Week 27 Preview: what you need to know
Can the Legion right the ship?
Last week’s loss in San Diego was not exactly a surprise, although the Three Sparks did not put up much of a fight. That leaves very little room for error now. Thankfully, the Legion only faces two teams in playoff position the remainder of the season (Memphis 901 twice and the Charleston Battery), so things shouldn’t be too bad. A home playoff spot is going to be a bit of a reach though.
The most important part
This Sunday the team plays at home against New Mexico United with a rescheduled kickoff at 5:30pm. This will be the second ever matchup of the two teams, the Legion taking a 2-0 win in June last year in Alburquerque on goals by Juan Agudelo and Enzo Martinez.
There are a couple of crossovers in the matchup. Neco Brett and goalkeeper Ford Parker left the Legion for New Mexico last season. Neco is back with the good guys, of course; Ford is still in Albuquerque. Ford played 3 games last year (allowing 3 goals) and has just 1 so far this season. That game was a midweek contest last week against the Las Vegas Lights which ended 3-3. Last weekend’s 0-1 loss to Charleston was backstopped by Andy Thomas, also his only game of the season. Neither is regular starter Alex Tambakis, who was on the bench for the Las Vegas game but not in the squad for Charleston. If he is not starting on Sunday, that is a plus for the Legion.
New Mexico are 10th in the Western Conference right now, but on 33 points are in sight of the playoffs and are just 3 points worse off than the Legion. They also have a better goal differential than the Legion (-3 as compared with -9), although they have scored just one more (39). Thus they are not to be easily dismissed. That being said, they are not a good road team with a 3-7-3 record. Their home base, Isotopes Park (aka The Lab), is something of a fortress, with one of the biggest and most partisan fan bases regularly filling it. That win last season was a big deal. The 3 road wins were against The™ Miami FC, Loudoun United and El Paso Locomotive. Not all that impressive.
The scoring is fairly spread out. Top scorer is Amando Moreno with 9, who plays as both left winger and forward. He is small, but despite that he is very fast and constantly dangerous. Next best is Sergio Rivas on 6 goals. Rivas is a central midfielder but not a regular starter. After him is Harry Swartz with 4, also a winger. New Mexico seems to have something of a rotating starting XI and also works with numerous formations. In just the past 3 games they have used a 4-4-2, a 4-1-4-1 and a 3-4-3. That could make the Legion’s strategic choices a bit tricky.
New Mexico is on its third head coach in 6 years this season. The teams’ first head coach Troy Lesesne now manages the New Yor Red Bulls. Zach Prince left the team last season for undisclosed reasons. The current head coach is Eric Quill, previously an assistant for the Columbus Crew.
Prediction: As noted above, New Mexico’s position in the standings should not be viewed as a reason to think this will be an easy game. The Legion will to shake off some of the recent disappointing results and treat this as a must-win game (as the rest of the season more or less is). Errors cannot be made. Collin Smith will likely need to be called on to contain Moreno. If he can do that, the Legion wins.
Best of the rest
The Tampa Bay Rowdies blowing a lead late Wednesday evening to lose 2-3 in Memphis keeps the Eastern race open, although the Legion cannot catch Memphis this weekend now. They return home for probably the toughest matchup in the East this weekend, against Louisville City (Saturday, 6:30pm). Interestingly, despite the Rowdies’ high-flying status, they are 2-6-2 against Eastern teams in playoff position, the only team they have beaten being 8th place FC Tulsa. The draws were both against Indy Eleven. Lou City is the only squad they have not played though, so there’s a ton on the line for both teams. Tampa is a point behind the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and Lou City is a point ahead of Memphis, who hold the tiebreak advantage.
Pittsburgh, however, likely won’t make it easy on the Rowdies as they play Loudoun this week (6:00pm). The Battery are themselves a point behind Tampa but face a tough challenge in the San Diego Loyal (6:30pm), who will be looking to hold on to the final home playoff spot in the West which they have by just 2 points over Phoenix Rising.
The Rising have in fact been doing just that, winning 4 of their last 5 and could continue strongly as they head to Tulsa (7:30pm) in a game that could affect the Eastern standings as well. Tulsa were on a 6-game winless streak but flipped back over the playoff line this week with the shock win over San Antonio. However, they lead Detroit by just a point. Detroit could push them back down as they take on Miami (6:30pm). Miami, for their part, trail Tulsa by 3 points but Tulsa has the tiebreak advantage. Even so, competition for that last playoff spot is pretty fierce right now.
Memphis will be feeling good about that win over Tampa and stay home this weekend to play Monterey Bay (7:30pm). The Union are a point below the playoff line in the West, but aren’t the most difficult opposition. Area Code FC could see themselves in a home playoff spot and 9 points ahead of the Legion pending Sunday’s game (remember the two have yet to play each other).
Indy are off this week. That leaves Hartford Athletic as the only remaining Eastern team. They play the Rio Grande Valley Toros (6:00pm). A Hartford loss combined with a Tulsa win will see them get the dubious honor of being the first team eliminated from playoff contention. The Toros aren’t exactly wowing anybody, so there is hope.
The Las Vegas Lights could join them later in the evening though. In the Saturday nightcap (9:30pm) they play Oakland Roots. The Roots will be wanting to bounce back from a couple of tough losses and being just 3 points behind San Diego are also working on a potential home playoff spot. A draw or loss sees the Lights eliminated, as would various other combinations of results (including New Mexico).
That leaves Colorado Springs Switchbacks v. San Antonio (8:00 pm) and Orange County v. El Paso (9:00pm). Colorado can’t improve their 7th position with a win, but could drop to 8th as El Paso is only a point behind. Both teams face pretty high hurdles though. Orange County can’t stop winning right now and San Antonio will want that top spot back (Sacramento Republic are off this week). Colorado and El Paso are also at risk of falling out of the playoffs entirely, as Monterey, New Mexico and RGV are all nipping at their heels.
Once again, the Legion game is the only Sunday game on the schedule, so that’s it.
Back in the Old Country
Birmingham City trailed early to Millwall last week but got a second half equalizer to finish 1-1. They now sit in 4th after 5 games but are one of only two unbeaten teams in the EFL Championship, the other being league leaders Preston North End. With the international break they are off this week but will be back in action a week Saturday when they travel to Watford (18th).