Week 25 Preview: what you need to know

Will Birmingham be too hot for Detroit?

This week has already gotten off to an interesting start. The Legion’s midweek win in Tulsa was obviously good, but it was paired with a 0-0 draw between Memphis 901 and Indy Eleven that limited both teams’ points gain, keeping Indy 1 point behind the Legion and Memphis 2 points ahead. Also amazing was the Pittsburgh Riverhounds going unsurprisingly 3-0 up on Hartford, only to see the Athletic score 3 times in the final 10 minutes and rescuing the win with a last gasp goal.

The most important part

A 4:00pm Sunday kickoff is unusual, but that’s what the Legion has this week. That means they get at least an extra day of rest after the midweek game, although I’m not sure if that’s really necessary.

Detroit City have been, well, less than average this season. They did beat the Legion 1-0 back in May, but that was 3 days after the Legion beat Charlotte FC in the Open Cup and thus square in the middle of that poor league form that accompanied the Cup run. They have had a few good wins (such as 2-0 over Louisville City just over a month ago) but they’ve been few and far between. Even so, they are just 2 points below the playoff line and have everything to play for.

The trouble is, they can’t score. They have just 18 goals in 25 games. That’s half of what the Legion has managed, and the Legion isn’t known for high scoring. No one on the team has scored more than 3 (Ben Morris, Skage Lehland and Dario Suarez). They’ve been shut out 13 times. That’s partly due to Antoine Hoppenot leaving the team at the end of last season for Hartford (smart move, that; he hasn’t scored there all year) but largely to the team’s inability to sign a quality striker. Suarez was likely supposed to be that signing – they picked him up from Tulsa, where he had scored once every 3 games, not exactly a high output.

The only reason they are even remotely close to contending for the playoffs is Nate Steinwascher. They may be unable to score, but they are also hard to score on, having conceded just 24 times. Steinwascher is one of the league’s elite keepers. He is tied for 4th in saves with 70 and tied foir 3rd in clean sheets with 8. He keeps Detroit in games more or less by himself.

But they will be dealing with a Legion that is full of confidence and boasting some new attacking options (specifically Tabort Etaka Preston and Neco Brett’s newly found scoring boots). Alex Crognale will also be available again and it’s possible Anderson Asiedu will also be back. This should be some good Sunday evening entertainment.

Prediction: Miserly goalkeeping aside, I don’t see this Detroit team giving the Legion the same trouble it did 3 months ago. Look for the home team to extend the win streak to 3.

Best of the rest

Playing on Sunday means that the Legion will know exactly what everyone else did this weekend; that can be good and bad. Anyway, there are some key Eastern Conference games to be aware of. Perhaps most importantly, Indy hosts Loudoun United (6:00pm). As noted above, Indy are breathing down the Legion’s necks. But Loudoun are mercurial and could do us a big favor.

At the same time will be the Florida derby, The™ Miami FC hosting the Tampa Bay Rowdies. That’s of perhaps less direct impact to the Legion as Tampa has quite a lead over the Three Sparks (8 points and a game in hand). A half-hour later though at 6:30pm are two important games: Charleston Battery v. Memphis and Louisville v. Oakland Roots. All 3 Eastern teams failing to get full points would be great. If at least Memphis and Lou City lose or draw, the Legion can get into the home playoff spots with a win. Charleston doing the same would put them in reach as well. A Charleston win seems more likely though. Louisville is struggling currently with no wins in the last three games and a new injury headache: Amadou Dia is out for the season.

There are two enormous games out West. First, San Antonio plays Pittsburgh (8:00pm) in what could be a preview of the championship game. But even bigger potentially is Sacramento Republic v. Orange County (9:30pm). SacRep are the best tea in the league, no question, but Orange County are on a tear with a 5-game win streak going. This is the Game of the Week.

Finally, you may want to check out Rio Grande Valley Toros v. San Diego Loyal (7:00pm). The Loyal will be the Legion’s next opponent a week Saturday in California. The Toros are beyond erratic, but the Loyal has been a bit shaky lately. They will be in an unpredictable frame of mind though: today the team announced it will fold after this season with MLS moving into the city in 2025.

Back in the Old Country

Birmingham City’s trip south to Bristol ended well with a 2-0 win. They find themselves in 4th, just 2 points off the lead. They have a busy week ahead: on Saturday (9:00am, no ESPN+) they face Plymouth Argyle, who are 11th in the Championship after being promoted this season. Then on Tuesday they play Cardiff City in the EFL’s Carabao Cup (1:45pm, again no ESPN+).

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