Diving Deep: Birmingham Legion 0-0 The Miami FC

Sometimes the best result is no result

Some of the most entertaining games I’ve ever watched have resulted in no-score draws. That of course runs counter to the American understanding of sports, but hey, it’s not called the beautiful game for nothing. And theoretically, of you have two evenly matched teams, then 0-0 should be the most likely result, right?

This game qualifies as one of those games, especially the second half. There were just 7 shots on goal (although the Legion’s 4 may be a bit understated given a deflection or two) and each team managed just 1 big chance (both of them late too). And yet it was a great game to watch.

The first half was pretty much a complete stalemate. Both teams entered the game playing a 4-2-3-1, so it was pretty much head-to-head. They combined for just 7 shots in the half. Miami had 5 of those, but only 2 were on target and both of those from distance. One of them required a good save from Matt van Oekel though (from Florian Valot about 25 minutes in). The two teams basically cancelled each other out in a very solid display of defensive soccer.

This is perhaps best viewed graphically by comparing each team’s heatmap for the half:

Not that it makes much difference but the Legion is on the left, Miami on the right, each team playing towards the middle of the graphic. A complete lack of attacking penetration anywhere. Also of note is the fact that the play seems tilted to the Legion’s right side, which would favor the Three Sparks’ stronger fullback, namely Jonny Dean, who was our Man of the Match (at least as far as the Legion is concerned; Miami keeper Connor Sparrow has a good case for the overall honors). But neither he nor Ryan James on the other side was able to get deep. At all.

Basically, neither team’s game plan was working. And so at half time Tommy Soehn pulled the old switcheroo. He took Ryan James out and put Zach Herivaux in. Zach became a single pivot and Anderson Asiedu and Mikey Lopez moved up into the midfield. Technically, they didn’t truly change the formation until Jake Rufe came on for a very tired Bruno Lapa, but to all intents and purposes the Three Sparks moved to a 4-1-4-1 for the entire second half. The result of that change was an immediate increase in offensive pressure that ended up producing 9 shots, of which 4 were on frame. In Tommy’s own words, “we wanted to really push the game.” Other than not finding the net, that was successful.

The change had two effects. First, the second half was played much deeper into the Miami half. Legion was applying considerable pressure and the Miami back line was definitely feeling it. Second, with 4 men in the attacking midfield the game was played much wider. In fact, other than Ando, in the second half the Legion more or less avoided the middle of the pitch, with Mikey moving out wide left. So whereas the first half was a two-sided defensive display, the second was to a great extent the Legion taking shooting practice.

In the end, finishing still eludes the Legion. There were several chances they didn’t take, and Prosper’s late chance should have been taken off his right foot. That’s frustrating, of course (but less so than the refereeing decisions) and continues to be an area the Legion needs to fix. On the other hand, they held a very good team at bay. Now we wait to see what they can do against a Pittsburgh Riverhounds team without Dane Kelly.

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