Assessing the Legion Roster

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

With the season getting ever closer (just 13 days until the Atlanta United friendly!), the Legion roster is beginning to fill out. There are currently 20 players signed, so it’s likely there are a few more coming. Still, the first team core is pretty much established at this point barring a surprise signing (which are happening all over the league right now, so it’s definitely possible).

The team’s website breaks the roster down into goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and forwards. That’s fine as far as it goes, but there are of course different kinds of defenders, midfielders and forwards. Moreover, some players can be slotted into more than one category, and in a few cases multiple positions within a category. With that in mind, here’s our detailed breakdown of what the club has available to it:

Goalkeepers: Matt van Oekel
Trevor Spangenberg
Centerbacks: Phanuel Kavita
Alex Crognale
Zach Herivaux
Jake Rufe
Fullbacks: Ryan James
Jonny Dean
Mikey Lopez
Thomas Vancaeyezeele
Jake Rufe
Defensive Midfielders: Anderson Asiedu
Thomas Vancaeyezeele
Zach Herivaux
Mikey Lopez
Marcos Ugarte
Wingbacks: Ryan James
Jonny Dean
Enzo Martinez
Matthew Corcoran
Attacking Midfielders: Marlon Santos
Bruno Lapa
Enzo Martinez
Prosper Kasim
Matthew Corcoran
Forwards: Edi Horvat
Macky Diop
Marlon Santos
Prosper Kasim

OK, that’s a lot to take in. First off, though, let’s review who the most versatile players on the team are.  In order, I would say those are Mikey Lopez, Enzo Martinez, Jonny Dean, Ryan James and Zach Herivaux. Mikey of course has played all over the pitch for the Legion over the years, although his strongest position is probably as a defensive mid masquerading as a winger. The inclusion of Enzo may surprise some of you, but he is in fact extremely flexible positionally. Last year the Charlotte Independence played largely in a 4-4-2, and Enzo played in every midfield position except left wing. That makes him very useful in a squad that could see a number of different formations if last year’s experience is anything to go by (and it may not be). Ryan and Jonny are included in the list as they can play as fullbacks or wingers interchangeably, albeit that those two positions are not greatly different. And Zach of course has been used by the Legion as a centerback in Alex’s absence last year but is best employed as a defensive mid.

So what does this suggest as far as a likely preferred formation would be? Well, in last week’s Hammering Down podcast Kaylor Hodges suggested that the roster looks built to be a 4-2-2-2. I was inclined to agree with him, but that was before the club drew Jonny Dean, Zach Herivaux and, to a lesser extent, Jake Rufe back into the fold. For me, that changed the dynamic somewhat.

Coach Tommy Soehn’s favored lineup is the 4-2-3-1. To me, this roster looks designed for that. It’s heavy on the back line and the attacking midfield line. The keys to that formation are fast fullbacks – and there’s none faster than Jonny – but more importantly the ability to play the double pivot.

Simply put, the double pivot is a two-man defensive midfield tasked with bolstering the defense as well as establishing the attack. Players in this role need to be very positionally aware and strong in possession. Anderson Asiedu is the archetypal player in this setup and he can easily be paired with any of Zach, Mikey or Thomas Vancaeyezeele. In some setups they play behind a high-performing number 10. The Three Sparks have one of those, and that is Bruno Lapa. This creates a midfield triangle to provide for optimum distribution of the ball. The three will also rotate on the triangle’s center, meaning that their relative positions will change constantly as the play moves around the field.

So in addition to the double pivot you also need to have a central attacking midfielder, which further suggests a three-man attacking midfield. On top of that, Tommy Soehn seems to have an aversion to using two forwards at the same time. Last season we almost never saw Neco Brett and Junior Flemmings on the pitch together. Right now it looks like we only have two true center forwards on the roster in Edi Horvat and Macky Diop. Marlon Santos and Prosper Kasim are more attacking midfielders than forwards, although I have listed them above as both.

What the roster also suggests to me is that we are unlikely to see the three-man back line used much this year, even though it was extremely successful in 2021. The roster doesn’t have the strength at centerback that it did. In fact, this is currently an area for some concern. With only two true centerbacks in Phanuel Kavita and Alex Crognale, an injury to either of them could seriously affect the defense. If there are more signings coming, I think one should be a quality centerback.

Lastly, a shoutout to John Morrisey of the USL Tactics Show. We haven’t really mentioned him at the Forge before, but John is the premier analytics guy for the entire league. He’s also on the USL Show with our own Kaylor Hodges. Just today he released an analysis of the Legion focussing on the defense ( I didn’t watch it before writing this post, honest!) and a couple of the new signees. This was also recorded before the Dean announcement, but it’s still very useful. He differs with me on one major point: he considers Marlon a true centerforward, which means the 4-2-2-2 would be a distinct possibility. In short, he rates the Legion very highly. Here’s the video:

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