End of Season Report Cards: the First Four
Evaluating every player performance this season
Now that the season is done and dusted, at least as far as the Birmingham Legion is concerned, it’s time to review the performances of the players over the course of the entire year. Given that the team played 35 games in the Championship and 2 more in the US Open Cup, it is somewhat impressive that only 24 individual players logged any minutes with the squad. Of those 24, 3 are no longer with the team (Macky Diop, Thomas Vancaeyezeele and Eli Crognale) and 1 had a season-ending injury in just the second game (Freddy Kleemann). Only 14 players racked up more than 1,000 minutes, between them averaging 74’17” per game.
Given the financial constraints of lower-league soccer, especially in the US, that really isn’t all that surprising. What it means though is that the season is a serious iron man competition. By way of comparison, Birmingham City in the English Championship last season used a total of 35 players (although the season is longer). Kudos to all those guys who lasted it out.
So, let‘s get down to the actual evaluations. We’ll skip the 3 guys who are gone, and also Kleemann, since he was only on loan from Austin FC of MLS and his return is unknown. 20 names then, and just because we feel like it, we’ll look at them in descending order of minutes played. Also, since they total a nice round 20, we’ll had out the report cards 4 at a time, publishing one set every day this week.
Final Grade: A
Hotlinks started every game this season, and was never subbed off, racking up 3,180 minutes. He had 2 goals and 5 assists to his name, but that is hardly the primary reason for his presence on the team. His ability to move at a ridiculous pace on the touchline makes him a consistent threat both in attack and in defense. If the team were more inclined to serve up aerial crosses, his assist numbers would probably be higher. As it is, he was the team leader in crosses and crossing accuracy, and it wasn’t even close. He was on trial with Nashville SC of MLS before the season and it is hard to believe no one in MLS will want to do that again in 2023.
Final Grade: A+
Enzo played just 50 minutes fewer than Jonny and was subbed out only 3 times. Having been the most hated player for Legion fans while with the Charlotte Independence, it took him virtually no time to endear himself to the crowd, and ended the season vying with Anderson Asiedu for most-loved player. He led the team in goals (15) and assists (8), ranking tied with Colorado Springs’ Michee Ngalina for 3rd in the league on the combined stat, behind Tampa’s Leo Fernandes (29) and Hadji Barry (25, formerly of Colorado Springs). But beyond that, it’s his leadership and energy that make him a key piece of the Legion roster. He came here to win a title and clearly means to do just that.
Final Grade: A
The last of the players to feature in every game this year, Phanny was the rock at center back. So intimidating is he that opposing attackers mostly tried to avoid him. Indeed, as a result in several games he logged relatively few defensive actions. That and being the team captain make him another key player on the squad. Additionally, he gave up just 23 free kicks all year, a remarkably low number, and thereby keeping set piece threats off the table. He didn’t score this season, but did record an assist.
Matt van Oekel
Final Grade: A
One of the club’s elite group of 100+ appearance players, MVO had one of the best seasons of his career, finishing 5th in the league in both saves (87) and clean sheets (11). About the only thing that can be said as a negative is that his passing isn’t always up to snuff. Still, he had a great year. He is also of course the goalkeeping coach on the team and is now 36 years old. That’s not necessarily retirement age for a keeper, who generally play much longer than field players. He has hinted on social media his return next season, but will that still be in a dual role?