By: Patrick Brickson
Last Saturday evening, Legion FC welcomed USL Eastern Division opponents, Ottawa Fury. It was an early season test against a defense-minded club on a chilly night in the Magic City.
Birmingham came out in a 4-1-4-1. And for the first 15 minutes, all players but Hoffman were parked in the home-side half of the pitch.
Ottawa looked capable of breaking the formation, but never really threatened until they connected on an opportunistic goal in the 16th minute. After the score, Ottawa bunkered down for a counterattack – a strategy that Kyle Fisher and Tyler Turner deserve credit for neutralizing the remainder of the match.
The early Ottawa goal was a rather unfortunate break for Legion. A simple pass back to Mikey Lopez in the defensive third slipped under the foot of the otherwise reliable defensive midfielder. Ottawa’s Wal Fall took advantage of the gaffe as he aggressively attacked the box and then slid the ball to Ottawa captain Carl Howerth for a beautifully placed shot to the upper left corner of the net.
There is such a thing as scoring too early though, and Ottawa fell into a defensive shell almost immediately, allowing Birmingham the run of possession for the next 75 minutes.
Twice the equalizing goal was cleared off the line. In the 95th minute Joe Holland’s open header glanced just wide from point blank range. On the night of what seemed like 1,000 crosses, Birmingham Legion was in the end a collection of inches away from a result.
Daniel Johnson looked downright dangerous throughout the evening. We knew he could dribble, but the man truly put on a show. His crosses were menacing as well, although Ottawa’s center backs were nearly impenetrable on the night.
Legion’s two new loaned players were very impressive throughout the match. While Zachary Herivaux was one of Legion’s most effective midfielders in the Starting XI, Brian Wright provided a spark off the bench in the second half. His gentle touch on a well-placed Daniel Johnson pass in the 83rd minute almost gave Legion the equalizing goal. Unfortunately, a hustling Ottawa defender cleared the ball off the line and prevented Wright’s name from being written in the history books.
Coach Tommy Soehn’s choice to replace Marcel Appiah In the Starting XI with 5’11” Tyler Turner at centerback deserves analysis. The 3-man front of Ottawa looked to play on the break, but having three speedy defenders in the Legion backline negated the quick counter. Turner was specifically used to contain the break, and in this role, he succeeded.
Turner and Appiah will likely battle for a role in the Starting XI as Legion continue to define their identity.
As with many leagues around the world (Argentina comes to mind), the game’s final result is not always why soccer fans love attending a match: it’s also a party, something for the citizens to unite behind in order to share the experience. It’s a shame Legion’s first goal will likely come away from home. The city is wholeheartedly looking forward to that moment.
The club will have a weekend off before traveling to Louisville City on March 30th to take on the back-to-back USL champions.
The Boys in Black return home on Saturday, April 6th.
Patrick Brickson is a Journalism student at UAB. He is known publicly to a very select group as “Intern Patrick”, former audio engineer and call screener for JOX Primetime and JOX Gameday in 2018.