The Best Match in Legion History Has Me Confused (Tactically)
I don’t know how else to say it: last night’s match was the best match in Birmingham Legion FC history. From an early goal with one of the best assists you’ll ever see from a center back, to conceding two goals, finding that spark with one of the best goals in Legion history, the return of Legion’s all-time leading scorer, and the Swan Song of Khano Smith. Everything about it was perfection.
Well, almost. Last night also heavily exposed some issues tactically. We saw the places where we are hamstrung and maybe some other places where we relied on talent>system, rather than talent=system.
I also hate the red kit. There. I said it. I wish this win was in the black kit. But that doesn’t really matter too much. I wouldn’t be a blogger/podcaster without being irrationally angry about something.
A couple of days ago, I released an article on the Basics of Tactics and Formations (and how they don’t matter). Well, I mentioned how the formation doesn’t really matter, especially for Legion. There are no set roles. There are no set formations. It’s a fluid movement that sees players play anywhere, everywhere, and all at once (still haven’t seen the movie).
Start the match, Legion came out in this 4-1-4-1. But it wasn’t really a 4-1-4-1 most of the time. It ended up being variations on a 4-2-3-1. Sorta. The most glaring thing to me is Juan Agudelo playing the Left Wing for majority of the match. I personally believe that is where majority of the dysfunction came from, but that’s not Juan’s fault. In fact, I thought Juan Agudelo had one of the better nights of anybody on the pitch.
I’m going to show every variation I noted throughout the first half of the match. Warning: It’s a lot.
This 4-1-4-1 ended up with variations of 4-2-3-1, often with Prosper Kasim dropping in behind as a pseudo-CAM, Diba Nwegbo as the pressing striker, and Juan Agudelo as a left winger.
It is often joked about how “Tommy-ball” is the 4-2-3-1, but the true definition of Tommy-ball is flexibility in player roles. In this match, we saw Prosper Kasim play as a right winger, a CAM, and a holding midfielder, all in the span of 15′. We Tyler Pasher move from Right Wing, to Left Wing, to CAM, to pressing forward all in that same timeframe. Almost every single player in that attacking 5 played at least 3 different positions. The only exception being Collin Smith who only played as a Right Winger and Holding Midfielder, but even then he played the last 30′ of the match playing Right Back.
Transitions Aren’t Easy
In that article, I talked about defense and attack, but not really the transition between the two. Legion are struggling with transitions, and it’s not the lack of a Central Attacking Midfielder. As a club, we are seeing in real time how much we relied on the pace and passing ability of Jonny Dean. Nobody thought the transition would be easy. Nobody. So many times we would see the hero ball from downtown saying, “Screw it, Jonny down there somewhere.” You know what? It worked. We also saw that he could recover on defense faster than anybody in the league. In this new era, our fullbacks have to make a conscious effort to not get caught out, but the rest of the team needs to fill in the space left behind, just like every other team in the world.
This is a move you’ll see maybe 20 times in any particular Legion FC match. This is something we’ve grown very accustomed to seeing. Now, with Dean, this would be the normal next steps.
You can see as the RB (Dean) would move up, the entire team would move up with him, including the holding midfielder somewhat holding that space but slowly creeping up, and the LB would move up as a recycling option. That was because of the speed and recovering ability of Dean, he allowed the attack to press higher without fear of the counterattack. What about now? How does this need to work? Well, you’ll see this on almost any team. It’ll be very familiar.
The rest of the play will play out similar, but the other full back will drop back deep like a 3rd CB and the Holding Midfielder will also be a little deeper sitting. And if you go back and watch the beginning of the second half, this is exactly what was happening. The issue that happened in the second half wasn’t a tactical error, in my opinion. It was a lack of intensity and structural disorganization. You might be able to point at the coaching and say, “The disorganization is because of coaching!” but I will disagree. I think it came from players who are still learning each other, having to forget old habits like letting Jonny bomb rush forward and Zach Herivaux being a defensive safety valve for Anderson Asiedu and the backline. These were just decision mistakes that led to disorganization and two quick goals.
Originally tweeted by FC Tulsa (@FCTulsa) on March 18, 2023.
This first goal is a perfect example. Anderson gets turned by da Costa, Alex picks him up. Alex then passes him off to Phanuel Kavita, which Phanuel did not seem prepared for entirely, preparing to take on the runner on his back shoulder. Would Zach or Jonny stopped that? Maybe, maybe not, but I think it was a clear moment of disorganization that lead to confusion and an equalizer.
Where Does Juan Go?
I almost called this the “Juan Problem” but Juan Agudelo isn’t a problem. He has been a stud. I said this a lot last year, but I think his talent has been mismanaged or under utilized. I think one simple move would get the most out of Juan Agudelo and Prosper Kasim.
Simply putting Juan in as that Shadow Striker behind Neco Brett, putting Prosper out on the left side, and letting Enzo feed everybody is the best decision. Our biggest issue in this extremely young season is constant service into our goal scorers. While Alex’s pass was disgustingly good, you cannot live and die by the long ball. We tried and failed horribly against Pittsburgh.
The Loan Problem
For people who aren’t aware, loans are a very useful tool for clubs but can hamstring some decisions. In Legion’s case, we have talented players all over the pitch. This has lead to having proper depth across every single position. Here’s the issue with that: there’s not enough playing time for everybody. The way loans work is that the parent club (FC Dallas for Smith, New England for Reveno) will ask the club taking on the loanee to play the player a certain amount of matches and in certain positions. These are development opportunities and if they aren’t played enough or in the correct place, then it just ends up being a waste of a season for player and parent club.
While Smith and Reveno are obviously quality players who have a bright, bright future ahead of them, I’m not 100% positive if I would include them in my Legion Best XI as of today. Does that mean they’re bad or that they won’t work their way in? Absolutely not, but it does mean that our better players may not get the playing time in order to get everybody on the pitch. One such casualty to the loanee will likely be Prosper Kasim, who will likely be a super sub piece once Martinez is back and healthy, to make way for Collin Smith. We could also see Jake Rufe get a relegation to bench to make way for Smith. Either way, those are two candidates that may unfairly get the boot from the XI.
Underrated Player of the Match
A new part of these articles is that I want to shoutout an underrated player of the match. This will be a player that won’t be Pasher, Brett, MVO, Crognale, or even Reveno. I will try my best to find a player who did not put up a scoring contribution (or at least directly) or have a killer match defensively.
So for my first ever UPOTM, it goes to Diba Nwegbo. Diba, the #7 and starting striker the last two matches, has been quality. While he has yet to open his scoring or assisting account for the 3 Sparks, he has been an absolute pest for backlines and spark in the attack. Ignore the FotMob score, ignore your typical striker statistics. Ignore all of that. He is the most efficient presser on the team. He forced so many errors in these last two matches that have created chances. Once he gets his scoring boots on, I have no idea how you kick him out of the Starting XI. Truly an embarrassment of striking riches in the Magic City.
JOIN ME AT GHOST TRAIN
Originally tweeted by Kaylor Hodges (@KaylorHodges) on February 22, 2023.
THIS SATURDAY, I WILL BE DOING MY FIRST EVER LIVE SHOW AT GHOST TRAIN BREWING COMPANY. I’m not sure how it will go or what will happen, but I’m doing my first ever live show. This will work like the Manning Casts (but I’m not good at soccer) do on ESPN for Monday Night Football. I want to be able to pair my thoughts on the match in real time, make it a fun conversation, while also enjoying the live environment. I hope you all join along!
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