Preview: Legion 2 and Charleston Battery

A new era starts

Birmingham Legion 2 v. East Atlanta FC

The all-new Birmingham Legion 2 plays its first official game this afternoon in a double-header with the Championship team. We haven’t had much to say about the 2s yet, so it’s definitely time.

First, the team plays in USL League 2, which is variously described as semi-professional or pre-professional; take your pick. The league has been around since 1995, originally called the Premier League. It has gone through quite a few name changes: the Premier Development Soccer League (1997), the USL Premier Development League (1999) and the Premier Development League (2015) before becoming USL League 2 in 2019. The league was entirely amateur until 2009 when some teams were permitted to pay players (but under arrangements that managed to protect college eligibility).

The league currently has an impressive 128 teams. These are divided into 4 regional conferences (Central, Eastern, Southern and Western). These are further broken down into 18 divisions, the Eastern and Southern Conferences having 5 divisions each, the Central and Western having 4 each. Legion 2 will be playing in the South Central Division of the Southern Conference. The division has 7 teams. The others are Asheville City (North Carolina) Tennesse SC (Franklin, Tennessee), Dothan United, Athens FC (Georgia), East Atlanta (Georgia) and Southern Soccer Academy (Marietta, Georgia). Like Legion 2, Dothan United is a new team this year and it will be great for them to have an in-state rival; they will be the only team under the Legion umbrella in that position. Athens FC is also new for 2024. The division remains at 7 teams from 2023 despite adding two teams; Dalton Red Wolves (a Georgia affiliate of the Chattanooga Red Wolves) and North Alabama SC (Huntsville) both dropped out of League 2 and SC United Bantams moved to another division.

Play has already started in League 2, although no one in the division has played yet. Given the mobility of players and teams in League 2 it is difficult to assess who is going to be tough opposition. The first opponent, East Atlanta, finished third in the division last year, missing the playoffs, for what that’s worth. The team’s full name is East Atlanta Dutch Lions FC, and is one of 10 clubs – all related – with the Dutch Lions moniker. The group has relationships with FC Twente in the Netherlands and FC Cincinnati.

As for Legion 2, the team is coached by Carlo Schiavoni, who played at UAB and had been the director of coaching at Vestavia Hills SC for 8 years. The player roster has 21 names currently. The most obviously recognizable one is John Heaps, and yes he is Jay’s son (Jay is also officially John; his son goes by Jack). He also plays at Georgetown. Mitchell Register is on the squad, the son of Scott Register of Birmingham Mountain Radio. He was at Birningham-Southern last year so it’s anyone’s guess where he will be this year. The number one goalkeeper is likely to be Brock Marlow of Chelsea HS; if you were at the Chattanooga Red Wolves game you would have seen him in warmups.

This will be a fun one to watch; don’t miss it! If you can’t attend, it will (as will all League 2 and W League games) on SportsEngine Play. You can watch live for free; later replays will only be available with a subscription.

Birmingham Legion v Charleston Battery

The Legion’s biggest test of the year to date is coming up tonight, and the timing couldn’t be worse. The Legion had two tough games in Tampa last week, including that incredible 120-minute marathon in the Open Cup. The Charleston Battery also played extra time on Wednesday, eventually beating South Georgia Tormenta (who are always a difficult out) 3-2 in the 121st minute. However, they had the weekend off.

Hosting a fully rested league-leading squad on short rest is obviously less than ideal. The Battery are flying high. They have dropped just 6 points in 10 games and are one of two unbeaten teams in the Championship (the other is Sacramento Republic). They are on a 5-game win streak right now and have scored 25 goals with a huge +18 goal difference.

Breaking that down a bit, the three draws are a tad odd: 0-0 against North Carolina and Rhode Island and 1-1 against Oakland, relatively weak opponents. 10 of their goals were in two games, 4-0 over New Mexico and 6-0 over Las Vegas. Their last game was a 1-0 affair over Hartford, another not especially impressive team. So they are not invulnerable. Amazingly, they are not the highest-scoring team either; that’s Louisville City, who have bagged 26 times and in 2 fewer games.

But 2.5 goals per game is a lot. The Battery’s conversion rate isn’t the highest, however. They take a monstrous 16.4 shots per game, the most in the league, but the conversion rate is 19%. Even so, that’s still good enough for third-best. The Legion in contrast has been taking 14.3 shots per game with a conversion rate of just 10%, 22nd in the league.

Not surprisingly, the Battery have the league’s top scorer, left winger Nick Marcanich, who has already racked up 12 goals. Striker Matt Myers has another 6. The Legion as a team has just 9 goals, and 2 of those were own goals, so they have created 7 goals. The Battery have allowed 7 goals all season.

Further, the Legion have scored just 1 first-half goal all season (Enzo against North Carolina). And except for the three 1-0 wins, they have trailed in every game. That goes for the two Open Cup games as well. And other than the goal against North Carolina and a 48th-minute goal against Chattanooga, every goal has come after 60 minutes. That’s great in terms of late comebacks, but you don’t want to be doing that all season.

Basically, the Battery are stacked. At pretty much every position. They will be very difficult to penetrate. Playing out of a 4-2-3-1 virtually all the time, they favor a low block approach. That explains the low number of goals conceded, but it also means they score quickly on the counter. The formation also tends to morph into a 4-3-3, sometimes a 4-2-4, so when they attack it’s with a lot of guns.

Prediction: I hate to say it, but if this is not a loss I will be both surprised and pleased. Shutting down Marcanich will be crucial, but that doesn’t mean all weapons are neutralized. This could be a long evening.

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