Memphis 901 FC fans will be hoping to have more to celebrate in 2021 at AutoZone Park after the club's late-season improvement at the end of the last campaign. | Photo courtesy Memphis 901 FC
It might have been a small sample size, but the final three games of Memphis 901 FC’s 2020 season – overseen by then interim and now permanent Head Coach Ben Pirmann – offered a glimpse of hope for what might come in the future for the Bluff City’s club. Taking the first wins in club history against both Birmingham Legion FC and the Charlotte Independence – the two clubs that would go on to represent Group G in the postseason – provided a major boost for a side that had struggled previously.
Those performances had a bit of a dampener placed on them during the offseason, during which time some key players departed – most notably forward Cal Jennings, who was signed by Indy Eleven and then sold to Los Angeles FC in Major League Soccer. After a delayed start to the club’s offseason business, though, there are some interesting names set to arrive at AutoZone Park this season.
Among that group are forwards Michael Salazar and Kyle Murphy. Salazar brings experience both from Major League Soccer with Houston Dynamo FC and the Belize National Team as well as a solid pedigree from his time with Rio Grande Valley FC, while Murphy notched 13 goals for Loudoun United FC two seasons ago before spending 2020 with Eastern Conference Title-winner the Tampa Bay Rowdies. With a core of defensive stalwarts returning including Zach Carroll and Mark Segbers, Memphis is going to be a project this year, but one that could be building toward a brighter future under Pirmann.
Michael Salazar, Forward: Brings experience from MLS and international level with Belize
John Berner, Goalkeeper: Could get chance to re-establish himself as a starter after stint in Saint Louis
Brecc Evans, Defender: 2019 League One Title-winner with North Texas SC
Roland Lamah, Midfielder: Experienced veteran makes move from FC Cincinnati
Cal Jennings: Signed by Indy Eleven, transferred to Los Angeles FC
Rece Buckmaster: Signed by Indy Eleven
Keanu Marsh-Brown: Signed by Gloucester City
Rafa Mentzingen: Signed by Chattanooga Red Wolves SC
Memphis 901 FC center back Zach Carroll is among the key defensive pieces as the club looks to build on its late-season success in 2020. | Photo courtesy Eric Glemser / Memphis 901 FC
Zach Carroll, Defender
Memphis had its struggles defensively as a side in 2020, but individually Zach Carroll put up some impressive numbers that he’ll be hoping correlate to improvement as a side in the new season. A former Championship All-League selection in 2016 with the New York Red Bulls II, Carroll sat above 63 percent success rates in tackles, duels and aerial duels individually while making 51 clearances and 28 interceptions. As 901 FC looks to build, the 27-year-old could be a foundational stone.
Michael Salazar, Forward
When he last saw action in the USL Championship, Michael Salazar averaged better than a goal every other game for Rio Grande Valley FC in the 2019 season as he notched 10 goals at a rate of a finish every 169.3 minutes. That drew the attention of Houston Dynamo FC, which signed him to an MLS deal, but after eight appearances he returned to the free agency market and now lands in Memphis. If Salazar can recreate his form with the Toros, he could provide the attacking punch Memphis will be missing from the departed Cal Jennings.
After taking over as interim Head Coach at the end of the 2020 season, Ben Pirmann will take the reins for Memphis 901 FC after his permanent appointment this offseason. | Photo courtesy Charlotte Independence
Ben Pirmann (1st Season)
Formerly an assistant coach at Michigan State University and Head Coach at Detroit City FC, Ben Pirmann joined Memphis’ staff for its inaugural season and now gets his chance in the big chair. The improvement he inspired in Memphis’ final three games should offer optimism, but bringing a squad up through what looks to be a very tough division is going to potentially be a longer build than one season. If Pirmann can keep Memphis in the playoff race going into October, this season should be considered a success.
1.12 Only one player – Keanu Marsh-Brown – in Memphis’ squad recorded an Expected Assists mark above 1.00 in the 2020 season according to American Soccer Analysis. Finding a greater cutting edge and creativity in the final third has to be addressed this season if 901 FC is going to succeed.