Diving Deep: Birmingham Legion 1-2 Detroit City

From a complete performance to a complete mess

At this point, I would normally have published the player ratings. For this one, I just couldn’t. To say the team underperformed would be euphemistic in the extreme.  As for in-depth analysis, Wednesday evening was such a 180° turn from Saturday that it’s almost impossible to know where to start. But we’ll give it the old college try.

When the lineup was announced, with Juan Agudelo, Mikey Lopez and Zach Herivaux on the bench and Jake Rufe, Anderson Asiedu and Ryan James starting, I figured the formation would likely be a 3-4-3. I anticipated a back line of Jake, Phanny and Alex. That’s because I would not expect much fullback speed out of jake in his first start back from extended injury. Consequently, I also expected Jonny and Ryan at wingback positions, with Ando at the defensive center mid position and Bruno in front of him, leaving Marlon, Prosper as attacking mids and Enzo up top. That struck me as the most obvious way to deploy that lineup give its strengths, but also because we were going to see Detroit in a 3-4-3.

What we actually got was this:

If anything, that looks like a 4-4-2, and in fact when on defense that’s mostly what we got. However, it was published as the same 4-3-3 that worked so well the past 2 games. Oddly, Ryan was shown as the attacking left mid, with Enzo behind him and Marlon as the striker. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, and it really didn’t play that way. Let’s break it down a bit.

First, you can clearly see that Jake (#13) is nowhere near as advanced as Jonny (#24). That being said, Jake only played the first 45, and if you compare them on that basis only he was more or less as mobile as Jonny, if not a little more advanced. Which is very good news for Jake and for the team long term. However, their passing chart for that half is not such good news:

Between them, just one unsuccessful ball into the Detroit box. And mostly stuck in the middle third of the field. And absolutely no crosses. It wasn’t until the second half, when the game changed dramatically, that we saw any of those. Jonny pumped 6 balls into the 18, 3 of them finding a target.

Back to the positioning: Ando (#6) is exactly where you would expect him to be. Ditto for Bruno (#8), although he is perhaps a little more withdrawn than you might expect (then again, the whole team was). But the remaining front 4 is a different story. Here’s the problem: Ryan (#7) is not exactly in a left wing position, to put it mildly. Prosper (#10) is not in a right wing position. Marlon (#11) is more or less where he should be. Now, those very central positions for Ryan and Prosper are not that much out of place, strategically speaking. Remember that we have been playing the old switcheroo with Marlon and Prosper and it has worked incredibly well. But Marlon is right-footed. Ryan and Prosper are both lefties. The strategy makes little sense with them.

That leaves Enzo (#19), who is way out of position. In fact, for the game he played way over to the right, slightly more so in the second half, but also in the first. But so did Bruno, and they were practically tripping over each other. Their personal heatmaps don’t show a great deal of difference. Even if there were, they are crowding the right side.

Organizationally, then, it was an ugly mess. It got better in the second half when Juan and Mikey came in, making the team closer to we saw what we had seen against San Diego. To an extent, it worked. In attack, the Legion had managed just 5 shots in the first half and only 1 on target (Detroit didn’t do any better, thankfully). They added 13 in the second half and 5 on target while limiting Detroit to just 3 (but 2 on target, both finding the net of course).Indeed, Detroit’s xG for the game was a lousy 0.45; that goal by Connor Rutz would be a very low scoring chance.

The real problem in the second half, I think, was fatigue. The rotation used to start this game was understandable; Saturday had been physically and emotionally draining. Still, 8 guys started both games and it showed. This game was played far slower than what we normally see for the Three Sparks and there was way more dribbling around than we need. Passing was off, too. The reported passing accuracy was 81.3% (Detroit was just 77.0%), but it felt much worse than that. To put it simply, the team was off its game.

What does that mean for Saturday? Well, difficult to say. Memphis also played Wednesday evening in the heat in New Mexico (they won 2-0) and reportedly looked tired to wards the end. But if the Legion can shut down Phillip Goodrum the way they did Kyle Vassell, things could work out in their favor. On the other hand, as Coach Soehn said after the game, “If we come out looking like that, we don’t give ourselves a real shot.”

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