4-3-3, a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-1-4-1, all with limited success. Detroit used a 4-4-1-1 against them and was able to penetrate the defense with not too much difficulty. If the Legion goes with a three-headed monster again they should find plenty of chances on goal.

And yet, Louisville has managed to rack up 9 clean sheets. That’s with German-born Oliver Semmle between the sticks, who displaced Kyle Morton – last year’s Golden Glove winner – for the #1 job. Morton hasn’t even been in the 18 recently, the sub being Danny Faundez. Semmle, who played for the Marshall Thundering Herd, is in his first full pro season at 25 and has been generally sound.

The other big change for Louisville is of course the sale of Joshua Wynder, the 18-year-old phenom who went to Benfica for a $1 million+ fee. His older brother Elijah is still with the team and getting regular minutes. Other than that, the team is much the same, and may be aging a tad. They continue to play with Cameron Lancaster at striker. Lancaster is 30 and has struggled with some injuries and is not producing as he once did, with only 2 goals on the season. Top scorer is Wilson Harris. He only has 4 goals this year but is a constant threat. The good news there is that he hasn’t played much recently due to injury and hasn’t been in the 18 several times, including last night at Detroit. Also out injured is Enoch Mushagalusa and several other less key players. Lou City is literally limping along.

On the Legion side, all looks hunky dory on that front except perhaps Mikey Lopez, who has been notably absent (and possibly displaced). There was concern that Anderson Asiedu’s 8th yellow card would mean he is suspended for this match, but he actually managed to go 5 games without a card earlier this season, which means one of them is wiped out and so he should be available. If he keeps his nose clean in this one, that would be good too, as we need him against Charleston next week. Getting one in that game would not be so bad; next up is a trip to Colorado Springs, who have not been good lately.

Prediction: Louisville City, banged up or not, should never be underestimated, especially at home. They are definitely vulnerable, though, and are working on short rest and travel. The Legion are on a high right now and look to have found a winning formula. Look for the visitors to take all 3 points and 5th place.

Best of the rest

Week 20 continues tomorrow evening with a key match for the Legion: FC Tulsa faces Rio Grande Valley (8:00pm). Tulsa are breathing down the Three Sparks’ necks, just 1 point behind them, although they have played 2 more games. But they are also the hottest team in the Championship right now, riding a 4-game win streak. RGV are 11th in the West. That sounds bad, except that 5 through 11 in the West are separated y just 4 points and the Toros are only a point out of the playoffs and a point behind Tulsa on one less game. They have also been good lately, with no losses in the past 7 games. RGV could well help us out.

On to Saturday. One hour before the Legion game, Indy Eleven hosts the Tampa Bay Rowdies. The Rowdies are obviously smarting after last week and will be out for blood. Indy are clinging to the last playoff spot in the East but have just 1 win in the last 6 games and that was against Hartford. Don’t expect Indy to do us any favors.

At 7:30pm is a big game: Charleston Battery v. Pittsburgh Riverhounds. #3 v. #1 in the East. Both teams are obviously pretty strong. The best result here would probably be a Battery win rather than the more obvious draw. The Legion has already completed the season series against Pittsburgh but has yet to play Charleston, who are 7 points ahead on 2 additional games.

Another interesting fixture: Memphis 901 v. Orange County (7:30pm). Area Code FC have stumbled over the past month, losing 2 and drawing 2 and being outscored 12-2 in the process. The OC has rather rediscovered its form of a couple of seasons ago, going 4-1-0 lately and finding themselves out of the playoffs only on tiebreakers. Memphis is one of four teams who have played as few games as the Legion (the others are Indy and Las Vegas Lights), so a road win for the Californians would be very useful.

Not too many games of great appeal out West this week. The best matchup is probably El Paso Locomotive v. Oakland Roots (8:30pm). Both teams are better than their records suggest; this one could be entertaining. That being said, we could see some shuffling of the Western standings this week. Sacramento Republic remain in first, but are winless in the past 4 games. They head to an improving New Mexico United (8:00pm). Dropped points for SacRep opens the door for San Antonio to take first place as they host The™ Miami FC (8:0opm).

Once again, no games on Sunday.

That World Cup thingy…

The men have 3 years until the World Cup comes to North America, but the ladies have their turn right now down in Australia and New Zealand. The group stage kicked off today (or yesterday, depending on your view of time zones) with the two hosts both posting 1-0 wins over Ireland and Norway respectively. The US women are in Group E, with Vietnam, the Netherlands and Portugal. Their first game will be tomorrow at 8:00pm against Vietnam on FOX. That’s 1:00pm local time Saturday; New Zealand is 17 hours ahead of US Central Time. The US plays next Wednesday against the Netherlands (8:00pm, FOX) and finishes group play Tuesday, August 1st against Portugal at the ungodly hour of 2:00am (also on FOX).

The US is currently ranked #1 by FIFA. The group opponents are ranked #9 (Netherlands), #21 (Portugal) and #32 (Vietnam). The top two in the group advance to the knockout stage and face the top two from Group G, which consists of Sweden (#3), Italy (#16), Argentina (#28) and South Africa (#54).  Both groups are in New Zealand but have to travel to Sydney or Melbourne in Australia for the Round of 16 with a 2-hour time difference (4 of Australia’s 5 weirdly organized time zones are involved in the Cup) before potentially returning to New Zealand for the quarterfinals and semifinals and then back to Sydney, Australia for the final.

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