Surely by now you’ve heard about Birmingham’s hottest new soccer franchise, Legion FC. Standing on the shoulders of the Birmingham Hammers, Legion FC will start USL league play in March of 2019.
In recent weeks, Legion FC has announced its branding and crest, hired former New England Revs head coach Jay Heaps as president of the organization, and inked a long-term stadium deal with UAB at BBVA Compass Field.
On all accounts, these decisions have been overwhelmingly viewed as positive by the soccer-loving fans in the Magic City. And who are we to disagree with you guys?
Sure, these recent announcements have generated plenty of buzz and season-ticket deposits are climbing higher and higher, but we here at the BBL are eager to discover what the franchise has in store for Birmingham in terms of on-the-field playing style and coaching philosophy. And of course, that starts with the naming of a head coach in the next 60 – 120 days.
For all of you Backliners, I have graciously provided a list of possible head men that we might expect to see stalking the sidelines for Legion FC in the near future. Consider yourself wiser for reading this article and impress your friends with your deep cut Legion FC knowledge of what is most certainly Jay Heaps’ short list of coaching candidates. Shhhh! Don’t tell him you heard this from me!
5. MIKE GETMAN
Who is he? Coach Getman has been the main man for the UAB Men’s soccer program for the last 26 years. If there was a godfather of soccer in Birmingham, Coach Getman would be your guy. He has seen his fair share of success at the collegiate level, amassing enough results to put him in the top 26 active collegiate coaches in victories and top 41 active collegiate coaches for winning percentage.
Why he’s the man for Legion FC: As you can imagine, Coach Getman knows the Birmingham soccer landscape. He’s been recruiting locally and regionally for years, and by all accounts has a great reputation. Also, Getman has established pipelines to international leagues, often bringing over soccer talent from Spain, England, the Caribbean, etc… Obviously if Coach Getman ever wanted his crack at a professional gig, this would be his best opportunity to make the jump with as little disruption to his personal life. Getting to stay in your hometown and lead your city’s upstart soccer franchise has to be at least in the back of his mind, right?
Why he doesn’t work for Legion FC: Coach Getman is a college-lifer. With little professional level coaching experience, it would be quite a risk for a new franchise to bring in a coach of Getman’s caliber. I’m not saying he wouldn’t succeed, but expectations would probably need to be tempered for the first season.
Bottom Line: Coach Getman has been integral in helping grow the Magic City soccer scene. Many of his players have filled roster spots for the Birmingham Hammers over the last few years. He deserves at least a cup of coffee with the Legion FC front office, if not more serious consideration. But I would expect that if we see Coach Getman announced as the head coach by this summer, perhaps others would have turned down the opportunity first.
Fans Reaction as measured by the Sandwich Excitement Meter: If Mike Getman is Legion FC’s head coach, that decision is akin to sitting down for lunch and being served a cold turkey sandwich. While dependable, tasty, and in some instances exactly what you need, no one writes home about a turkey sandwich. But if that Turkey sandwich starts to win awards for “best sandwich 2019”, well that’s a different story.
4. JOHN HARKES
Who is he? The first American soccer player to earn minutes in the English Premier League. Two-time MLS Cup winner for D.C. United. Former-captain of the US Men’s National Team. John Harkes certainly earned his reputation as a player back in his prime. Most recently, Harkes was the head man for FC Cincinnati (USL); however – he was let go by the organization at the beginning of 2017.
Why he’s the man for Legion FC: In 2016, Coach Harkes led the newly minted FC Cincinnati in their inaugural season. Building from the ground up, he took that franchise to heights that many in the USL long to replicate. He commanded a successful USL campaign, finishing 3rd in the league in his first year. Success on the field: check. League-leading attendance numbers: check. Harkes is quite familiar with building success with a new franchise. Legion FC can’t ask for better experience in a coach.
Why he doesn’t work for Legion FC: One word: drama. Harkes has his fair share of it. Why was he named USMNT “Captain for Life”, only to have that title stripped away later that same year when he was unceremoniously left off the 1998 World Cup roster? (Just google it for all of the rumors). Why was Coach Harkes let go of FC Cincinnati after his first season at the helm (and a 3rd place finish)? Harkes is a big personality. The question Jay Heaps and Legion FC’s front office should be asking themselves is whether Harkes would be the right cultural fit for Birmingham and would the baggage be worth it.
Bottom Line: Harkes has the USL coaching pedigree. He has the star-power to get the soccer-loving crowd, and maybe even a few on-the-fencers excited about the potential of the franchise. Both things are very important to Legion FC. But he also brings with him potential drama and baggage. Is that a pill that Legion FC is willing to swallow? If Harkes is named the head coach for the 2019 season, keep your hands, feet, and head inside the vehicle because the ride could get bumpy.
Fans Reaction as measured by the Sandwich Excitement Meter: Oh Man! That Philly Cheesesteak looks so tasty, warm, and savory. Hits the spot, you know? But sometimes, not long after consuming it, that Philly Cheesesteak and its greasy ingredients will leave you sitting on the toilet asking yourself why you even bothered in the first place.
3. Tom Soehn
Who is he? The former right-hand man of Jay Heaps at the New England Revolution, Soehn was most recently the interim manager after Heaps’ ousting in September 2017. Prior to joining the Revs in 2014, Soehn had success at multiple stops in the MLS as a player and coach, winning MLS Cup (1998) and US Open (1998 & 2000) as a player for D.C. United and then the Supporter’s Shield (2006) as the manager at D.C. United. Soehn also worked alongside Bob Bradley at the Chicago Fire and had a brief stint as the manager of the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Why he’s the man for Legion FC: Soehn is the obvious choice, right?: Heaps and Soehn were clearly loyal to one another during their time at the Revs. Despite how the season ended in 2017, it’s not hard to imagine Heaps reaching out to his old coach at New England to inquire about relocating to the Heart of Dixie.
