Diving Deep: Birmingham Legion 6-1 Loudoun United

The high sophistication of all-out attack

I’m not sure if 30 shots is the most the Legion have attempted in a game. If not, then it’s damn close. I do know this though: that’s not the most shots by a USL Championship team this season. In fact, it wasn’t even the most Wednesday evening. At the same time that the Legion were pouring it on here in the Magic City, the Rio Grande Valley Toros managed to rack up 32 shots in their game.

Of those 32 shots, 8 were on frame. Their opponent was limited to a miserable 2 shots in the game, and only 1 on target. That shot was a mere 36 seconds into the game, and it’s as if they immediately gave up after that. So, you would expect a similar kind of result to the Legion’s, right?

Well, if you don’t already know, that game shockingly ended 0-0. Which is a reflection not just of the Toros’ ineffectiveness this season, but also of the quality of the goalkeeper they were facing, who personally stopped all 8 shots on target and most of them in impressive fashion. His name is Yannik Oettl. You can watch the game highlights here.

Why is this important? Well, Oettl plays for Hartford Athletic. As in, the Legion’s next opponent. Away. This Saturday.

Before going any further, Loudoun’s Joe Rice is not a bad goalkeeper. His back line let him down, not to mention hanging him out to dry with three stone cold penalty calls. He made 5 saves against the Legion, which on any ordinary night is a really good performance. Wednesday, obviously, was not an ordinary night.

The Legion game plan was pretty simple. Ram it down their throats and don’t stop until the final whistle. And the hell with defense. Here’s the heatmap:

The Legion are playing from left to right here. Only 3 field players averaged inside their own half (Phanny, Alex and Ando) and none in the defensive third. Most notable is the big angry red blob all over the Loudoun penalty area. Don’t see that too often in a Legion game. You will also notice that the play leans heavily to the Legion right. That’s hardly untypical, and Jonny Dean in particular had his racing cleats on. What was a bit different though is that Marlon was playing at striker instead of right attacking mid in front of Jonny. Marlon did drift right on occasion, but overall he averaged dead center of the pitch.

And that is in part why the red area stops dead in its tracks on the right side at the Loudoun 18 yard line. In the entire game the Legion attempted just 1 open play cross from outside the 18. It didn’t connect, by the way. Frankly, the team weas playing Route 1, but remembered their driving lessons and stayed on the right side of the road. Mostly.

In front of Jonny was Prosper in this game with, I presume, the intention of utilizing his left foot to get inswinging balls into the box. But Prosper spent most of his time trying to carry the ball into more central positions before handing it off. That may have a lot to do with his substitution at half time. HIs replacement was Mataeo Bunbury, who seemed much more willing to try to use the wing. It still didn’t work all that well. The Legion is very reticent to put the ball in the air. A relic of Tommy Soehn’s indoor soccer days? Maybe, but still odd, especially considering that it has more than enough big targets this season for aerial crosses to aim at.

Overall, though, the plan worked. It does have its risks, of course. The sole Loudoun goal resulted from a fast counterattack that caught too many Legion defenders out of position. It was still a 2v3 situation for Loudoun, but that was enough. The play was something of a fluke compounded by an error. The ball was touched by just 3 Loudoun players in the sequence, and only 2 of those intentionally. The play started with the ball bouncing off the back of Loudoun defender’s head (Hayden Sargis, I think) from a long-range shot by Enzo. It fell to Skage Lehland, who made a long pass to Kristian Fletcher who took from there, including getting Jonny Dean turned the wrong way.

With a team as weak as Loudoun, that level of risk is acceptable. With a better team, not so much.

And that is the big question for this weekend. Hartford Athletic is just 2 points better than Loudoun from 1 additional game, and has obvious problems scoring, both at home and on the road. Defensively, they aren’t all that bad, and have a good goalkeeper (he’s from Germany, by the way, where goalkeeping is an art form. No, strike that, it’s Germany. It’s a science). So, limited risk of conceding, above average but not spectacular chance of scoring, away from home. Do the Legion go with a similar game plan or do something else entirely? They do tend to play differently away, that is, rather more conservatively. Is it time to change that up? We’ll find out tomorrow.

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