Match Recap – Louisville City vs Birmingham Legion – 05/09/2021
With a week of rest under their belt, Louisville City returned to Lynn Family Stadium to take on the Birmingham Legion. While the days following the ATL2 match ended up being a bit distracting, the extra week was welcomed to provide time to sort things out. The newly promoted interim manager, Coach Danny Cruz, was thankfully given a little extra time to get situated before the game. Morados could not afford to enter the match unfocused. Although the Legion is expected to be one of the better squads in the Central Division, they entered the match without Junior Flemmings and JJ Williams. It was a minor advantage that LouCity ultimately failed to capitalize on.
Louisville City Lineup
Given the coaching shakeup, this was something many fans were curious to see. Although Coach Cruz has a known preference for the 3-5-2, City was deployed in a 4-4-2. This was an interesting change from the 4-3-3 all have known Louisville to play in for the previous year plus. Changes from the previous match include Antoine Hoppenot and Pat McMahon in the starting eleven, Niall McCabe on the bench, and Oscar Jimenez missing entirely from the eighteen. Unfortunately, Oscar was spotted at the match with crutches. As of this writing, the club has not released any details on his status.
This match wasted no time providing the fans with some action. In the second minute, the Legion committed a foul on the edge of their box, providing LouCity an early opportunity on goal. That kick was fended off resulting in two corner kicks for City. On the second, at 3’, Corben Bone’s perfectly placed kick was tracked down and headed into the side netting by Pat McMahon. This was the veteran defender's first goal since 2019. And just like that, Louisville City was up 1-0. Bone commented on the goal post-match, “I just tried to put it in the mixer. Pat made a good run and hits it into the back of the net. It was a good start and I’m pleased with it.”
BHM was not demoralized and was determined to overcome the early deficit. Just two minutes later, they attempted a shot on goal that was body blocked by central defender Alexis Souahy. At 19’, Jonathan Gomez showcased his impressive defensive abilities with a beautiful tackle, dispossessing the Birmingham attacker. By this point, the Legion had already proven to be more of a threat than Atlanta United 2 in the entire previous match.
Shortly after the halfway point of the first half, JoGo began a great offensive sequence getting the ball to Hoppenot in the box who sent in the short cross to Cameron Lancaster, narrowly missing connecting with the striker. This would end up being Hop’s last action of the match. Hop came off and made way for Brian Ownby. Post-match, Coach Cruz stated, “Antoine’s got a little bit of a knock. He wasn’t feeling good and told me immediately. He had to come out.” Ownby immediately got into the action. Shortly after coming on, he sent a long leading pass to Akil Watts who dished the ball across the box to Cam whose shot was then body blocked out. On the ensuing corner, Paolo DelPiccolo tried to head in his third goal of the season but the keeper caught it. In the final few minutes of the half there another fantastic defensive stop by JoGo which would ultimately be the last notable play before the teams hit the locker room. Although City led on the scoresheet and in possession, it was the Legion who had accumulated the most shots (eight) in the half.
The second half began with a slow start, with the first notable event being a near goal of a deflection. A BHM defender went to clear the ball out of their box, but Ownby got in front of it, nearly resulting in a freak goal. In the following minutes, at 58’ was the most talked-about moment of the match. The Legion was in possession, charging into LouCity’s half. A pass to Neco Brett left him with open space between him and the goal. Pat, who had drifted inward right before the pass to Brett, hustled back and when for a sliding challenge in the box. The tackle made contact, taking down Brett, and drew the penalty call. While it looked light (in my biased eyes) it was nonetheless contact and the correct call. You can’t put the referee in a position to make that kind of call.
This is where it got controversial. The PK was taken, and it was stopped by Chris Hubbard! But the ref signaled Hubbard had left his line before the kick was taken! Regardless of if you agree with the rule, it was the correct call. It’s since been pointed out that in the same sequence, Birmingham’s Lapa (#8) was also guilty of an infraction, entering the “D” shaped portion of the top of the box, which itself is not allowed. According to the rules, the kick is retaken if a player on both teams commits an offense. Based on all of this information shared after the fact, it seems as if the refs made the correct calls. Unfortunately for them, the vast majority of fans did not know that at the moment resulting in much unrest in the 7,500+ in attendance.
In the retaken PK, Brett buried the shot in the net. It’s hard enough to stop one PK, so it was a tall order asking Hubbard to stop a second. During and after this entire sequence of events, Pat, PDP, and Hubbard all received a yellow card. The fans and the home team were irate and hungry for revenge. Cam got a decent shot off at 70’, but it was kick saved by the keeper. Niall came in for Pat at 72’ resulting in a shift in formation to a back three. Louisville City would not be satisfied with a draw and adjusted to get all three points on the night. It was time to throw the kitchen sink at them. At 78’, JoGo had an excellent shot on goal that was deflected away. A minute or two later, he was taken down in the box that could have possibly been called as a penalty. At 90’, Tyler Gibson came on for PDP and got an unusual amount of time to play with an additional 12 minutes of stoppage called. This resulted from the PK fiasco and several BHM players laying on the pitch in the second half. Despite the extra time and a ton of unsuccessful crosses, the Legion we able to weather the storm and walk out of Lynn Family Stadium with the draw.
