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Four Takeaways from Birmingham Legion FC’s preseason opener

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 01/27/24, 8:48PM EST


Enzo Martinez looked ready to go, and AJ Paterson’s arrival offered a new look at the back against Atlanta United FC

Photo courtesy Birmingham Legion FC

Birmingham Legion FC opened its preseason on Saturday evening as it welcomed Atlanta United FC of Major League Soccer to Protective Stadium. Atlanta came away with a 2-1 victory on a pair of quick first-half goals, but there was plenty to reflect on for the hosts and for those of us who tuned into the livestream.

Here are four things we took from our first look at Legion FC this campaign.


Plenty of times the opening game of preseason is about shaking off the rust and starting to build match-fitness. In the case of Enzo Martinez, however, it looked like the Legion FC veteran was ready for the season to be here already.

Playing in a deep double-pivot with rising star Matthew Corcoran in central midfield, Martinez was active and looked sharp throughout the opening 45 minutes, spraying long passes around and linking well as he moved up the field. His sharpness came into greatest focus on his goal shortly before halftime when he picked the pocket of MLS veteran Dax McCarty in the attacking half to set up a shooting opportunity.

There was good fortune with the deflection on Martinez’s shot from 20 yards that looped it past Josh Cohen in Atlanta’s goal, but it was a just reward for the 33-year-old’s overall work. In this early look, he hardly seemed to have lost a step.


Preseason can be a time for experimentation, and Birmingham Head Coach Tom Soehn gave us something to think about right off the bat as his side played the first half with a three-man back line and wingbacks. Alongside the familiar faces of Alex Crognale and Phanuel Kavita was new arrival AJ Paterson, who slotted in on the left side of the trio and didn’t look out of place with some good touches and defensive work.

Shifting from a two center-back lineup to a three-man line isn’t always seamless, but this seemed like a nice potential addition to Legion FC’s formation options. The two goals the side conceded  weren’t really a function of the structure – Crognale will likely acknowledge he got caught on the right side on an angled cross, something you just can’t do with Atlanta’s 19-goal scorer a season ago Giorgos Giakoumakis the player who got the space to open the scoring – so this felt like a positive first test drive.


Birmingham put out a new lineup to start the second half and while there were some players in the second group like Diba Nwegbo and Jake Rufe whose places in the squad are already solid, they were joined by a collection of trialists aiming to make the cut this preseason. Maybe the brightest of those was forward E.J. Johnson, whose work-rate was top-notch and was almost rewarded with a equalizer late on. The 20-year-old stole possession from third-string Atlanta goalkeeper Quentin Westberg but couldn’t quite turn home an angled finish into the open net from the top-left edge of the penalty area.

Johnson had other bright moments – his weaving dribble through three Atlanta defenders early in the second half drew cheers from the stands – and probably will have felt he should have done better with the chances that came his way. A former Charleston Battery loanee from the Scottish Premiership’s Hibernian FC – from which he received his release earlier this month – Johnson showed enough to where we’d like to see more, and likely did his prospects some good overall.


Birmingham Legion FC's players model their new Lady Electra kits, which made their on-field debut on Saturday evening. | Photo courtesy Birmingham Legion FC

KitSzn is always a treat around the USL Championship and the official debut of Birmingham Legion FC’s Lady Electra kit after Friday’s social media reveal was outstanding. The gold body and white sleeve design looked slick in the heavy rain the locals braved at Protective Stadium. That’s a high bar to set for the rest of the teams around the league.

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