Week 29 Preview: what you need to know

Home playoff chances getting thin

After a very poor week, the Legion now has to find its scoring boots in a big way. With 4 games left they are mired in 7th 6 points out of a home playoff spot. The best the Three Sparks can manage is 4th, but will need a lot of help to get there. Memphis 901, Louisville City and Indy Eleven all stand in the way and arguably have easier schedules than the Legion. Not impossible, but it’s a long shot. This Sunday (4:00pm) could therefore be the second last chance to see the Three Sparks at home this season, the final regular season home game being October 8th against Monterey Bay.

The most important part

The™ Miami FC are not out of the playoffs yet, but they are on the edge and have a tough final 4 games. The only home game they have remaining is against Hartford Athletic. They close out the season at the Charleston Battery and then Sacramento Republic. They are 4 points out of the playoffs right now. The odds of getting much more than that are slim.

That being said, they broke a 4-game losing streak in wild fashion Wednesday evening, beating Louisville City 4-3. All of the last 5 games were against teams in playoff position (or who were at the time of the game). The Lou City win was thus rather contrary to form but it certainly means they have hope.

Don’t forget that Miami beat the Legion 3-1 back in early May, Christian Sorto scoring in the second minute and seeing the lead extend with an Alex Crognale own goal. Enzo Martinez got one back but that’s all the Legion could manage before Dennis Dowouna iced it for the home team. This team then is not to be overlooked.

One major change that works in the Legion’s favor is today’s news that defender Mark Segbers has been traded to Charleston. Segbers has played in all 30 Miami games this season, starting 25 and being subbed off only once. He’s a right back and his absence will change things for Miami as they enter the final stretch.

Defensively Miami is really not all that bad, allowing 42 goals in 30 games. The problem is more on the attacking side, where they have scored just 37. The defense is anchored by Paco Craig. The Englishman is a very dependable centerback and spent a long time at Louisville before an abortive return to England in 2020 (where he played no games due to COVID). He’s been at Miami ever since and is tough to get around. Behind him is goalkeeper Adrian Zendejas who is on loan from Charlotte FC of MLS. He has 5 clean sheets on the season in 22 games. Not bad at all.

In attack the primary threats are Joaquin Rivas (8 goals) and Christian Sorto and Kyle Murphy (both on 5 goals). Murphy was a big signing last year after putting up 20 goals for Memphis in 2021. He has been unable to reproduce that in Miami though, with just 10 over two seasons. Sorto is a Salvadoran and has been moderately successful at Miami as well. Rivas, also a Salvadoran, joined Miami in mid-2022 from Tulsa and can be considered dangerous.

Miami currently plays almost exclusively out of a 4-2-3-1 and tends to be a counterattacking team. That can create headaches for a similar team such as the Legion, who do not perform well when dominating the play. The team is under interim management though. Head coach Anthony Pulis was let go (officially he “stepped down to pursue other opportunities” which have not materialized at this point of course) in June. Currently leading the team is Lewis Neal. The Englishman has generated a 6-8-1 record, which doesn’t seem great, but Pulis was 2-6-7 (the only other win was over Las Vegas).

Prediction: The Legion have produced just 10 shots in the last 2 games and just 2 on target. That has got to change fast. As in right now. With the return of Tyler Pasher to active duty there is hope that can happen. I’m going to call it a Legion win, but I’m going with my heart rather than my gut here.

Best of the rest

There are a ton of significant games this weekend in both conferences. Lou City’s loss to Miami in midweek meant that they dropped to 5th in the standings and Memphis took 4th, albeit only on tiebreakers. On Saturday Louisville has another game against a weaker side as they head to Loudoun United (5:30pm). Loudoun, who are still barely in the playoff race (they need all 12 remaining points to even have a chance), had a gritty 2-2 draw with the Battery last week and are not to be thought of as an easy out. Area Code FC for their part head to Tampa Bay (6:30pm). The Rowdies are 3 points off the Eastern lead with a game in hand over Pittsburgh and have every incentive to win. Memphis can’t improve their position but needs to at least match Lou City’s result.

The Riverhounds will be protecting their lead against New Mexico United (6:00pm). New Mexico, 10th in the West, are 3 points out of the playoffs with 4 games to play. Another tough one to call.

Two more big games: the Battery host FC Tulsa and Detroit City plays Hartford (both 6:30pm). Charleston are a point behind Tampa Bay, but have played one additional game and so will want every point they can get. Tulsa are in the last playoff spot. They sit 4 points behind the Legion but need to protect against Detroit who are just 2 points short of them and with a game in hand. Detroit of course have the easier job this week; Hartford have lost 6 straight. That being said, they got spanked 0-5 by the Rowdies themselves last week.

In the East that leaves Indy, who play Sunday against Rio Grande Valley (4:00pm). Indy are 2 points better than the Three Sparks, but we know what RGV were able to do last week, They have slim chances at making the playoffs, sitting in 11th 5 points below the line but with 5 games left. They could have an impact on the Eastern standings.

Out west the biggest game has to be San Antonio v. Orange County (Saturday 7:30pm). That pits #2 against #3. The Texans are 4 points ahead of the Californians, but the latter have a game in hand and San Antonio has been in poor form for a while, going winless in the last 6 games. County of course have been on a tear.

Otherwise things could see some shuffling. Most importantly, the Colorado Springs Switchbacks (6th), Oakland Roots (7th) and Monterey Bay Union (8th) are all tied on points. Monterey has played one more game and saw a league-best 4-game win streak end with a 2-3 loss to San Diego in midweek. All 3 are just a point ahead of El Paso Locomotive, who have 5 games left like Colorado and Oakland. All four teams need points then. The Switchbacks have the hardest opponent: they face West leaders Sacramento (7:00pm Saturday). Oakland and Monterey play each other (9:00pm Saturday) in a game with huge implications. The Roots have been in opposite form to Monterey, losing 4 straight. El Paso plays Phoenix Rising (8:30pm Saturday). The Rising have been pretty hot lately. They are 5th but tied on points with San Diego in 4th. Things in the West are tight enough that with the right results they could jump to third (if Orange County and San Diego both drop points). That’s unlikely…the Loyal close out the weekend schedule with a game against the LAS Vegas Lights (5:00pm Sunday).

Back in the Old Country

Birmingham City had a rough week, losing 0-2 to Watford on Saturday and then 1-2 to league leaders Preston North End on Tuesday (courtesy of a Kristian Bielik own goal). As a result they dropped to 8th in the table. This weekend they had an early game Friday afternoon against Queens Park Rangers (17th). That ended 0-0 despite the Blues having the better of the attack. They remain in 8th place.

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