It’s so off-season time. Going into the fifth year of Legion, I thought it would be fun to look and find our all-time best XI. I thought about making an all-time worst XI, but it would mostly consist of the 2019 roster, which would just feel mean.
Something you’ll notice? It’s going to be mostly players that played last year. Why? Well, partially because we’re bringing in better talent than ever. But it is also because this front office has brought in a core that was established in 2019 and 2020, and just let it ride.
What is the Criteria?
IF THEY HAD A GREAT CAREER OUTSIDE OF BIRMINGHAM, IT DOES NOT COUNT.
Well, most of it is pretty straight forward. I look at overall production, how many starts, and sometimes it’s just straight up vibes. There have been incredible players to play for the 3 Sparks who had wonderful careers, but they just were not the best in BIRMINGHAM history. If I feel like a player is just better, well, I’ll put them in there. There’s going to be some hot takes. Well, maybe. Maybe not.
There will be some legends of the club that might not make the list, but that’s okay. It doesn’t change who is, or isn’t loved in Birmingham. There are players I wanted to include but I just couldn’t. Sometimes your love for a player does not always mean they were the best. That’s the power of sports.
What is the Formation?
It’s the 4-2-3-1. Are you shocked? It is one of the staples of coach Tommy Soehn, so it would just be wrong if we didn’t play that system. This also lead to some really difficult decisions. Some positions we saw players play in sometimes, but not always. Guys like Enzo Martinez or Mikey Lopez left me in a strange position. What position would I play them in? Do I put them in a position that they did not play primarily to fit them in the line up? It’s a tough one…
Ford D. Parker. His 2 starts and 1 save of the week is unmatched.
Just kidding, of course. It’s Matt VanOekel. While his career in Birmingham started with him on the bench with injury, but since taking over the GK1 position, he hasn’t looked back. Getting major shouts as the best player in Legion FC history, it’s hard to argue with the GK1. Trevor Spangenberg will always tug some heartstrings with him starting the Legion era in net and his penalty saves, but it has to be MVO.
This was very straight forward to me. Like I said earlier, the real question mark is Mikey Lopez. Is he a defensive midfielder? Is he a center back? Is he a left back?
Alex Crognale and Phanuel Kavita are the clear answers here.
Alex Crognale now with 74 appearances for the club and a constant threat on set pieces make him one of the most dangerous players in the USL.
Phanuel Kavita came in 2021 and has since played 65 matches for the 3 Sparks, nearing his appearance make he had in St. Louis. Phanny came in 2021 and was immediately named captain over the likes of Matt VanOekel and Mikey Lopez, and we haven’t looked back sense. Captain Phantastic will be wearing the armband in this XI, too.
A player I think deserves a shout is Mathieu Laurent. The one time Newcomer of the Year and former Birmingham Hammers standout played two seasons in Birmingham, unfortunately tearing his ACL twice in the process. Heartbreaking.
Mikey Lopez and Jonny Dean.
I mean, we knew it would be Jonny, right? Jonny Dean came in 2020 and has been arguably the best player in Birmingham Legion FC history. His 81 appearances for the club have all been near flawless. His speed, his passing, now his ability to cut in and score. It’s just simply stunning.
As for Mikey, this was a hard one! Where did I want to include Big Mikey Lopez? He’s another player that has worked himself into the conversation of Legion GOAT, so he has to be included somehow. I believe that he best as a defensive midfielder, but he is also the best left back we have had at the club. Being the original captain holds major weight, and his ability to play anywhere has to hold water as well.
Other people in that left back conversation are Jake Rufe and Kyle Culbertson. Jake and Kyle were both wonderful in their 1 year of work as the Legion Left Back, but Mikey gets the nod for doing it multiple seasons. We could realistically see Jake slide in if he takes over the role full time in 2023. Kyle winning that “penalty” against Memphis in 2019 should be grounds for Best XI in general.
