skip navigation

As Southern Harm arrives in the Open Cup, Bruno Lapa is set for center stage

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 05/09/23, 12:32PM EDT


Brazilian playmaker became rivalry’s central figure in Birmingham, now set to face former club for first time with 901 FC

Memphis 901 FC's Bruno Lapa has been the central figure in the rivalry between his current club and his former one, Birmingham Legion FC, as the sides prepare to meet in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup for the first time on Wednesday. | Photo courtesy Christ

In the Southern Harm rivalry between Birmingham Legion FC and Memphis 901 FC, there has been no player more prolific than Bruno Lapa.

In six appearances, Lapa recorded five goals and two assists for Legion FC. His seven goal contributions are more than twice as many as any other Legion FC player – Neco Brett ranks second on three (2G, 1A) – and any Memphis player in the rivalry’s history.

From the moment he burst onto the scene in 2020 with a two goal, one assist debut on national television for Birmingham against Memphis, he’s come up big in one of the best current rivalries in the USL Championship.

And on Wednesday night, for the first time when the clubs meet this season, he’ll be on the other side with 901 FC.

In the lone all-USL Championship contest in the Round of 32 of the 2023 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, Lapa will make an earlier-than-expected return to face his former club with the chance to continue 901 FC’s deepest run in the tournament.

“I think this coming game will be pretty special,” said Lapa recently. “I think it’ll be my first one against Birmingham, back in Birmingham, and it’s going to be on my birthday as well. So, it’s a lot of emotions coming into Wednesday. I think not only me but the whole team is prepared and ready to advance in the cup and hopefully we can have a good performance and a good win at Birmingham.”

There was no forgetting Lapa’s introduction to the rivalry.

Making his professional debut after signing with Legion FC after a stellar collegiate career at Wake Forest University and competing for SIMA Aguilas and North Carolina Fusion U23 in USL League Two, the Brazilian beat former United States Men’s National Team goalkeeper Tim Howard in the Memphis net for his first goal for the club, and by halftime had written himself into a burgeoning rivalry’s history.

Lapa hasn’t had the chance to bring up the contest to Howard – the Sporting Director and a supporting investor in 901 FC – since he joined Memphis, but it remains a major moment in his career so far.

“I was just trying to hang,” he said. “My goal was just to not really do anything too bad, just trying to hang, especially in the first half. Once the national anthem came in, I’m like, ‘wow, you’re really here, you made it to this level, let’s see how it goes.’ Then all of a sudden, I’m going back at halftime with two goals, one assist, and I was just like, ‘wow.’ I couldn’t really believe what was happening.”

Arguably, Lapa’s biggest moments in a Legion FC jersey came against Memphis, but this offseason the feeling from both sides was it was time for a change. There are certainly no hard feelings on Lapa’s side, and the way he’s quickly fit into 901 FC’s lineup has shown it to be an ideal move for the 25-year-old to take the next step in his career.

Lapa has started in all seven games for Memphis in the Championship’s regular season, notching two goals, two assists and seven chances created as the side has shaken off a slow start to the season to find form over the past month. Saturday night saw 901 FC extend its undefeated streak in the Championship to five games with a 2-0 victory at Hartford Athletic, with the club’s overall run at seven games including an upset of Atlanta United FC in the Third Round of the Open Cup last month.

“We’ve been performing well,” said Lapa. “I think we’ve been showing progress as to how we want to play as a team and the things that we can accomplish together. Obviously, the Open Cup run we have so far, it’s one of the early results that we see as to how good we can be as a team, the things that we can accomplish. But, so far so good. I think learning each week, learning with each other, we are trying to develop our identity, how we want to be seen across the league and across the country.”

That progress, and the spotlight of taking down one of the biggest clubs in Major League Soccer, will bring more attention to the Southern Harm rivalry that Lapa has been such a big part of over the past three years. The soccer rivalry between Birmingham and Memphis predates the USL Championship’s arrival in both cities in 2019 – in the amateur ranks, Memphis City FC and the Birmingham Hammers helped build animus between Memphis’ Bluff City Mafia and Birmingham’s Magic City Brigade.

For both sets of supporters, these are the games that whatever else happens in the season will cause a major lift should their side take victory.

“Since I got to Birmingham, I always heard the things about Memphis,” said Lapa. “I think it maybe comes across from other sports as well, but for us, once I got to Birmingham, they had already mentioned Memphis. I think the one thing you want to do as a player is to make your fans happy and make them like you. Beating Memphis was one of the goals for us in Birmingham [where it was], ‘OK, if things maybe aren’t going well, if we beat Memphis, things can get better for us as a whole.’

“Now being here on this side, I think Memphis is the same way. How good and how healthy the rivalry can be is not only good for the teams, but for the league. Every year it has been growing even more.”

The Southern Harm rivalry between Birmingham Legion FC and Memphis 901 FC has quickly become one of the best in the USL Championship since the clubs joined the league in 2019. | Photo courtesy Memphis 901 FC

Wednesday night’s clash – the first in the Open Cup between the sides – promises to add to that history. Having yet to meet in the USL Championship Playoffs, it will be the first time where there is guaranteed to be a team that advances at the expense of the other, which will make for a compelling contest between two talented squads.

In addition to that, from Lapa’s perspective, it will offer Memphis the chance to build its visibility on a national level after the tremendous rise the club has experienced in the past two campaigns.

“I think every year the club has been doing better,” said Lapa. “Last year with a great run in the playoffs, it kind of put the team on the map as a team to beat in the league and a team that people look up to and be like, ‘OK, Memphis is legit.’ So, I think for us to make that run and continue to keep progressing in the Cup, it just shows the progress we’ve been making as a club, that the things we’re doing here are correct.

“Everybody is looking forward to this game and the idea of this big rivalry and big opportunity for us and the club to continue to make history and create new history for us.”

Follow the USL Championship

Most Recent News

Most Read News

Latest Videos