Week 32 Preview: what you need to know
It all comes down to this,
The Players’ Shield winner is set, the other conference winner is set, 4 seeds are set, 7 of 8 home teams are set, 13 of 16 playoff spots are set, 20 teams are still alive. There’s a ton to be played for yet and many teams do not yet know their destiny. A huge final week has been lined up.
(NOTE: except where indicated, all games are Saturday)
Charleston Battery v. Birmingham Legion (4:00pm)
The Battery are locked into 3rd place in the East. They have nothing to gain or lose here. That rather works in the Legion’s favor, who have an opportunity to choose their own fate, at least in part. The Three Sparks can finish in their current 7th spot, but no worse. They can also finish no better than 6th. For that to happen they would have to win this game and Indy Eleven would have to lose to San Antonio. But…if that happens, they would be in the slightly odd position of going right back to Charleston for the first round. If they finish 7th, they go to the Tampa Bay Rowdies. If they are happy with that, they can rest a few guys, which the Battery may also be doing.
Hartford Athletic v. FC Tulsa (Friday, 6:00pm)
It is rather fitting that the first game to end this week features two teams already out of the playoffs. Hartford were eliminated a while back and Tulsa’s 1-2 loss to Indy in their final home game sealed their fate. This is the only meaningless game though.
New Mexico United v. Memphis 901 (Friday, 8:00pm)
New Mexico United have earned 10 of15 points since losing to the Legion and have just crossed over the playoff line. They are in a tight group though: there are 5 teams still in contention for the last two playoff spots in the West. For United a win locks them in, and would also get them 7th place if El Paso Locomotive draws or loses. A draw and an El Paso loss would see the two teams on 44 points and the tiebreaker would go to New Mexico. If either Oakland Roots or Monterey Bay Union drop points this week, that would also secure a playoff spot.
Area Code FC will be 4th or 5th in the East. To get 4th they need just one point or for Louisville City not to win. Lou City are playing a Tampa team that is locked into 2nd and won’t be overly motivated; Memphis will not be relying on that game to get what they need.
Detroit City v. Pittsburgh Riverhounds (3:00pm)
The Pittsburgh Riverhounds have won the Players’ Shield but can’t set a new season points record, so have nothing left to play for other than extending a league-leading 5-game win streak.
Detroit, on the other hand, kept their playoff hopes alive, breaking a string of poor results with a 3-0 win over Loudoun United last weekend. They trail The™ Miami FC by a point for the final playoff spot in the East. They hold the tiebreaker over Miami, so need to better Miami’s result this weekend to get that spot. But both teams face an interesting foe.
Louisville City v. Tampa Bay Rowdies (6:30pm)
The Rowdies are fixed at second in the East. That leaves the Lou City v. Memphis competition as described above. Louisville needs to win and for Memphis to lose in order to take the 4th home playoff spot. Potentially, they have the easier task, but their performances lately have been rather ordinary.
Colorado Springs Switchbacks v. Phoenix Rising (7:00pm)
The Switchbacks can’t improve their current 5th place position, but they could fall a spot. That 6th spot is occupied by Phoenix, who are 2 points behind. Phoenix are 4 points clear of El Paso. Thus this all comes down to whether the Rising wins or not. Colorado Springs has the better recent record, home field advantage and needs only a draw, so they are clearly favored here.
Rio Grande Valley Toros v. Loudoun United (7:00pm)
Loudoun are of course out, but the Toros are incredibly still in it despite earning just 2 points in the past 3 games, thanks to the Legion’s win over Monterey Bay last week. They are 3 points behind New Mexico and with Oakland (2 points ahead) and Monterey (1 point ahead) also in their way. If they win, New Mexico and Oakland lose and Monterey fails to win, they get 8th place on the 3rd tiebreaker (in-conference record).
San Antonio v. Indy Eleven (7:30pm)
San Antonio can’t catch Sacramento, but have Orange County and San Diego Loyal just 1 point behind them. San Antonio have been extremely poor of late, with just 1 win in the last 9 games. But they need a win to guarantee 2nd place. They hold the tiebreaker edge over San Diego, but cede it to Orange County, who also hold the 3-way tiebreaker. It could get very messy.
Indy leads the Legion by 2 points and has the tiebreaker, so they need just a point to hang on to 6th place. They are 2 points shy of Louisville, but Lou City has the tiebreaker, so they need to win and for Louisville to lose in order to improve to 5th. This game has lots of implications for quite a few teams.
Monterey Bay Union v. Orange County (9:00pm)
Monterey’s loss saw them drop to 10th, but they can still get into the playoffs with a win or draw and a New Mexico draw or loss. The El Paso-Oakland game oddly has no impact on them, as the Union has the tiebreaker edge over El Paso and New Mexico individually and in a possible 3-way tie.
Orange County holds all the tiebreakers over San Antonio and San Diego, so has four paths to 2nd place. A win and a San Antonio draw or loss. A draw, a San Antonio loss and a San Diego draw or loss. Those would do it. On the other hand, a result worse than San Diego’s could see them drop to 4th if San Antonio’s result is a draw or win. A few permutations here then for both sides.
Oakland Roots v. El Paso Locomotive (9:00pm)
Oakland have crashed out of the playoff picture with just 2 points in their last 8 games. A win sees them back in though, and either El Paso or New Mexico out (El Paso has the tiebreaker edge over New Mexico). A draw will also get them in if New Mexico loses and Monterey and RGV fail to win.
For El Paso a win obviously works, and a draw is also regardless of other results. They also get in with a loss if New Mexico loses and Monterey fails to win.
Sacramento Republic v. The™ Miami FC (9:00pm)
SacRep are 6 points clear at the top of the West. They are, to say the least, locked in.
Miami, as noted above, leads Detroit but does not have the tiebreaker advantage. Therefore they need to equal or better Detroit’s result. They are sitting on an impressive -game win streak that has gotten them this far. They and Detroit are both playing the conference winners, who have little or nothing to gain. This will be very interesting. It could come down to which opponent rests the most starters.
Las Vegas Lights v. San Diego Loyal (9:30pm)
Las Vegas once again is in the spoiler role. The Loyal are guaranteed a home playoff game in their final season and could finish as high as 2nd. They do that with a win and San Antonio and Orange County both failing to win. They also get 3rd with a better result than Orange County if San Antonio wins.
Back in the Old Country
The Blues have had a good couple of games, most recently beating West Brom 3-1 and jumping up to 6th (the final playoff spot) and within sight of the top three. They are off this weekend for (yet another) international break. That doesn’t mean they haven’t been making news though. It had been rumored that Wayne Rooney was possibly going to become the team’s manager. Rooney was let go by DC United last weekend. Blues manger John Eustace – who has been linked with the position at Rangers – was promptly dismissed and Rooney installed at Birmingham City. Rooney’s record as a manager at DC and Derby County before that has not been stellar, although in both cases circumstances beyond his control have figured into that. Blues fans, at least on Twitter, are not overly pleased with this development but recognize the new ownership’s right to install their own preferred staff.