US Open Cup: 3 Sparks v 3 Stars

Dreams Coming True and a Special Night in Tuscaloosa

This match is just beyond special for many parties. A return to the Open Cup for Legion FC. A chance to play a professional club for Southern States SC. A chance for me to cover my club in Tuscaloosa. There’s a lot of dreams coming true on April 7th.

This article will obviously cover the match that was, talk about the tactics, some interviews, what went well, and what went wrong. The other aspect I want to talk about is the atmosphere and just my experience in covering this match.

Pre-Match

To say I was buzzin’ is an absolute understatement. I couldn’t stop talking about the match to anybody who would listen. I went to the coffee shop and I wouldn’t shut up about the match, trying to get everybody who would listen to come on down. Having lunch and dinner with some of my closest footballing friends in Tuscaloosa, Alabama? Are you kidding me? That’s a dream.

As the day went by, I saw more and more Legion magnets on cars and Legion merchandise sprinkled amongst the sea of Crimson and White. That said, I’ve seen my share of Southern Stars gear rolling around as well! Slowly but surely, you could see the footprint of the Open Cup being left in the Capstone.

Stadium/Environment

Every single person who stepped on the pitch today were raving about the facilities. To find a ground that small with that nice of facilities is near impossible. I was personally banging the drum that the move to Alabama Soccer Stadium was the absolute best move the club could have made. (Not to brag too much, but….) I was right.

The pitch looked and played amazingly. The locker rooms are absolute class. The venue itself is just amazing, there is no bad seat in the stadium. There were reported to be over 100 college students, many whom I talked to and they almost all said after the match, “I was interested in soccer, but I didn’t know how to get into it. I’m so glad I came tonight.” I know there can be complaints about not playing in Birmingham, but this match alone created new fans. That’s almost as big of a win as the 3-1 on The STARS.

Before we move on to the match itself, the atmosphere was fantastic. Hearing the Elyton Ultras, Magic City Brigade, and Crimson Chaos join in voice and drum was magical. The “We Love Ya” chant felt so right, especially during the match. Aside from the Smoke, Darkness, and Smells Derby, I would argue that Legion v Stars had one of the best atmospheres of the second round.

Starting Line Ups

In this match, the Legion saw a little bit of rotation, but even this line up could be rolled out in League Play and I would be more than happy to see this team. Jake Rufe, Trevor Spangenberg, Ryan James, and Juan Agudelo all getting their first starts of the season.

Post match, the Stars’ coach Carl Reynolds said, “I love the fact they [Legion] fully respected us, playing pretty full strength…” As a fan, I am so glad Legion respected the fans and went near full strength. Coach Soehn could have completely rotated the team and fans would have understood, but this was a much better outcome for everybody involved.

First Half

Much like I predicted, the first half score line was not reflective of how well Legion were playing. Despite the score line being 0-0, the talent of the 3 Sparks were clearly on display. With even the first kick of the match, Juan Agudelo showed why Legion brought him in. Despite not being match fit, Agudelo was so much better than anybody I have ever seen don the 3 Sparks.

For Southern States SC Stars, while they were losing the possession battle with only holding on to the ball for 30%, their defense was more than up for the challenge in the box. It would have been easy for the youthful backline fall apart from the pressure, but the Stars stood tall. The player that stood out to most fans in attendance was Center Back Reid. He was completely stunning on the pitch and is due to make a move upwards.

Second Half

The most shocking part of this half was Juan Agudelo getting the second half start after being told by Coach Soehn prematch that he would only play 45′.

Just moments after the start of the second half, Prosper Kasim curls a beauty with his magical left foot. Off topic, but I would love to make an episode on the growth of Prosper. After the first goal, Legion looked to strike while the iron was hot, and boy was it. For the first time in forever, it felt like Legion completely controlled the middle of the park, not just having a monopoly on the flanks.

Later on, Enzo Martinez created space and played the ball on to Bruno Lapa, who placed the ball as perfectly in the left corner as you can. Minutes later, Anderson Asiedu completely carved open the Stars defense before playing the ball to Marlon, who decided the bottom right corner was getting a little bit lonely.

Defensively, Legion were solid, only allowing only two shots on target. One was an amazing save by Spangenberg, the other being a moment for Trevor to forget. While Mason Walsh did a great job getting into a good space, even Trevor would admit that the ball should have never gone into the net.

From then on, Legion brought on multiple subs and got to see the offense flex its muscles a bit. The most important to me was how impressive Edi Horvat was. I think I am completely sold on Edi and Juan playing up top together. That has to be our 1a option up top.

Player Reviews

Juan Agudelo

You know we had to start here. Juan does not belong in the USL. He certainly didn’t belong playing against opposition in the NPSL. Agudelo brought something that we haven’t seen in Birmingham before, and it’s the ability to hold the ball up, distribute, and shoot. We have had guys who can do one or two out of those three, but never all three.

