Game Day Preview and more: Birmingham Legion v. Memphis 901

Put some sauce on that dry rub

This writer couldn’t have been happier when the Legion’s home game against its archrival got rescheduled to September 20 at 7:00pm. Why? Well, tomorrow happens to be my birthday, so I am looking forward to a fitting celebration…

The most important part

That being said, the Legion has been pretty shaky lately, and indeed during extended stretches of the season. But with 5 games remaining in the regular season there is now absolutely no room for maneuver. After this game the Legion has The Miami FC, Memphis again away, Monterey Bay Union and finishes the regular season at the Charleston Battery. Of the four teams it has to play, only Miami is below the playoff line. Even Monterey is on a league-high 4-game winning streak right now. It’s not going to be easy. In fact, Louisville City, Memphis and Indy Eleven all have easier schedules. If we’re being reasonable, chances of a home playoff spot are now probably fairly dim.

Even so, getting a potential trifecta over Area Code FC is not to be downplayed. Remember: the Legion already took Memphis apart 3-0 in the Open Cup back in May. Several of the players in that game likely won’t feature tomorrow. For a start goalkeeper Bill Hamid was axed and is long gone from Memphis. Phillip Goodrum is in Tulsa. Tyler Pasher (who scored one of the goals) and Anderson Asiedu are probably both still out. Trevor Spangenberg got the start in that game; he may play tomorrow or perhaps against Miami on Sunday.

Both teams will have rather different looks, then. And Memphis, which is only slightly less erratic than the Legion, can be dangerous, especially given that they are also challenging for a home playoff spot. They have scored 48 goals, 4th best in the entire Championship. On the other hand, they are fairly leaky at the back, having given up 44 goals (7th worst). Despite that they have 7 clean sheets on the season. 5 of those belong to current starting keeper Drew Romig, who is good but can make egregious errors, as he did last weekend against Hartford, essentially gifting them a goal by sending an errant pass to Prince Saydee.

Now that Goodrum is gone, the leading scorer is Rodrigo da Costa, who they got in a straight swap from Tulsa. Da Costa has 11 goals this year, although 3 of those were scored with Tulsa before the trade (and one of those was against the Legion in a 2-3 loss). He has to be controlled at all times; he’s a big threat. After him is Luiz Fernando, also needing to be watched, on 7 goals. Bruno Lapa will be there tomorrow night, of course; he is on 4 goals, although two of those were PKs. He hasn’t scored in open play since April 23rd. One of those PKs was this past weekend against Hartford Athletic, in which game he was subbed out at half time for what appeared to be tactical reasons.

Like the Legion, Memphis has youth. Nighte Pickering (a Birmingham native) is, like Matthew Corcoran, an FC Dallas academy product and at 18 years old is already making waves. he’s a forward and also has 4 goals this year. Legion fans will also be familiar with winger Aiden McFadden. He’s a bit older at 24 but has in the past caused the Three Sparks fits while playing with Atlanta United 2. He is on loan from Atlanta. Memphis has quote the Atlanta contingent, in fact: also previously with the 2s in midfielder Laurent Kissiedou, the last Area Code player with 4 goals. Last is Emerson Hyndman, who played for Atlanta’s MLS side but was cut before this season. And that’s before head coach Stephen Glass, who led the 2s in 2 stints around an interim post at United itself. After that he went home to Scotland to manage Aberdeen (which has an ongoing relationship with Atlanta) until he was fired early last year. Memphis picked him when Ben Pirmann moved to greener pastures in Charleston at the end of last season.

Memphis, like the Legion, favors the 4-2-3-1, but is perhaps rather less flexible in its use. About the only question mark is who starts up top: da Costa or Pickering? If it’s Pickering, that’s rather a false flag as Da Costa usually takes point anyway.

Prediction: This is a must-win for both teams, especially with the return fixture just 10 days away. The larger field and home advantage favor the Legion, but only slightly. I have major concerns about this game; even so, I anticipate a draw.

Best of the rest

There are four other games going on tomorrow evening. Directly impacting the Legion will be Miami v. Lou City (6:00pm) and Phoenix Rising v. Indy Eleven (9:30pm). Louisville is currently 7 points ahead of the Legion in 4th; Indy is 2 points ahead in 6th. The right results could see the Three Sparks move ahead of Indy and get closer to the home playoff spots. The other games are out west: Monterey Bay v. San Diego Loyal (9:00pm). The 2 teams have to play each other twice yet and this could have a major impact on the standings, not to mention the Union are defending a 4-game win streak. That leaves Sacramento Republic v. New Mexico United (9:00pm). New Mexico desperately need points; SacRep with a win would go even with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds for best points record (57) and stay clear at the top of the Western Conference.

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