Game Report: Birmingham Legion 1-2 Memphis 901
Hey, we had a scrimmage!
Being a soccer referee is largely a thankless task. The same could be said of referees in any sport I suppose. Still, from time to time it has its rewards. One of those came up late Friday afternoon in my inbox, inviting all local referees to watch a scrimmage at Birmingham-Southern College on Saturday between the Legion and those guys up north who can’t cook barbecue and think a number is a name.
This was of course a surprise as I had no idea the team had any plans ahead of the game this coming Sunday against Atlanta United. There will also be a closed-door match against NISA team Chattanooga FC on March 6th, by the way. Anyway, this gave myself and a couple of dozen other refs who happened not to be on duty to check out Legion 4.0. Well 4.0 beta at this stage, I guess.
I did keep a running commentary going on Twitter through the game. As a result I have one correction to make: I identified one player as Macky Diop. It turns out it was a trialist (I have been asked not to reveal names of trialists) who happens to look a fair bit like him from a distance. That fits with the information I was given that most of the team’s forwards are still out of the country with visa issues. As it turns out, the only one currently available is Edi Horvat, and he only arrived in Birmingham on Friday. Prosper Kasim, Marlon Santos and Macky Diop were all unavailable.
So, it was a bit of a makeshift squad that took the field. In the first half it was mostly first team players with a couple of trialists thrown in. The lineup was a 4-2-3-1 – Tommy Soehn’s go-to formation – and comprised (as best I can remember) Matt van Oekel, Ryan James, Phanuel Kavita, Alex Crognale, Jonny Dean, Thomas Vancaeyezeele, Anderson Asiedu, Mikey Lopez, Enzo Martinez and two trialists at left wing and striker.
The team went immediately into a high press and was pretty successful with it. But the deadlock was broken when Enzo Martinez was fouled just outside the box. He proceeded to take the free kick himself and buried it. The high press continued after that and several good chances were created but without further scoring. Memphis then made it interesting by managing to earn a red card (I couldn’t see the foul that earned it). Since it was a scrimmage they were allowed to replace him and evened the score thanks to a defensive error. And so it was all square at the break.
In the second half things changed up a bit. Bruno Lapa came on and Enzo Martinez moved up top. Also in were Eli Crognale, Zach Herivaux, Jake Rufe and Trevor Spangenberg. Jonny Dean was replaced by a trialist, the trialist at right wing switched sides and another trialist replaced Phanuel Kavita. Being thin in defense resulted in a second Memphis goal – the trialist was at times on his own at the back – and that was ultimately the final score. Another Memphis player nearly got a red card for foul language loud enough that everyone in the stadium could hear it, but the ref apparently took pity on him. Midway through the half though, Edi Horvat came on for Enzo Martinez and Matthew Corcoran subbed for Anderson Asiedu. All told, as far as I can tell, every Legion player in town got to play. Edi made a quick impact up top, including a very nice pass to Eli Crognale who was prevented from tieing it up by a very good save by the Memphis keeper (Jake Gelnovatch that half, I believe). Zach Herivaux also gave us all some worry when he needed medical attention on the field, but he was able to continue.
So the Legion lost the game on a couple of defensive slip-ups. Not too bad of an issue at this stage of the preseason, and those were in fact the only two real chances Memphis created. The Legion had quite a few chances, but failed to capitalize. That’s much as last season, of course, but also attributable to the lack of forwards in the game. Nevertheless, we did get to see a few things and here are my observations.
The high press
The high press is pretty much what the 4-2-3-1 is designed to do, but we haven’t seen the Legion use it to its best advantage all that often. Saturday the play was extremely aggressive, however, and that bodes well for the coming season. If nothing else, it provides for exciting soccer to watch. It can of course lead to exposure at the back, but the return of the speedy Jonny Dean means that this is less of a risk than it might otherwise be. That’s also why you have top notch centerbacks, which the Legion does.
Enzo came to Birmingham with a championship in mind, and Saturday’s performance suggests he really means it. He was commanding from the get-go and every bit as intense as we have seen from him before as opponents. He is a serious pick-up for the Three Sparks. He’s going to kick it up a notch.
Given that he was probably still suffering from jet lag not much can be said about the 25 minutes or so he played. However, he was strong up top and appears to be very comfortable with his back to goal. Doubtless we will see a lot more of him this coming weekend.
A 15-year-old in a 25-year-old body. And a big 25-year-old at that. HIs play was perhaps the most pleasing part of the entire scrimmage. Far from being overwhelmed by professional players at a level he’s never played at before, he frequently outmuscled them. He is confident on the ball and in passing it too. Oh, and he can jump. The big question: who drives him to practice?
Of the bunch, the one who most impressed me most was the winger who played both sides. He was small, but fast and could cross the ball well. The striker I mistook for Macky Diop was OK, and based on his size looked like a potential JJ Williams replacement. The defender looked good (and is impressing the coaches if what I was told is accurate). As to who the three guys are, I have honestly no idea, and so I can’t reveal them to you even if I wanted to. But what this does mean is that the Legion roster is far from complete at this point and that we will likely see some more new faces this season.
Ant that’s it. Other than the scoreline, it was a successful afternoon. Let’s see how far the team progresses in a week’s time!