Match Recap – Birmingham Legion vs Louisville City – 08/28/2021
Louisville City took advantage of the frequent home play in the first half of the season to put themselves in a good position for the away-heavy back end of the schedule. Given their early success, LouCity is in the conversation for winning the regular season, a feat they have not yet accomplished. With the playoffs almost essentially secured, every point needs to be secured to continue to pace with the likes of Phoenix Rising and El Paso Locomotive. The recent draw with the Energy derailed City’s four-game win streak. LouCity’s next opponent would be an even more important one. Not only to try to secure points for the title chase, but to also secure their spot at the top of the Central Division. The Birmingham Legion has proven to be a worthy opponent, and a win in their house would be huge. Would Louisville be able to get it done in Alabama?
Louisville City Lineup
Like the previous four matches, Coach Danny Cruz selected the 4-3-3 for this encounter. Unfortunately, several players were unavailable for selection including Jonathan Gomez, Wes Charpie (both of whom were injured last match), Corben Bone, and Niall McCabe. Several influential players who have been a big part of the squad’s success. Thankfully, the purple bench is deep and several other quality players such as Josh Wynder and Oscar Jimenez entered the starting eleven to backfill those who were missing. On the absences, Coach Cruz stated, “I've said it over and over again: I believe in the depth of the group. I certainly believe anyone in that locker room is ready to start at any moment. For us, we'll travel to Birmingham and the expectation is three points." It’s also worth pointing out the Brian Ownby reappeared on the bench after missing the last match, Simon Lefebvre replaced Chris Hubbard on the bench as backup keeper, and both Abdou Thiam and Elijah Wynder were available for selection (after lengthy spells on the sideline).
The first half started rather quiet. The two Central titans testing and feeling one another out. The first big moment occurred at 29’. A long leading pass resulted in a Legion possession in City’s final third. A cross was sent in for the tap-in shot, but Parker Siegfried came off his line and made himself big enough to block the shot. A rebound was secured by the three sparks, however, that short cross to the far post missed connecting with the diving striker’s foot. Quite the scary moment for Morados. Louisville’s first test presented to the Legion’s keeper happened at 42’ when Paolo DelPiccolo’s shot from the box’s edge forced a diving deflection save. Two minutes later, Oscar made a phenomenal diving tackle to break up a BHM chance. It’s great to see him back on the pitch healthy! This would prove to be the last noteworthy moment of the first half as both teams went into the half tied 0-0.
To start the second half, Akil Watts was subbed in for Pat McMahon, who appeared to have picked up an injury during the end of the first half. Despite having time to reorganize and reassess, it was the Legion who broke through and found the match’s first goal. At 51’, a lofted ball was sent into the box and found the foot of a Birmingham attacker who broke away from Tyler Gibson’s coverage and was not picked up by Sean Totsch. It was so close to the net, there was little time for Parker to react. Great work by the three sparks to exploit the defensive setup. Louisville City wasn’t ready to give in and stuck back roughly ten minutes later. Great team passing quickly worked the ball down the pitch to the Legion’s box. Jorge Gonzalez launched a cross into the box that was slightly off target for a strike from Cameron Lancaster but was caught by Antoine Hoppenot on the other side. Hoppenot sent it back across and the savvy veteran PDP was there to poke it past the goalie. Teamwork makes the dream work. Match even 1-1.
More substitutions were in order at 64’ as Jorge and Hoppenot came off for Ownby and Jimmy McLaughlin. Only several minutes later, both Ownby and Jimmy were involved in the match's next big moment. Ownby, looking to exploit the defensive positioning, lobbed the ball over the Birmingham backline to Jimmy. However, a retreating defender was able to interfere with his head. The loose ball went airborne. Cam took advantage of the opportunity and fire off an audacious jumping spin kick. It forced a save out of the goalie. An easy Sports Center Top 10 goal had it found the back of the net, alas it was not to be. Unfortunately, the Birmingham Legion dealt the death blow at 78’. A charging Legion attacker was dislodged of the ball at the box's edge. Both Parker and BHM’s JJ Williams, sprinting between Totsch and Josh, charged for the loose ball. The attacker made it before Parker could pounce on it and chipped it perfectly over him. William’s, a UK product, had come on only a minute before that sequence. 2-1 for the home team. Kyle Greig was subbed on for Oscar in a desperate attempt to salvage a draw, but the damage was done and LouCity was handed their first loss since 07/10/2021 away at Tulsa.
By The Numbers
While LouCity won out on possession and passing (as they normally do), the majority of passes uncharacteristically occurred in their own half. Despite this drop in possession quality, the boys in purple managed to secure relatively comparable shooting and chance creation numbers as their black and gold foes. Three on-target shots isn’t great, but Birmingham is a more quality opponent than many others the squad has faced. The ever-lethal Cam Lancaster was held to the least touches of any outfield player (25), a testament to the three spark’s defensive work. As a whole, City secured the greater expected goal value (1.35 to 1.01). While this doesn’t “prove” that Louisville left goals on the table, it does show that perhaps the defense was a bit more porous than normal. Perhaps it was the Legion’s usage of the counter-attack that was City’s undoing.
I was critical of LOU’s inability to secure three points at Oklahoma City, however, the post-match comments signaled a bit of understanding for the match’s outcome. I try to remain positive and look at the bright side, but I had felt it was a real chance not fully capitalized upon. Coach Cruz was far more direct about his team’s performance in Birmingham. “I didn’t feel tonight that we out-worked the opponent, which is the bare minimum expectation here,” he said. “While we obviously need to be better in the final third in the last couple games, I was frustrated tonight with the mentality. I was frustrated with the overall lack of discipline in the final third.” Even down a few very critical players (JoGo and Bone), I felt a draw was a fair minimum expectation. This team has shown that they are not only capable of winning the Central Division, but potentially the whole league as well. BHMvLOU was not a champion-caliber performance. “I thought collectively there were some individual mistakes that obviously hurt us and a lot of frustration obviously from me and the locker room as well.” Coach Cruz stated. Enough chances were there and a case could be made the goals conceded were preventable. It was a huge win for the Alabama side and a big loss for City. “We’re frustrated,” said Brian Ownby. “Our standards are higher than that — at least the effort. I think we all could have given more effort tonight, and that’s disappointing. I think getting complacent bit us early in the second half. We got back in, then got complacent for that second goal. We have higher expectations. We want to win the league, and this is unacceptable for us.” After that loss, FiveThirtyEight’s chances of LouCity claiming first dropped from 87% to 79%. While still relatively high, it pales in comparison to Rising’s 97%. With that said, things are far from over. Those projections will mean little if Louisville City can straighten the ship and get back to their winning ways. Post-match, Coach Cruz said, “It’s easy to dissect it when you lost a game, but ultimately it’s important to me that we respond the right way, which we have in the past.” City are back at home for the only time in September on 09/03 to take on Tulsa. Those could be the three points to kick start a new win streak. Keep your fingers crossed, City fans!
On 09/18, LouCity will be heading north to take on Indy Eleven! Tickets to the designated visitor’s supporters section (208) can be obtained here. Let’s show the boys some support on the road! Please note there will not be any team-organized transportation due to the ‘rona.
The Coopers Angel’s Share program is focusing on helping man’s best friend and the furry felines of Louisville in August. Check out the post here to see how you can help and win a signed LouCity ball!
If you’re looking to expand your purple wardrobe, Vamos Morados shirts are available!
Be sure to check out the Vamos Morados Podcast featuring me, Benton, and Zach Allen-Kelly. It’s available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcast, Audible, and Spotify. Everything you need to listen can be found on the Podcast page. Subscribe so you don’t miss an episode!