By Clayton Humphries
TAMPA, FL(Oct. 10, 2020)– Birmingham Legion FC travelled down to Tampa, Florida for its USL Championship Eastern Conference Quarterfinals matchup with the Rowdies knowing it was in for a fight, and after a wild 90 minutes, the home team pulled out the victory, 4-2, on a muggy night at Al Lang Stadium.
Overall, the flow of the match tilted in favor of both teams at times, with possession ending 51% to TBR and shots ending even at 13, but the Rowdies put two away early and two away late to book a trip to the next round.
Tampa Bay’s first goal came in the 8th minute as midfielder Jordan Doherty latched on to a ball at the top of the box and buried it in the top left corner. The home side found a second just before the half, courtesy of the team’s leading scorer, Sebastian Guenzatti. The forward got onto the end of a cross into the box and finished the off the underside of the crossbar.
Legion FC came out like a group possessed to start the second half, living in the TBR for a while, and the sustained possession and probing attacks paid off in the 57th minute. After a BHM corner kick was only half cleared and swung back in, defender Alex Crognale fought to nod it down before winger Prosper Kasim smashed a one-time volley low and past the diving ‘keeper.
The visitors continued with an inspired bit of play and found the back of the net a second time, this time off the boot of midfielder Bruno Lapa, in the 63rd minute. A Rowdies turnover led to Legion FC forward Neco Brett getting on the ball at the edge of the box, and while we could have gone for the shot, he calmly laid it off to the onrushing Lapa to place a sweet finish into the far corner and draw his team level.
Following an unfortunately timed hydration break, and two substitutions from Tampa Bay, the home team caught a second wind and put the match away. A headed goal from substitute Lucky Mkosana became the second Rowdies goal to skip in off the woodwork, as it skimmed the right post in the 78th minute, and then his fellow sub, Leo Fernandes, followed up in quick succession by cutting into the box in the 80th minute and scoring TBR’s fourth of the match.
“Well, we came out and I think they dictated the terms of the game and made us chase,” said Legion FC Head Coach Tommy Soehn. “So, we made some tactical moves at halftime, and I think they benefited us greatly. We started putting them under pressure and turning that pressure into chances. Just as you think you’re back in the game, we kind of let one in and burst our bubble. I don’t expect to win many games letting in that many goals. At the end of the season we weren’t able to close the door on teams and that’s always a difficult situation to be in.
“I think this was a really fun group to coach. They always gave me everything they had, and that’s all you can ever ask as a coach. Now it’s time to assess and continue to get better as a club…Obviously, it’s a disappointing way to go out, but again I credit the guys. They played all year for me, and that’s all I can ever ask.”
After a trying season full of ups and downs, a clear message from players after the match was their gratitude for the continued support from fans in and around Birmingham, and especially the Magic City Brigade supporter’s group.
“Big thank you to the Magic City Brigade and the entire Birmingham community for your relentless support this season,” said Crognale. “In probably the most difficult season for players and fans to endure, you stood by our side and propelled us through the seasons. We are all disappointed with the result tonight, but the Legion will be back stronger next season and will continue to build something special in this community!”
“To the Birmingham Legion fans, thank you for your continuous support this year,” said defender Jonny Dean. “We are gutted that we couldn’t make a further run, but it was a privilege to wear the badge for you guys.”
“It was a difficult and strange season, but y’all stuck with us through everything,” said defender Mikey Lopez. “We can't thank y’all enough for the tremendous support you have shown us all season. I'm sorry that we weren't able to accomplish our ultimate goal, but we will learn and keep improving. Thank y’all so much again, and I can't wait to see everyone next year.”
“Well, it is a tough way to end the season, unfortunately we fell short tonight, but we wouldn’t be able to be in this position, in the playoffs and fighting for a championship, if we didn’t have the fanbase that we have in Birmingham and all the support we received throughout the season,” said Lapa. “It was definitely a different season with the situation going on around the world, but the Legion fans came out and supported us every game and gave us the support we needed to be in the playoffs. Every game was a special atmosphere at BBVA Field, so for us that was very special having them at our games. Even the people that couldn’t make it to the games, through social media they were always supporting us, and that was massive for us.
“Every single player on the team feels how passionate and special the fanbase of the Legion is, and personally they took me in this year, as a rookie, and supported me, and I appreciate the love from the bottom of my heart, and all the support and messages and coming to the games, it was extremely important for me in trying to help the Legion this season. Again, unfortunately we came up short, but thank you to the fans for the support throughout the season and I’m looking forward to the future with the Legion. Hammer Down!”