Legion Lose 2-0 to the Switchbacks, but Don’t Lose the Faith
That sucked. A lot. No way around it. We were outplayed in every single sense of the word. Am I worried? Surprisingly? No. Are their concerns? Absolutely, but they are absolutely no different than concerns of years past.
Normally, I break these down into 30 minute frames of play. The first 30′ the last 15′ and the first 15′ of the halves, and the final 30′. I’m not really going to do that today, rather talking about concepts from the match and what did and did not work.
Before the match, I predicted a 3-1 loss to the Switchbacks with my good friend Evan Villella. Preseason, I predicted a draw to the Switchbacks. Spoiler, but I don’t believe that the Legion were far away from sharing the spoils with Colorado Springs.
Both squads rolled out a different line up and a different formation with the absence of players due to injury, suspension, or international call up. Regardless, we’re seeing two teams try something new to this season.
For Legion fans, this is a very normal formation and what we all know and love as “Tommy-ball.” This time, Coach Tommy Soehn didn’t have a choice. This was really his only option out of his normal bag of tricks due to the injury to Kleemann and Alex Crognale suspension.
What Worked for Legion?
It’s easy to look at the score line and look at the stats and say nothing. Watching the match, almost the entire first hour was dedicated to me drooling over Edi Horvat.
I want to point you to the 23:07 mark in the match. He does this beautiful piece of dribbling, juggling the ball between defenders and playing a perfect pass to Bruno Lapa. The only reason this pass didn’t “work out” is because Lapa was absolutely destroyed by Colorado’s Mankangila. I will continue to rave about Edi later on in this article.
There were other choices in this match I REALLY liked. I loved starting Dean and Lopez “switched.” Dean is typically a Right Back, and Lopez the inverse. Something about how they played on opposite sides of the pitch just worked. Lopez plays beautifully off of Prosper, same for Dean and Marlon. That said, I wouldn’t be upset at all to see Prosper and Marlon switch sides again.
In some capacity, Thomas Vancaeyzeele needs to start every single night. Either at center back or at holding midfield. Defensively, dude is dangerous and so, so smart. I really liked the pairing between him and Kavita. Where that leaves Freddy or Alex? I don’t know yet, but as long as Freddy is injured, Thomas needs to be that 3rd Center Back.
What Didn’t Work?
Simply, the 4-2-3-1. A stand alone striker has never worked in Birmingham. We’ve tried everything. Neco Brett has sort of had success, but it always with a partnership of some sort. In my opinion, the “best” of our options would have been this formation:
Why this formation? It allows Marlon and Edi to form a striking partnership, much like last week with Marlon and Prosper. Horvat was most dangerous when working with another attacking player, not as a solo target man. We would also allow Enzo to get back into the attack rather than leaving him in the back. We were a train that lost its engine and we were absolutely stuck without him.
The substitutions. This goes back to formation, but frankly, the subs we made didn’t bring us closer to scoring. It felt like we lost all attack with our subs. Was it match fitness? Maybe. I’m not Coach Soehn. I don’t know. Either way, it took away all momentum.
Anger. Last night, the entire team looked like they were one moment away from starting a brawl. I mean, Anderson Asiedu went nose-to-nose with multiple people last night, including the head ref. Which was funny, to be honest, but that kind of fire only works when it’s not frustration. The entire team looked frustrated. Calm minds prevail in this world, and we simply never had it.
Finishing. We’ve never truly been a clinical team. We just haven’t. But this is two matches in a row that we’ve failed to put the ball in the back of the net. Only one shot on net the entire night, and that was a Prosper shot early in the match. Everything else we did was either off target or into a defender. Some of those where great defensive plays like several of Edi’s chances, but some were right at a defender when it wasn’t needed. Or like the chance Macky had in the 88′ where he whiffed on the flick, leading to an easy collection by keeper Jeff Caldwell.
Matt Van Oekel
With 6 saves, MVO’s stats begin to look a little bit better, but my issue isn’t with what he is or isn’t saving. Van Oekel’s distribution has been lacking, and frankly, always has. Why is it now an issue? Because he isn’t having the year he did last year. No expected him to continue that form but his distribution is lackluster.
You can look at completion percentages (55%), but it’s not exactly about if the ball got to the player or not, it’s about the positions they’re in when they receive the ball. There are times when he gets the ball to a player and because of where the ball ends up, they don’t really have anywhere to go with it.
You can point at the two goals last night and say, “The keeper should never be beaten at the near post! And I partially agree, you see him slightly leaning toward far post on both, but they were absolute BANGERS that unless you were ready for them to go to that spot, you weren’t saving it.
I thought he had a solid match. None of the goals were his fault. He played a solid match last. The only real “poor” moment was possibly on the final goal where you could say that he should’ve stepped up on Hadji Berry and not allow the pass, but that is dangerous because there aren’t many people better at drawing penalties than Berry.
