BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – An outstanding second-half finish by Eli Crognale lifted Birmingham Legion FC to a 2-1 victory against the Charlotte Independence on Sunday evening at BBVA Field in a compelling comeback by the hosts that saw them end the Independence’s four-game winning streak.
The hosts threatened first in the 13th minute as a corner from the right was flicked on in the center of the penalty area and came to Thomas Vancaeyezeele alone in the left side of the box where he controlled and shot to force a good save by Charlotte’s Austin Pack. A minute later it was the Independence’s turn as Joel Johnson broke forward in the left channel and curled a shot from 20 yards toward the right corner that Legion FC’s Matt VanOekel parried wide of the post.
Birmingham cleared the ensuing corner kick behind, but on the second chance a delivery by Marcelo Palomino from the left side found Christian Fuchs for a flicked header at the near post that found the right side of the net for the former Austrian international’s first goal for the Independence in the 16th minute
Legion FC almost leveled immediately as two minutes later the hosts were awarded a free kick on which JJ Williams’ run into the penalty area was timed to the placement of the ball by Prosper Kasim, freeing him for a header off Bruno Lapa’s delivery that forced a low save by Pack. The hosts pulled level in the 25th minute, however, when Anderson Asiedu astutely picked off a pass in the Charlotte half and quickly fed a pass to Neco Brett, who controlled in the right side of the penalty area and squeezed a shot home into the left corner of the net to end the Independence’s four-game shutout streak.
Both teams continued to push the attack consistently, and Charlotte’s Enzo Martinez had a long-range effort saved by VanOekel nine minutes later, while in the 40th minute Irvin Parra also forced a good save by the Legion FC goalkeeper with a shot from a narrow angle in the right side of the penalty area. The Independence went close again as Jose Bizama’s cross from the right reached Jake Areman as he joined the attack in the left side of the box, but while his shot back across goal beat VanOekel, Legion FC defender Alex Crognale was on hand to make a decisive clearance to deny a goal.
The visitors continued their pursuit of retaking the lead in the second half, and in the 64th minute Gabriel Obertan received a pass just outside the top-right edge of the penalty area and took on his defender before firing a shot across the face of goal and wide of the left post.
With 20 minutes to go, however, Legion FC went ahead as Mikey Lopez found Eli Crognale in space 30 yards from goal, and the second-year pro launched an outstanding finish into the top-left corner of the net for his first professional goal. The hosts then had a chance to add to their lead in the 86th minute when Junior Flemmings turned his marker 35 yards from goal and drove forward before passing to Jaden Servania to his right, but Pack came off his line quickly to block the shot behind for a corner.
The Independence carved out a chance to equalize two minutes later as Obertan was played into the right side of the penalty area and cut back a pass for Valentin Sabella, whose shot was comfortable claimed by VanOekel in the center of his goal. Legion FC held firm late defensively, however, as Birmingham took a big step toward a top-two finish with a second consecutive win, closing the gap to Louisville City FC to just a point in the standings.
USLChampionship.com Man of the Match
Anderson Asiedu, Birmingham Legion FC – Asiedu made a decisive play to set up Legion FC’s opening goal and was solid in the center of midfield throughout, completing 50 of 55 passes and making two interceptions and three recoveries.
CLT – Christian Fuchs (Marcelo Palomino) 16’
BHM – Neco Brett (Anderson Asiedu) 25’
BHM – Eli Crognale (Mikey Lopez) 70’