Phanuel Kavita made the move to Birmingham Legion FC this offseason having been one of the most consistent on-field presences in the Championship for the past two seasons. | Photo courtesy Nicholas Dawes / Saint Louis FC
Birmingham Legion FC had one of the more reliable defenses in the Championship during the 2020 campaign, sitting just outside the Top 10 in goals conceded in the regular season as the club reached the USL Championship Playoffs for a second consecutive campaign.
Looking to bolster its backline this offseason, Birmingham signed free agent center back Phanuel Kavita, who brings 120 games of experience in the league with him to his new club. The 27-year-old helped Saint Louis FC reach the postseason in two of the past three seasons and was a remarkably consistent presence over that span.
So, what can we expect Kavita will bring to Legion FC in 2021? With a tip of the hat to the outstanding Stats Bomb website and Twitter feed, we’ve charted some key figures from the past two campaigns and where Kavita ranks among Championship defender that played at least 1,500 minutes since the start of the 2019 season.
What can we learn from these numbers? Here are three takeaways.
One of the biggest things a coach can ask for in his players is to be consistently available. Kavita has proven more than adept at that quality, having played 98 percent of his club’s minutes in the regular season over the past two year. No-one has played more regular season minutes, in fact, and despite that and the position he plays, Kavita has only received six cautions in 49 games.
What’s maybe as notable as his consistency on the field is his ability to avoid the sort of errors that can derail a defense. Kavita rarely puts a foot wrong at the back, and according to Opta analysis committed no errors that led to a shot for an opposing player across that span.
One area where Kavita’s numbers dip somewhat comes in the category of interceptions, where he ranks outside the Top 100 with an average of fewer than one per game. But while that’s the case, he more than makes up for it with his ability to hold his own in one-on-one matchups when squaring up with an opposing attacker.
Kavita ranks eighth in the Championship in his success recording tackles as opposed to being dribbled past at a 77.1 percent clip. That puts him in similar company to 2020 All-League selection Leland Archer (79.6 percent) of the Charleston Battery and Sacramento Republic FC’s Mitchell Taintor (81.3 percent). When Kavita wins possession in this manner, he’s also a safe distributor, completing 85.9 percent of his passes.
If there’s an area where Kavita has room to improve it’s in his timing and ability to win aerial battles. Over the past two seasons, he’s won only 52.8 percent of aerial duels in the regular season, a number that puts him in the bottom third of qualifying defenders. Finding a way to up that success would be a big plus if he can find a way to achieve it.
With that said, it shouldn’t raise a red flag when it comes to Birmingham’s potential defensive stability overall, as Kavita should be expected to line up alongside Alex Crognale – a 2020 Championship All-League Selection – when the season kicks off. With his larger 6-foot-5 frame, Crognale has ranked sixth in the Championship with a 72.2 percent success rate in aerials over the past two seasons, which should give Birmingham an ideal balance at the heart of its defense.