Preview: Birmingham Legion FC vs Nashville SC

Updated: May 22, 2019

Nashville SC head south to Birmingham to take on the Legion in the USL Game of the Week. The Boys In Gold are coming off of a disappointing 1-1 draw at home against Charlotte. How will they respond?


Nashville are currently in 4th place in the East, and have scored the second most goals in the conference. This will be Nashville's sixth match in 19 days, and have a big match against a really strong Indy Eleven side this weekend. Expect to see some rotation in Nashville's squad on Wednesday.

Head coach Gary Smith has rotated goalkeepers all season, changing keepers every two matches. At some point, though, it makes sense to pick one and stick with him. Could this be the week Connor Sparrow becomes the regular starter?

Justin Davis and Kosuke Kimura appear to be the first choice fullbacks, but they've played a lot of minutes recently and could be rested ahead of the trip to Indianapolis. Similarly, Michael Reed has played a lot of minutes, and could get a rest in Birmingham. Matt LaGrassa has played all but seven minutes of the 2019 season, but he's probably too important to drop at this point. If Nashville have a lead, he could be taken off in the second half.

With Cameron Lancaster out again, it seems that Daniel Ríos is in line to start again. The drop off between him and the other strikers on the roster seems too big for him to not start, and if Nashville starts quickly, he could be taken off later in the match.


OUT: (F) Cameron Lancaster - leg


Birmingham sit in 12th place in the East, with 12 points from 10 games. They're coming off of a 0-0 draw in North Carolina, a solid result for the first year club.

It's been hard to predict how Birmingham will line up this year. They've played in a 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-1-4-1, 3-5-2, and 4-1-2-1-2 so far.

Forward Chandler Hoffman has two goals in nine appearances, but he's seen Brian Wright challenge him for the starting spot in recent weeks. Prosper Kasim has two goals from a wide role, and leads the team with 14 chances created.

Midfielder Daniel Johnson has started all 10 matches this season, creating 13 chances and scoring one. He's been arguably Birmingham's most consistent performer this season.

Defensively, Kyle Culbertson has been a stalwart at left back, and MLS veteran Eric Avila has nailed down the starting right back role. In their last match, Femi Hollinger-Janzen (typically a center forward) started as a center back. The former New England Revolution player helped secure a clean sheet in North Carolina, but he's also been impressive in a more attacking role. Keep an eye on where he plays.


OUT: (F) Tyler Savitsky

DOUBTFUL: (CB) Marcel Appiah

DOUBTFUL: (CB) Kyle Fisher

DAY-TO-DAY: (GK) Matt Van Oekel


GARY SMITH (Head Coach)

On if he has a better idea of what to fix from the Charlotte draw: “Looking back at it, we spent some time looking at some of the first half clips and trying to compare them with some of the work in the second period. The noticeable differences were that they sat slightly deeper and maybe had taken stock of what had happened in the first half. I thought they were very aggressive in the way that they played in that 3-5-2. That certainly had an impact, and on the back of that, the guys that were instrumental for us in the first half just looked a little bit flat, not quite as bright and as effective, and it’s in those stages that they’ve got to dig deep and they’ve got to find the right type of solution to the equation that’s thrown in front of us. So yeah, it’s an ongoing process. My hope is that as we move through this season, and certainly getting into the halfway point, which we’re not far from, we’ve got the answer to all the questions that are thrown at us. Frustrations of course at the weekend, but there were lots and lots of things to be very encouraged by in the first half, and I really think looking back on it we missed the opportunity in the first half. We really should have given the very encouraging areas we got in, and one or two really good moments, we should have taken advantage of it. We didn’t, and in the end, they certainly adapted and found a couple of moments themselves as well.”

On if there’s something different about Birmingham now vs. in the preseason: “Yeah, of course. They’ve had time to find a little bit of understanding, they’ve been around each other a little while now. It does look like there’s been some rotation of bodies, maybe [Birmingham coach] Tommy [Soehn] is looking to find the right group and the right connections. They’ve got a few additions from that preseason period, and that’s to be expected. I think they were very early in their preparations when we played them. I expect fully to see a team that, at home, are going to be right up for the game. I think the players they have play that field well, they’ve got some talented boys, some nice technicians, it’s a big and very decent surface there. So, their mantra is to try and make the most of that, and of course ours will be to disrupt that as much as we can and really show some of the signs that we have over the last four or five weeks, albeit maybe in spells. We’ve got to try and make that more consistent throughout the 90 minutes.”

On if he approaches a short road trip to Birmingham different than a longer one: “Nothing changes really in terms of how the team needs to adapt to an away game. The one big difference is that we can train this morning here at our own facility and we get an extra morning’s work after a weekend. If it was maybe a flight, it might be a bit tougher to do some of the stuff we have this morning. But to be perfectly honest, when you’ve got so many games, it’s really about making sure the guys are recovering well, that they’re getting enough work to keep them stimulated and lively and their bodies are active rather than too much rest and they can get a bit lethargic. And then of course, on the matchday, you tend to find that they’re running out of gas pretty quickly. I think we’re getting it just about right, and there’s enough bodies to be bringing into the group and keeping it fresh. We’re in a good place.”