By The Numbers
This was a strange match but there were some constants. LouCity won the possession battle, and they passed the ball very well. What was interesting was that City took 14 corners and had 30 crosses. For comparison’s sake, they had five and 16 against ATL2 which is much closer to “normal”. Many of those were taken in the final fourth of the match when the team shifted to a back three trying to get something from the match. The Legion was content with a draw and was able to make that happen.
The officiating was a big topic of conversation amongst the #LouCity fan base after the match. The ref did feel a bit generous with his yellow card and foul calls against Louisville, but citing them as the reason for the draw (that felt like a loss) is a bit of a scapegoat. Louisville was caught out of position and paid for it in the form of the PK. City had plenty of time to find a second goal but failed to do so. There were so many fantastic build-ups and long passes that fizzled out when it came time to find a shot. Corben Bone said it well after the match,
“Execution in the final third is always something that we need in games like that. When they put a lot of guys in the box, they block shots and that kind of thing, they make it a bit chaotic. I thought they did that well. They blocked a bunch of shots and fought crosses. In certain instances, if we execute a little better, if it’s a better first touch or a better angle, it might be a different case. Credit to them I think they blocked a lot of shots and they made it difficult for us in the box. Going forward, the execution in that area is something that we can get better at and will win us games.”
On the same topic, Coach Cruz stated,
“I thought with the ball we were excellent from the middle third to get into the final third throughout the entire night. It is just that finishing touch — that final ball.”
On the bright side, fans were treated to many great defensive plays. Souahy stood out having several exceptional moments, but it was JoGo who was the true star on the squad. It looked to be one of his best performances on both sides of the ball. Oscar leaves some big shoes to fill, but he did well to cover in his absence, making his presence felt on the pitch. Fans should be very pleased with his contributions. Enjoy him wearing purple while you can.
For an alternative perspective, I connected with Kaylor Hodges to provide his insight as a fan of the opposition. Kaylor is the host of Hammering Down and provided some insight leading into the match. Here is what he had to say:
All aspects of the Legion v Louisville City match proved to be a shocker. The fact the Legion held Louisville City scoreless for over 90’+ after the early goal, the fact Legion actually looked to play as an equal to the purple, and the head reffing? Well, maybe it wasn’t that shocking, but 12’ added to the end certainly was something that most fans and the coaches did not expect.
For Legion fans, it was a great draw on the road, but it was certainly frustrating. The goal kicks that continuously went out of bounds and the quite frankly horrible passing/positioning of Ryan James really left the backline exposed and the final scoreline should have been 2-1 or 3-1 in favor of Louisville City, but Phanuel Kavita, Jonny Dean, and Ben Ofeimu really stepped up to the plate and had near-perfect positioning to stop almost every attack that Louisville presented.
How about those players to watch from the Preview? How did they fair?
Jaden played an amazing game, really playing like a guy who is much older than 19. He was a spark on offense for a majority of the match and proved to be a vital part of the match for all 90’ he was on the pitch.
The crafty midfielder created a ton of pressure on the ball when Louisville had possession but did not create as many chances as Legion fans would have liked. He had an early shot that was blocked, but the rest of his night was spent controlling the ball and trying to create the link-up plays. Bruno’s worth really showed on set pieces and it is only a matter of time before the ball really starts to go into the net. As a passer, Lapa already looks like he’s in midseason form.
The Man of the Match, as voted by the fans. Anderson was a beast when controlling the ball, knew when to make challenges, and the majority of the chances that the Legion had on Saturday started at the feet of Asiedu, whether it was from winning the ball back in the defensive third or a brilliant masterclass of ball control. If it weren’t for Anderson and the next player I will mention, it is likely that the Legion would be walking out of Lynn Family Stadium with a loss.
The Big Phanny put in a defensive masterclass, stopping runs, perfect positioning to stop a cross, or using pure strength and finesse to hold the Louisville City offense at bay. Kavita looked absolutely brilliant all night and there were very few if not zero times that he made a mistake, whether it be positioning or communication with his backline.
As a tactician, Saturday was one of the more disappointing nights Coach Beers has had. The questionable decisions started with the formation in having Neco Brett as the solo striker. Neco is a brilliant player who can work in a solo role, but the team around Brett is not built to lump the ball forward and Neco, unfortunately, is not built to win headers in the box. While the Legion squad is very quick, the team is built more on methodical movement and quick build-up plays. Having the players try to play long balls over the top, especially against a side like Louisville City, just is not going to work. The other shocking decision was to have THREE (3) of our backline players just outside the box on corner kicks, including BOTH of our center backs. The idea nearly led to the Legion conceding a breakaway goal that was only stopped thanks to the speedster that is Jonny Dean and a poor ball into the channel. In the very next corner, he does the same exact thing. Legion drew despite those decisions. Overall, a very shocking match by the gaffer.
As a Legion fan, I am counting down the days until June 16th. Once both teams are fully healthy and off suspension, this matchup is going to be absolutely insane. Both teams have proved to be formidable opponents that match up well against each other. The top of the Central Division is going to be a bloodbath all year long and I cannot wait for it.