What Went Wrong Was on the Horizon
In one of the most embarrassing matches the 3 Sparks have played in since 2019, many will ask, “Where did this come from?!” The fact of the matter is that while the result is extreme, the performance itself was coming.
What does that really mean? A team who has marginally overperformed, massively underperforms against a team who has also been underperforming, who then overperforms, we get a 3-0 loss to Loudoun United.
Birmingham Legion FC was without their head coach Tommy Soehn for much of the week, dealing with the death of his father. “I think it was a difficult week because I wasn’t there all week,” said Soehn in Legion’s post match presser.
Legion played flat, not holding possession and also pressing to create counterattacks. While they have been moving away from heavy possession stats, they have supplemented that possession with counterattacks designed to create havoc in the midfield, utilize speed out wide, and cut inside with a finish. This match, it just did not happen.
The midfield turned over the ball more than ever, forcing more recoveries out of the backline than any match this season. The backline was on the backfoot that they end up taking the blame for the 19 shots, rather than their normal 10 on average.
All of this is coming days after Legion FO made the decision to play the US Open Cup match in Tuscaloosa, Alabama at the Alabama Soccer Stadium. This was a perfect storm for fans to feel frustration toward the club. We can feel how we want about how the team performed and what is happening off of the field, but those are facts. Now the time where I give my opinion.
The Underlying Numbers
We’re about to get nerdy. In baseball, there’s a stat for everything. While soccer does have that many stats, it has a lot. When watching film, there may be issues occurring that are not obvious from the very beginning. That said, if results are not going in the “right” direction, those numbers may point you to film to find the issue. That’s where we will start.
If you have ever played FIFA, Football Manager, or even just watched a single MLS or European soccer match, you’ve heard of this stat. Without getting into the nitty gritty, it means the percentage that the ball will hit the back of the net.
Example: Nuhu is the goal keeper for Union Omaha. Last year, he had a goal kick that went in for a goal. He was credited with a 0.0001 xG. Which simplifies to a 0.01% chance of going in, which is a 1 in 10,000 chance. When you think about how many goal kicks leads to goals, that seems about right.
All that said, the “underlying numbers” say that Legion’s defense has been heavily overperforming this season. Going into last night’s match, Legion were averaging 1.3 xG/90, so they were expected to allow just over 1 goal per match. To that point, Legion were averaging 1 goal/90. Over the span of those 5 matches, Legion were expected to concede at least one more goal than they had to that point. What does that mean? Well, nothing. It means nothing. Why?
Originally tweeted by Birmingham Legion FC (@bhmlegion) on March 12, 2023.
That one goal was saved by Matt VanOekel or Trevor Spangenberg. Teams out perform their xG all the time and it means nothing. A good goalkeeper will outperform xGs constantly, look at Jordan Farr, Nate Steinwascher, and even MVO. If that’s true, then what am I getting so uptight over?
The issue is not how many shots are allowed, rather where they are allowed and how they are allowed. When a shot is up close and in front of the goal, it’s more likely to go in than a shot far away and to the side. That’s analysis. Legion have been doing a pretty good job, until April 15th, at limiting shots, only allowing about 10 per match. If you’re only allowing 10 shots per match, you’re one of the best defenses in the league.
The dark side of that is that when Legion allow chances, they’re good chances. Let’s look at Legion’s high flying attack. This attack that consists of Juan Agudelo, Prosper Kasim, Neco Brett, Enzo Martinez, Tyler Pasher, and now Diba Nwegbo averages about 0.093 xG/shot. That means our shots have about a 9.3% chance of going in the net. Not bad! Our defense is allowing 0.125 xG/shot. That means our opponents’ shots have a 12.5% chance of going in the net. Not great. In fact, it’s really bad.
Originally tweeted by USL Championship (@USLChampionship) on April 15, 2023.
What about against Loudoun? Loudoun had an xG 2.28 on 19 shots, which averages out to… 0.12 xG/shot. Yeah. The issue is not allowing shots, it’s the quality of shots, and last night Legion allowed both. By the way, this goal had an xG of 0.88. 88% of the time that ball goes in the back of the net. Better chance than a penalty.
Originally tweeted by Loudoun United FC (@LoudounUnitedFC) on April 15, 2023.
Passes Per Defensive Action (PPDA)
Not to be confused with “PDA”, Passes Per Defensive Action (PPDA) is a stat to tell how active a team is out of possession to win the ball back. What is a “defensive action”, you may ask. A defensive action is any attempt to tackle, intercept, challenge, or foul the ball. Simple, right? Why do we follow that? In a massive oversimplification, it tells you how intense a “press” is. What is a press? Just short for pressure. It’s a stat to tell you how much pressure is being put on the other team.
Against the Rowdies, Legion allowed 6.3 PPDA in the first 15 minutes of the match. That’s a heavy amount of pressure, which is not sustainable for most clubs around the planet. The best teams in the world tend to average around 4-8 PPDA for a full 90 minutes. To put on a full 4-8 PPDA for a full 90′ means you have an incredible amount of fitness and are effective pressers of the ball.
Originally tweeted by Loudoun United FC (@LoudounUnitedFC) on April 15, 2023.
What does all that matter? Well, according to Wyscout, from 31′-45’+, Legion had a 40 PPDA. 40. According to their statistics, Legion allowed Loudoun 40 passes before attempting a defensive action. While I believe that number is inflated, there’s no question that there was virtually zero pressure put on ball carriers. While standing in and jockeying in a passing lane is a form of defense, it’s not a “defensive action.” Is there any question on why two goals were scored against Legion during that time?
What Does It All Mean?
Well, Loudoun United was one the perfect storm for this to happen. They’re a young squad who have made a living off of exploiting space and taking shots when they have even an inch to shoot on. That’s exactly what we saw last night.
Legion came in and played flat, allowing Loudoun to dictate the pace of play, assuming Loudoun would force their own errors. Unfortunately, this is a great Loudoun United side who will be in the hunt for the playoffs. They aren’t the same 6-0 battering piece for the year prior, but it appeared that some players did not get that message.
When you face a team who is hungry and is a team who can exploit your weaknesses perfectly, all while you come out with what appears to be little desire and accentuate your weaknesses, you get a 3-0 thrashing that could have been much worse if not for the heroics of Trevor Spangenberg in the first 30′.
The Magic City Kit
The first ever Hammering Down kit is out NOW! The inspiration for The Magic City kit is in the name: The Magic City. There are three locations highlighted on the map. Rickwood Field, the oldest active baseball park in the United States and home of the Birmingham Black Barons. Legion Field, original home of the Iron Bowl and host of several soccer matches in the 1996 Olympics. Protective Stadium, the home of Birmingham Legion FC and the 2022 World Games. These locations have changed United States sports forever, and they here in our backyard. Overlooking the Magic City is Vulcan himself, standing tall over our beautiful city.
You can pre-order NOW using THIS LINK!
I want to thank my Patrons who help fund my access to the stats provided by Wyscout. I have started putting together my own statistical page, and if you want exclusive access to these stats and the ability to download my videography, then check out the link above!
- Ben Mims
- Clay Grisetti
- Dillan Reed
- Matt Allison
- Matt Ennis
- Paul Hoffman
- Ray Methvin
- Sandy Lester
- Scot Lee
- Simon Iles
- Steven Benton
- Trent Webb
- Trey Hoffman
- Tyler Payne
- Zach Ferris
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