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The Front Three: What To Watch For In Week 17

By CAMERON KOUBEK -, 07/29/21, 9:45AM EDT


Five games across the weekend offer plenty of intrigue

Richmond and Tucson played an entertaining game at City Stadium last season / Photo courtesy Jessica Stone Hendricks

We’re officially past the midway point of the 2021 League One regular season, and as the calendar slowly ticks toward October, table position starts to become that much more important each week. With only eight points separating third place from 11th, the playoff race is still wide open, and with it being that close, points already feel like they’re at a premium.

The final week of play in July (which also includes the first day of August) features five games across Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Here are three things to watch for during the action.

The Darren Sawatzky Derby

When the Richmond Kickers take on FC Tucson this Saturday (6:30 p.m. ET | ESPN+), it will be a matchup of the two clubs in League One that have been coached by Darren Sawatzky. Sawatzky coached Tucson in its inaugural League One campaign in 2019 before joining the Kickers ahead of the 2020 season and improving the team’s table position by five places from its previous year.

This game has plenty of ramifications in the current season’s standings as well. Richmond sits one point above Tucson at the moment having played one extra game, and a win for either side could very well vault them up close to the top six and the playoff line.

Room to Breathe

Omaha would surely love some room to breathe at the top of the table, and got a bit of that with last week’s results, which saw the Owls beat Tucson and second-place Chattanooga play to a draw with third-place Greenville. Saturday night’s home game against North Texas SC (8 p.m. ET | ESPN+) is a chance for Omaha to further consolidate its hold on first place.

Los Búhos will get a boost when looking at their home record compared to North Texas’ away record: Omaha is unbeaten in five games at Werner Park this season, while North Texas is the only team in League One which has yet to pick up a point on its travels. But as this league reminds us time and again, there’s no such thing as a guaranteed three points, and you never know when the North Texas side which beat both Greenville and Madison by three goals is going to show up.

One Point Gained, Or Two Points Dropped?

This is the eternal question for teams who draw games, and it becomes even more pressing when draws are a frequent occasion. That’s been the case for Chattanooga Red Wolves SC, Forward Madison FC, and Greenville Triumph SC lately. Chattanooga has tied five of its last six games, Greenville four of its last six, and Madison four of its last seven.

While that means these teams aren’t losing too often, it also means none of the trio are quite where they’d like to be in the table. Wins are - quite literally - three times more valuable than draws. For Greenville and Chattanooga, finding a way to consistently turn one point into three is going to be key to keeping within touching distance of Omaha at the top, while for Madison, doing so is vital to getting back among the playoff places and staying there.

Two of those teams play each other this Saturday, when Chattanooga hosts Madison at CHI Memorial Stadium (7 p.m. ET | ESPN+). While you might be wise to predict a draw, a win for either side would be a big boost after mediocre recent runs of form.

On Friday, Greenville will kick off the Week 17 slate when it faces Toronto FC II for the first time this season (4 p.m. ET | ESPN+).

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