Legion signs Miguel Perez on loan

The youth movement continues


Birmingham Legion announced yesterday that it has acquired defensive midfielder Miguel Perez (who apparently goes by Miggy) on loan. The loan is for the full season, although his MLS club, St. Louis City SC, has the right of recall at any time.

This is an interesting pickup for the Three Sparks, not least because Perez is just 18 years old. He’s not quite ten months older than Matthew Corcoran. So if they are paired in the defensive midfield, that’s an incredibly young partnership in front of the back line. On which more in a moment.

Perez appeared in 17 league games for St. Louis last season, scoring a late goal against the Vancouver Whitecaps in a 3-1 win, and in an additional 2 US Open Cup games, scoring again late against the Chicago Fire in a 1-2 loss, and lastly in 1 Leagues Cup game against the Columbus Crew. He also played 13 games over 2 seasons in MLS Next Pro.

His last game for the MLS side was that Leagues Cup game on July 23. After that he played 4 games for the MLSNP team but those were all in August. Come Saturday’s friendly against Atlanta United it will be 5 months since his last game. He’s probably a bit rusty.

St. Louis, by the way, cruised to the Western Conference title in MLS last season, before crashing out of the playoffs 2-6 against Sporting Kansas City in their first appearance. Last month they signed Chris Durkin from DC United to strengthen the defensive midfield. Durkin is 23 and already has a ton of experience and effectively made the Homegrown Perez somewhat excess to requirements. Hence the loan to the Legion and an evident chance to get playing time at a higher level than MLSNP.

So how exactly should we expect the Legion to deploy him? Our good friend Kaylor Hodges over at Hammering Down thinks he will be the withdrawn half of a double pivot and that this presages the return of the 4-2-3-1. I’m not so sure.

Looking at how he was used by St. Louis results in a bit of a headscratcher. St. Louis last season regularly used a 4-man back line, but the 6 guys in front of them were set up in pretty much every way imaginable. That includes the 4-2-3-1 of course, but more often a 4-3-1-2 (or its variant 4-1-2-1-2). They were also seen in a 4-2-2-2. Confusing. When playing in a 3-man defensive midfield Perez was mostly in the middle, but also on the right. When in the 4-1-2-1-2 version, he was the lone defensive mid. In the league game in which he scored, he was a substitute brought on for the left winger in a 4-2-3-1, but St. Louis was already leading 2-1 and he was probably inserted for additional defensive support, making it a 4-3-2-1 pyramid. He also subbed in one time for the central attacking midfielder in a 4-3-1-2, but again that was likely a defensive move; he was only on for 3 minutes. He played one time as a left wingback in a 5-3-2 formation.

All over the map then. For the Legion I think he can help in a couple of ways. It seems pretty clear to me that the best way to succeed in the USL Championship is to go with 3 at the back. The Legion has been very reticent to do that under Tommy Soehn, but that may be changing. A 4-man back line worked very well with Jonny Dean on the squad, but Jonny’s speed made him effectively a wingback even from the right back position. Collin Smith was basically a wingback used as a right back and didn’t quite have that same speed. But they are now both gone and there is no obvious replacement.

Right now the Legion has Phanuel Kavita, Alex Crognale, Jake Rufe and Moses Mensah as out-and-out backs, with Mikey Lopez as a possible fifth back. But Mikey is more of a defensive mid and in any even his playing time is dropping (he played 1,172 minutes in 2023 over 22 games, less than half his time in 2022 and 11 fewer games). Unless the Legion signs another back, the 3-man option looks to be the more reasonable approach. Which means more than 2 defensive mids. My personal preference would be for a 3-5-2, and it might look something like this:

That’s a 3-5-2 of sorts. It really keys on Enzo Martinez, who would be tasked with attacking and defensive roles from a central midfield position. HIs ability to do the former is well-known, and he showed his chops on the defensive side in a few games late last season. So Enzo would rive in a largely vertical manner up and down the field. Likewise for Matthew, but not so far forward and slightly deeper. Miguel would mostly rove backwards as an additional defender. So it is in essence a 3-2-3-2, a variation of the venerable “WM” formation that worked brilliantly for Hungary back in the 50s.

An alternative would be to slot Miguel in at central defensive mid, moving Enzo over to the left. In that case, Miguel would remain back at all times and the formation would be a 3-1-4-2. That’s a slightly adapted 4-4-2, but with slightly more attacking punch.

Another option would be a 4-1-4-1. That’s rather less optimal (in my admittedly less than expert opinion), but also has possibilities. It would move Diba Nwegbo back to an attacking midfield position but could easily adapt to a dual striker setup as needed. Obviously, the single defensive mid would be Miguel again. Further, if Jake Rufe is slotted in at right back, Moses  could move up to a wingback position and change things up even more.

This is all contingent on a few things. First, the Legion has been moving in the direction of a Total Football philosophy, especially last season. Formational flexibility has become something of a staple around here and I would hope that is not changing. Second, it’s putting a lot of responsibility of a pair of very young heads. Third, it assumes that both those youngsters are going to be around a while. It would not shock me at all if Matthew Corcoran moves on in the summer transfer window if he performs anywhere near how he did last year. Miguel could also get some interest if the loan pans out or simply be recalled if Durkin doesn’t perform to expectations or St. Louis has injury issues.

Let the fun begin!

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