Also, there is no way he is 6’1″. I’m 6’1″ and he towered over me. Something fishy is going on here…

Prosper Kasim

Prosper, Prosper, Prosper. What a guy, what a player. He’s finally tapping that potential we all knew he had. I’m stuck on how to use him. His shot is obviously lethal, but I also really like his passing ability from the left side. Both are great options for the club, but it’s also a “tell” on how Legion are planning to play.

Who cares. Keep bagging goals, my sweet Ghanaian Prince.

Edi Horvat

Another week, another match where I am impressed by Edi. What I got from this match is that Edi and Juan need to play up top, no questions asked. Prosper was good, but he had a lot more success in the wider areas. Edi and Juan are the answers. Edi Horvat is the Trust. Suck it, Paul Pierce.

Macky Diop

I won’t lie, I was pretty frustrated watching Macky. He was doing so much right. He was winning balls, he was getting into good spaces, but just held on to the ball for too long. I counted three times that Edi called for the ball with a 1-on-1 with the keeper and Macky looked him off and continued his dribble. It’s easier said than done, but this was the match to try those kinds of passes.

Don’t get me wrong, for a striker, seeing the ball go in to the back of the net does wonders. That said, as a supporter of Legion, I would rather see the ball go in the back of the net.

Bruno Lapa

Bruno looked so good. He was able to pull the strings without having to have the liability of moving forward to try and score. Obviously he bagged a goal, but there didn’t appear to be the pressure to force a goal from thin air. Lapa continued to pull the strings and eventually got a piece of the pie.

Enzo Martinez

I’m 100% convinced Enzo would go hard in on a tackle against a U5 striker, and I love it. Enzo from the Central Midfield role feels like the final destination. While we can certainly move him anywhere, I liked him being able to pull threads from a slightly deeper position than Bruno.

Anderson Asiedu

It won’t be discussed much, but Anderson near had the perfect night. I don’t think he was dispossessed all night long. His tackling was amazing. Oh, and he almost had the goal of the night if not for what might be save of the round by Grajeda. This entire team played with a fluidity I haven’t seen in a while, but I loved what I saw out of Anderson.

Marlon

Marlon was playing futsal while the rest of the team was playing football. We see a little bit of that “Brazilian Flair” from Bruno, but Marlon looks like he could wreck lives on the futsal court. His goal was good, but watching Santos make flawless sole rolls in tight congestion is borderline erotic. There was one pass toward the end of the match that both John Fuller and I lost our minds over. It didn’t lead to a goal or even a scoring chance, but I have NEVER seen a ball move like that.

Ryan James

I really enjoyed watching Ryan James last night. He was so intelligent in how he played and was getting into dangerous spots constantly. Fans got a close up chance to see how wingbacks poke and prod against opposing backlines, and James was doing it expertly. Defensively, he was fine but his ability to control the midfield was near masterful. Would love to see Ryan get more time.

Mikey Lopez

Mikey Lopez sure does fancy an Open Cup match, eh? I liked what I saw out of Mikey, but his defensive presence was top draw. I loved what I saw out of him on the defensive end. He nailed his tackles and per usual, he is an absolute machine at sniffing out passes and winning possession via interceptions.

Jonny Dean

Jonny got some play and he looked like Jonny. I don’t really know what else to say. The goal came from his side, and you could argue that he should have been in play to stop that attack, but that’s a little bit harsh all things considered.

Jake Rufe

Interview with Jake

I loved every second of what I saw. I know he’s typically a full back, but honestly, a center back in a 3 man backline might be a dream spot. Especially for Legion players as we love to let our CBs move up into the attack. Jake looked like he had been playing all year long. Time to #RaiseTheRufe

Alex Crognale

Speaking of center backs getting in on the attack… “What is our centerback doing playing the right wing?” might be my favorite quote I heard from the crowd on Thursday night. Alex played fine, but he absolutely wanted to flex those offensive muscles. I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it.

Thomas Vancaeyzeele

Yeah, Thomas is the real deal. Sometimes there is not much to say about a player because they’re just that good. I was so impressed with what I saw, but more importantly what I didn’t see. I didn’t see him go in on dangerous tackles, no “make up” plays, no forcing the ball into bad places. I loved every single moment.

Trevor Spangenberg

Interview with Trevor

I was beyond happy to see Trev between the sticks. There really isn’t much to say about his performance. He only had to face two shots all night, one he made an absolute class save. The other? Not much to breakdown. Can’t talk about footwork or anything like that. Sometimes it is as simple as holding onto the ball.

Coaches Interviews

Coach Tommy Soehn
Coach Reynolds

Final Thoughts

Overall, it was a special night. Tuscaloosa got to experience the Magic of the Cup. Legion scored. Several fans expressed an absolute love and admiration for Legion who had never seen them play before. There’s a ton to love about last night. I cannot wait to take on Tormenta in Birmingham in the Open Cup!

Just a little update, life has kinda hit me hard lately. Between classes and some personal stuff (all is well, don’t worry), my content may be coming out a little slower than usual. Post Match articles will still happen, but other content may come out a little bit slower than normal. I hope you all understand.

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