After a Legion opener was controversially called back, Pittsburgh led at halftime, but Birmingham showed perseverance through two second half goals to take all three points and move into a ‘home playoff game’ spot in the standings
BIRMINGHAM, AL (Sept. 14, 2022) – An intensely heated match between Legion FC and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC ended 2-1 on Wednesday night at Protective Stadium as Birmingham earned its first win over the Riverhounds in club history. Pittsburgh led in the first half, then Legion answered in the second half with two goals to take all three points.
The massive win brings Legion FC up to fourth place in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference standings – a vital position that, if secured at the quickly approaching season’s end, would allow the Three Sparks to host a first-round home playoff game.
The home side found the back of the net first in the 36th minute, when a great ball from forward Sadik Balarabe curved across the box to meet the striking foot of Juan Agudelo, but the goal was ruled offside in a decision that brought no delight to the home crowd as it was happening and especially after seeing the replay on the videoboard at Protective.
Minutes later, Pittsburgh’s Albert Dikwa would score from inside the box, bringing Birmingham down 0-1 at halftime, but the Magic City squad came into the second half with the offensive tenacity fans have come to expect and put up two goals to close the night.
Attacker Enzo Martinez, as he so often does with six opening goals for the Three Sparks, scored the first goal for the Boys in Black in the 50th minute to bring his club-leading tally this season up to 13. Pittsburgh mishit a clearance that fell to Martinez, who, standing at the near post, expertly chested the ball and slammed it above the ‘keeper into the back of the Hounds’ net.
Bham’s second goal would come in the 66th; a brilliant team goal that started from defender Alex Crognale in the back. Crognale found midfielder Bruno Lapa in the middle of the pitch, who slipped Martinez in behind the Black and Yellow’s defense to send a ball across the box into the feet of Balarabe. Balarabe, on first touch, hammered the ball into the top-left corner and scored his second goal of the year and his first game-winner, all in his first start for his new club. Martinez, on the other hand, netted his seventh assist of the season.
“The feeling [of getting the win] is great because there’s never the attitude of giving up [with this group],” said Martinez. “It’s never one of those games where you just quit. Even when we were down three, zero last week, we’re in the locker room believing. We always believe, and that is massive.”
With just four matches left in the season, the Black & Gold mean to treat every game as a playoff match. Its offense is in its best form all season, leading the league in goals scored in August and scoring ten matches in a row – a club record run only beaten by a run of 17 games in 2021. Its defense and midfield strength, in full display against Pittsburgh, kept a lid on one of the most threatening attacks in the Eastern Conference with three massive saves from goalkeeper Matt VanOekel to secure the win.
“It was a great character day,” said Head Coach Tommy Soehn. “Having that goal called back and them going up one, then going into halftime and coming out and putting a stamp on the second half shows a lot about the group and what our intentions are… To have the resiliency at halftime to talk about our adjustments and really just compete, it says a lot about the group. I think the second half was a totally different game, and I credit our guys. I think we put in a really good shift.
“We obviously want a home game [in the first round of the playoffs] and we have to get past Pittsburgh to do it, but there’s other teams and other games to come. So, all we’re focused on now is [playing] Tampa [on the road on Friday, September 23].”
|1st Half||2nd Half|
PIT – 38’ – #9 Albert Dikwa (assisted by #10 Russell Cicerone)
BHM – 50’ – #19 Enzo Martinez
BHM – 66’ – #29 Sadik Balarabe (assisted by #19 Enzo Martinez)
BHM – 4-4-2 – #1 Matt VanOekel; #24 Jonny Dean, #21 Alex Crognale, #3 Phanuel Kavita ©, #5 Mikey Lopez; #20 Zach Herivaux, #6 Anderson Asiedu, #19 Enzo Martinez, #10 Prosper Kasim (55’ – #8 Bruno Lapa); #99 Juan Agudelo, #29 Sadik Balarabe (72’ – #13 Jake Rufe)
PIT – 4-2-3-1 – #26 Jahmali Waite; #6 Angelo Kelly, #27 Jelani Peters, #15 Arturo Osuna, #3 Shane Wiedt; #11 Kenardo Forbes, #12 Daniel Griffin; #7 Alex Dixon, #14 Robbie Mertz, #10 Russell Cicerone; #9 Albert Dikwa
Legion FC has a week of rest before travelling to Florida to take on 3rd place Tampa Bay Rowdies on Friday, September 23 at 6:30pm. Fans can tune in to ESPN+ to watch the match in a head-to-head against the fourth and third seed in the Championship and follow @bhmlegion on twitter for live match updates.
The Three Sparks return to Protective Stadium to wrap up the regular season with two home matches on Sunday, October 9 at 4:00pm against League-leaders San Antonio FC, and Wednesday, October 12 at 7:00pm against Indy Eleven. Fans can get tickets to the October 9 match here, and the October 12 match here.
For team updates, news and more, follow @bhmlegion on social media, sign up for Legion FC’s Newsletter, or visit bhmlegion.com. The Legion FC app is also available for download via Apple or Android. For gameday reminders, sync the Legion FC 2022 schedule to your calendar HERE.