Diving Deep: Birmingham Legion 3-1 Loudoun United

Busting the dam

Busting the dam, that is, not just of opposing defenses, but of the lock on the Legion’s own ability to score.

First, yes, this is a tad on the late side, for which our apologies. We were waiting for the USL website to update its statistics for the past week; ‘s games, but for some reason they never did, which makes our analysis slightly trickier. Fotmob will help out a bit, for what that’s worth.

Anyway, this was definitely a game of two halves, to lean on the wisdom of the inimitable Jimmy Greaves. However, neither half was especially overloaded with attacking punch, although the Legion clearly stepped it up in the second half. The two teams combined for just 18 shots total and 6 on target, with both numbers split evenly. Loudoun had the better opportunities in the first half and put up 5 shots, missing the goal with all of them though. The Three Sparks had just 2, again with none on target. Not great, to say the least. The Legion did have a good penalty call that was waved off (and an even stronger one in the second half) but that’s as close as either team really came to putting the ball in the net.

Things switched up materially after half-time. For the Legion there were three major changes. First, Alex Crognale was subbed off for the knock he took in the first half and Mujeeb Muyrana came in. Second, the old Legion switcheroo was done, with Prosper Kasim and Diba Nwegbo swapping wings. The third came a bit later.

To see how things developed, let’s first look at the heatmap for the entire game:

The Legion is playing from left to right, not that it really matters much; it’s fairly balanced. However, there is a slight tilt to the Legion left wing. With that in mind, here are the heatmaps for the two halves:

First half is on the left. Two things are clear from this. The Legion was relatively defensively positioned in the first half, but not by much; the two teams were pretty balanced. But in the second, play clearly shifted from the Legion right wing to its left, and the Legion became much more aggressive in attack as well as allowing much reduced penetration in defense.

This was especially the case after the Legion conceded just 3 minutes into the half, which can in part be attributed to the change in the back line. After that, the lights seemed to really come on in the Legion’s heads and, well, they got angry is perhaps the best way to put it. But things really changed after the third adjustment, which was bringing on Preston Tabort Etaka for Diba. Prosper had already had far more touches on the ball than Diba in the first half (21 to 15). Diba touched the ball just once in the second half over 11 minutes. But of Prosper’s 21 touches 11 were in the defensive half. In the second he had 23 touches of which 17 were in the attacking half and 10 in the attacking third.

This was because the Legion essentially shifted to an unlikely 4-2-4, with Enzo Martinez, Prosper and Preston all moving up to work with Tyler Pasher. Kobe Hernandez-Foster hung back as the attacking pivot, with AJ Paterson helping out the back four. Not only that, but Tyler, Enzo and Preston were given free rein to move around, putting that Total Football philosophy into full effect. Here is their combined touchmap for the second half:

Tyler is yellow, Enzo is red, Preston is blue (the center spot should really be orange, as it’s both Tyler and Enzo!). A total mess. If anything, Tyler dropped into a false 9 role with Preston up top (who had at least two good chances he didn’t get service on). And all three of them got plenty of touches in the attacking half. In the end, they racked up seven shots between them (the other two being Mujeeb, obviously, and Prosper). Only two were on target, though, both from Tyler.  Moreover, that is a lot of touches for an attacking group.

That, in a nutshell, is how half-time adjustments are supposed to work. Will we see more of this in the games to come? Let’s hope so.

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