Diving Deep: Detroit City 1-0 Birmingham Legion

Let's try to dig into the major problem here.

So far this season, the Legion has taken a respectable 84 shots. That’s good enough for 6th in the league. They have scored just 4 goals from those shots, tied with the Charleston Battery and Hartford Athletic (who have played one less game) for 24th and better only than the Baby Bulls. By the USL’s math, that’s a conversion rate of just 7%, better only than, again, the Baby Bulls.

Per American Soccer Analysis, the Three Sparks’ cumulative xG for the season is 9.02, more than double the actual tally, and 10th best in the league. The xG against, by the way is 5.98, 7th best in the league.

For this past game alone, the xG was 2.45. Detroit’s was just 0.83. On the basis of xG, the Legion should have won four games (losing only to Colorado Springs and Tampa Bay). The Legion outshot Detroit 16 to 7 total, and 5 to 2 on target. In their stadium. In miserable northern weather.

And yet they lost. Again.

Obviously, the problem is not defense. Granted, we have given a few silly goals that should not have happened, and Hoppenot’s strike is probably one of those. But defenses are never perfect. Errors will happen. There’s a reason baseball recognizes errors as a statistic, after all. No, the problem – and it is in fact a long-standing one that goes all the way back to 2019 – is scoring.

To be fair, we have faced a couple of goalkeepers who have stood on their heads. Detroit’s Nate Steinwascher is one of them. But we knew he was a quality shot stopper going into this game. Relying on keepers having an average day though is hardly a game plan. You have to plan for the best defense you expect to see.

Detroit’s defense was, in fact, highly organized all game, very much to their credit. Here’s the issue with that: we are allowing defenses to organize.

The problem, as I see it, it the system. That should be painfully obvious given that it is such an endemic condition. I have said this several times in these posts and I’ll say it again: the high press only works if you do it fast. If you allow the opponent adequate time to withdraw and organize, you essentially forfeit any advantage you may have had by getting possession high upfield. Let’s look at the Legion heatmap for the first half, in which the team was pretty dominant:

Playing from right to left, the Legion was entirely blocked out of the Detroit 18. Clearly, based on the red areas, they got stuck in zones 14 and 15. The second half was better, but not by too much, and for a good stretch of that half the Legion was chasing the game.

The stupid thing about this is that the Legion has plenty of speed, especially on the wings. Jonny Dean is a racehorse, as we all know, but Mikey Lopez is hardly a tortoise either. In this game, with the narrow field and wind assistance on one side of the field in both halves, speed on the wings could have been easily utilized. Of course, if Jonny Dean had sunk that nearly open goal attempt, this game would have ended very differently. But that was one of 4 big chances created and none of them were converted. All were stopped, one way or another.

The fact is, this could have been a Legion blowout. So should the Hartford game. So should the Tulsa game. Right now, the Legion should be at least 3-1-2, not 1-3-2.

So how to change it? Well, here are my suggestions, for what they are worth. Obviously, step 1 is to quit the slow buildup play. It doesn’t work. Never has. It just invites the defense to park the bus. Against Hartford we saw the team stretch the field on both axes, laterally and vertically – why can’t we do that all the time?

Step 2 is to tweak the formation. Yes, I know that the Legion has done this ad nauseam over the past season and a bit, but one option that as far as I can recall has not yet been properly tested is the 3-4-3 diamond. Keep the back line as is. Anderson Asiedu would be the pivot at the bottom of the diamond (although he has been showing some serious attacking chops lately he is a great defensive mid). Also keep Jonny and Mikey on the wings. It also gives you 4 players in attack. If you are playing against a 3-man back line you have the advantage, against 4 you are at least on even terms, and you aren’t going to see a 5-man line too often. Well, that is, if you play fast and don’t allow wingers to get back into the defense.

Step 3 is to change the attacking lineup. Bruno Lapa should be the first choice starter at attacking mid, no question. It is quite baffling to me why he is not the automatic starter. Then you change the front three. Enzo Martinez can play either on the left or the right as needed. Juan Agudelo is the clear first choice at striker (although he didn’t do so well in Detroit at that position). And that gives you a range of options for the third man. As of now, Prosper Kasim is getting the nod. But frankly, Marlon is a better option. He’s faster, can use both feet and seems to know how to create chances. First option off the bench should be Edi Horvat. His absence for this game remains shrouded in mystery, but he is definitely a far superior player to Macky Diop.

That’s my 2¢ worth. Once more – let’s use our speed. It’s not as if we are playing Subbuteo here.

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