The progression of Birmingham Legion FC over its first three seasons has seen the side increase its points-per-game average each year. The past campaign saw it serve as a serious rival to Louisville City FC in the race for top spot in the Central Division. The offseason has brought about the first potential challenge to that position, however, particularly in the club’s attacking ranks where new faces are going to be asked to step into some big shoes over the new campaign.
Three of Birmingham’s top three goalscorers departed this offseason with the club transferring 2020 Championship Golden Boot winner Junior Flemmings to Ligue 2 club Toulouse FC and Neco Brett (New Mexico United) and JJ Williams (FC Tulsa) moving on as free agents. Brett’s departure after leading the team with a career-high 18 goals last season was the biggest, and new signings Enzo Martinez, Macky Diop and Marlon will be under pressure to produce early in the season.
If there’s reason for optimism that Legion FC will retain its place among the Eastern Conference’s contenders, though, it’s the players that return in midfield and defense. Goalkeeper Matt VanOekel had a standout season a year ago and will continue to have an experienced group in front of him led by Alex Crognale and Jonny Dean, who’s re-signing was a massive plus as one of the Championship’s top two-way fullbacks. Add in the presence of Anderson Asiedu, Thomas Vancaeyezeele and Zach Herivaux in midfield and Birmingham will be a difficult side to break down, giving the attack some leeway as they find their feet.
Enzo Martinez – Veteran playmaker signed as free agent, bringing extensive Championship experience
Edi Horvat – Croatian forward recorded seven goals, three assists in 16 appearances for NK Fuzinar
Macky Diop – Forward signed after recording three goals, two assists for Atlanta United 2 in 2021
Matt Corcoran – 16-year-old FC Dallas Academy product signed first pro deal with Legion FC
Neco Brett – Signed as a free agent with New Mexico United
Junior Flemmings – Transferred to FC Toulouse of Ligue 2
J.J. Williams – Signed as a free agent with FC Tulsa
Ben Ofeimu – Signed as a free agent with Miami FC
Jonny Dean, Defender
There have been fewer players more consistent for Birmingham Legion FC over the past two seasons than Jonny Dean, whose return to the squad this offseason was warmly welcomed by the club’s supporters. A native of Macon, Ga., the 24-year-old was tied for the club-lead in appearances (47) and led the team in minutes played (4,200) in the past two regular seasons and has provided a dynamic presence at fullback in recording 10 assists and 64 chances created. Maintaining that level of attacking production would be a major asset to a Legion FC side with multiple new pieces in the attacking third this season.
Bruno Lapa, Midfielder
After earning USL Championship All-League honors in the abbreviated 2020 season, Bruno Lapa’s second season at Legion FC was hit by injury setbacks, but the Brazilian still recorded five goals and two assists in 21 appearances and regularly showed his quality when at full fitness. Notable was Lapa’s uptick in passing accuracy to 86.4 percent and a lack of fortune on his 37 chances created, which saw him notch only two assists on a 3.89xA mark according to Opta. With the departure of Junior Flemmings, Neco Brett and J.J. Williams from the club’s attack, Lapa will likely be the central creative piece that leads Legion FC in the final third this campaign.
Tom Soehn (4th Season)
The architect of Birmingham Legion FC’s upward progression over its first three seasons, Tom Soehn has delivered impressively to make his side a perennial playoff contender. That ability to find a way to succeed will face its biggest test so far given the club’s offseason departures in attack, but Soehn’s sides have always had a strong defensive backbone to them which should make Progressive Stadium one of the more difficult places to visit this season. The experience the former Vancouver Whitecaps FC and New England Revolution boss brings is reflected in the solid organization Legion FC consistently displays.
2929 of Legion FC’s 50 regular-season goals in the 2021 season were scored by the now-departed Neco Brett, Junior Flemmings and J.J. Williams. Finding a way to make up that difference is going to be crucial to maintaining Birmingham’s position as a postseason threat.