After a scrappy 2-1 win against the Charleston Battery, the Birmingham Legion FC are 2-0-0 and hungry for more wins. During the humid match in South Carolina, Bruno Lapa continued to impress USL pundits. With the stunning ability to distribute the ball and finish with ease, Lapa rightfully claimed USL Player of the Week..
Moving into Week 3, Legion is taking on their biggest test yet as they host the Tampa Bay Rowdies tomorrow night with kickoff set for 6:30 PM CT. The Rowdies are proving to be a great team again this year on all fronts. In this second installment of Legion Look Ahead, we will be focusing on the statistical analysis of the Rowdies and Legion FC’s chances to come away with three points.
Who Are the Rowdies?
The Tampa Bay Rowdies are a club with serious talent on all parts of the game. While only playing three matches, and only two after the restart, the results they have accumulated are not a fluke. While it is too soon to tell, this may prove to be the toughest match of the year for the Legion squad as a whole. After watching all three Tampa matches three times each, I have the data to tell you why.
Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, keeper is the biggest question mark of the team. Evan Louro showed to be a great asset on the field in the opening night against New York Red Bulls II with the great ability to stop the ball from going into the net. Evan finished the match with three saves, one being a great diving save. In the second match against Atlanta United II, Louro was challenged just once all night and let in the lone shot on goal. In match three against North Carolina FC, Louro finished with two brilliant diving saves but still let in half of the shots on goal. Evan Louro has shown time and time again that his ability to stop the ball is brilliant, when he wants it to be.
The biggest issue for Louro is his distribution. While his long ball accuracy sits around 46%, much of that data is skewed by Tampa’s match against Atlanta where Louro only attempted 10 long balls. If you remove the match against the 10-man side ATL UTD 2, Evan only had 36% of his long balls reach their target. His distribution with the long ball has lead to more possession for the other team, helping a 2-0 lead to become a 2-2 draw.
There was no question that the Rowdies’ backline would be great. Being led by 2018 USL Defender of the Year Forrest Lasso, the expectation was that Tampa Bay would be solid and stingy on the backline, but they’re also shown the ability to keep possession and build into the attack. In the last two matches, every single player on the backline had a passing percentage above 79%. In those two matches, Aaron Guillen had a passing percentage of 86.5% with a high of 87%. On the opposite side of the field, Jordan Scarlett averaged 87.5% of his passes completed with a high of 89%(!) of his passes reaching his target. The ability to play out of the three-man backline helps Tampa remain a fluid unit that can score at anytime.
While the last match against North Carolina is one the backline would love to forget, there was upside for the unit. The NCFC team dominated nearly every single stat line, the most shocking being 14 total shots. But, Tampa’s stingy defense blocked six of those shots and only allowed four corners of those blocks and saves. With the efficiency Legion FC has scored, 14 shots will lead to many more than just four shots on goal.
The battle between the forwards of Birmingham and the backline of Tampa Bay will prove to be one of the most exciting match ups that you will see all year in the USL.
It is impossible to talk about the midfield of the Rowdies without mentioning Leo Fernandes. He is single handedly creating the offense for Tampa Bay. With total of three goals, one assist, and seven chances created, the offense runs though Leo. In the center of midfield is Fernandes’ partner in crime, Zach Steinberger. While Steinberger does not have any goals, Zach is an expert in distribution with a whopping 82% passing accuracy on the season. Another reason Steinberger is so dangerous is because he is not afraid with the ball at his feet. He has completed 71% of his dribbles, creating solid scoring chances for his team.
— Tampa Bay Rowdies (@TampaBayRowdies) July 18, 2020
There is a bad side, though. After Steinberger and Fernandes, there is a severe drop off. While most of the midfielders do hold a higher accuracy percentage, most of the passes are not going forward. Removing Steinberger and Fernandes, the team is only creating 1.5 chances per match. Going against in a team in Legion who is known around the league for having a stingy defense, that will not work. Legion FC is a team that is not going to press and throw themselves out of position for the interception. To have a chance against this Birmingham squad, somebody besides Steinberger and Fernandes needs to step up in the middle.
How do I say this nicely? How useful is a forward who is not a threat to score or set up a score? Both forwards only have one goal and ZERO assists. The worst offender is Lucky Mkosana. He has not created a single chance for his team. Let me repeat that…Lucky Mkosana has not created ONE SINGLE CHANCE for his team to score in 103 minutes this season. Mkosana is a liability off of the ball, being the direct cause of one of North Carolina’s goals. Lucky’s striking partner, Sebastian Guenzatti, has not been much better. While Sebastian has set up his team with three chances created in 3 matches and a passing percentage of 80%, he has gifted the other team possession with sloppy footwork. Guenzatti has been dispossessed 83% of the time he has dribbled the ball.
Unless other forwards step it up, Legion FC’s backline will eat them alive. Birmingham is leading the league in clearances with an average of 28 per match. If the Tampa 2 (up top) do not release the ball quickly and take their chances, the Legion backline will remove the ball from their feet and start the counter.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies are not a team who will beat you on possession or constant pressure but rather quick build-up plays. The backline is very accurate with their passes and will work back to front in the blink of an eye. Quick passes in the midfield lead to lots of chances for Fernandes and that is when he will strike. Tampa is also not afraid of control physical play. With 10.3 tackles per match, they know how to time their tackles and will dispossess an attacking player at any time.
What Does This Mean for the Legion?
This will not be an easy match, but Tampa Bay will allow Legion FC to hold the possession and create plays. Birmingham is one of the best in the league with five shots on target per match. Going against a team in the Rowdies that has allowed nine shots in the box, the Legion will make that backline pay. Tampa, on the other side, only averages 3.3 shots on target per match. If the Birmingham midfield and backline can snuff out Fernandes and hold him in check, Birmingham Legion FC will leave The Bank with a well earned three points.