Diving Deep: Birmingham Legion 1-2 FC Tulsa

Some hard truths

I’ll admit that I took a long time to get around to this post. In part I was too mad. In another part I was too disappointed. In yet another I was…<insert negative emotion here>. You get the picture. Moreover, it was a tough one to analyze.

Statistically, the Legion should have stomped all over Tulsa. 54% possession, 20-6 in shooting (8-3 on target). xG of 2.40 to 0.82, 21-8 in chances created. Look where the game was played:

Birmingham playing left to right in this graphic. Parked in the Tulsa end, basically. And of those 20 shots? 14 were inside the penalty area, way above average for the team. And yet, with all that, per fotmob.com, the Three Sparks generated just one big chance. What on earth went wrong?

Well, if you set the ongoing absence of Bruno Lapa aside (he has a sports hernia), there were probably three areas for concern. Let’s examine the easiest one first.

Fatigue

I had hoped that after a stretch of 5 games in 15 days an 8-day break between games would have been enough. Apparently not. Overall, the team looked tired. This was especially true in the early going of the second half, during which period the best best descriptor I can come up with is listless. Utterly lacking in energy. It took a second Tulsa goal to get the Legion out of first gear. 10 of those 20 shots came in the final 30 minutes of the game. Will another 6 days off be enough to face Louisville City? We shall see.

Confusion

AKA, too much tweaking. The Legion came out with yet another lineup change and a formation change to boot. By my count, Birmingham has played at least 6 different formations over 19 games. This one is difficult to assess. The team announced it as a 4-3-3. The USL match page has it as a 3-4-3. But the average positions played suggest it was a 3-5-2:

So what was it supposed to be? Hard to say. What is certain though is that it didn’t work as planned. And what was the late substitution all about? Up to that point all the substitutions had been attacking in nature, taking out defenders for a winger, an attacking mid and a striker. But why replace Thomas Vancaeyezeele with Ben Ofeimu with three minutes left in regulation and the team chasing a goal? That makes little sense. For that matter, why was Ofeimu on the bench when Phanuel Kavita was out? The two are practically clones.

Checking through the formation changes (and assuming this game was a 4-3-3), the Legion has played 4 different formations with 4 at the back, and 2 with 3 at the back. The 4-man back line has a record of 4-4-3, the 3-man line has 6-2-0. Most notably, the 3-5-2 has been used 3 times for a record of 3-0-0. Including a win over Tulsa. Which may indicate why this game didn’t look like the way it was presented. We’ve probably seen the last of the 4-2-3-1 though; that formation is just 1-3-1. What seems clear at least is that this team does not perform well with a 4-man defensive setup.

I get that being predictable is not optimal. But constant changes aren’t optimal either. Coach Soehn needs to find the happy medium.

Motivation

So how much of that listlessness was fatigue? Or was some of it a lack of desire? I think that the answer is a fair amount, and in fact far too much. A win would have seen the Legion cut the deficit with Louisville City to just 4 points – especially with them coming to town the following week – and increase the lead over Tulsa to 11 points. Instead the gaps are 7 and 5. A huge opportunity was squandered. The team – and I include the coaching staff in that – should have been thoroughly energized and should have shown it from the first whistle.

That needs to change, and it needs to change NOW.

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