Birmingham Backline 2.0 – The Podcast

It’s not every day that you get to say that you were a part of something big from the ground up. But that is exactly what the Birmingham Backline can claim.

Back when the Birmingham Hammers were still just a plan on the back of a napkin, I typed out a mission statement for this blog:

It is the mission of Birmingham Backline to augment the fabric of local soccer media in Birmingham. We will accomplish this mission by providing news, opinions, and entertainment on the website to ensure that all local soccer fans in our community have a resource that is dedicated to what is most important to them, local soccer.

Atlanta United – It’s Not You, It’s Me

I’ll admit it – I was never “smooth” with the ladies in my youth. In fact, until I met the most wonderful girl in the world when I was 24, I spent a good portion of my dating life in the friend zone.

Captain of the Friend zone…

Don’t get me wrong… I had plenty of “girlfriends” from grade school through high school.

You lucky few know who you are!

But once the inescapable became obvious, innocently enough – I could never bring myself to break up with these fine young ladies. The relationships always fizzled with the inevitable awkward phone call from my female companion that ended with the “it’s not you, it’s me” cliche.

Ugh – the horror. (At least today, the kids do these things via text and not awkward phone call after awkward phone call.)

But many moons have passed since those pubescent (and sadly post-pubescent) days.

I’m a happily married man to my hotty wife with three beautiful, soccer-loving kids.

And I have found that backbone that I was so dearly missing as a young boy.

So it’s time to do what never could be done back then.

Atlanta United – I need to talk with you.

I know, I know. We had our moments.

Remember MLS Cup 2018 last week?

It was a special time with my son. We made some wonderful memories.

But while my body was physically in Mercedes-Benz Stadium with 73,019 fans, my heart was with another. Notice the scarf in the video?

Yeh – Birmingham Legion has become the new object of my footy desires. Hell – we may even be soul-mates.

This long-distant relationship just isn’t working. Driving 3 hours to watch 90 minutes of soccer is too strenuous for me.

Legion FC will be playing in my backyard.

And I just can’t stand here, an honest man, and continue to posture as if I am in love with you. I’m not. Anymore.

A quick snapshot before the ATLUTD match vs. Chicago Fire in 2018. Legion FC Crest proudly displayed on my 1/4” zip jacket.

Sure sure – you have this incredible new, multi-billion dollar stadium with cheap concessions, decent sight-lines, and an amazing view of downtown.

But listen, Atlanta United. Even the initials of your stadium remind me of my new love.

M-B-S… it’s close enough to “M-C-B – my beloved Magic City Brigade – to make my heart swoon.

Atlanta United – you have done so much for the game in the Deep South. More than likely – my Legion FC wouldn’t exist without your success. But don’t feel like you did something wrong. I will always look back on these past 2 years fondly.

I just need a clean break so that I can focus on the club and city that I truly love. I sincerely hope you understand.

Atlanta United – it’s not you… it’s me.

Legion FC Coaching Search – Follow the Bread Crumbs

A few weeks ago, the BBL told you how Legion FC’s President Jay Heaps could be focusing his recruiting efforts on five potential coaching candidates. And while we are convinced that at least one of these candidates is a serious contender for the job (think Philly Cheesesteak!) – the BBL also also realizes that there may be other high quality candidates that are currently unavailable that may soon be looking for work.

As you may (or may not) know – Major League Soccer is looking to add one more team to its cohort of clubs. Miami and Nashville were recently welcomed into the league to much fanfare across the country. Adding both markets to the MLS was a strategic move that will saturate soccer fanfare in the South.

But there is one more MLS expansion spot available and three cities are vying for the opportunity to play footy at the highest levels in the US: Cincinnati, Detroit, and Sacramento.

According to the oddsmakers, Cincinnati is the leading contender for the spot.

MLS President and Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbot recently commented to SI.com, “Although we haven’t finalized any deals, and all of the finalist markets remain under consideration, we’ve made the most progress in Cincinnati.”

Placing a MLS expansion team in Ohio certainly makes sense, especially if the league presses on with its intentions to move Columbus Crew to Austin, TX (#savethecrew).


A new chapter in Portland

When Caleb Porter announced that he was leaving the Portland Timbers after an early exit from the 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs, many around the MLS and soccer media speculated that Porter himself had his next job already lined up.

Timbers owner Merritt Paulson issued a prepared statement upon Porter’s departure: I respect Caleb’s decision to seek his next challenge. He leaves Portland with a lasting legacy valued by everyone associated with he club, and I wish him nothing but success in the future.