Vancaeyzeele had a great match last night. You can see his quality as a center back. His tackles have been inch perfect. While he did have his share of fouls, they were never in places of true danger. You also see his quality as a midfielder through his passing. His tough on the ball was beautiful. Need to see more of it.
Mikey on the right was a revelation. I loved this move. His passing, again, was great. Defensively, he was solid. For the most part, very smart with the ball. He crossed the ball well, his challenges were efficient, and we are really seeing Mikey blossom into a great fullback.
I hate to say, I really do, but Jonny is a full on liability on defense right now. I can think of three goals this season where he was caught in “No Mans Land”, the goal for Tampa Bay and both goals against the Switchbacks. There’s no way around it. He’s been either pushed up too far in the offensive half and struggling to get back, or he is being asked to handle defensive responsibilities that he’s not used to. Either way, he is accountable for 3 of 6 goals conceded this year.
On the flip side of the field, Jonny working off of the left wing is great. His ability to dribble into the box a little bit more and then drop in a pass is great. I was very happy with what I saw on the offensive side of the pitch. He’s creating chances, just need to finish them.
Defensively, Anderson was solid. He did the role of the holding midfielder well. Anderson’s issues came in when he moved forward into that Central Midfielder role. His dribbling sublime, but his passing felt off all night. Is that lack of chemistry? Maybe. Anderson’s game need to be the short pass first, because once he started looking for the long ball, that’s when he lost that bit of quality.
Best part of the night were this pictures, though. Which almost makes up for the score line. Almost.
Enzo is quality and can play anywhere on the pitch. But to say that his talents went to waste in the defensive midfield is an understatement. We missed his drive and engine in the offensive half. Again, he was fine, but far from great, which is his normal standard.
Underwhelming, but needed. We felt his impact after he left the pitch. While his passing wasn’t as stunning as normal, you could absolutely feel the last bit of energy leave energy leave the moment he was subbed. Finishing, finishing, finishing. We need to see better finishing, but I feel like we’ll see that impact soon.
I felt that Prosper had a good night. He had the Legion’s only shot on goal, while being a pest on the press, winning the ball back through some cheeky interceptions. I feel that his passing was missed in this match after he was switch to the right side at the beginning, but he was one of the shining moments of the night.
Frankly, I don’t know why we subbed him off. He was dangerous. It felt like he has something special cooking again. His dribbling was dangerous. While he didn’t “complete” any dribbles, the Switchbacks respected it and got stuck it to break it up, leading to a foul or an easy pass to an open runner for the 3 Sparks. No wonderstrikes this week, but we don’t know if he had one in the bag ready to go because he was subbed off.
Eli Crognale and Ryan James
I’m putting these two together because there is not a lot to say, to be honest. We pulled off Marlon for Eli. Not saying that Eli wasn’t good enough to play in this match, but that move didn’t make sense. Marlon’s skillset was a better “chess piece” for the Legion against the Switchbacks than Eli’s. Maybe if you put in Ryan James for Marlon, that would’ve worked. Ryan’s abilities would’ve been VERY useful in that left midfielder/winger role.
As for Ryan James, pulling Bruno for him didn’t make sense to me either. Ryan James had a role in this match, but leaving it for the 76′ minute and pulling Bruno to boot made no sense. Ryan would’ve had more chances if Lapa were on the pitch or Enzo moving to that CAM role, but neither happened. It just felt like a pointless sub.
“He’s here, and he’s perfect.” Well, maybe not perfect, but he solves a lot of issues. He’s strong. He’s big. He’s quick. He had two chances early that were BARELY snuffed out by the defenders, credit to Mahoney for stopping a sure fire goal. Edi’s touch was brilliant. He did have an issue in holding onto the ball for one touch too long, but he’ll get that worked out.
The question really does become, “Why is this the first time we’ve seen Edi?” I don’t know, but to be 100% honest, if we had Edi in the FC Tulsa match, or even against Tampa Bay, we would be having a VERY different conversation about the Legion.
A “true 9” has never worked for Legion. I’m sorry, but they just haven’t. Macky’s arial threat is real, and demands respect. That said, the only time Legion has ever truly utilized size is on set pieces. It feels like the low cross is the weapon of choice for this team, and that doesn’t work if you’re trying to get your head on the ball.
Macky isn’t bad. He’s just not used correctly. What will it take for either Coach Soehn to change that tactic or for Macky to be given a striking partner, I don’t know. We have seen now that solo strikers just don’t work in this system, and Macky isn’t the one to fix it.
Again, I’m not saying Macky is the problem here. He’s not. He’s just a victim of a system not built for him. No matter what, a change needs to be made if we want Diop to become the goal scorer we know he can be.
If the rumors of Freddy’s injury are true, get used to seeing the 4 man back line stay as a permanent feature. This is a major test for the players, but an even bigger test for Coach Soehn. We need to see tactical adjustment with new subs, new formations, or new forms of deliveries. There are bright spots on this team and we could absolutely see this squad do something special, but it comes from the top down, not the other way around.