Birmingham Legion v Tampa Bay | Sunday 26th July 2020, 00:30 | YouTube
The USL Championship is effectively the second division in the United States footballing pyramid, even if there is no direct promotion or relegation between the two divisions.
Nevertheless, this is still a league I must admit to having a guilty pleasure of, and as such have watched it quite a bit over the last few years. For us in the UK, all matches are aired for free on the USL Championship YouTube page, which is good for those who struggle to sleep in the early hours!
The previous season is back and running after a lengthy delay due to the pandemic, although we were in the off-season anyway. Both Birmingham Legion and Tampa Bay have played two matches each since resuming action and both remain undefeated.
Birmingham have back-to-back wins to their name versus Memphis and Charleston, whilst the Rowdies defeated Atlanta United 2 before a throwing away a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 against North Caroline, which was also at home.
Birmingham are a bit of a buzz team in this league and are one which are very much tipped to have a decent campaign. The Legion are only two years old having been formed in 2017, so they will have been quite impressed to have reached the play-offs in their maiden campaign last season. They were heavily beaten at that stage, but they’ve gone again between seasons to have a real go this time around.
The addition of Neco Brett stands out considering he was one of the top scorers in the division last season with Pittsburgh Riverhounds, although he has had to settle for spots on the bench in recent times.
Tampa Bay are a team I followed quite closely at the start of my association with this league mainly because Joe Cole was on their books, and it was here where he retired from playing in 2018. They are currently managed by former Sheaf Utd, Wolves and Leeds centre back Neill Collins, and a few various British players and coaches have been involved over the years.
They too reached the play-offs last season, and have done in two of the last three attempts. Ultimately they will expect to compete once more, and the goals of striker Sebastián Guenzatti will be a big help. This will be their first away game since the resumption, and so they’ve won only three of their last 12 on the road, including seven defeats where they conceded 2+ goals on six occasions.
As mentioned, Birmingham are a buzz right now and really are a team to follow. I am therefore a little surprised to see them priced 2/1 to win this game. I think at small stakes that is worth a punt also considering the Rowdies don’t always travel well, but we’ll play it a little safer and find a suitable bet-builder.
Birmingham Double Chance and Over 1.5 Goals is priced at 27/25 (Unibet). You don’t see many 0-0s or 1-0s in this league, and I haven’t always been entirely convinced by Tampa Bay. They play a very predictable passing game that will infuriate the life out of you because it is so slow and laborious at times. The standard in this league isn’t the greatest, but it should be an entertaining watch and the hosts should avoid defeat.
Orlando City v Montreal Impact | Sunday 26th July 2020, 01:00 | FreeSports
We’re into the knockout stages of the MLS is Back Tournament and ‘hosts’ Orlando City are taking on Montreal Impact at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Both teams have reached this stage through differing routes, with Orlando going through their group undefeated, whilst the Impact had to rely on being one of the best third-placed outfits in order to progress.
Orlando City are still ultimately adjusting to life under the management of Óscar Pareja, who largely made his name in charge of FC Dallas, and made a good impression in terms of building an exciting, attack-minded team. He is now very much looking to transform those methods to his new club; a club which has ultimately under-achieved for a good few years now.
However, early indications are that he is indeed making an impression, and group stage wins over New York City FC and David Beckham’s Inter Miami, as well as a good draw with Philadelphia Union proves that they are firmly moving in the right direction.
A big key for them compared to the past is they getting more players into the box, which might not seem like a revolutionary tactical move, but it is simply leading to better results. They’ll be optimistic of progressing to the next stage.
Montreal Impact have also experienced a managerial change not so long ago and Thierry Henry is the man charged with trying to bring the good times to the Canadian club. They are trying to play a neat and tidy passing game, but to me it is still not quite at a level whereby it makes them threatening enough.
Only three other teams have averaged fewer shots on goal per game at this competition than Montreal, so Henry still has work to do, despite some OK early indications.
Henry is ultimately still to decide upon his best team and formation. Already they’ve played a 5-4-1, 3-4-2-1 and 4-3-2-1 in the space of a few games. They are a team that don’t really possess any big names, which isn’t necessarily a concern, but someone still needs to step up to the plate to really make this team tick, and Henry hasn’t been working with them long enough to really stamp his authority on proceedings.
Orlando just seem much more comfortable and confident in how they are going about things. This is a team which now enjoys getting on the pitch and competing. Nani and Mauricio Pereyra are the two standout figures in this roster, whilst the likes of Chris Mueller is also having an excellent tournament. I think there are more match winners in the OCSC ranks and in a knockout game that is so important.
I was actually a little surprised to see a price of 27/20 (William Hill) available on an Orlando City victory here. That is a great price as they are the settled team of the two and have much more going for them.
Birmingham Legion v Tampa Bay – Birmingham Double Chance and Over 1.5 Goals (27/25 Unibet)
Orlando City v Montreal Impact – Orlando City to win (27/20 William Hill)