Birmingham Legion FC at North Carolina FC – USL Championship Playoffs Play-In Round
Wednesday, October 23 – 6:00pm CT Kickoff – Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, NC
Watch – BBVA Watch Party at BBVA Field, My68, ESPN+
Legion FC kicks off its first-ever postseason run in its inaugural season in the Eastern Conference Play-In round tonight at North Carolina FC.
BHM has nine shutouts, has gone 9-3-5 in its last 17 games to close out the regular season and is the only Eastern Conference expansion side to make the 2019 USL Championship Playoffs. Head Coach Tommy Soehn was asked about goals coming into the season, and the first thing he mentioned was playoffs. He said, “getting to the playoffs in the first year… when I think back to November  and I believe we had one player signed and were starting preseason in January, it was tough. Building that to where we are now and saying we made it to the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, which is really tight, is quite an accomplishment for the guys, and we’re not done yet. So building those little steps and making our owners proud of what we have here, that makes us proud as a group, and I just see it getting better and better.”
North Carolina FC made the postseason, for the team’s first appearance in the USL Championship Playoffs as well, as the seven-seed after winning three of its last five regular season matches. Legion FC won the season series with NCFC, after the first meeting in Cary ended 0-0 on May 18 and the return leg went BHM’s way, 1-0 on July 13 thanks to a late Brian Wright goal.
North Carolina are top ten in the league in goals allowed (37) and top 15 in goals scored (57). The attack mostly runs through midfielder Steven Miller, as he is tied for the team lead in goals (9) with Robert Kristo, is tops in assists (6), and is first on the team with 61 shots. The creative hub is midfielder Ben Speas who has 66 chances created and is second in assists (5). Alex Tambakis is sixth in the USL Championship in saves with 91, Sam Brotherton controls the backline and leads the team in clearances (140), while his defensive partner DJ Taylor leads the team in minutes from his right back spot (2,898).
North Carolina have the second-best home record in the USL Championship Eastern Conference, having racked up 38 points at home this season by winning 11 games, drawing five, and losing just once. Regardless of the record, the team is confident heading into the playoffs. Goalkeeper Matt VanOekel said, “I think it’s about getting rid of the regular season, putting that out of your mind, keeping the tactics and our identity, but everyone is 0-0-0 right now. So it’s who can be 5-0 at the end of this run – that’s going to be who holds up the trophy. As soon as we get everything out, the past games that we’ve played against them [NCFC] the little things like that, it’s going to be a battle. It’s one and done or you move one, so I know we all want to play Pittsburgh [in round two] come next weekend.”
When asked about how his side matches up with North Carolina and what to expect from the match, Coach Soehn said, “they are who they are. They do pretty much the same thing every single game. They have their blocks, they knock it around well, they enjoy [possessing] the ball, and I think we match up well with them because we’re very similar in that respect.”
“We’ve played them tight every game we’ve had so I expect it to be a tight game with very few chances. We’ve got to be ruthless in taking our chances and make sure we put them away. If we get up early it’ll force them to open up a bit, and I think that will help us as well. But they are a good team. They have a good coach, they are going to be organized, we know what to expect, and I’m sure they have a plan of what they expect from us as Dave [Sarachan] and I do have some history together, but it’ll be a fun match, it’ll be a good match and hopefully we give them our best. I feel good about our chances.”
Defender Kyle Fisher also feels good about the group and thinks everyone is ready to take advantage of this opportunity. “I think we have a full group and whoever has their number called will be ready and I’m confident we’ll put our best foot forward…I think this game will be a fight. I think the first 15 minutes is not going to be the prettiest soccer – there’s going to be more or less testing who is there to really advance to the next round. You’re going to see that through the energy levels. Might be some nerves and stuff which is kind of normal for some guys – especially with this being the first playoff game for us. But I think that we have a locker room with experience in big moments, big games, and that will honestly give us a big boost. When we’ve had our backs against a wall we really step up.”
#9 Chandler Hoffman (ruptured PCL), #22 Mathieu Laurent (torn ACL), #27 Eddie Opoku (ankle), and #30 Razak Cromwell (hamstring) are out for Legion FC, per the VIVA Health injury report. No one on the roster is unavailable for selection due to suspension or international duty.
For live game updates, follow along on Twitter @bhmlegion, or watch live on My68 or ESPN+. The boys may be on the road, but BBVA Field will still be the place to catch the game at the BBVA Postseason Run Watch Party. Gates open to everyone at 5:30pm CT for food, drinks, and $2 draft beer.
Also follow Legion FC’s social media channels for updates on the playoff picture were Birmingham to advance. A win over NCFC would send the black and gold straight to Pittsburgh for a rematch with the Riverhounds on Saturday, October 26 in the USL Championship Playoffs Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.