There's been little to separate Birmingham Legion FC and Memphis 901 FC in their 10 prior meetings, with the Southern Harm rivalry one of the most underrated in the USL Championship. | Photo courtesy Eric Glemser / Memphis 901 FC
If you’ve been following the USL Championship for a few seasons, you’ll know the rivalries that have risen within the league.
From New Mexico United’s battles with El Paso Locomotive FC and Phoenix Rising FC, to the LIPAFC between Indy Eleven and Louisville City FC, or the South Texas Derby between San Antonio FC and Rio Grande Valley FC and the broader Copa Tejas, there are games that neutral fans circle each season beyond the fanbases involved.
Maybe overlooked among these is Southern Harm, in which Birmingham Legion FC and Memphis 901 FC have delivered some brilliant games and moments over 10 regular-season meetings so far since joining the Championship in 2019.
The true origin of Southern Harm and the soccer rivalry between Birmingham and Memphis comes way before Legion FC and 901 FC came into existence. Back in 2016, the Birmingham Hammers and Memphis City FC arrived in the amateur ranks and competed side-by-side for three seasons before forming the foundation for the USL Championship clubs that would follow them.
That’s meant Birmingham’s Magic City Brigade and Memphis’ Bluff City Mafia are actually older than the clubs they now support, and that energy has resulted in great atmospheres in both cities when Legion FC and 901 FC get together.
The first official meeting between 901 FC and Legion FC at AutoZone Park set the tone for where the series was headed. The 2-2 draw contained two absolutely outstanding goals – first for Memphis’ Cam Lindley, then for Birmingham’s Daniel Johnson – and also one of the greatest assists in the Championship with Adam Najem’s hustle play setting up Duane Muckette for a late go-ahead goal for 901 FC. That Legion FC pulled out a draw thanks to a stoppage-time penalty kick only added to the drama, kicking off the rivalry in tremendous fashion.
There’s been no-one quite like Birmingham Legion FC’s Bruno Lapa in this rivalry. The Brazilian playmaker kicked off his Championship career in 2020 with a pair of goals and one assist in a 3-0 victory in the opening game of the season at BBVA Field – against former USMNT goalkeeper Tim Howard in the 901 FC goal, no less – and since then has come to the fore whenever he’s been on the field with five goals and one assist in five appearances. Thankfully for Memphis fans, Lapa won’t be available on Wednesday night due to injury, leaving Legion FC to hope someone else – like maybe all-time series appearances leader Prosper Kasim, who has played in every meeting so far – can lead the side to victory.
Look away, Magic City Brigade. You know what’s coming next.
If the first game between Legion FC and 901 FC set the tone for the series, then the most recent meeting, last September 4 at AutoZone Park, provided the most memorable contest in the series so far. Birmingham twice took the lead through Neco Brett late in the first half, and through Alex Crognale with 11 minutes to go to give the visiting fans hope of claiming the season series.
Instead, 901 FC flipped the game on its head. In the third minute of second-half stoppage time, Roland Lamah produced an equalizer, flicking home a corner kick from the left by Kadeem Dacres. If that wasn’t enough, three minutes later Raul Gonzalez provided the iconic moment in Memphis’ short history. Off a second corner kick that popped up in the penalty area as Birmingham tried to clear, the Puerto Rico international caught a perfect scissor kick to send the ball into the top-left corner of the net and deliver the first comeback victory in series history.
One of the best parts of Southern Harm is how evenly fought it has been every season. In 10 overall meetings in the Championship’s regular season, Legion FC and 901 FC have each taken three victories, with four games ending all square. Birmingham holds a one-goal edge in the series, 14-13, while Memphis can lay claim to the lone hat trick thanks to Cal Jennings’ three-goal performance in a 3-1 victory late in the 2020 season.
As the rivalry renews this week, we’re looking forward to what this next chapter will bring.