After a weak display in North Carolina against NCFC, the New York Red Bulls II have a chance to return to form against the Birmingham Legion. The teams kick off at around 8:00 PM EST in Birmingham this Wednesday.
After failing to win their last four, the Baby Bulls have an opportunity to stop the rot. Louisville thoroughly dominated them 5-3 after their 2-0 defeat to Saint Louis FC, and, following a gut-punch draw at home to Charleston due to a late AJ Paterson goal, NYRBII came out impotent against NCFC. They have fallen to fifth place now in the Eastern Conference, eight points adrift of first place. They have a game in hand on the teams above, and can move up to third with a win on Wednesday. However, they have failed to win since their Charlotte encounter, and haven’t won on the road since playing Swope Park Rangers on August 24th.
They will look to return to form against Birmingham Legion, who they will be playing to make up for their April 6th encounter that was postponed due to inclement weather. This Birmingham team looked to be dead and buried after failing to win a league match in the months of May and June. They gathered only 3 points from 11 games in this span. However, after going undefeated in the months of July and August, the Legion occupy the last playoff spot in the east. They have as many points as the Charleston Battery, sitting at 40, and lead the Battery based on their higher win total. Since their midsummer run however, the Legion have cooled off, only winning two of their previous seven. They are a slightly better at home than on the road, winning 6 of their 15 home games and 5 of their 17 on the road.
The main question surrounding this game is this: which Legion team will show up? Will it be the force of July and August that felled NCFC and the Rowdies? Or will it be the flop of May and June that the Independence, Indy Eleven, and the Riverhounds demolished? There is no questioning which team showed up in the last encounter between these teams. NYRBII decimated the Legion 5-0 at MSU Soccer Park on May 1st to start Birmingham’s nightmare run. Derrick Etienne opened the scoring in the 23rd minute, with Sean Nealis adding a second in the 55th. Matthias Jorgensen added another in the 57th, then getting his brace in the 81st. Tom Barlow punctuated the night with a goal in the 90th minute.
Typically, the Legion line up in a 4-3-3 formation with a holding midfielder behind two central midfielders. On the left side, they usually rely on Daniel Johnson to act as a playmaker, dropping into the midfield and becoming more narrow. They typically keep JJ Williams on the right wing, using him as an additional striker and big target. They commit massive numbers forward, looking to occupy defenders individually and allow for overlapping fullback runs or tight linkup play between players. In defense, they look to clog the middle of the field, with their wingers dropping deeper and central midfielders generally staying deeper. They look to press when the opposing team possesses near the sidelines, but will only press with their center forward when the ball is in the central areas of the field.
This unique setup has not yielded many results in practice, however, as Birmingham have the second worst attacking unit in the USL, managing a paltry 33 goals in 32 games. Their defense has been very average this season, ranking 19th of 36 within USL, but it has been very inconsistent. The Legion is a team very prone to the counterattack and struggled mightily against NYRBII’s press, with two of the Baby Bulls’ five goals coming directly from Legion turnovers. Despite an early golden chance from Chandler Hoffman that Ryan Meara was able to parry away, the Legion did not threaten.
Players to look for:
Anderson Asiedu (MF): The former Red Bulls U-23 player is showing his value as a professional in Birmingham. Atlanta United waived him after taking him in the first round of the 2019 MLS SuperDraft, giving Birmingham the opportunity to have a valuable midfield piece. He has been the anchor for the Legion’s midfield, showing his ability to both win possession and dictate play. In 23 appearances, he has 5 assists, also contributing the second most tackles on the team. He is very strong in possession and quick to stifle danger. He is beginning to show what made him a first round pick in last year’s draft.
Zachary Heriveaux (MF): The Haitian international on loan from the New England Revolution has been influential in the Legion’s midfield. His play is somewhat similar to Asiedu’s; he is very strong in possession and an excellent distributor. However, Heriveaux also offers good value on the offensive end, with his ability to dribble and draw players in. Despite not registering a goal or assist in 19 appearances, Heriveaux is still used as an important link between defense and attack for the Legion.
Omar Sowe (MF): After failing to net in 3 of their last 4 road games, the pressure is on the Baby Bulls to find goals. Since making the jump from the Red Bull Academy, Harrison native Omar Sowe has looked up to the task. Scoring his first goal as a consolation in NYRBII’s 5-3 loss to Louisville City, Sowe will look to make an impact for the Baby Bulls again, likely as a substitute. He has looked sharp since his jump, and his finishing ability was a major factor in his call up from the academy. Should a goal be needed, Sowe could be called upon to provide one.
Jared Stroud (MF): This season, the performance of NYRBII has very much relied upon the performance of its star. Jared Stroud has been the Baby Bulls’ star for the vast majority of this season, but the team’s recent slump has coincided with his lack of production. While he did score a goal in the team’s loss to Louisville, Stroud has not scored during this 4 game skid, including a missed penalty in the game against the Battery. Should Stroud perform at his typical level, a NYRBII victory should be expected.
Photo by John Perdicaro