Diving Deep: The Miami FC 0-1 Birmingham Legion

Our magic is better than their magic.

The breakthrough was a long time coming, but in the end the ever reliable Neco Brett broke the deadlock and the Legion came home triumphant. Margaritas and piña coladas all around on the plane. In two games in South Florida Brett has scored three times, and the Legion has come away with all 6 points and an aggregate score of 5-0.

The Three Sparks should take vacations more often.

Overall though, this was an extremely tight game. In fairness, The Miami FC of 2021 is a much improved team over their rookie season last year, and it showed. The final score may have been just the one goal, but as far as neutral fans should be concerned, this was highly entertaining soccer. And it was aired on national television to boot, so the USL and ESPN Deportes should have been very pleased with what turned out to be quite a showcase.

It was a defensive battle at both ends. Miami in fact had the better penetration for most of the match, Consider the combined heatmap:

Birmingham is playing right to left, so there is definitely more play in the Legion end. Penetration into the opposition 18 was about even, although the graphic tends to suggest otherwise. The big red blob over the Three Sparks penalty area is primarily their own defense. Here’s the heatmap for just van Oekel and the back three of Kavita, Alex Crognale and Herivaux:

None of the three defenders crossed the halfway line much. The only reason there is that lonely green blob in Miami’s box is because the Legion racked up a whopping 10 corners in the game (as compared with Miami’s 2). You get your big bodies in the box for those. Indeed, Crognale had 2 shots on target, both from inside that blob. Kavita also had a shot, but off target.

At their own end, the Legion back three combined for 6 tackles, 10 clearances, 2 blocked shots and 3 interceptions. That’s more than journeyman work. As a result, only 5 of Miami’s hefty 20 shots were on target, and only a couple of those really challenged van Oekel, who ended the game with yet another donut to his name. He it tied with Charlotte’s Brandon Miller for the league lead in that stat with 4 apiece, and is also second in total saves with 35 behind San Diego’s Trey Muse on 40.

Offensively, the big names on both teams struggled all evening. Yes, Miami had 20 shots and the Legion also were no slouches with 12, but finishing was an issue for everyone. Per FotMob, neither team generated any big chances, and the xG was also low: 1.30 for Miami and 1.03 for Birmingham. Miami’s 4-man back line put up very similar numbers to their counterparts.

And so it came down to just the one score. And a beautiful goal it was too. It happened just 6 minutes after coach Soehn made the key substitution, bringing on the fresh legs of Jaden Servania for Junior Flemmings, who had pretty much worked himself to death. Also key was probably Paul Dalglish pulling right back Richard Ballard and replacing him with Robert Kcira just minutes after Servania came on. Fresh legs again, but it can take a few minutes for a defender to play himself into a game. As a result, Servania was able to burn both him and Junior Palacios on the Legion left wing and feed a ball into the box that JJ Williams craftily nutmegged himself on (for the second time this season already), leaving it for Brett to slot home.

Organizationally, this was another outing for the 3-4-3 and it worked rather better this time. Possibly because the Legion coaching staff pay attention to this blog. In the last edition of this series, we noted our opinion that a diamond 4 midfield was the way to go with this formation. Well, here are the average positions for the game:

As can be seen, we have Bruno Lapa (#8) in an advanced position and Anderson Asiedu (#6) in a defensive one. The only difference between our suggestion and this lineup is Herivaux instead of Ofeimu, and that’s pretty much a toss-up decision. Asiedu added 7 defensive plays to the back line’s 21 and still got 2 shots in.

That’s not to say that this was entirely successful. Indeed, given the overall run of play, the Legion midfield was in a titanic battle all game. Here is the passing grid for Lapa, Jonny Dean and Ryan James (who by the way also had a great defensive game):

As to be expected, they were largely stuck in the middle third of the field. But even with that, wing play, especially on the left, proved troublesome. And between them they got just four successful passes into the Miami 18.

So, far fans of defensive play this was a particularly enjoyable contest. And in the end, the Black and Gold Magic was victorious.

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