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Four reasons why Birmingham Legion FC can advance past Charlotte FC in the Open Cup

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 05/23/23, 5:22PM EDT


A vibrant attacking arsenal, and the example of New Mexico United, as reasons to believe on Wednesday night

Birmingham Legion FC will face a club from Major League Soccer in official competition for the first time on Wednesday night as Charlotte FC visits for the Round of 16 in the 2023 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. | Photo courtesy Birmingham Legion FC

Birmingham Legion FC will play host to Charlotte FC on Wednesday night at Protective Stadium in the Round of 16 in the 2023 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (8 p.m. ET | B/R Football) with Tom Soehn’s squad looking to continue its best run in the tournament in club history.

Legion FC advanced past rival Memphis 901 FC in the Round of 32 to advance but hasn’t been in the best form in the league of late, losing its last four outings in the Championship.

Here’s why that might not matter, and why Legion FC can spring a surprise on its home turf.

1. The New Mexico United Corollary

Just because you’re in a bit of a state when it comes to your current league form, there’s absolutely no reason that should apply to whether you can make an Open Cup run or not. Just look at New Mexico United four years ago.

Between New Mexico’s victory on May 29 against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC in the Third Round and its eventual elimination on July 10 by Minnesota United FC, the side went 0-3-2 in league play. While United was beating the Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas in the Open Cup, it was also suffering defeats to teams like Las Vegas Lights FC and Real Monarchs SLC.

Yes, Legion FC is on a four-game losing streak in the Championship. That doesn’t have to mean anything when it comes to one win-or-go-home contest.

2. The Fab Five

Birmingham Legion FC's Enzo Martinez and Juan Agudelo make up two-fifths of a formidable attacking contingent that makes Legion FC dangerous every time its in action. | Photo courtesy Liza Rosales / Orange County SC

There are some very good attacking groups in the USL Championship this season. On paper, though, can anyone in the league match this quintet?

Juan Agudelo, Tyler Pasher, Enzo Martinez, Neco Brett, and Prosper Kasim.

That, my friends, is a boatload of talent that can be deployed in all kinds of ways.

If there’s anything we know about Open Cup success, it’s that you must have players that can create chances, put the ball in the back of the net, or both. All five of these players bring those attributes to the field, and that makes Legion FC dangerous in any situation.

3. Built on Resilience

Alex Crognale's stoppage-time winner for Birmingham Legion FC against Hartford Athletic was a key moment in one of three league wins the side has earned this season after trailing. | Photo courtesy Birmingham Legion FC

It’s never great to concede first in a game. Sacramento Republic FC’s run to the Open Cup Final last year was partially built around the premise that if you never trail, you’re going to be difficult to beat, and Head Coach Mark Briggs’ side didn’t until it faced Orlando City SC in the Final.

If you are going to fall behind, though, it’s certainly good to have experience to draw from. Legion FC has that in abundance.

Birmingham’s nine points gained from a losing position is the most of any team in the USL Championship this season, with the side having won games against Orange County SC, Hartford Athletic and FC Tulsa despite having trailed during the 90 minutes. Some more of that sort of late-game magic Alex Crognale and Enzo Martinez delivered against Hartford on April 30 certainly wouldn’t go amiss, if needed.

4. There’s a first time for everything

This might be Birmingham Legion FC’s fifth season, but Wednesday night’s game is a first in club history. It’ll be the first time the club gets to square off with an opponent from Major League Soccer in the Open Cup, and it gets to do so on home turf.

Facing an MLS club for the first time in official competition has been one which has at times brought out the best a club has to offer. Just look at Monterey Bay F.C., which in the Third Round of this year’s tournament claimed victory against the San Jose Earthquakes on its home turf at Cardinale Stadium.

Since 2015, six USL Championship clubs have won their first game against a top-flight opponent. Birmingham will look to make it seven.

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