Week 21 Preview: what you need to know
Christmas in July
After a crazy week in the USL Championship are things about to settle down? Probably not, with quite a few consequential matchups on the schedule. More than likely, it’s going to stay that way for the remainder of the season with both conferences really tight top to (almost) bottom.
The most important part
If haven’t gotten the message yet, get it now: tomorrow at Protective is a white-out. We’re solidly between Memorial Day and Labor Day, so that is entirely in keeping with dress code. Wear as much white as you can, as the Legion will be introducing its all-white “3rd. Ave.” kit. This was teased a while back with the introduction of Dominique Wilkins as a new investor and now gets its debut. The kit will have all-red lettering and logos (except for the Armor half of the BodyArmor logo and the Nike logos). New logos will include KultureCity – the autism charity WIlkins chairs) – and the iconic Alabama sign from the theater on 3rd. Avenue North. The shirt material appears to include a raised patterning that features some kind of plant (sawgrass maybe?). Overall it looks exceedingly cool. The club will have 100 jerseys available for sale at the game; expect them to go very quickly.
On top of everything else, tomorrow is gong to be another scorcher so the color choice is timely.
So, sartorial considerations aside, how is tomorrow going to pan out? Well, this is a key match for both teams, who are likely to see movement in the standings regardless of the result. The Charleston Battery are 2 points back of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and 1 point ahead of the Tampa Bay Rowdies. The Legion are 1 point behind Memphis 901, tied on points with Louisville City and 1 point ahead of FC Tulsa. It’s a cramped field.
The Legion has a slightly better record over the past 5 games, 3-1-1 as compared with 2-1-2 for the Battery. Charleston’s 2 wins were a predictable 3-0 scoreline over Loudoun United and last week’s impressive 3-1 victory over Pittsburgh. The loss was over a month ago, 2-3 against Memphis. The 2 draws were both 1-1, with Indy and The™ Miami FC. So the Legion is riding 2 big wins and the Battery is riding one.
Another point of comparison is the Battery’s Fidel Barajas. Barajas is 17 years old and last week, playing at left wing, he notched two assists in the win and earned a Team of the Week nomination. Sound familiar? Yep, in addition to everything else this is going to be a battle of the yutes.
The Battery are coached by Ben Pirmann, who up to the end of last season was head coach at Area Code FC, so he is no stranger to getting down and dirty with the Legion. To do that, he is almost certain to go with a 4-2-3-1 formation, which he has used exclusively over the past 5 games. The last time he used anything else was against Hartford Athletic, in which a 3-4-3 lineup only managed a surprising 4-3 win over the weakest team in the East. That appears to have been consigned to the trash.
The solo striker in the probable lineup will be Augustine Williams, who is a serious threat. He has 9 of the Battery’s 31 goals and is tough to stop. Not far behind him though is central midfielder Nicholas Markanich, who has 7 goals. No one else on the roster has more than 2, so keeping those two in check is crucial.
At the opposite end the Battery are fairly leaky considering their lofty position in the standings, having allowed 30 goals in 21 games (which, by the way, is 2 more than the Legion have played). That’s despite Trey Muse logging 7 clean sheets, tied for second best in the league. He has racked up 58 saves in the process, tied for 6th. That means he has faced 88 shots on target (he’s the only keeper Charleston has used all season), which happens to be exactly the same as Matt van Oekel and Trevor Spangenberg have faced combined, albeit over fewer games. Still, it does mean the Battery back line can be penetrated. Compare that to Pitt, who have allowed just 46 shots on target and stopped 28 of them.
Lastly, one more issue that is going to be a major factor: the status of Tyler Pasher. After leaving the game early last week with a leg injury his availability is unknown right now. If he plays, all well and good. If not, that means Tommy Soehn has some tactical decisions to make.
Prediction: This is a tough one. There’s a lot riding on this game for both sides. They are also pretty evenly matched. And with that in mind I’m going to sit on the fence and call it a draw.
Best of the rest
Week 21 got under way on Wednesday with 3 games, one of which impacts the Eastern Conference standings. Indy Eleven beat the Pittsburgh Riverhounds 3-1 away. That’s the second straight 1-3 loss for the Hounds who have seen their sizeable points and goal difference leads in the conference diminish rather quickly. They’ve also played at least one more game than anyone else above the playoff line.
The other two games went pretty much as expected, the Oakland Roots beating the Las Vegas Lights 1-0 (the Lights should have drawn the game on a late stoppage time goal but blew it with a hilarious offside call; watch the highlights) and Sacramento Republic pasting Phoenix Rising 4-0.
Pitt has a chance to right the ship on Saturday with the weekend’s first matchup, a home game against Memphis (6:00pm). All interested parties in the Legion-Battery game will have an eye on that one, given the relative positions of both in the standings. If the Legion draw and Memphis loses, the good guys take 4th place on tiebreakers (total wins).
At the same time as the Legion game will be Tampa Bay v. Tulsa. Tulsa have a league-best 5-game win streak going, albeit against relatively weak opposition, and so have a point to prove. Tulsa can overtake the Legion and Louisville with a win. The Rowdies, for their part, have just 1 point from the two games since Neill Collins’ departure as head coach. They just appointed former player Nicky Law as head coach and will want to impress as well as get back on track. Law has an Alabama connection: he was previously an assistant coach at Huntsville City FC, Nashville SC’s MLS Next Pro team.
At 7:00pm will be Lou City v. Indy. Lou City obviously is struggling right now and Indy will have the wind at their backs after the big midweek victory. This one could also shake up the standings.
Out West there’s not too much to get excited about on Saturday. The best games are likely to be Orange County v. New Mexico United and Monterey Bay v. Phoenix (both at 9:00pm). The OC has apparently rediscovered its mojo with 5 wins in the last 6 games and are tied on points with New Mexico (although on 2 more games) just above the playoff line. Monterey and Phoenix are just behind them. Both teams are in poor form with just 1 win between them over their past 5 games (a 6-0 drubbing of Memphis by Phoenix), but a winner could be in playoff position by the end of the evening.
One Sunday game: San Diego Loyal hosts the Colorado Springs Switchbacks (5:00pm). They are 5th sand 6th respectively in the West and separated by 1 point. For the Loyal this will be back-to-back games against Colorado as they were on a bye last week. They won that game 5-0. However, they did play yesterday, a friendly against Borussia Dortmund, which they lost 0-6 despite playing pretty much a first team.
The Women’s World Cup
The US has had a relatively unimpressive start to its campaign for a third straight title, beating Vietnam 3-0 last week and drawing with the Netherlands 1-1 on Wednesday. That game broke a streak of 17 World Cup wins and another 13-game streak of not trailing in a game.
The final group match will be Tuesday, August 1st against 21st-ranked Portugal at 2:00am (FOX). Portugal lost to the Netherlands 0-1 and beat Vietnam 2-0 yesterday, so will have one less day of rest. Vietnam will also have one les day of rest as they will face the Netherlands at the same time as the US-Portugal game (all final World Cup group games are played simultaneously so that no one knows exactly what result they need). The US is top of the group with a goal difference advantage of 2 over the Netherlands. So to win the group the US will most likely have to beat Portugal by no more than one less goal than the Netherlands beats Vietnam. Other permutations are possible of course but that’s the most probably scenario. If a tiebreak is needed, the first applicable tiebreaker after goal difference is goals scored (the US currently has a 2-goal advantage), then fair play (the Netherlands has a 1 yellow card advantage).
Group G, which awaits the Group E qualifiers is currently topped by Sweden and Italy, who face each other early tomorrow (2:30am). A winner in that game is guaranteed to advance, but not to clinch the group.