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EASTERN TALKING POINTS: LouCity’s Depth to Get Test vs. Legion FC

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 08/27/21, 12:11PM EDT


Rowdies expect a hard-fought contest as Charlotte visits; Tulsa hits reset button before key game with Atlanta

A potential midfield battle between Louisville City FC's Tyler Gibson and Birmingham Legion FC's Anderson Asiedu will be one to watch as the top two teams in the Central Division square off on Saturday at BBVA Field. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography /

The USL Championship’s Eastern Conference features some high-profile contests this weekend, including games that will play a major role in the race for the postseason and which teams end on top of their respective divisions. Here are five storylines we’ve got an eye on ahead of the action.


Louisville City FC squared off against OKC Energy FC last Sunday night without two notable names in midfielders Corben Bone and Niall McCabe, and ahead of Saturday night’s visit to its closest rival in the Championship’s Central Division, Birmingham Legion FC, at BBVA Field there are more injury issues for interim Head Coach Danny Cruz to deal with as both Wesley Charpie and Jonathan Gomez – both of whom were substituted off against OKC – have been ruled out of action for the first vs. second matchup.

That means a test for the side’s defensive depth against a Legion FC side for which Junior Flemmings has impressively regained his form since returning from the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup with five goals and one assist in his last six outings. For Cruz, though, there are still solid options to pick from including the returning Oscar Jimenez to fill the gaps, and the aim remains to pick up a victory that would further tighten the club’s grip on first place.

“We’re a little bit beat up at the moment. That’s a perfect way to put it,” said Cruz this week. “But I’ve said it over and over again: I believe in the depth of the group. I certainly believe anyone in that locker room is ready to start at any moment. For us, we’ll travel to Birmingham and the expectation is three points.”


The final score when the Tampa Bay Rowdies last squared off against the Charlotte Independence – a 2-0 victory for Charlotte on home turf at American Legion Memorial Stadium on July 31 – might indicate a comfortable victory, but in terms of chances the teams were hard to separate as Charlotte’s execution in front of goal proved the difference.

Tampa Bay Head Coach Neill Collins is expecting a similarly tight game on Saturday night as the teams wrap up their four-game regular season series with the Rowdies looking to make it two wins apiece back on home turf at Al Lang Stadium.

“All the games have been really, really tight,” said Collins. “There’s not been a lot in it. A mistake here or there from either team has been enough to settle the game. We need to be at our best. I feel right now in our conference, in every game you need to be very close to your best to get something out of the game. It’ll be no different this weekend. We just want to try and put on a really great performance for our fans. If we do that, then we generally give ourselves a good opportunity to have the chance at winning the game. But Charlotte, as you can see, have added some really strong players and gone from strength to strength.”

What could be key for the Rowdies? Either gaining an early lead, or at least remaining level until halftime. Tampa Bay has outscored opponents 13-3 in the second halves of games this season at home, including racking up all three goals in the side’s 3-0 victory against Charlotte at the start of the season.


FC Tulsa claimed a late victory against Memphis 901 FC on Wednesday night for its second consecutive win, but is looking to reset ahead of a key game with Atlanta United 2 on Saturday at ONEOK Field. | Photo courtesy FC Tulsa

Things have started to look much rosier for FC Tulsa in the past seven days with consecutive victories against Birmingham Legion FC last Sunday night before Wednesday’s dramatic late win against Memphis 901 FC. Those results have moved the side into third place in the Central Division standings, a position it can cement on Saturday night as it plays host to an Atlanta United 2 side that is in fourth place and has given Tulsa a fair share of trouble this season.

For Tulsa Head Coach Michael Nsien one of the keys to taking a first victory against its visitors at ONEOK Field on Saturday night is resetting the mindset for each game. With the side holding two games in hand on Atlanta going into the game, a victory would create an important cushion between Tulsa and the rest of the Central’s playoff hopefuls as it moves into the final third of the season.

“I think, just psychologically going forward, I told the guys going forward after the Birmingham game that we went to bed with three points, but we woke up with zero,” said Nsien on Wednesday night. “And we have to do it again. And I’ll also say the same thing, we’ll sleep with the three points tonight, and when we wake up, we’ll be back at zero points, and we have to go do it again versus Atlanta.”


It will have been more than seven years since the Charleston Battery and Orange County SC last squared off in the USL Championship when the sides meet on Saturday night at Patriots Point. The teams that rank 1-2 in terms of regular-season victories – where the Battery hold the edge 128 to 124 – and goals scored – where Orange County is on top 434 to 425 – have not played since the Battery’s 3-2 victory on August 13, 2014 at Blackbaud Stadium.

While the lone potential holdover from that contest – Battery defender Jarad van Schaik – is unlikely to play a role due to injury, the Battery are looking forward to the chance to build on a victory last time out back on home turf against a side they have plenty of respect for but have also never lost to on home turf in five prior meetings.

“It's getting back into a rhythm of possession, moving the ball and getting back into being able to play at home back on our grass [since] we played two turf games,” said Battery Head Coach Mike Anhaeuser. “[Orange County] are a very good, organized defensive team and they hit you on the counter with their pace and power up front. They’re a solid team, they have experienced players and then they have some really good young players.”


The form guide for Hartford Athletic hasn’t made for pretty reading in recent weeks with the side having gone 1-3-1 in August prior to Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, but those results have been influenced at least somewhat by the road-heavy schedule the Athletic have faced. At Dillon Stadium, the side is undefeated in its last four outings and with eight of its final 14 games this season on home turf it at least gives Hartford some hope of finding a way past the Charlotte Independence and Charleston Battery into the postseason field.

In order to do that, however, the side is going to need to be sharper defensively than it has been of late. Including a 3-1 defeat to the Hounds on July 31 when the sides last met at Highmark Stadium, goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell has recorded 29 of his league-leading 74 saves this season. The side has had difficulty in limiting opposing attacks in terms of scoring chances, too, with five of those six games seeing their opponents post at least a 1.77 Expected Goals mark. The lone game below that was the game the Athletic won against the Charleston Battery on home turf on August 17. With Russell Cicerone and Alex Dixon leading a potent Pittsburgh attack, sealing up the gaps at the back might be the biggest key for the Athletic on Saturday night.

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