Week 22 Preview: what you need to know
A busy month starts
As of right now, the Legion is tied with San Diego Loyal and New Mexico United for the fewest games played at 20. This month they will begin to catch that up, with 6 games on the slate. Not so much this weekend, though, as everyone in the East except Detroit City and Loudoun United (who already played this week) has a game.
The most important part
Tonight the Legion will face the Colorado Springs Switchbacks (8:00pm) for the first time ever and they’ll have to battle altitude to do it as it’s a road game.
Statistically the two teams look fairly evenly matched, both on 29 points, although the Switchbacks have played 2 additional games. That puts Colorado 7th in the tightly contested West. They don’t score as well as the Legion, having bagged just 27 goals (the Legion are on 29), but have allowed rather fewer at just 29 (v. 33).
They have however gone three games without a win, and have allowed 8 goals in that stretch, but that includes a 0-5 and a 0-2 loss to San Diego, who look to have found their form of late. Those losses sandwiched a 1-1 draw in Phoenix. But they can be very streaky; interestingly they had a 5-game losing streak earlier this year at the very same time the Legion did. That included losses to Memphis 901, Indy Eleven and the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
The team plays a relatively attacking style, generally going with a 4-4-2 unless facing a 3-man back line, in which case they run with a 4-1-4-1. How they line up though will be interesting as just this week they sold left back Patrick Seagrist to FC Tulsa. Seagrist played 21 games for them this season, starting 20. The only game he missed was last week, and the only one he didn’t start was the previous week. Which means he was likely already in the middle of transfer talks. Starting in his place was James Musa, who was subbed out very early in both games. That suggests they haven’t quite figured out how to fill his slot, and that could be a weakness the Legion can exploit. Anticipate Prosper working the right side big time tonight.
Goalkeeper is also a question mark. Up until the last 2 games Christian Herrera had started all league games bar one but after the 0-5 embarrassment he looks to have been benched. He allowed a goal in just 35 seconds and another 8 minutes later on two massive howlers. Not long after that the team went down to 10 men and things got out of control. Anyway, Joe Kuzminsky has replaced him the last 2 week and hasn’t done much better, allowing 3 goals (he gave up another one earlier this season).
In attack the only real threat is the much-traveled one-time Atlanta United forward Romario Williams (who was the red card in that humiliation), who has 8 goals. He’s not to be confused with midfielder Devon Williams, however. No one else has more than 3, including the much-lauded Juan Tejada. Both players joined the Switchbacks this season and oddly are not necessarily regular starters.
Also new this season is head coach Stephen Hogan. He had previously served with the club and before that at Bethlehem Steel as an assistant under Brendan Burke who left Colorado to become an assistant coach at the Houston Dynamo in MLS. His record to date has been average at best.
Prediction: This should be an entirely winnable game for the Three Sparks. after last week’s late letdown against the Charleston Battery they will be hungry to get back on track, especially with a double-game week ahead. I’m calling it for the visitors.
Best of the rest
This week got under way early. Very early: Loudoun United and Memphis played Wednesday at 11:00am local time t a tedious 0-0 draw. That leaves the door open for the Legion to move, at least temporarily, up one or even 2 spots in the standings.
There are in fact 2 other games tonight. First up is Charleston v. Oakland Roots (6:30pm). That’s going to be an interesting one. Both teams are 3-0-2 over the last 5 games and the Roots in particular have begun to really impress this season. Totally unpredictable and the Californians could do everyone in the east a favor here. At the same time as the Legion game is a key matchup, as Louisville City head to Tulsa. Tulsa are still close behind the Legion despite seeing their 5-game win streak end last week. Lou City on the other got over their 3-game losing streak. City are 3 points ahead of the Legion, but if they lose and the Three Sparks win, the good guys pass them on tiebreakers.
On to Saturday: at 6:00pm will be Indy v. Memphis. These two teams have one win between them over the past 5 weeks and Memphis in particular are looking weak. If the Legion wins tonight, Area Code FC has to win to get back ahead. The biggest game in the East this weekend though will be Pittsburgh Riverhounds v. Tampa Bay (6:00pm). The optimal outcome here is a draw; second best is Tampa win. However it goes, this should be a doozy.
The West is fairly ho-hum this week, with only one attractive matchup: San Diego v. Orange County (9:00pm). San Diego had been struggling for a while until they got back on course courtesy of the Switchbacks and have won 3 straight. Orange County on the other hand managed just 6 points from their first ten games but have exploded since and are looking more and more like the 2021 champions. They’ve racked up 25 points since then and have won 7 of their last 9 games.
Nothing on Sunday this week. Enjoy!
The Women’s World Cup
The US more or less limped into the knockout stages and frankly don’t look good to progress very far. Indeed, their participation could come to an end Sunday morning as they face Sweden at 4:00am (FOX). Sweden have never beaten the US in World Cup play and this could be their time; they are ranked #3 by FIFA and have looked strong so far, scoring 9 and allowing just 1. These are the 2 highest-ranked teams left, as #2 Germany were shockingly eliminated in the group stage. The winner will face the winner of Japan v. Norway (tomorrow, 3:00am) an Friday (2:30am) in the quarterfinals.
Back in the Old Country
By the time you read this, the 2023-24 season will have started over in England, with everyone except the Premier League in action. The first game will be today at 2:00pm, Sheffield Wednesday v. Southampton (ESPN+). Birmingham City kicks off its campaign tomorrow at 9:00am in Swansea (no ESPN+ feed, but you can watch pay-per-view for £10 ($12.80) here. However, the big offseason news for the Blues – and even just this week – is that the club is now under US control (although it remains 51% owned by its former Chinese investors) after Tom Wagner of Knighthead Capital Management bought in. And he made waves just days ago by getting Tom Brady to cough up some cash for a minority stake (Brady also bought the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces earlier this year). With any luck, that will means more air time for City here in the US going forward.