The quality of the Legion backline depreciated in 2020, and that’s a fact. While 2019 brought a 624-minute streak without allowing a goal, 2020 brought some games that were baffling considering the squad’s form in its inaugural season.
Now, Jay Heaps and Tom Soehn are looking to solidify the backline once again, this time, with quality USL players from around the league. Two signings have been announced and both will look to play important roles in Birmingham.
The first announcement was the signing of defender Ryan James to a multi-year deal, pending league and federation approval. The former Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC defender will look to be a part of a stout backline and also creep ahead to score some goals off of corners and set pieces, as he did frequently with Pittsburgh.
“Ryan is a dynamic, versatile defender that also has the ability to get forward in the attack,” said President and GM Jay Heaps according to a press release. “We’re excited to add Ryan to our group as his experience in this league will be a great addition to our locker room.”
James started regularly for the Riverhounds over the past two years, mainly featuring as a left wing back. He played in 55 of Pittsburgh’s 56 matches across all competitions. The Canadian finished the 2019 season with a career high in assists (6) and then followed that statistical milestone up with a career high in goals (5) in an abbreviated 2020 campaign. He was also named USL Championship Player of the Week Award in Week 10 this past season after a two-goal performance and shutout win.
James played his college ball at Bowling Green, where he played in all 79 games in four years, making 69 starts and racking up nine goals and 15 assists on his way to consecutive Second Team All Mid-American Conference selections following his junior and senior seasons.
Additionally, the Legion signed Phanuel Kavita to a multi-year deal, pending league and federation approval.
“Phanuel is an excellent defender with experience at center back in both MLS and the USL Championship,” said President and GM Jay Heaps according to a press release. “We’ve tracked him since his time at Clemson and into the MLS, and we believe he will be a great addition to our back line.”
Kavita moved from Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, to join the Real Salt Lake Academy, before playing collegiately at Clemson University from 2011 to 2014. As a Tiger, he started in all 81 games in which he featured and captained the team to the ACC Tournament Championship, where he was named to the All-ACC Tournament team in 2014.
With Saint Louis FC, Kavita made 88 appearances, 84 of which were starts, and bagged three goals and one assist. In 2019 and 2020, he started 54 of the 56 matches and played every single minute in all 54 of those games. Last year, he finished as Saint Louis’s leader in passes, blocks, and minutes played, was second in clearances, and fourth in tackles and tackles won.
Both players should be fun to watch in Birmingham and have a great chance of securing two starting spots.
If the squad can locate some young talent to fill in off the bench, the Legion could look to return to their impressive defensive form in 2021.