Week 31 Preview: what you need to know
Still plenty of permutations left in the season
With the six teams having three games left all playing last night, everyone is now down to just two games remaining. Those three games cleared up stuff a little, and changed some other things around. There is still much to be decided in what has become a true down to the wire season.
(NOTE: with the exception of the Legion game, all games are Saturday)
Birmingham Legion v. Monterey Bay Union (Sunday, 4:00pm)
The Legion’s magic number is down to 1 with 2 games to play. Next week’s season finale at the Charleston Battery will probably be the harder game unless the Battery will be unable to improve their current 3rd place status. If so, they may rest some starters ahead of the playoffs. The Three Sparks do still still a relatively remote chance at a home playoff game if Memphis 901n and Louisville City both lose their 2 remaining games (unlikely) and Indy Eleven doesn’t win both its remaining games. There is a very good chance the Legion will end up 6th, which could mean visits to Charleston two weeks in a row.
Monterey Bay could be a tough opponent though. Just 1 point from the last three games, including the 1-4 shellacking by San Diego last week, has pushed them back below the playoff line by a point, so they are well within reach of getting back over it. But they finish the season against Orange County. They are going to want points from this game badly.
Charleston Battery v. The™ Miami FC (5:00pm)
Charleston are 4 points behind the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Tampa has two tough games coming up, so flipping positions is not out of the question. They can’t catch the Pittsburgh Riverhounds though, so second is the best they can hope for. As noted above, this will have an impact on the Legion.
Miami for their part have ridden a 3-game win streak to get back into the playoff spots. Points here would be great for them (and for the Legion). Right now they are 1 point better than Detroit City and 5 points behind the Legion. They have the tiebreak advantage over the Legion, but Detroit has it over them. At a minimum they will want to keep clear of the chasers and potentially get as close to Birmingham as possible. Even more so since the season closer is at Sacramento Republic.
Loudoun United v. Detroit City (5:30pm)
Detroit have crashed out of the playoff standings rather spectacularly with consecutive 0-3 losses in one week. This game will help their chances, of course, except that they host Pittsburgh in the final week. But if anything they have the easier schedule than Miami, so their chances are pretty good.
Louisville City v. Hartford Athletic (6:30pm)
Lou City has been less than impressive this season, but are still in contention for a home playoff game. Currently they are even on 49 points with Memphis, and this game should be 3 points in the bag (although Hartford did end their 9-game losing streak Wednesday evening against Rio Grande Valley). Louisville did manage to lose t 9-man New Mexico United last week, so anything is possible. Any points here puts an end to the Legion’s home playoff chances. But they have Tampa next week.
Tampa Bay Rowdies v. Pittsburgh Riverhounds (6:30pm)
This game is huge. The top two points earners head-to-head this late in the season is a scheduler’s dream. Pitt leads by 3 points and beat Tampa 1-0, so the Rowdies will be looking for a 2-goal edge. Tough to get at Highmark. They will also need the win to lock Charleston out of second (they will know the Battery score fairly early in the game so that could have an effect). The Hounds go to Detroit to finish and the Rowdies to Louisville. This one is absolutely critical.
Memphis 901 v. El Paso Locomotive (7:00pm)
Area Code FC can be utterly unpredictable, winning games they should and losing games they should win. Their battle with Lou City is of course titanic, but this game potentially puts them out of the home playoff spots. If they don’t win, Louisville almost certainly will and they drop. They head to New Mexico next week, who may or may not have anything to play for other than pride.
El Paso held on to 7th in the West Wednesday with a 0-0 draw with San Diego Loyal. They have turned the season around recently, but are still only 2 points better than Oakland and 3 points better than Monterey. They close the season at Oakland, in fact, so points here are not absolutely essential. But they are unlikely to want to it that late and against a conference rival. This one could be interesting, although the Locomotive has the disadvantage of two games in a week.
Rio Grande Valley Toros v. Sacramento Republic (7:00pm)
The Toros were probably hoping for more than 1 points from the midweek game against Hartford, but a 2-2 draw was all they were able to muster. Even so, they are mathematically not out of the playoffs yet and are just 2 points behind Oakland in 8th. But they have to get past them, Monterey and New Mexico. Not impossible, but doing it playing the conference leaders this week will be tricky. They get Loudoun at home next week so this game could well be on.