So far just crickets, right? No word on Porter’s next gig.

Pipe down Legion FC fans – Porter isn’t coming to the Magic City (just yet). But keep following me here.

What job is Caleb Porter rumored to be first in line for? You guessed it: a newly minted FC Cincinnati in the MLS.

But why? Caleb Porter cut his teeth as an assistant coach at Indiana University, but rose to fame as the head coach of Akron University in Ohio, where he won the 2010 National Championship. A return to the area is not so far-fetched.


Rust Belt Blues

Photo courtesy of The Enquirer, Kareem Elgazzar

Where do all of these rumors leave current FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch? More than likely, he’s a little squirmy in his seat up there in the Rust Belt. His club might be moving to MLS. A proven MLS Championship-level coach is rumored to be interested in taking over the reigns.

Yeh – Koch has to be considering all of his options.

Truly a shame for Cincinnati too, right? In 2017, Alan Koch led the club to a season total 46 points (6th place in the East) and a second straight playoff birth in addition to the US Open Cup run for the ages, ultimately losing in the semifinals.

Koch is known for spotting and developing young talent. He holds successful USL managing stints in Vancouver along with current club Cincinnati.


Follow the Bread Crumbs

Smart Bham BackLiners, take note: if one day not too far from now, you see a scrolling blurb on ESPN about FC Cincinnati being awarded the 26th franchise in MLS, just know that the likelihood of Alan Koch heading south to the Heart of Dixie just became very likely.

Is there a possibility that Koch is the first man to lead Legion FC’s club in the 2019 USL season? The answer is a resounding YES, but I will leave you with this video and a quick thought:

FC Cincinnati was able to build a true, passionate footballing atmosphere in the USL in under two years. The two coaches (Koch and John Harkes) that they had during that span are both very much in play for the head coaching position in Birmingham.

Jay Heaps is on a mission to build a successful franchise in the Magic City. If that doesn’t get you excited about 2019, I’m not sure what will.

Legion FC’s Next Big Decision: Head Coach

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!

Hammers Settle for Draw with Inter Nashville – A Fair Result

Riding high off of their season opening victory at the Atlanta Silverbacks last week, the Birmingham Hammers (1-1-0) welcomed Inter Nashville (1-1-0) to Sicard Hollow Athletic Complex on Saturday night. In front of a crowd of about 1,000 patrons, the two teams exchanged possession and pressure throughout the match, ultimately exchanging a pair of goals in the second half for the 1-1 result in the first leg of the I-65 Cup.

During the first 25-minutes of the match, the Hammers had a fair bit of possession. Early in the game, Right Back Gael Mabialas showcased his professional level speed up and down the touch line, making dashing overlapping runs deep into the heart of Nashville’s territory. Pressure came from the Hammers mainly on the right side, but only resulted in three shots.

Starting Attacking Midfielder Deandre Robinson left the match with an injury (ankle) in the 27th minute, and Inter Nashville took advantage of a Hammers midfield that was scrambling to recover from the loss of leadership and experience. Despite pushing full throttle for the last 20-minutes of the half, Inter Nashville could only put together one or two scoring opportunities. But none of their chances resulted in a goal.

Halftime adjustments were key for the Hammers and Inter Nashville. In the second half, the boys from the Music City seemed to double up on Mabialas, neutralizing his attacking effectiveness. However, the Hammers made adjustments of their own, and just six minutes into the second period, the Boys in Red earned a penalty. NPSL veteran Alex Brown calmly stepped up to the spot and buried the kick to give the Hammers the 1-0 lead (53rd minute). This successful penalty was Brown’s second goal of the season.

But the jubilation of the lead lasted only for a little while, as Inter earned a corner in the 69th minute that led to the tying goal. Inter Nashville’s 2nd-half substitute Greg Warden buried the chance off of the set piece.

For the remainder of the match, the Hammers played with their backs against the wall. Inter Nashville pressed to earn a second goal and steal a victory on the road. But fortunately for the team from the Magic City, Bradley Louis was controlling the box. Save after save tonight earned Bradley Louis the Birmingham Backline Man of the Match award. His leadership, awareness, and ability in the goal kept the Hammers in this match and ultimately helped the home team salvage the draw.

The Birmingham Hammers are sitting on 4 points after two NPSL matches, putting themselves in a tie for first in the division. Their next match is Saturday, May 20th at Chattanooga. They will be back in Birmingham on Memorial Day Weekend with a pair of friendlies against the Atlanta United U-18 team and the Chivas U-23 team. Check out birminghamhammers.com for ticket information and the latest news.