Playoffs Round 3 Preview: what you need to know
Down to the final four
We’ve been quiet this week, not out of mourning but rather because of being busy elsewhere. We will get to a season roundup for the Legion soon, but for now we can focus on the last four teams standing in the USL Championship. It’s Conference Finals week, folks.
As far as seeding to host the USL Cup is concerned, the order is Sacramento Republic, Charleston Battery, Louisville City, Phoenix Rising. So Phoenix can’t host at all, but given their performances in the playoffs to date on the road, I doubt they are too worried about that.
Charleston Battery v. Louisville City (Saturday, 6:30pm)
We all know how Charleston made it to this stage. It was, in the end, a fairly evenly played match, two Legion defensive errors notwithstanding. Lou City, on the other hand, rolled over Detroit City 4-0, although the second goal probably should have been disallowed for a handball. Brian Ownby was the catalyst in this game, drawing the foul for the PK on the first goal, scoring the second and assisting on the 3rd. The final goal was just 90 seconds after the 3rd one, so he can be excused for not being involved in that one.
Even so, the scoreline is pretty flattering to Louisville. Detroit was completely inept in this game, not showing its typical defensive strength at all. Their attack was as anemic as usual, not getting a shot on goal until the 67th minute when they were already 4 goals down. And bear in mind they only got this far thanks to Memphis’ Aiden McFadden whiffing a PK. Look to the Battery as the favorite here, home field or not.
Sacramento Republic v. Phoenix Rising (Saturday, 9:00pm)
SacRep’s 3-1 win over San Antonio was comprehensive. San Antonio didn’t even score until second half stoppage time, by which time it was clearly too late. Sacramento dominated all game, serving notice to the rest of the remaining field. So there will be no championship repeat. Three different players scored for the Republic, including (of course) Russell Cicerone and also Damia Viader, who pose a very lethal threat.
Phoenix, in contrast, left it way late again to advance over Orange County, scoring the winner with 4 minutes left in extra time to take the game 2-1. Not as wild a game as against San Diego, but close. They can count themselves a little fortunate though: Milan Iloski hit the woodwork twice in what turned out to be his final game for OC. The Rising have thus played 240 minutes of playoff soccer already. Do not anticipate this one going another 120 minutes; Sacramento are on a mission.
Back in the Old Country
The Blues are still winless and drawless under Wayne Rooney, although they can feel a little cheated this week in the 1-3 loss at Southampton, having been denied a blatantly obvious penalty. They scored at least, though. This week doesn’t get any easier as they play Ipswich Town (Saturday, 10:00am, no ESPN+). Ipswich are second in the table, 5 points behind league leading Leicester City and a whopping 9 points clear of Leeds United in 3rd. Birmingham City has dropped to 14th. This one will be quite the test.