Diving Deep: Birmingham Legion 3-1 Austin Bold

Dejà vu all over again

“Never **** with a winning streak.”

Yes, for once, the Birmingham Legion’s brains trust took the advice of Crash Davis and…changed almost nothing.

This game was almost eerily similar to Sunday’s win over Indy Eleven, and I don’t mean just the scoreline. The formation was the same, the lineup was tweaked just a bit (likely for rest reasons), the high press was executed, the early Legion score was canceled out by a somewhat lucky late first half goal (some would say illegitimate goal in this case, but I’m not so sure of that), only to be fixed by two good goals in the second half, one of which embarrassed the opposing keeper, Neco Brett scored, and Crognale scored. Oh, I guess something did change…

Some things changed, of course. Like the ticket price, the hot dog price and the beer price. And, happily, the number of fans, who I am fairly sure were much more numerous than on Sunday (kudos to everyone for turning out on a midweek night, by the way).

All told, it was a very good day for the Three Sparks. The day started with excellent weather. Always need to point that out. Then came a new Power Rankings release with the Legion now at #1, thanks to a slip by the Tampa Bay Rowdies and the extension of the Legion win streak to 4 (now at 5, of course). Then came the game, which clinched the team’s first ever home field playoff game. Then, just minutes after that ended, Memphis 901 did Birmingham a major solid by beating Louisville City 2-1, thus propelling the good guys into first place in the Central Division.

And that last is big. If the Legion can maintain that position, it will put them in the opposite half of the playoff bracket to Tampa Bay. That alone is key, but the chances of a second home field playoff just got better. Right now, the Legion would face The Miami FC in the quarterfinals, then Pittsburgh Riverhounds (who can currently pass the Legion in points) or Memphis 901 (who can’t) in the semis. If Area Code FC comes back can we move to Legion Field again?

All the Legion has to do is keep winning. Easy enough, right?

Back to this game: the Legion ran with the 4-2-3-1 again, and again placed Ryan James in an attacking position. Then they came out shooting. 4 shots in the first 5 minutes, in fact. They slowed up a tad after that, ending with 14 shots in the game, rather fewer than the 23 logged on Sunday, but still well above average. 5 were on target, which means that Austin had just 2 saves in the game. Both were by Elliot Panicco in the early going, which means that his half-time replacement, Hugo Fauroux made none on top of getting gloriously nutmegged by Neco Brett. Trevor Spangenberg on the other hand got the start again, and once more proved his worth with 4 saves, 3 of which were superb.

As stated, they ran with a high press again. Take a look at this:

These are the Legion heatmaps from the past two games, with the Legion playing from left to right. Care to guess which is which? Here’s a hint: the high press was slightly less advanced this time around. Not by much though.

Either way, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it was obviously the order of the day.

Here’s another important statistic. Check this chart:

The green line is the average goals per game at every point in the season. As is blatantly obvious, the line has been improving almost without interruption. The Legion is currently at 45 total goals. That’s 12th in the league, not spectacular, but still good at 1.55 goals per game. But here’s the kicker: because the line is rising, that means the team is scoring more. Over the 5-game win streak, the 13 goals scored average to 2.6 goals per game, more than a goal better than the season average. In contrast, the red line is the average goals the Legion has allowed at every in the season (the total is 30, tied for 3rd best in the league). It started off at 1 (that infamous Indy Eleven game), dipped a little for a while (all those donuts helped) before recovering and eventually flattening out around 1 again about game 16. The average allowed is currently 1.03, and has been exceeded by the average scored ever since game 6. And the gap has been steadily widening. The average for the past 5 games is 0.60, for a current spread of exactly 2.

That obviously is yet more good news.

Oh, in case you were wondering: the Austin game is on the left.

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