On Cameron Lancaster’s status for Wednesday’s match: “He won’t be with us for this game. Maybe at the weekend, might be a push, but my hope is that we get through Wednesday. We’ve got a very quick turnaround again, so it’ll be touch-and-go for Cameron at the weekend. Fingers crossed that we can have him involved, but we’ve limited training time in between. It’s hard to get him out and to get that work done, so we’ll have to see.”

KOSUKE KIMURA (Assistant Coach/Defender)

On if he sees things the team can fix after Charlotte draw: “I mean, definitely I think we fatigued a bit from playing a lot of games. We haven’t been training in heat. In the morning, we trained and it’s still breezy and it’s not heating up. I think our bodies aren’t accustomed to the humidity, but we’re going to get used to it. In the end, any teams that you play against, if they have five in the back, it’s not easy. It’s not easy to dribble 1v1 and go pass by everybody. Maybe we are faster than them, but it’s not like way faster. Everybody has decent athleticism and all of that. To cancel that out and be more effective, you have to be more constructive. How do we carry the ball, has to be more of a plan to it. We have to keep practicing, but at the same time, we have so many games this month and we don’t have much time to train. Obviously we have to keep working on it, it’s an ongoing process during the season. Just have to keep building and building. We watched videos and Gary explained to everybody what kind of options we should have when we play against five. He was talking a little bit about when we get in the moment, we don’t have many people coming into the dangerous areas, which we need to have more, especially if they have three in the back in the middle, three centerbacks that are big guys. We can keep crossing the ball, but at the same time, we need the numbers in the middle. So if something happens, the ball pops out or something, even if they win it, the second ball we can get and we can score from it. We can just keep asking questions. We didn’t do enough of that, but at the same time, it’s not just a cross instead of a combination play. Knowing where your players are going to be, which we need to practice more against five in the back. Everybody struggles against that formation. It’s not easy, so definitely we’ll keep working on.”

On if the team can turn the heat into an advantage eventually: “Yeah, but at the same time, you play against Atlanta, North Carolina, Charleston, Tampa, everybody comes from humidity. We’ve just got to get used to it right away, which we can soon. I think there’s no problem with that, it’s just time. But at the same time, it's mental as well. Of course they’re going to be hot too, but can you get more out of it? Definitely as long as we get used to it right away, I think we can take advantage of that.”

On what he remembers from the preseason game against Birmingham: “They are a brand-new team just like we were last year. They’ve got some decent players from MLS that used to play there. They have experienced coaches and staff and GM and all of that. I’m pretty sure they worked hard to get some good, decent players. They can pass the ball, they can move the ball, but at the same time, I think we can unlock them being more positive going forward in 1v1s. I think we have more athleticism, we can break that down. I think we showed that in the preseason, I think we were more committed in the transition if we can catch them on the counterattack.”

On if Birmingham’s evolution this season is similar to Nashville’s last season: “For sure. It’s not easy. You try to figure it out, and we’ve been scouting the team and I saw they changed formation and the lineup as well. They had a defensive midfielder get a red card in the last game and they’ve got to change that as well. All of those things come into play. It’s not easy coming in as a first-year team, even though they have good players. It’s all about chemistry within the group.”


  1. Squad rotation. Will Gary Smith give key players a rest in this one? They've played 6 games in 19 days with a key matchup in Indianapolis coming this weekend. Will Smith make changes to his side?

  2. How will Derrick Jones be involved? He started in the Open Cup, but didn't make the squad against Charlotte (he missed some practice last week working out the logistics of moving to Nashville). He could start. He could come off the bench. He could miss the squad entirely. It's hard to tell at this point.

  3. How much will Birmingham trouble Nashville's defense? Only Hartford Athletic have scored fewer goals than Birmingham, and the Legion's struggles to score goals have cost them points several times. Will they be able to create against a pretty good Nashville defense?


Ben Wright

Score: Birmingham 1 - 3 Nashville

Scorers: Daniel Ríos (x2), Alan Winn

MOTM: Matt LaGrassa

Bold Prediction: The match is tied 1-1 late in the second half before Nashville scores twice as Birmingham pushes for a winner.

Andy Simmons

Score: Birmingham 0 - 2 Nashville

Scorers: Daniel Ríos, Alan Winn

MOTM: Daniel Ríos

Bold Prediction: Pickens or Sparrow (whoever starts) has their best match of the season, making five or more saves.

John Sloop

Score: Birmingham 1 - 3 Nashville

Scorers: Daniel Ríos, Kharlton Belmar, own goal

MOTM: Daniel Ríos

Bold Prediction: Nashville scores twice in the first half.

Jonathan Slape

Score: Birmingham 0 - 2 Nashville

Scorers: Daniel Ríos, Matt LaGrassa

MOTM: Matt LaGrassa

Bold Prediction: Nashville limits Birmingham to just a single shot on goal.

Have a prediction for the match? Vote in our Fearless Forecast and reply with your predictions.


Date: Wednesday, 05/22/19

Time: 7:00pm CST

Place: BBVA Compass Field, Birmingham, Alabama


Forecast: 86°/81°. Clear skies. 0% chance of rain.

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