Anderson Asiedu and Zachery Herivaux
Anderson Asiedu might be one of the most legendary figures we’ve seen in Birmingham Sports history. He’s 5’6″, a “little tank”, a wonderful human, and has become one of the most beloved players. All of that on top of being one of the best central midfielders in all of the USL year in, year out. His first season here, we knew he was good for a red card and shooting the ball 30-yards over the box. In 2022, he was not given a single red and had two game-winners. Growth and consistency is AA6.
Zachery Herivaux is one of those players that you don’t notice until he does something amazing. And that’s a good thing. There aren’t many times that Zach made a wrong step in his Legion tenure. While he did have to cover as a center back, we can all agree that his ability as a midfielder is just incredible. Like Lil Wayne said, “Real Gs move in silence like lasagna”, and that’s the epitome of Zach.
I had to sit and really think about this one. A player that almost made this list was Bolu Akinyode. While he only played 15 matches with the club, and most of them came at Center Back, his time as a defensive midfielder are the best we’ve seen in Birmingham. He did have to move to Center Back to help cover for Laurent’s injury, so it really wouldn’t be right to give him a spot on this list. Don’t get it twisted, he was dang good.
Wingers and Attacking Midfielder
I hate this one. I have been sitting here trying to figure out who to put where. The right wing is simple, but the left wing has been a revolving door of talent. Marlon Santos, Enzo Martinez, Junior Flemmings, Jaden Servania, and a few more along the way. Who goes where? Somebody is going to be snubbed…
Central Attacking Midfielder
Bruno Lapa is the answer here. You may look at him and say that 20 goals and 11 assists in 72 appearances is not enough output, but when the Brazilian Magician was on the pitch, the offense just worked. With how the 3 Sparks love to work the wings, he never got the assists, but he had the hockey assist (assist to the assist) down to a science. This is also a conversation of consistently starting from 2020-2022. That longevity really means a lot. Bruno was clear. But that also means that we have a really difficult one for that left wing…
Prosper Kasim and Marlon Santos
Prosper Kasim was the easiest answer on here. The right winger scored Legion’s first ever goal, and has then gone on to being one of the most lethal wingers in the USL. While the future for Prosper was not always certain, 2021 and 2022 have proved to be instrumental in the outlook of his career. We saw him switch sides and use that golden left boot for passing and it seemed like it opened his footballing third eye.
Let’s get controversial… Marlon Santos is the best left winger we’ve had in Legion FC history. His 9 goals and 2 assists don’t jump off the page, but he has more goal contributions than any other left winger in Legion history. He was also credited with 32 chances created, which significantly outweighs anybody else that consistently played the left wing.
Guys like Junior and Jaden just didn’t make the cut. Junior might be the most talent left winger and Jaden might have one of the brightest futures internationally, but as a Legion FC player, it’s Marlon.
All-Time Leading Goal Scorer is an easy way to put yourself as the best striker in team history. Neco Brett came to Birmingham by way of Pittsburgh, who slaughtered the 3 Sparks in the 2019 playoffs. He came over and was just an instrumental part of getting this team to score goals. His 27 goals just can’t be overlooked.
What About Enzo Martinez?!
I know, I know, I know. Enzo is absolutely already one of the best players in our young history. I understand. Here’s the thing. I don’t know where to play him. I don’t think he played enough time at CAM or Left Wing to really uproot either Marlon or Bruno. He play that shadow striker role to perfection, but he doesn’t have the goals to uproot Neco. Not yet. After the 2023 season, we very well could be seeing Enzo as the best striker in Legion history. Just not yet.
The Final XI
I mean, this is an incredible XI. There’s a lot of day dreaming that could happen here. This would 100% be a title contending team. I could’ve cheated and had an all-time 18, but I would rather just make it XI. Got to get them clicks somehow, right?
This was a fun exercise to do that will be even more fun in 2029. Where did I screw up, because I’m sure I did.