Week 3 Preview: all you need to know

Legion back in action

Week 3, and we have yet more byes. This week, FC Tulsa and Memphis 901 are off. Tulsa were off in week 1 as well, so they start the season well behind the 8-ball. However, taking this week off is potentially an advantage as this is an international week, so the two teams will not have to worry about possibly losing players for a game.

The most important part

The Legion are back in action after the week off, heading up to Connecticut for the match with similarly rested Hartford Athletic (Saturday, 1:00pm, ESPN+). First, the weather is going to miserable. The forecast at kickoff is 44° with a 99% chance of rain. There’s also a winter weather advisory expected to end around noon. Wonderful.

The Athletic are a much improved team this season and can no longer be considered an automatic 3 points. They have completely rebuilt the roster after hiring Brendan Burke as head coach. They got him from an assistant coaching position at the Houston Dynamo, where had been for just a year after running the show at the Colorado Springs Switchbacks for two years.

That roster will be hampered just a tad, as striker Romario Williams was called up to the Jamaican national team. Williams has had a pretty peripatetic career; Hartford is the 13th team he has played for, but he is most likely known to Forge readers from his stint at Atlanta United and Atlanta United 2. He played the final 18 minutes in the bizarre 1-3 loss to the US yesterday and will possibly feature in the 3rd place game against Panama on Sunday.

The Athletic beat El Paso Locomotive 1-0 in Texas in week 1. Given how poorly the Locomotive’s season has gone so far (1 point from 3 games), it’s possibly not that great an indicator of how good Hartford really is but we at least have an idea of how they are going to play. They lined up in that game in a 4-2-3-1, which is a formation the Legion is very well acquainted with. Williams was the nominal striker in that lineup but he really played as a false 9, with left winger Michee Ngalina (who played for Burke in Colorado) playing a very high central position. Right winger Deshane Beckford (also a former Switchback as well as a Jamaican national team player, but not called up) also played very centrally, actually averaging to the left of Williams. So the frontal attack is rather confused.

With all that, though, Williams scored the game’s only goal and that was a penalty.  His absence should be felt. Likely to start in his place will be Enoch Mushagalusa, who came over from Louisville City and is a definite threat.

Attacking play will run through central mid Marcus Epps, who has been all over the USL Championship, most recently Tulsa. Another quality player who cannot be allowed space.

On top of that the Athletic has a couple of very familiar names. Most obviously is everyone’s darling Anderson Asiedu, who is playing the same defensive pivot role he did for the Legion. They also have Thomas Vancaeyezeele playing at centerback. He was with the Rowdies in 2022 after his year with the Legion, returned to France in 2023 but didn’t play a single game apparently as a result of injury. He is partnered with Joe Farrell, a long-time Phoenix Rising player with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds last season, who is a quality addition.

Fullbacks are to be watched carefully as well. Rece Buckmaster, a Memphis 902 escapee, on the right and Triston Hodge on the left. Hodge is yet another former Colorado Springs player and is one of the few holdovers from last season’s Hartford roster. Both of them play very high and have decent speed.

In goal is Paul Walters. He’s a bit of a question mark. On loan from FC Cincinnati, he’s just 19 years old. He faced 3 shots on target rom El Paso and was never really tested.

Will the Athletic mix it up against the Legion though? They faced a 4-1-3-2 setup in El Paso so were well organized to defend against that. The Legion’s 3-4-3 will be a different challenge and two centerbacks may have trouble with it. We shall see.

Indeed, I do not anticipate any lineup or formation changes from the Legion, who re likely going to continue to develop the new philosophy.

Prediction: Despite the home field advantage and the miserable northern weather, I don’t see this Hartford squad, as beefed up as it is, being the equal of the 2024 Legion. I am going with a 2-1 road win for the Three Sparks.

Best of the rest

The Legion game is the earliest on the entire schedule and in fact does not overlap with any other game, so we all have free rein to watch whatever other games we wish. Here are the pick of the bunch:

Louisville City v. Pittsburgh Riverhounds (Saturday, 3:00pm, ESPN+)

Lou City is next up on the Legion schedule, so some scouting is definitely a good idea. City have lost Brian Ownby for an extended period but were fine without him in their season opener against (of course) El Paso, winning 1-0. Pittsburgh on the other hand have shocked everybody by losing 2 games and not scoring once. This ought to be a top matchup but the Hounds had better wake up if it is going to live up to expectations.

Indy Eleven v. Sacramento Republic (Saturday, 6:00pm, ESPN+)

SacRep are preseason favorites, although they have already dropped 2 points in a wild 2-2 draw with Orange County. Indy Eleven lost  to a solid Oakland Roots side but recovered well to dominate Area Code FC. The Eleven are another team that has made significant efforts to improve over last year’s edition. This is their home opener and a tough assignment. This could be a very entertaining game.

Orange County SC v. The™ Miami FC (9:00pm, CBS Sports Golazo)

OC may have lost Milan Iloski but they still have his brother Brian and apparently have little trouble scoring, with 4 goals on the season (only Loudoun United have more, believe it or not) for 4 points. Miami have 3 point from 2 games, but are looking very strong in attack. This tilt promises some serious action and should be a great nightcap.

Monterey Bay Union v. Rhode Island FC (Sunday, 5:00pm, ESPN+)

Khano Smith’s team wisely leave the ugly northeastern weather for warmer climes out west for their second ever game. The Union have two good results so far (a draw with El Paso and a win over Phoenix) but may well be outmatched by Rhody’s all-out attack, which pounded New Mexico last week with 21 total shots and 9 on goal for a hefty 2.33 xG. The only game on Sunday and a great way to close out the weekend.

Back in the Old Country

Birmingham City’s disastrous season gets even worse. They lost yet again last week, 0-1 to Watford. They remain in 21st place, out of the relegation zone on goal difference alone (a 2-goal advantage over Huddersfield). The team is off this week for the international break. That’s just as well, because on top of teetering on the brink of relegation, the team is under yet another new interim manager, as Tony Mowbray’s health issues continue and he has to step aside for the remainder of the season. Taking over through the end of the season is Gary Rowett, who was at Millwall until last October and was in fact the Blues manager from 2014-16 and was pretty successful in the position before his surprise firing by new ownership. He will be City’s fifth manager this season. Following the Wayne Roone debacle, Steve Spooner managed 1 game before Mowbray came in. Mowbray ran the team for just 8 games (a 4-3-1 record) before falling ill. Mark Venus took over for 6 games until this past week (0-5-1 as the team fell to the cellar). Can Rowett save the club from the drop? His first test will be next Friday (10:ooam) at QPR, who are just a point better than the Blues and are thus a key matchup.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.