Diving Deep: Louisville City 1-1 Birmingham Legion

A hard-fought stalemate

Let’s start off on a complete tangent. What if I told you that the Legion’s penalty kick drama was not the most contentious PK shenanigans of the weekend? If you watched the Portland Timbers-Seattle Sounders game on Sunday, you’ll already know the answer. Watch the first few minutes of this video to find out. The first kick was an illegal save by Stefan Frei in exactly the same way that Chris Hubbard’s was, except that he was much closer to the goal line and the referee had to resort to VAR to decide on a retake. Then Diego Valeri hits the goalpost and knocks the rebound in, thinking he has scored, but is overruled because the kicker can’t play the ball unless someone else has touched it (usually the keeper). But the PK should have been taken a third time, because a Seattle defender clearly encroached before the kick was taken. That Valeri didn’t know that part of the PK rule though was pretty embarrassing.

You may also remember that Hubbard was cautioned on the play. However, that was not for coming off his line. The rule for that is that the goalkeeper gets shown the yellow card only if he does it a second time. The card was actually for some rather muted dissent (he gave the ref an obviously ironic thumbs up).

That aside, the major conclusion to take from this game is that the Legion is not yet playing up to the standard they are capable of achieving. And yes, I realize that they were playing against the strongest team in the division. But the game should not have been as lopsided as it was.

Statistically, the Three Sparks were thoroughly outplayed. They had just 41% possession, their passing was a rather lowly 71% accurate (as compared with Louisville’s 82%) and they were outshot 12 to 9. And of those 9, only 2 were on target. Louisville in contrast forced Matt van Oekel into making 5 saves. Moreover, they were playing on the back foot much of the game. Here’s the Legion heatmap:

In this image, the Legion is playing from right to left. There is some penetration into the LouCity goal, but not a great deal. That the biggest red blob is right over their team’s own goal is an indication of how busy MvO was on the afternoon. By contrast, here’s Louisville:

That open area in front of the Birmingham goal shows that they decided to play wide. A rather simple game plan: instead of going through the defense, they tried to go around it. What is odd, though, is that this map also suggests that they opted to attack Jonny Dean on the Legion right flank more than Ryan James on the left. That was probably a mistake, as Dean is clearly the more mobile, and James did not have a very good game all told. Even so, Dean and James combined for just 7 defensive actions. Going a step further, the entire back line accounted for 0 blocked shots, which is not good. Of the four of them, the most active was newcomer Ben Ofeimu who racked up 2 tackles, a whopping 7 clearances and 2 interceptions. In his Legion debut (stepping in for Alex Crognale), he impressed.

Let’s take a look at the shooting for both teams:

As you can see, the Legion managed just two shots from inside the penalty area. All but one of Louisville’s were inside the 18. That says a lot about how this game went.

One more graphic to consider. This one shows the average positions for both teams:

In some ways this one is the most concerning. Louisville was playing a 4-4-2. You can more or less see that in the average positions the players generated, although it’s not as clear as it often is. The Legion was set up in its traditional 4-2-3-1, and I defy you to figure that out from the graphic. Note especially how congested the attacking midfield and striker are. Then check how much further back Jonny Dean (#24) is than his counterpart, the excellent Jonathan Gomez (#42). He’s also very deep into the middle of the field. Dean is a key component of the Birmingham attack and he was completely stonewalled. Granted, he’s more advanced than Ryan James (#7), but not by much. But the real issue is how disorganized this looks. Night and day from the Indy Eleven game, where the Legion were almost military in maintaining formation, and that despite having evident communication issues. Was it that Louisville took them out of their game so completely, or was there some internal breakdown? If the latter, then there is a problem that needs to be fixed fast.

Fortunately, the team has a scrimmage game this weekend, so they can work on those issues.

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