The theme of Birmingham Legion FC’s 4-0 victory over visiting Atlanta United 2 Saturday night at BBVA Field was taking advantage of opportunities.
The team took advantage of a reeling Atlanta team that had lost five straight matches and capitalized on its own scoring chances with goals from four different players. The win, which produced the most goals in the team’s inaugural United Soccer League season, built upon a win last week and set Legion FC up with the chance to move up in postseason playoff position.
Birmingham has now won two straight matches and has another home game next week.
Coach Tom Soehn:
“We talked about what we wanted out of July, and we’re still on path to do that, … I still don’t think we’ve played our best game yet, ” Legion FC coach Tom Soehn said. “The clean sheet was a positive, good job of finishing, but there are things we want to improve on.
“All in all, I’m pleased for the group,” he added. “We took a step in the right direction.”
Legion FC scored soon after the starting whistle, as Brian Wright — picking up where he left off in last week’s 1-0 victory over North Carolina — scored in the 5th minute off a Kyle Culberson assist.
The goal was Wright’s third of the season, one in which he has been on loan from the New England Revolution of the MLS. Wright came in to score last week’s winning goal in relief of star forward Chandler Hoffman, who has been ruled out for the remainder of the season with a ruptured knee.
Part of the challenge in preparing for Saturday’s match against Atlanta was finding a way to replace Hoffman’s scoring productivity. He had a team-leading four goals this season.
Legion FC had near-chances in both the 24th and 37th minutes, the first when midfielder Daniel Johnson fooled a defender and raced to a goal attempt that was defended by goalkeeper Dylan Castanheira.
In the 37th minute, Zach Heirvaux passed to Prosper Kasim, who attempted to cross to BrianWright but an interception kept Wright from scoring his second goal of the night.
Just a minute later, though, defender Matthieu Laurent took advantage of a Daigo Kobayashi free sideline kick to score his second goal of the season and put Legion FC up 2-0.
Legion FC finished the first half with three shots on target, while keeping Atlanta United 2 from no shots on target.
Atlanta’s chances increased in the second half, with 9 attempted shots compared to just three in the first period, but Legion FC goalkeeper Matt VanOekel kept the visiting team out of the goal with three blocked shots.
His acrobatic stop in the 56th minute of a Jackson Conway attempt was the most highlight-worthy of the night; he also had blocks in the 49th minute (of a Laurent Kissidedou shot) and in the 73rd (of a Guillermo Benintez attempt).
The first good chance for a goal for Legion FC in the second half came in the 52nd minute when JJ Williams’ shot off a Kobayashi pass sailed just over the crossbar.
But then Legion FC added two late-match goals.
Birmingham increased its lead to 3-0 in the 88th minute when Daniel Johnson drove the ball from just inside the half-field mark all the way to the goal. The goal was just Johnson’s second goal of the season.
In stoppage time, Mikey Lopez was taken down in the box by goalkeeper Castanheira to set up Legion FC’s final score of the match, a successful penalty kick by Prosper Kasim.
The win moved Birmingham Legion FC to 5-4-10 and dropped Atlanta to 3-4-11.
Johnson led Legion FC with two shots on target, while Kasim and Wright both had two total shots. While Atlanta had 12 total shots to Legion FC’s 8, it was Birmingham’s ability to take advantage that made the difference in the match.
Birmingham stays at home next week to host Charlotte Independence in what will be the biggest match of the season so far. Charlotte currently sits at 10th in the USL’s Eastern Conference standings, with the top 10 teams advancing to the playoffs at the end of the season and a Legion FC win would move them into serious postseason contention.
“We’ve been more committed to the little things and it’s obviously just two games in, but it’s paying off. We were able to reset from the first part of the season,” Johnson said. “We had a lot of guys in and out in the first half of the season, and there’s a lot to be said for our consistency now. We’re staring to see the team we could have been in the first half.”
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