Welcome to FC Birmingham: Semi-Pro, but Fully Professional

Say ‘Hello’ to the Future Stars of Southern Soccer

On a beautiful March day, the sun shined bright on a field outside of Irondale, Alabama. The wind was cool and the sun was warm. It was a perfect day for Soccer in the Magic City.

I was a little bit outside of my element, but I walked up to the gates at Lawson Field where I was greeted with a handshake and open arms by front office member and general manager Mr. DeLeon Fancher. DeLeon and Mr. Doug Walk allowed me to tour the facilities, take pictures and video of anything and everything, and top it off with interviews with players and coaches. So let’s get stuck in.

Down below is the YouTube video I shot for this match:

Facilities

Lawson Field

For what it’s worth, I like the facilities A LOT. It’s not Protective Stadium or BBVA Field, but it’s still one of the best I’ve seen in the UPSL. Quality turf, safe sitting/standing, good press boxes, everything. I really enjoyed my time walking around the pitch.

It was obvious that there are growing pains here. When I first arrives, the stands were a mess with trash from whatever event that was hosted at Lawson Field previously. That said, the front office got there early and cleaned it all before a single fan arrived. Coaches, owners, managers, didn’t matter. Everybody was active to give the fans the best experience possible.

There were some fun ground rules. Because of the football field, the lines were a little weird so the goal had to be placed slightly behind the field goal. Therefore, if the ball touched the field goal crossbar whatsoever, it was immediately a goal kick. It doesn’t matter if the ball goes into the net whatsoever, if it hits, it’s out. Some of the quirks of “lower league” soccer.

Player Talent

Pre Match

There was quality everywhere on the field, but my eyes were quickly enamored with the two goalkeepers. Both starter Curry and the backup (but started the second half) Ozoaru were outstanding. Both players had talent that belong in higher levels of soccer. Curry with height and great footwork and Ozoaru with some of the best hands I’ve ever seen.

The next thing I was so impressed with was the communication. Guys weren’t always talking to each other, but they were always listening. You hear players chattering throughout the match and sometimes it ends up being a cluster of white noise. Players didn’t always speak, but they called what was important. It doesn’t matter if it was the captain Hepp, or a sub off the bench. Everybody listened.

Coaching

I was highly impressed by the coaching staff. In warm ups, you could tell the difference in the two styles but philosophy. As an education student, I see coaching/teaching styles and I immediately make a note of it. You could see the “outfield players” warming up and the coach was really digging into them and ramping up the intensity. Other the other hand, coaching was trying to keep the keepers calm and loose, not allowing their adrenaline to peak pre-match.

To me, this is a massive deal. You don’t want your keepers to fully burn out pre-match or get themselves too amped up during the match. For the outfield players, sometimes getting out the anxious energy pre-match and having an intense mindset come kickoff is exactly what you want.

Knox Coaching His Squad Through a Defensive Transition

You saw these styles really come out during play. Outfield players were giving 100% all 90′, never losing that fire, and putting in challenge after challenge to stop the Atlanta United attack. In goal, however, you saw this sense of calmness at all times. While the intensity would build in the box, they stood their ground, trusted training, and kept that level head even under the most chaotic conditions.

The Match

To say Atlanta United Academy controlled the pace of play is an understatement, but FC Birmingham never felt like they were out of control of the match.

For the Birmingham Legion fans who are reading this, I’ve talked about the Atlanta United style a lot. They hold possession. If they don’t see something they like, they will pass the ball back to their keeper and recycle possession. That’s just their game. FC Birmingham handed it well. While Atlanta United seemed to control the wide spaces, FCB seemed to be okay with that. It was very difficult for ATL to gain any real control in the middle of the park, relying on looping crosses and set pieces to create any chances.

Thinking as an analyst, I was okay with what I saw. We’ve now seen at every single level whether it’s FC Birmingham v The Academy, Legion FC v Twonited, Red Bulls v Atlanta United, or even Chivas v the ATL, the way to beat this system is through the press and counter attack. FC Birmingham did just that but were unlucky in the attacking third.

Highlights

I have a few highlights of the day, mainly goalkeeping highlights, but some really fun stuff to watch.

Great Save by Ozoaru
Cleared Ball to the Face… Goes Bottom Corner…
What a snag by Ozoaru
Corner Routine for FC Birmingham

Post Match Interviews

Head Coach Knox
Left Back N. Ibanez: Hoover, AL
Center Back E. Acton: Birmingham, AL
Joel Gonzalez, Atlanta United U17s
Center Back R. Hepp: Homewood, AL
Goal Keeper C. Ozoaru: France
General Manager DeLeon Fancher: Birmingham, AL

Overall Takeaways

I had an absolute BLAST covering this team. There’s a lot here that I believe people will love. I highly recommend coming out to a match and experiencing the Falcons live. It’s a different experience from Birmingham Legion or Atlanta United, but still one that is equally enjoyable. To all my friends who remember the Birmingham Hammers, it’s exactly like that, in all the right ways.

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