SacRep are in a battle of their own. Like Pitt, they are 3 points clear at the top of the conference, with the difference being that San Antonio have been struggling to keep pace. They have the luxury of the tiebreaker advantage as well. This should be an easy game for them to maintain at least that lead; finishing the season with Miami will be a bit trickier.
FC Tulsa v. Indy Eleven (7:30pm)
Tulsa have slipped all the way to 10th in the East, but are only 2 points out of the playoffs. 8th is the best they can achieve and they will need to get past Miami and Detroit to get there. Indy will make that difficult, but they end the season at Hartford. As noted above, both teams they are chasing have their own problems to handle, so it’s not inconceivable that they will do it.
Indy are 4 points behind Memphis and Louisville and 2 points ahead of Birmingham in a tight 4-team race that could easily see the teams in a completely different order at the end. 1 point will be enough to stay above the Legion, but Memphis and Louisville both have the tiebreaker edge over Indy. They’ll want to take maximum points from both the last two games. The season ends at San Antonio though.
Orange County v. San Antonio (9:00pm)
Another big game, #3 v. #2 in the West. Both teams have been flying high but have suddenly come down hard. Orange County trail San Antonio by 4 points, so can’t catch them even with a win, but they are tied on points with San Diego. They are also only 3 points better than Phoenix Rising, who best them on tiebreakers. A loss here combined with San Diego points and a Rising win would see them drop to 5th. And they have earned just 5 points in the 5 games since that 8-game win streak. That was Wednesday evening over Oakland
San Antonio has 1 win in the last 8 games, that’s how rough it has been. That win was a comprehensive 4-0 affair two weeks ago over…Orange County. This is a chance to keep pace with Sacramento. They will also have to do it without GK Jordan Farr (who has been on the bench in favor of MLS loanee Nick Marsman anyway), who was red carded last week for foul-mouthing the ref. Next week is Indy; they need at least a draw here to ice 2nd place.
San Diego Loyal v. Oakland Roots (9:00pm)
Both these teams played Wednesday, San Diego drawing and Oakland losing.
The Loyal have been a little up and down since announcing they are folding, but have climbed into home playoff position regardless. This is a key game to potentially firm that up by passing Orange County, with whom they are tied on points. Oakland are desperately hanging on to a playoff spot themselves, so this could be another entertaining contest. San Diego has the comfort of knowing they have Las Vegas next week.
The Roots looked like a playoff lock a few weeks ago, but have earned just 2 points in the last 7 games. They are now 8th in the West and have three teams licking their chops to see them stumble again. They cannot afford anything but a win to stay above the line, especially with a tough game at El Paso next week.
Las Vegas Lights v. Colorado Springs Switchbacks (9:30pm)
The Switchbacks are the top points earner in the Western Conference team over the last 5 games at 11. They should be expecting to continue that run this week. They are 6th, 1 point behind Phoenix and 4 points behind Orange County and San Diego. Improving their position is definitely on the cards. They do have be a tad careful; El Paso is just 3 points back and they are tied on the top two tiebreakers. And next week is a much tougher matchup against Phoenix.
Phoenix Rising v. New Mexico United (9:30pm)
Phoenix’ situation has been well covered above. They are a solid 4-0-4 in their last 8 games and have been looking like the Rising teams of a few years ago. Full points here could see them jump a place or two in the standings. But then there’s that game in Colorado next week…
New Mexico have been very erratic this year but are not out of the chase yet. This game will be a big test though and could see them eliminated. Like RGV (with whom they are tied on points) they have to pass Oakland and Monterey to cross the line. They got a huge win in Louisville last week, but picked up two red cards in the process, and that’s going to hurt this week. They also have Memphis in the season closer.
Back in the Old Country
Birmingham City easily dealt with Huddersfield Tuesday, winning 4-1 and getting back on the right track. The Blues are in 12th place on 15 points and well within sight of the top 5. They have a short turnaround again though, playing West Bromwich Albion Friday (2:00pm, ESPN+). West Brom are in fact the team in 5th place in the standings, so this is already a big game in a still young season.