Match Recap – Birmingham Legion vs Louisville City – 04/02/2022
Louisville City has started their season in great form. Three straight wins for the boys in purple followed by a draw in the most recent match against Indy. While not earning all three points at home is a bummer, the team showed determination and tactical flexibility to get back into the match for the point. City’s next test would be on the road against the Birmingham Legion at their new home field, Protective Stadium. The Legion hadn’t yet found many points. However, the beginning of their schedule was a difficult one. With the Birmingham Legion anxious to get their season back on track and LouCity eager to rebound from the tactical misstep against Indy, it was set to be a close contest.
With a full week between matches, Coach Danny Cruz did not need to juggle the “tired legs” factor that he has had to consider the previous two outings. Returning the team’s traditional 4-3-3, Josh Wynder, Paolo DelPiccolo, and Matiti Mushagalusa all made their returns to the starting eleven. The Legion, meanwhile, used a 3-4-3 in the comfort of their home stadium. Be sure to look at Kaylor Hodges’Hammering Down piece on the match and the Legion’s tactics.
Birmingham came out of the gate with some early aggression in this match. They found their first half-chance only three minutes in when a long lobbed pass allowed one of their attackers open space on the left flank. Fortunately, LouCity’s defense was able to limit the opportunity to an angled shot that Kyle Morton was able to handle. Morados got their first good look at goal at 20’ when Brian Ownby made a nice run between two Legion midfielders and took a hard shot from the top of the box that was ultimately caught by the keeper. While City had the possession edge in this half, it was the Legion doing more with the possession. Louisville’s plans were not exactly panning out as they would have liked, and their jobs got much harder near the end of the half. At 42’, Napo Matsoso had a midfield encounter with a Legion player that sent him to the deck. Napo made contact with his face and it initially earned him a yellow card. However, after discussions with the line ref, it was changed to a red. The boys in purple would have to play the second half a man down.
Halftime allowed the staff an opportunity to reassess and adjust after the red card. Moving into a 5-3-1, Wilson Harris and Matiti exited the match for Sean Totsch and Carlos Moguel.
Despite the disadvantage, they fought to make it competitive. Carlos took a wonderful freekick at 50’ that sent the ball near the far post where PDP was waiting. He headed the ball, but it bounced off the ground and into the keeper’s hands. Another similar sequence occurred at 67’ but that kick from Carlos was headed by Totsch. It, too, was recovered by the Legion keeper. Morton made arguably the biggest save of the night only a few minutes later. A lobbed pass over City’s backline found an escaping attacker ready to grab the ball. One on one, Morton came off his line to make himself bigger and was able to body block the shot. A huge stop for Louisville and a big missed opportunity for the Legion. At 79’, Birmingham fired off a low, bouncing shot through traffic, but a diving save from Morton eliminated the danger. A minute later, Ray Serrano relieved Corben Bone. Right at 90’, the Legion found their last big chance of the match. A diagonal pass to an open attacker in the final third resulted in yet another shot that Morton was able to body block. In the dying minutes of the match, Ownby was subbed out for Hunter Sekelsky, who was making his professional debut. The boys in purple would go on to hold onto the 0-0 draw. Considering the earlier red card, a welcomed result.
By The Numbers
The red card obviously transformed the match. With it happening right before the half, it made for a good before and after comparison of relatively equal lengths. Although LouCity’s possession fell off a cliff when they went down a man, some of their other statistics didn’t quite take the same nose dive. In the first half, the heat map shows a good spread of possession but only a few blips here and there in or around the box. In the second half, their left flank is essentially taken out of the equation, but they managed to find more opportunities in dangerous areas. You can see this in the shooting numbers as well; three shots with one on target in the first half and six shots with two on target in the second. Not a huge swing but big considering the disadvantage. Defensively, they didn’t allow any more shots than they did in the first half (eight each half) and actually allowed one less on target (three in the first and two in the second). Like the previous match, City adapted and adapted well. Props to Manny Perez and Brian Ownby for making things happen on their side of the pitch. Manny won 80% of his ground duels and had a 93% pass success rate while Ownby won the most duels of the match and found the most fouls. His efforts earned him the fan-voted POTM.
Player Of The Match
Cases could be made for Manny Perez and Brian Ownby, however, Kyle Morton deserves recognition for his efforts in this match. Even after being down a man for half the match, Morton was able to weather the storm and record five saves in the team’s fourth shutout. The Birmingham Legion had a few shots that might have gotten by other keepers, but thanks to Morton’s quality, LouCity was able to hang on for the draw on the road. Morton was the difference between the draw and a loss.
There was a lot to take in with this match. Birmingham did unfortunately well in controlling the match and finding shooting opportunities, even when it was 11 on 11. Speaking of which, going a man down essentially eliminated any chances of winning. How the red was earned doesn’t help to make it any more palatable. An unnecessary incident that Napo will need to learn from. With that said, the squad’s ability to make the best of a bad situation was a good silver lining. “I don’t think we started the game well… but that’s not the story of this game,” said Coach Cruz. “… There were so many positives to take from tonight, and when I spoke to the players, I said, ‘We’ll talk about the first half on Monday because I want you guys to feel what you’ve just done. I want us to put that focus on that second half as we walk out of the stadium.’” A man down, they held off a rabid Legion attack and found even more opportunities of their own. They adjusted and remained focused. It’s a frustrating result considering how well the team has done in this situation, but their resilience has been impressive. “You go into every game wanting three points, but sometimes one point is as good as a win,” Morton said. “I think tonight, that one point was pretty special… We showed a lot of willingness to fight. At halftime, we switched a few things around and made some substitutions to give us the best chance to get a result, and that’s what happened.” The team’s adaptability and grit are what separated the good from the great. We’d all like for them to need and tap into that a bit less. However, it’s promising to know what they are capable of.
Another bright spot in the match was the debut of another academy signing, Hunter Sekelsky. Coach Cruz stated, “Hunter’s done an excellent job in training and earned the opportunity tonight. I don’t put these players in the game just to put them in the game. I put them in the game because I believe they give us either the best chance to win or, in the case of tonight, Hunter gave us the best chance to come out of there with a result.” Hunter’s dad happened to be among the handful of traveling supporters. Getting to see his reaction to his son entering the match was special. A heartwarming moment Hunter and his family will never forget.
All in all, suboptimal and frustrating, but there were still positives to latch onto. Louisville is still one of the hottest teams in the league and it’s still early in the season, so no reason to get riled up yet. Let’s hope the team can correct course during this week’s Open Cup match and this weekend’s match against a surprisingly solid Loudoun team. Speaking of Open Cup, my recap for that match will be on TheCup.us so keep an eye out for it on their site or Twitter/Facebook! And don’t forget to check out Kaylor Hodges’ Hammering Down piece on BHMvLOU!
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Want to do a little more reading on LouCity? Might I suggest The Tifos of Louisville City, Louisville City’s Pathway To The Pros, Louisville City's Preparations For The Future, What Are Expected Goals (xG)?, or What Are Goals Added (G+)?.
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