Week 8 Preview: all you need to know

Inflicting harm, Southern-style

The Three Sparks – and Stefano Pinho in particular – had a successful time last week. How can they be expected to perform this week?

The most important part

Yes, the knuckleheads from the north are coming to town tomorrow. The one instalment of the 2024 Southern Harm derby takes place at 6:30pm.

It would be an understatement to say that our visitors are not doing well this season. They are sitting on just 3 points from 6 games, all of them coming in Week 1 when they beat a newly-formed Las Vegas Lights team 2-1. In the five losses since then they have scored three goals, but one of those was a rather hilarious own goal last week in which Monterey Bay’s Morey Doner kicked the ball into the back of his teammate Alex Lara and into his own net just 55 seconds into the game. Lara ended up scoring the game-winner, making it even funnier.

Five games is the league’s longest active losing streak (next worst is The™ Miami FC at 4 games). Three of those games were at home too. Even the Colorado Springs Switchbacks have ended their losing streak. So dire has Memphis’ performance to date been that I am retiring any use of their Area Code FC moniker and replacing it with Memphis 911 unless and until they start showing better results. Hopefully not any time soon.

But it’s not as if Memphis has not had chances to score. Indeed, they have been taking plenty of shots. They just don’t seem to be able to hit the target. Constant lineup changes probably aren’t helping in that regard. Coach Stephen Glass is doggedly sticking with a 4-2-3-1, used in every game to date. However, the players have been moving around a fair amount. Our old friend Neco Brett, Nighte Pickering and Dylan Borczak have all been used at striker. Our other old friend Marlon Santos,a forward, has been used at right and left back. Our other other old friend Bruno Lapa, on the other hand, has been consistently placed at central attacking mid but has not a single assist to his name yet.

Leading scorer is left winger Samuel Carreaga, although that’s not saying much since he’s only scored twice (Pickering and Abdoulaye Cissoko are on one each). Carreaga is an Argentinian who joined the team late last year from Lanus. Cissoko is a French centerback who joined the club this season, previously with Tacoma Defiance (the Seattle Sounders MLS Next Pro team).

Defensively the team isn’t exactly doing great either. They have allowed 10 goals. Even with that disastrous Louisville game the Legion has only given up 8. In goal is Tyler Deric, whom the team picked up from Rio Grande Valley. Goalkeeping has never been Memphis’ strong suit and he does not seem to be doing much better than his predecessors.

The team has several good names who ought to be producing. They have Emerson Hyndman, previously with Atlanta United and several UK clubs. Left back Akeem Ward (yet another former Legionary) is on the squad. But why are they performing up to snuff?

Well, I think it comes down to Stephen Glass. Glass, who spent a lot of time with Atlanta United, mostly with the Atlanta United 2 team, has a lifetime managerial record of 49-70-30, just 1.16 points per game. He’s simply not very imaginative and pretty closed in his thinking. That worked fairly well in the Championship last season (his first with Memphis and his only winning club record), but this season the entire league has beefed up and Memphis are not keeping pace.

Prediction: Derby games are always hard to predict even if form seems to indicate an obvious result. Memphis is probably not as bad a squad as their results to date suggest, but the Legion will be up for just their second home game of the season and showing off the brand new kit. It may be close, but the Three Sparks take this one.

Best of the rest

No byes in the Championship this week. Some good matchups to check out, all on Saturday:

Pittsburgh Riverhounds v. Detroit City FC (6:00pm, ESPN+)

The Riverhounds finally figured out how to score with a 3-1 win over Phoenix Rising. Detroit City remain perfect through 5 games. This is something of a rivalry game and looms large. Pittsburrgh desperately needs a signature win and Detroit really would love to become just the third USL teams to start with 6 straight wins.

Tampa Bay Rowdies v. New Mexico United (6:30pm, CBS)

That double-game week with Tampa is just over the horizon, so we need to keep an eye on the Rowdies. They are coming off a surprise draw with El Paso Locomotive and are trailing the Legion on tiebreakers. New Mexico for their part are 3rd in the West and on a 3-game win streak in which they seem to be scoring at will (but also allowing a fair few). This is a pretty good choice for a CBS national broadcast game.

El Paso Locomotive v. FC Tulsa (8:00pm, ESPN+)

The aforementioned Locomotive broke a 5-game skid last week and are still on just 2 points for the season. Tulsa are up next for the Legion and just got whipped 1-4 by the Charleston Battery. Not perhaps the biggest match of the week but it will be useful to see how Tulsa handles a potentially improving opponent.

Orange County v. Monterey Bay Union (9:00pm, ESPN+)

Orange County’s scoring difficulties came to roost last week in the 0-2 loss to Sacramento Republic. That dropped them all the way to 5th in the West. The Union in contrast are up to second and on a 3-game win streak (although two of those were against Oakland Roots and Memphis). Possibly the best game of the week in the West.

Back in the Old Country

Once again, Birmingham City blew it big time last week. They drew 0-0 with the execrable Rotherham United. Huddersfield Town also drew, but Sheffield Wednesday won. That took Wednesday out of the relegation zone and dropped the Blues back into it, a point behind. Tomorrow’s game thus looms even larger. Birmingham goes to Huddersfield (9:00am) with everything on the line. A win could potentially lift the Blues to 19th depending on results elsewhere.

A loss would almost certainly doom Huddersfield to relegation. With one game left after this weekend, that would leave them at best in a points tie with Sheffield Wednesday, but they are behind on goal difference. If Wednesday get a point and Huddersfield lose, they are done. So this is huge for them too. Moreover, their final game is at Ipswich Town, who are currently 3rd (they were top of the table last week) with a game in hand.

Wednesday’s game tomorrow is a home match with West Bromwich Albion. West Brom are 5th, but are not certain of a promotion playoff spot (they can’t get automatic promotion) so that is a key game for both teams as well. Albion needs 3 points to secure that spot with 10th-place Preston North End up next week. This is their chance to do that.

The final games next week for the three teams are Birmingham v. Norwich City (6th), Ipswich Town v. Huddersfield and Sunderland (13th) v. Wednesday. None of those are easy by any stretch. Everyone needs a result this week then. 

Blackburn Rovers (19th) and Plymouth Argyle (20th) are not out of the woods either. Blackburn has Coventry City (8th) and Leicester City (1st) to finish and Plymouth has Millwall (16th) and Hull City (7th and chasing that final playoff spot). QPR and Stoke City above them are close to safe, but not quite.

All told, 16 of the 24 teams in the EFL Championship have something to play for with two games left (three for Ipswich and Coventry).  That’s no different than the USL Championship having 16 teams in the post-season when you think about it.

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