Game Preview: The Miami FC v. Birmingham Legion

Oddly, the flamingoes are in Madison, not Miami

Normally, we would do a complete preview of the entire league, but since the Legion has a double-game week and there is no other midweek game, we’ll do a preview of tonight’s tilt against The™ Miami FC and then a full preview later on this week.

Miami has been around since 2016 and has the distinction of having played in 4 different leagues in its 8 years of existence. They started out in the NASL, which folded after their second season in 2017. In 2018 and 2019 they played in the NPSL, but retained most of the previous team in anticipation of the NASL restarting. It never did, and the team naturally dominated the semi-pro league, wining the championship both years. In the fall of 2019 they moved to NISA and played the fall schedule, winning again. NISA cancelled the spring half of that season due to COVID, and Miami immediately moved to the USL. After a rough first year they have made it to the conference quarterfinals the past two seasons. Coached for a number of years by Paul Dalglish, son of the storied Scottish international Kenny Dalglish, Miami has since last season been under the leadership of Welshman Anthony Pulis, son of long-time coach Tony Pulis.

Simply put, this is going to be a weird one. Miami are a bit of a conundrum. They are a classic example of how assembling a collection of quality players does not automatically result in a high-performing team. Right now they are in 7th in the East, but on a less than impressive 1-2-5 record (the bottom 6 in the East have a combined 6 wins to date). They have a 0 GD, with 7 for and against. However, of the 7 goals they scored, 4 were in a single game against Las Vegas Lights, who are dead last in the West. The 8 teams they have played have an average PPG of 0.971 and an average GD of -0.231. The strongest team they have played to date is Pittsburgh, who are 5th in the East but themselves have only 2 wins to date.

This is a team that has Kyle Murphy, who finished 3rd in the 2021 Golden Boot race, scoring 20 with Memphis 901. He slumped to just 8 last season and has 2 so far this season. Their attack also includes Joaquin Rivas, Claudio Repetto and Florian Valot, all quality USL Championship level players. But they are stunningly incapable of scoring. That 7-goal tally is tied for 17th in the league, but that’s just 5 off the bottom. They are 18th in shots taken. Their conversion rate is a decent 11th equal, but that doesn’t mean much if you don’t take enough shots. Part of the problem may be that that they lost midfielder Speedy Williams to the Switchbacks this offseason, thereby hampering their distribution significantly.

A current big issue for them is injuries: Murphy, Rivas and defender Callum Chapman-Page have all been out, as have a few others. For last Wednesday’s Open Cup match against Inter Miami (which they lost on penalties 5-3 after finishing 2-2, probably their best game of the year) they had just 5 subs listed and for this past weekend’s game in Oakland (a 0-0 draw) they had just 6.

The good news is that they aren’t allowing many goals. They have a solid back line and in goal is Adrian Zendejas, who is on loan from Charlotte FC of MLS (who probably wish they had him back given their miserable record to date).  He and #2 GK Jake McGuire have had to make just 18 saves. That’s partly due to the anemic scoring record of their opposition, but also to that back line. Miami runs with a 3-man line. It tends to switch around a bit, but is anchored by Englishman Paco Craig who played a number of years with Louisville City. His most regular partners are either Chapman-Page and Moises Hernandez or Aedan Stanley and Curtis Thorn. They also have former Legionary Ben Ofeimu, but he doesn’t get much playing time (they also have Bolu Akinyode as shown above).

With that line, they play mostly in a 3-4-3. That’s a fairly defensive alignment, but also potentially dangerous in attack. Stylistically, they have changed a bit. Early in the season they were tending to play relatively wide with a high volume of crosses. With the successful 4-1 win over Las Vegas they have moved away from that and have been playing much more narrowly.

If they try that against the Legion tonight, it shouldn’t work. The Three Sparks centerback duo, fronted by Anderson Asiedu and Matthew Corcoran, will simply not allow it. That would force them to go out wide again, even though they have singularly failed to score with that option. At the other end, if they go with 3 centerbacks, that is asking the Legion to play a 4-4-2 again, stretching the field but with multiple options inside.

Prediction: Interestingly, the Legion’s two opponents this week played each other last weekend. Neither have been spectacular, but the Oakland Roots are the better team overall and were so even in the 0-0 draw. Tommy Soehn may have a big decision to make: do I rest some starters for at least one of these two games ahead of the US Open Cup match next Wednesday? If the answer to that is yes, then the rest logically should come this weekend. That game is closer to the cup tie, and this game is the easier to win anyway. Better to guarantee 3 points tonight and establish a 4-point conference lead going into the weekend. On top of that the Legion is riding a massive emotional high. 2-0 to the good guys.

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