Week 6 Preview: all you need to know

On the road again


We did not post any player ratings or tactical analysis the past two weeks, partly because of moving house, but also because the games were frankly so dismal that the ratings would have been totally depressing and there really wasn’t much in the way of tactics to discuss. Other than dismal defending, that is. Hopefully, things will get back on track this weekend.

The most important part

Another Sunday afternoon game (4:00pm, ESPN+) for the Legion, even though they are not at home.  This week they make the relatively short trip to Cary, North Carolina to face North Carolina FC, newly returned to the Championship.

NCFC spent the past three seasons in League One, voluntarily dropping out of the Championship in what labeled a “strategic move” to enhance playing opportunities for its extensive youth system. The team finished dead last in League One in 2021 and 2022, then finished second in the regular season in 2023, ultimately winning the title and deciding to return to the Championship this season.

Before NCFC dropped, they played the Legion a total of 7 times with a record of 3-3-1. That includes the Legion’s first-ever playoff win, 3-2 in 2019. Obviously, the current team is completely different, so the historical record is relatively meaningless even if it is tidily balanced. As of right now, NCFC is 7th in the East having played 5 games with a record of 1-2-2. The results are somewhat schizophrenic. The two draws were against the Charleston Battery (0-0) and Tampa Bay Rowdies (1-1), the win was over Hartford Athletic (2-1) and the losses were to Loudoun United (1-3) and Detroit City (0-1). The loss at Detroit was the most recent game. Although NCFC had the bulk of the attack, each team managed just one shot on target and the game was decided by an own goal (which have been oddly abundant in the Championship this year).

The team plays typically in a 3-4-3, although it has also used two rather unusual formations; against Charleston they were in a 3-5-1-1 and against Detroit in a 5-4-1. That might have something to do with the club’s focus on development: head coach John Bradford is probably easily the longest-tenured coach in the USL, having been with the club since 2006 and managing the senior team since 2021. Some tinkering is inevitable in this case.

The point man in all formations has been Oalex Anderson (nicknamed Goalex) who joined the club in 2022. He only has one goal to date; no player on the team has more than one goal in fact. Indeed, the team is pretty wasteful with its shooting all told. In 5 games they have racked up a creditable 62 shots (12.4 per game) but have only 10 on goal and scoring 4 times. Plenty of attack but poor finishing.

The team made several player acquisitions ahead of the 2024 season, notably right winger Rodrigo da Costa from Memphis 901 and defensive midfielder Collin Martin, formerly of San Diego Loyal. Centerback Paco Craig came in from The™ Miami FC and right back Bryce Washington from Loudoun United (formerly with Atlantas United 2). In goal will be either Jake McGuire or Antonio Carrera, who have pretty much split time between the posts so far. McGuire was previously with Miami, so has plenty of experience stopping shots and has an existing connection with Craig. Carrera just turned 20 and is a Homegrown Player on loan from FC Dallas. Defense is fairly good overall: 41 shots allowed, 11 on goal and 6 goals conceded.

They also feature one familiar face: Jaden Servania, who was an academy player for the Legion before joining NCFC in 2022.

As to what the Legion will do, that depends to a meaningful extent on player availability. It was good to see Dawson McCartney back on the gameday roster last Sunday, especially given that he provided an incredible assist. On the other hand, Alex Crognale may have been added to the injury list and the status of Mohamed Buya Turay is unknown. The good news on the Alex front is that the Three Sparks are pretty deep in defense and Mujeeb Murana is proving his worth. I would not be too surprised to see the 4-1-4-1 get another outing, but I would personally prefer to see Preston Tabort Etaka start rather than Prosper Kasim. That may upset some Legion loyalists; my thinking is that Preston is a more natural right winger and has more speed and a better cross than Prosper. Moreover, that allows the Legion to move more organically into a 4-1-3-2 with either Preston or Enzo moving into a second striker position as situations dictate.

Prediction: The Legion broke out of its funk in a big way against Loudoun and looked like it found its confidence again. I think we will see them build on that this week against a team that is still trying to find its personality. The Three Sparks take all 3 points on the road.

Best of the rest

Once again the Legion game is the only one being played Sunday, so your other viewing options are wide open. We’ve picked out the best of the bunch for you (admittedly, this week’s slate isn’t all that great):

The™ Miami FC v. Tampa Bay Rowdies (Thursday, 6:00pm, ESPN+)

All by its lonesome tonight, this game is mostly important as it features the Legion’s next opponent. Miami, that is, although the Three Sparks are also above the Rowdies right now on tiebreakers. Miami is 8th, and have struggled after a promising start to the season. Well, OK, that was a win over the Colorado Springs Switchbacks, so maybe not that promising, and they have earned just one point in the 4 games since. Tampa have just 1 win so far, a 4-1 thrashing of Rhode Island, and drew 0-0 with Pittsburgh last week in a game they could easily have lost.

Loudoun United v. Memphis 901 (Saturday, 3:00pm, ESPN+)

The Legion’s first and second home opponents square off in this one. Area Code FC doesn’t come for two more weeks but the chance to see them potentially go down to someone the Legion just pasted is unmissable. Memphis beat Las Vegas 2-1 in week 1 but the Lights were still building a roster at that point and were already missing a key player in Charlie Adams. They have lost all 3 games since, scoring just once. By the way, the Memphis Showboats are the visitor for the Stallions home opener this Saturday, not quite a year since the Stallions beat them 42-2.

San Antonio v. Orange County (Saturday, 7:30pm, ESPN+)

The Western Conference leaders Orange County face a big test in San Antonio. The Texas team are, granted, not looking as strong as they typically have been the past few seasons, especially without Jordan Farr in goal. Still, they are not to be overlooked, and will be eager to recover from last week’s loss in Las Vegas and to knock OC from the ranks of the unbeaten.

Monterey Bay Union v.Las Vegas Lights (9:00pm, ESPN+)

Las Vegas has won 3 straight games and has not given up a goal in any of them. That streak is bettered only by Detroit City on 4 right now. This is a completely rebuilt team and they are good. Monterey have done a similar if not quite as solid a job and have a decent 2-1-2 record, good enough for 6th in the West. The Union will be without striker Walmer Martinez for 4 games following his involvement (probably the instigation) of a brawl in Oakland last weekend, but this has the look of an entertaining contest.

Back in the Old Country

Birmingham City were 3 minutes from earning a huge point against Leicester City last Saturday but ultimately fell 1-2. Going into Wednesday’s game against 12th-place Cardiff City they found themselves in the relegation zone, one point behind Huddersfield and above Sheffield Wednesday on goal difference. Both those teams played Tuesday, Huddersfield getting thumped 1-4 by Preston North End and Wednesday drawing 2-2 with Norwich City. That left the Blues in 23rd, one point behind both of them, albeit with a wide goal-difference advantage. The Blues then lost 0-1 to Cardiff, failing to improve their position any. Birmingham plays 8th-place Coventry City Saturday (9:00am), then goes to already-relegated Rotherham the following week, then has a huge game at Huddersfield the 27th and finishes the season at 6th-place Norwich City May 4th.

So the last lap of the season will be a titanic struggle, and one that is not in Birmingham City’s favor. Huddersfield’s other remaining games are at Bristol City (11th), v. Swansea City (15th) and at Ipswich Town (2nd). Wednesday play v. Stoke City (19th), at Blackburn (18th), v. West Bromwich Albion (5th) and at Sunderland (13th).

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