Diving Deep: Birmingham Legion 0-0 Las Vegas Lights

Three straight games without a goal. Six games total without a goal. Out of 11 games played. Frankly, this is getting absurd.

The Legion’s aggregate xG this season is now 16.12, 12th best in the league, and not far off the top 8. 4th in shots taken. 3rd worst in goals scored. 2nd worst in shot conversion.

Defense is not a problem, by and large. A few silly errors aside, the team is not giving up goals. Only twice this season has the Legion allowed more than 1 goal (2 against Colorado Springs and 3 against FC Tulsa, and the 3rd was with an open net). They have 3 clean sheets.

Over and over, the same issue is coming up. Why can the Three Sparks not score?

Well, one problem is that the chances taken are low probability. It’s all very well to be taking a ton of shots. The law of averages suggest that a few are going to go in. But if the shots attempted all have a poor chance of finishing, that law goes out the window. For the season, the team’s xG per shot is just 0.101, 6th lowest in the league. For this game, it was just 0.856 (1.54/18). Here’s the Legion shot map for this game:

The good news is that only 7 of the 18 shots were from outside the penalty area. But another 6 were from fairly long distances anyway. Now compare it to this:

That’s the heatmap for the Las Vegas goalkeeper and back 4. As you can see, they were crowding the box. By the way, keeper Tomas Romero, in addition to being a pretty good shotstopper, is also a sneaky character. Late in the game I was beside his goal taking pics and every time the ball went out of the bounds he told the ballkid right there “Just drop it.” Which is to say, he was trying to get the kid involved in his timewasting tactics. Fortunately, the kid in question was completely confused by the instructions.

Much the same thing happened in the last home game against Miami. I’ve noted before that the Legion press is too slow. The press, in and of itself, is great. But at the same time you have to be in a position to overload the defense. If you give them time to recover and reorganize, they are going to be able to keep you out. The defense becomes essentially the live play equivalent of a free kick wall. It’s a recurring issue and it has to be fixed.

However, it’s not as if the Three Sparks seem to intend to play that way. Indeed, every game they tend to come out of the gates all guns blazing for 15 minutes, and then back off for the next 20 minutes or so and finally finish the half in another mad flurry. And then they do the same thing in the second half. A weird flow to the game. If you are going to play the press you really afford to let the foot off the gas and give the opposition time to rest.

Another issue is who is taking the shots. Unsurprisingly, Prosper Kasim is leading the team with 20 shots, followed by Marlon on 18. But 3rd is Anderson Asiedu on 17. The vast majority of Ando’s shots are from long distance. Looked at another way, the team’s leader in shooting is Edi Horvat. Edi has 4 shots in 128 minutes. That’s 1 every 34.5 minutes and easily the best on the roster. Prosper, by comparison, is shooting once every 44.9 minutes, which is to say, once a half.

Is this a plea for Edi to get more playing time? Well, yes, it is. And if Juan Agudelo can play with the same intensity he showed in this game, we need more of him too. Those are two big physical guys who can really mess up a defense, especially when you throw in Edi’s speed (Juan not so much).

A lack of speed is not the Legion’s only problem. Frankly, things would be great if that were the case. I think there are several issues that need to be resolved and I’ll be covering those in another piece later this week. But for now I’ll leave you with this: speed kills. Opponents, that is.

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