By: Patrick Brickson
It’s never too early to start making rivals. Louisville is a short five-hour drive up I-65 from Birmingham, close enough by American professional sports standards. Smack in between the two cities is Nashville, another municipality with a blossoming soccer scene.
Both Nashville and Louisville have new soccer specific stadiums on the way – a big step to obtaining a MLS franchise. Of course, Nashville is making the jump to the top tier of the American Soccer pyramid in 2020.
That dream may be unattainable for Louisville City at this point – but it doesn’t mean that the quality of soccer is not top-level. Louisville City FC is the USL champion, two years running. So while Birmingham’s historic foe Nashville is vaulting off to the MLS next year, Louisville SC may just become public enemy number one for fans from the Magic City.
Louisville City is currently 3rd in the USL Championship standings, sitting on six points. They would be quite the scalp for Legion FC if the club from Birmingham can somehow find a goal or two. Perhaps more realistically, a draw on the road would be a tremendous feat for the Boys in Black. But how will Coach Tommy Soehn tactically approach the reigning champs to get that result?
Expect Birmingham to utilize a counterattacking system, at least early on in the match. This tactic will be more comfortable on the road where Louisville City will naturally press and stretch themselves out to push for an early goal. Louisville City will be susceptible to the counterattack and a quick goal against the run of play.
However, should Legion concede an early goal in the match, expect Birmingham to open up the match with overlapping runs with Avila on the right and Culbertson on the left.
Louisville has started strong this season but Birmingham matches up well. The Louies play with the classic 4-4-1-1 formation which is exactly what the 4-1-4-1 formation that Legion rolled with at certain points against Ottawa is designed to neutralize.
The main battle will be between Legion Captain (Centurion?) Mikey Lopez vs their #10 playmaker Brian Ownby. Legion FC’s fearless leader has similar size and speed to Ownby. If he can neutralize his mark Legion will be in a very good position to steal that road point.
The other key matchup will be Mac Hermann finalist Kyle Fisher marking Louisville City’s #9, striker Luke Spencer. Spencer has decent speed, some size standing at 6’2″, and certainly shoots with power. Fisher has him beat for pace and will match his physicality. But Kyle is listed as 6’0″. Being a full two inches taller that your mark in a crossing league like the USL can make a big difference, and Spencer will look to take advantage of that situation.
It will be interesting to see if Tyler Turner returns at centerback. His pace served him well against Ottowa’s speedy wingers. But at 5’11” he will be undersized against the 6’2″ Spencer. Someone like 6’2″ UAB product Mathieu Laurent may get a rollout in the backline, allowing Turner to return to right back. This lineup would give Eric Avila a chance at right midfield, the configuration Legion switched to late against Bethlehem on opening day.
New loanee Eddie Opoku may throw a wrench in this formation prediction. It tactically makes sense to run with a 4-4-2, with Chandler playing off the speedy forward on loan from Columbus Crew to stretch the defense. Hoffman is in need for a striker partnership that complements his style of play, and Opoku was brought into the club to fill that role.
Other Louisville players to watch are their star midfielder Magnus Rasmussen and Abdou Thiam. Rasmussen is a 25-year-old from Denmark. He has a very impressive 11 goals and 4 assists in just 27 starts with Louisville FC. Thiam scored the winning goal against everyone’s rival Atlanta United 2, assisted nicely by Ownby.
Birmingham Legion has little pressure to win in Louisville this weekend. But everyone in the organization can’t really breath until they earn their first points. It will be fun to see how these clubs match up in their first meeting and interesting to see how Coach Soehn handles the first roadtrip.
And if somehow the Boys in Black pull out the victory, look back to tonight’s match as the first blow in a blossoming rivalry for years to come.
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.