The I-20 Cup is upon us. Yes, the inaugural derby between Georgia Revolution FC and your Birmingham Hammers will be played this Saturday, May 7th at 7 PM local time, 6 PM CST. Something has to give, as both of these teams are undefeated in early pre-season friendlies. If you have not read my preview of this match, please click here to get up to speed. Admittedly, there is still plenty unknown about each team, but I will do my best to give you three specific predictions for this game, as well as my projected Starting XI for the Birmingham Hammers.
3 Specific Predictions
1. Last Saturday against Sandy Springs FC, the Hammers’ backline looked uncomfortable at times against an inferior opponent. It would be easy to predict a formation change on the road in order to neutralize Georgia Revolution’s sophisticated NPSL attack. Could we be looking at something like a 4-5-1 with the Hammers parking the bus and breaking on the counter? I don’t think so. Coach Joel Person strikes me as the type of coach that wants to push the ball forward, maintain possession, and have plenty of skillful striking capability on the field. He has the personnel in AJ Adcock, Julio Noel, David Valverde, Karl Chester, and Kofi Forkough (to name a few) that will force the attacking tactical mindset. I believe he will continue to fine-tune his attacking philosophy on the road in Conyers on Saturday night. Look for a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2 diamond. Either of these formations will force the issue and potentially lead to another avalanche of goals for the Hammers.
2. David Valverde or James Ngoe will do something magical with the ball in the attacking third. I was really impressed by Valverde and Ngoe’s work rate against Sandy Springs FC. They both looked competent on the ball. Ngoe had a beautiful assist to Julio Noel in the 1st half and then a great possession-winning tackle in the midfield that started a break that led to him scoring the second Hammers’ goal. Valverde earned the assist on the Ngoe goal. In the second half, Valverde displayed a touch of magic around the opponents 18-yard box that led to a laser shot just outside the post. I can tell that these players are hungry. Keep eating boys.
3. Stephen Kosmala will either score off of a header from a Hammers’ corner kick, or he will clear the ball away using his head during a Georgia Revolution FC corner kick. He seems like the kind of player that will get stronger as the season progresses. He recovered nicely after the early blunder against Sandy Springs FC. I think this week, his play will be even better and the proof will be on the score-sheet. Look for Kosmala to earn Man of the Match honors.
Projected Starting XI
As mentioned above, I believe the Hammers will be focused on attacking Georgia Revolution FC as fast and often as possible. With that in mind, look for the Hammers to come out in a 4-4-2 diamond with the following personnel:
Goalkeeper: Pritchard N’Daria. What a welcome sight this guy was last week. Unexpectedly, this wall of a man was owning the box against Sandy Springs FC. Look for N’Daria to get most of the minutes this week in preparation for the regular season.
Backline: I like Alex Brown and Stephen Kosmala as the Hammers’ center back tandem. Its possible that William White will earn minutes this week, although I am unsure of his availability. Andrew Tortorich will man the left back position while I like Kevin Francis at right back.
Midfield: The anchor of the midfield will be Norris Howze. Look for him to be the key distributor and vocal leader on the pitch. Directly in front of him will be Kofi Forkough in an attacking midfield position. On either flank of the diamond will be David Valverde and James Ngoe. These two have earned their playing time.
Forwards: I believe Julio Noel proved to be an excellent slasher last week against Sandy Springs FC, and I expect that he will continue to grab minutes this weekend and perhaps another goal. His strike partner up top will be Anthony King. I think King has earned the run-out with his work-rate last weekend.
Final Score Prediction
Georgia Revolution FC has proven so far this season to be a contender to win their NPSL conference. The game is on their pitch, 3 hours east of Birmingham in Conyers, GA. And from the looks of the pitch, it doesn’t seem to be in the best of shape. This fact alone could potentially cause problems for the Hammers who are used to training on a pristine artificial turf surface.
Nonetheless, the Hammers bring an attack that is higher class than what the team from Conyers has seen this year. King, Noel, Valverde, and Ngoe will be quick and skillful on the ball. I expect the Hammers backline to continue to gel as a unit. Look for this game to be close, perhaps around 1-1 heading into the last 25 minutes or so. At which point, I believe Valverde’s touch of magic down around the 18-yard box will earn the Hammers a corner kick. Look for Stephen Kosmala to head the ball in the net around the 80th minute and the Hammers go on to take the first leg of the I-20 cup 2-1.