Why he doesn’t work for Legion FC: It’s also obvious that Jay Heaps may not want to call Soehn, right? Why? Because how things ended in New England, of course. It’s not fun being on a sinking ship. The slow, agonizing destruction of the Revs from 2016-2017 may have strained the trust between Heaps and Soehn. Perhaps when Soehn took over as the interim manager of the lowly Revs at the end of last season, we had seen the last time these two would work together on the pitch.
Bottom Line: This hire really depends on Heaps and Soehn’s current relationship and whether or not any bridges were burned last fall between the two. Soehn has the chops to lead a club from the sideline. He has done it at the top-level of American soccer. Without a doubt, he could do it in the USL.
Fans reaction as measured by the Sandwich Excitement Meter: An Italian Porchetta with a pickle on the side. The ‘wich has quality ingredients and hearty flavors. But if the pickle on the side is too sour, the whole experience just falls apart.
2. Matt Reis
Who is he? 15-year MLS goalkeeper veteran Matt Reis is currently on the USMNT staff as a goalkeeper coach. Prior to his recent stint with the USMNT that started in 2017, Reis worked with Bruce Arena at the L.A. Galaxy from 2014-2016. The last ten years of his playing career was spent with the New England Revs (a bit of a theme here, eh?) where he obviously crossed paths with veteran defender Jay Heaps.
Why he’s the man for Legion FC: Reis and Heaps were a part of the core group of players that made up the Revs during the early-2000’s. Surely Heaps has to be smiling at the possibility of bringing in a long-time, trusted teammate to lead Legion FC in their inaugural season. And it’s clear that Reis has the ambition to make it as a manager. But more importantly, he is currently working for a lame-duck coaching staff at US Soccer. As soon as the federation lands the full-time replacement for Bruce Arena, Reis very likely will be looking for a new opportunity. Could the stars be aligning for a move to Birmingham to take the next step in his career?
Why he doesn’t work for Legion FC: “Heads Alabama, Tails California.” That’s not how the song typically goes. A move to the Magic City would mean that Reis and family have to leave the sunny West Coast. Reis grew up in Southern California. He attended UCLA. He worked for the LA Galaxy and now US Soccer in the Golden State. A move to Alabama would be a cultural shift that he might not be willing to take.
Bottom Line: Reis wants to be a head coach one day. His long-time defender teammate may just be the man that gives him the opportunity. A new franchise in second-level American soccer could be the perfect proving ground for the inexperienced goalkeeping coach.
Fans reaction as measured by the Sandwich Excitement Meter: Here’s a bone for you sandwich anarchists: Reis’ hire would be the Choco-Taco of the sandwich world. The majority of people look at the Choco-taco and say – “How can you call that thing a sandwich? It’s ice cream in a waffle cone shaped like a taco shell! How dare you?!” But there are a few people that in their heart of hearts know that the Choco-taco is a sandwich, and if people would just give it a chance – they may really like what it has to offer.
1. Gary Smith
Who is he? This English footballer made his professional managing debut in the MLS in 2008 at the Colorado Rapids. In his third year at the helm, he led the Rapids to their first MLS Cup victory. Following the highs of 2010, he was relieved of his managerial duties at the end of the 2011 season due to fundamental differences with the front office. He had a stint as the head man at League One side Stevenage but was sacked after a poor run of form. Smith then took over duties during the tumultuous last two seasons of the NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks before taking the head gig at the upstart USL club, Nashville SC.
Why he’s the man for Legion FC: Nashville SC just had their first professional competition, losing 3-1 to Atlanta United FC in a friendly last week. 2018 was set to be a glorious year for the club from the Music City. But then the MLS came calling. In December 2017, a separate Nashville ownership group operating a separate yet-to-be-named club won the bid to enter the MLS. So where does Nashville SC go from here? Well, it could affiliate with the newly-announced MLS club and continue to play in Nashville. Or, the club could be sold and moved to another city. Or, the team could be disbanded, however unlikely. With certainty, Gary Smith is committed to Nashville SC in 2018. The question now is whether or not Nashville SC is committed to Gary Smith beyond this year. Time will tell – but Heaps would not be wrong to at least make an overture to Smith soon.
Why he doesn’t work for Legion FC: Given the circumstances with our neighbors to the north, Gary Smith is on a bit of a rollercoaster right now. But with his MLS pedigree, it is very likely that Smith is on the short list to serve as the head man for the new top-tier club in the debut season (2019 or 2020). If that scenario doesn’t play out, it’s likely that Nashville SC remains a part of the USL, and depending on results in 2018, Smith will remain as the manager. A quick move down I-65 may not be in the cards.
Bottom Line: Smith can win at a high level. Nashville was eager to bring him into the fold. Surely Heaps, Copes, and Legion FC’s ownership see his potential as well. There is an opening to have discussions with Smith. The question that Legion FC’s front office is now asking is, “how do we convince him to abandon ship after it just left the harbor?” It may not be in the cards. But if it were to happen, I imagine the rivalry between the two clubs would be a little hotter.
Fans reaction as measured by the Sandwich Excitement Meter: Have you ever had a toasted peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwich? They’re hard to find around Birmingham. I would venture to say that 99% of our restaurants don’t sell them. However, if you find the one restaurant that does, you order it (for your kids of course). It’s a great mix of salty (sorry Nashville) and sweet (your welcome Legion FC) and it will definitely hit the spot.