Diving Deep: Birmingham Legion 3-2 Hartford Athletic

A strange but simple one to break down

It is blatantly obvious that the Legion played an entirely different game in the second half of this match than they did in the first. In fact, the team played so well in the closing stanza that their failure to perform in the opener is rather bewildering. First off, let’s look at the heatmaps for each half:

Legion is playing from left to right in both, first half is on the left. The two are nearly mirror images, and if you look at the heatmap for the entire game it’s pretty symmetrical. Parked in their own box in the first half and in Hartford’s in the second. The reverse, obviously, is true of Hartford. The shooting numbers bear this out too: the Three Sparks had just 5 shots in the first half. Only one was on target, and only one was from inside the 18. Moreover, none of them came from the two forwards, Enzo Martinez and Juan Agudelo. Three were from Prosper Kasim and two from Diba Nwegbo. Hartford had 10 in the first half, 7 inside the box and 3 on target including the goal. Flip that in the second half. The Legion put up 13 shots, including 5 on target and 11 inside the 18. Hartford were held to 4, 2 in the 18 and 2 on target.

By all accounts, the halftime locker room was the big change. It must have been nuts in there. They came out evidently energized and ready to do battle. But working up a lather only gets you so far; there must have been some tactical adjustments as well. So what were they?

Well, I think much of it has to do with the Athletic’s playing style. They were listed as a 5-4-1. That’s massively defensive, naturally, buyt they really didn’t play much that way. If anything, they looked more like a 3-5-2, with Antoine Hoppenot playing as a second striker alongside Prince Saydee rather than as an inside left mid. The two fullbacks (Ash Apollon and Matt Sheldon) were both very high. And right wing Jeciel Cedeno was more like a CAM. That still left them with 3 centerbacks, which can be tough to penetrate. I think that in the first half the Legion was entirely frustrated by this maneuvering. The Athletic were very much agents of chaos in that first half.

But the good guys figured it out, and started doing what they historically haven’t very good at but have shown signs of clear improvement in this season. They started crossing the ball. The team ended the game with 20 crosses with a very decent 7 on target. But only 5 of those were in the first half (although three were on target). In the second half the Legion scored twice on corners even and corners are in fact a low percentage option. The third goal was also from a wide cross courtesy of Prosper. I can;t think of a previous Legion game where they have done this.

So, if you can’t go through them, go around them. And frankly, this should be a major part of the Legion’s game plan going forward. Indeed, as soon as tomorrow; Miami like to clog up the middle. The Three Sparks have the personnel to do this. Prosper obviously, and from either wing. Tyler Pasher loves to play wide and force the ball inside. Gabriel Alves can do the same, as can Moses Mensah. Diba Nwegbo seems to thrive out on the wing and Juan is showing he can do it as well. The team has a bunch of interchangeable options with which to do this.

But let’s not downplay the emotional impact of that second half. Enzo Martinez is the league’s Player of the Week for his two goals and assist (Prosper made the team of the week too) but his leadership on the squad is manifest. I guess you have to call it an intangible but it has clear tangible results. He was fired up from the second half kickoff, got even madder when denied an obvious penalty and shown yellow for his pains and converted that emotion into a immediate goal. After that he worked on both the team and the crowd magnificently. Without him the Legion loses this game in two ways.

OK, that was a relatively quick one despite it being an incredibly entertaining match. We’ve got a lot more coming up in short order to dig into, though, so hang on to your hats.

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