Diving Deep: Birmingham Legion 1-1 OKC Energy

Two points wasted

There’s quite a bit to unpack from this less than stellar outing. Apart from the fact that a game that should have been a win ended up as a weakly earned draw, there is a fair amount to observe from how the result came about.

Most significantly, both goals came from defensive errors. The error on Mikey Lopez’ goal is obvious, and C.J. Cochran was justifiably roasted by the Magic City Brigade, immediately in front of whom he decided to make his egregious fumble. The error on the OKC goal, scored by Villyan Bijev, was rather less obvious, but possibly worse. Let’s take a closer look.

To start with, Bijev is essentially OKC’s only real scoring threat. He’s now on 11 goals for the season; no other player on the team has more than 2. So it makes some sense to focus on him.  Did the Legion do that right? Well, here’s the start of the sequence in the penalty area:

Other than Bijev, there is only one other OKC attacker inside the 18, Jaime Chavez. Hiroki Kurimoto is slowly moving into the 18 across the penalty arc, and out of frame to the bottom right Zachary Ellis-Hayden is also moving in, but he is completely out of the play. Bijev has just muscled Jonny Dean off the ball, and Dean is looking to the ref for a foul. So the Legion is in a 4-on-2 defensive position. Except that Dean is effectively out of the play, and Ben Ofeimu, Phanuel Kavita and Ryan James are all clustered around Chavez. At this point Bijev is free to move at will.

Going forward a couple of seconds:

Dean is back on his feet and attempting to move back into the play. Thomas Vancaeyezeele has also come into the box to put some pressure on Bijev from behind. Similarly, Ofeimu has rightly opted to leave Chavez alone and press Bijev from the front. James is covering Kurimoto. Anderson Aseidu is also moving in, but too late. With Chavez not really involved, it’s still a 4-on-23 situation. So far all of this looks OK. But there’s one problem. Not to single him out, but Kavita has also left Chavez and is tracking to cover the goal. That would be a good move, if not for one thing, which is more easily seen in this shot:

What is not so clear from the side angle is very much so from behind the goal. He is blocking Trevor Spangenberg’s view of the play. Both of them are tracking to their left and Trevor is valiantly trying to stay ahead of him. But Kavita is a big rock to peer around. At this point Trevor barely has a view of the ball, which is about 10 yards out – 2 yards closer than the penalty spot – and moving fast. He has no chance to stop it.

That was 39 minutes into what was a very unimpressive first half from the Three Sparks. They took just 2 shots in the half, both from a fair distance out, and for most of the half were on the down side of possession. They ended the game on equal terms in that last stat, and racked up 14 shots in the second half. But again, all the shots on target (just 5) were from distance, especially the goal, which was from way outside the 18. Here’s a comparison of the two halves:

This shows the heatmaps from the first half (on the left) and second half. The Legion are working from left to right in both graphics. The combined heatmap for the two teams shows that for a good chunk of the game the Energy were in fact on the back foot, and that they largely failed to get penetration into the final third. If not for one mistake, that is.

The Legion were playing a 4-3-3 again. As we have noted several times, this has been a less than optimally successful formation, as have all 4-man back line formations this season. This time, I don’t think we can fault Coach Soehn too much. Alex Crognale was not in the 18 for the game, and apparently Jake Rufe is not regarded well enough to fill his position. Vancaeyezeele can play defender, but is hardly the giant that Alex is. So the more reliable 3-man back line was not really an option. Depth is one thing, but when that depth is almost entirely in the midfield (and in goal), it’s much less of a strength than at first glance.

Not sure what Crognale’s issue was, but hopefully he will be back to action tonight. We shall see very soon.

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