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IN FOCUS: Legion FC Faces Potentially Season-Defining Week

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 09/17/19, 5:02AM EDT

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Loss to STLFC raises stakes for contests against top-four opponents Nashville and Indy in four-day span


Birmingham Legion FC's Mikey Lopez said the side's loss to Saint Louis on Friday "puts a little extra pressure" on this week's action against Nashville SC and Indy Eleven. | Photo courtesy Pottstography / Birmingham Legion FC

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Birmingham Legion FC’s defeat on Friday night against Saint Louis FC – ending the club’s nine-game undefeated streak – put a small dent in the club’s chances of reaching the postseason.

What has the potential to do more damage, though, is a two-game week that sees Legion FC take on two of the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference powerhouses over the course of four days.

Opened by a visit to fourth-place Nashville SC and then concluded with a visit from second-place Indy Eleven, Birmingham is certainly going to have to earn any points it can put toward its bid to reach the USL Championship Playoffs next month. But Legion FC Head Coach Tom Soehn believes his side can reach back to the lessons it learned about bouncing back quickly earlier this season as it heads to the Music City.

“You never forget the body of work that got you here,” said Soehn. “I think that it’s important for us to remember how we got here, put this one aside, and understand that it’s only going to get harder; we’ll have to get back to what got us through that first hard stretch.”

Legion FC’s 11-game winless streak, which directly preceded the nine-game run that moved the side into the playoff positions, included a 1-0 home defeat to Nashville that left Birmingham frustrated by a sterling display by NSC goalkeeper Matt Pickens, who recorded a three-save shutout that included a crucial save to deny Prosper Kasim and allowed Daniel Rios’ penalty kick to stand up as the winner.

Nashville’s leading scorer may not be on the field this time around with Rios having been kept from adding to his 17 goals this season by injury in NSC’s last two outings. A combination of the other attacking weapons Nashville possesses, however, and a defense which has conceded only 10 times on home turf this season is going to make this a big litmus test of Legion FC’s playoff hopes.

After failing to consistently penetrate Saint Louis’ defense last Friday night, finding ways to put Kasim, JJ Williams and others into good positions is going to be crucial.

“We just have to find a way to learn from it and expect it from different teams because we put teams on notice with the way we’re playing,” said Legion FC defender Mikey Lopez. “We just have to learn from this and win in the next games.”

Indy’s defensive prowess is also well-documented, although the Eleven have been more susceptible to conceding away from home this season, allowing 15 of their 20 goals conceded in 12 road contests. That’s a matter for Friday, though, with Legion FC focused on the first task at hand before they look ahead to getting back in front of their home fans on Friday night.

“[We] know how to turn the page on it and make sure we get back to work,” said Soehn. “The group is strong enough to get through that, especially with the first half of the season we went through. We’ll get back at and know that we have two more to go here in this next stretch. We’ll be ready for it.”

With it looking more and more likely that the final playoff place will come down to Legion FC and the Charleston Battery – which also faces two games this week against regional rivals ATL UTD 2 and North Carolina FC – the playoffs are effectively underway now for Soehn’s squad.

“[The loss] puts a little extra pressure on us because we can’t afford to drop points,” said Lopez. “It is a tough way to end a streak, but it just means you have to start a new one.”

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