Diving Deep: Colorado Springs 2-1 Birmingham Legion

Rocky Mountain Low

We won’t do any player ratings for this game, because other than Neco Brett’s wonder goal I’m not sure anyone did anything to deserve more than an F. This was, all things considered, a poor performance. And it doesn’t deserve much of an evaluation either.

The stats for the game look at first glance fairly even. The Legion had a 5% edge in possession (which actually runs against their best playing style), shots were dead even at 12 apiece and 5 on target. But dig a little deeper and you note one stat that makes some difference: the Switchbacks had 11 shots inside the penalty area; the Three Sparks managed just 4. No real surprise then that Colorado’s xG of 1.44 was better than the Legion’s 0.81.

Quite simply, the Legion were stymied by Colorado’s 3-man back line. Especially that it morphed into 4 or even 5 players as need dictated. Here’s the Legion’s average positions for the game:

Coach Tommy Soehn should get some credit for moving away from a 4-2-3-1 – as the announced lineup suggested – and into a 4-3-3, or even a 3-4-3 given that Gabriel Alves (#16) was playing relatively high. But other than that, it’s a mess. For a start, why is Neco Brett (#11) so deep? He’s positioned more like a central mid than a striker. And the highest player on the field is the right winger, Prosper Kasim (#10). Neco had just 11 touches in the game. 4 were in the Colorado box at least, but 5 were in the defensive half. It’s entirely unclear what role he was actually playing.

The good news is that the Switchbacks were similarly stuck in the middle third. The bad news is that they were far more positive in attack, especially late in the game. The Legion looked, frankly, lethargic. Far more so than the altitude would suggest. And that’s where the possession advantage is of little use. It serves no purpose if every time you get the ball you fail to attack in an aggressive manner. Not only were they up against a tough back line but they allowed that line far too much time to get into covering positions. In fact, in addition to the acrobatics, the sheer number of defenders he had to get past makes Neco’s goal all the more impressive:

In frame are five field players in the box. Left to right they are Jonas Fjeldberg, Oskar Agren, Speedy Williams, Drew Skundrich and Matthew Mahoney. Out of the shot Juan Tejada is also in the 18 for a total of 6. And Jay Chapman is loitering right on the edge of the box as well. They were doing that all game. Pretty hard to find shooting lanes with all those bodies in the way.

Not so much at the other end. The first goal:

Yeah, Deshane Beckford was blatantly offside, but even so Colorado has a 3-on-2 situation on the breakaway. Both fullbacks are too high and effectively out of the play. Even if Beckford was a step further back and in an onside position he still has a clean route to goal.

The second goal:

These screen grabs are a bit grainy, so I’ve added player names. The Legion has plenty of players in the shot. Tyreek Magee, whose cross was the assist, is double-covered but had enough space to get past both Gabriel and Ando. But Gabriel being puled out wide like that instead of leaving the coverage to Ando was the problem, as that left Jake Rufe in the position of having to mark both Jairo Henriquez and Juan Tejada. Henriquez seems like the bigger threat and Jake makes what looks like the right choice to cover him. But that’s a choice he shouldn’t have to make and Tejada is basically free to make the tight-angled shot that wins the game.

Not to point any fingers, but Gabriel was essentially out of position on both goals. Generally speaking, it weas a rough night for the defense. Yes, they limited the Switchbacks to 12 shots – right at the league average of 11.55 – but they had to make a total of 31 defensive actions (10 tackles, 15 clearances and 6 interceptions, but no blocked shots) to manage that. That’s a fair amount of pressure. Colorado’s back 3 had just 18 actions. Add in their 2 central mids and it still only gets to 25. And note that the Legion had more possession. That is, they did less with more.

I noted above that Tommy gets credit for going with a 3-man front. Yes, but only half-credit as I think he should have gone with a 3-man back line as well. That’s something I’ve been harping on for well over a year now, but this game cried out for it. There aren’t a lot of teams in the USL Championship that regularly run with a back 3, but Colorado is definitely one and matching them up directly would have been a good option. Jake Rufe is, in my opinion, more of a centerback than a fullback. Collin Smith – who was on the bench but unused in the game – is more of a wingback than a fullback, and the same is true of Gabriel Alves.

But if you bring Collin on, who goes out? Well, here’s the controversial point. It’s Neco. Yes, he scored an incredible goal in this game, but on the whole over the course of the season he has looked much more like a bench option than a regular starter. And if Tyler Pasher had been available, that probably would have been the case on Friday anyway. If Tyler plays, the 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 both are more workable options. But he wasn’t and the adjustments were not enough to make it work.

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