Nearly a year after an exciting matchup in The Magic City resulted in a 3-2 victory for Atlanta United, the MLS side returned to face off against the Boys in Black a second time.
In a competitive set of friendly fixtures, the first match finished in a 0-0 draw and the second exhibition of reserve players finished with a 1-0 away victory for Atlanta.
Legion FC’s original starting lineup featured standout defenders Phanuel Kavita and Ryan James, along with Jamaican national team attacking midfielder Junior Flemmings. The Legion’s attack was led by familiar faces Neco Brett, Bruno Lapa and JJ Williams.
Atlanta started a squad of some of the best in the MLS, including but not limited to Josef Martinez and Ezequiel Barco.
Legion goalkeeper Matt VanOekel was forced into a multitude of crucial saves on the day, a sign of what might be to come when USL play begins in just over a month.
Former UCF standout Jonny Dean starred on defense for Birmingham and had an impressive goal-line clearance in the first contest.
In a general sense, Legion FC head coach Tommy Soehn was impressed with his squad’s form in the first true test of 2021.
“We were solid in the way we pressed, and our shape was really good defensively,” Soehn said in a press release. “The only part we lacked was the quality at the end when we forced turnovers and putting it into the back of the net, of which we still have to work on. I was really pleased, though, with the majority of the other things this early in the year against a quality team.
Although the Legion will be participating in its third season, the goals for the squad will not be changing this year in USL play.
“We haven’t had a home playoff game, so that’s first and foremost,” Soehn said. “Playoffs isn’t even a thing anymore, we have to make the playoffs. Something else I’d like to touch on is that I think we’ve got a lot more depth this year. We don’t have everybody in yet, but once we have everybody in, I think we can weather some of the tough stretches of the season, and I don’t think it falls off much because of our depth. I’m excited for that part of it too. Today some of the guys were missing but once everybody is here, I think it’s all positives to come.”
The second matchup saw full-squad substitutions for both sides. The Legion lacked a finishing quality and ability to possess the ball, while Atlanta had the majority of the chances, scoring via defender Anton Walkes for the afternoon’s sole goal in the 33rd minute of the contest.
James and Legion defender Alex Crognale were satisfied with the squad’s performance and feel confident moving forward to face USL competition.
It’s been the first time this preseason really where we’ve been tested as a back four, and I thought we showed really well,” Crognale said in the press release. “The positioning, the communication, we were really solid for our first time out. To play against a team like Atlanta United, with the attack they have, it just gives us confidence moving through preseason, and we’re excited to continue to build.”
If the offense can play as well as the defense did today (against top-tier American competition, respectively), this season should be something special. When JJ Williams, Neco Brett and Junior Flemmings are in form up top, they are easily the most intimidating set of attackers in the entire league. Pair that with Bruno Lapa and Prosper Kasim following close behind in the midfield working their magic, we should be able to open up USL-level defensive talent on a regular game-to-game basis.
I am fully ready and expecting to earn some hardware this season and I hope it comes by way of a USL Championship title.
From everything I have seen so far, the lads will have a very solid chance to accomplish this feat so long as they are not plagued with injuries as in years past.
Our talent has majorly upgraded and I am ready to buckle up and hammer down for a year of great soccer, fun, and a plethora of wins at BBVA field this season.
Then, if the squad fulfills these expectations, I’ll have to break down and purchase that beautiful, bold “Sweet Home” third kit. And yes, the real one (Rus).
Maybe by then our very own Ethan Miller will have his Prosper Kasim jersey that he promised us just over a year ago!
As always and in everything, only time will tell…
The 2021 USL Championship season is set to kick off in Birmingham on Saturday, May 1, at 6:30 p.m. The Boys in Black will take on Indy Eleven, with tickets now available for purchase on the Legion FC Website.
(Photo taken in 2020; courtesy of AL.com)