Atlanta United held on for a 3-2 victory in front of a sold-out BBVA Field in Birmingham on Saturday afternoon.
A record-setting 6,722 people witnessed the exciting defeat against MLS powerhouse Atlanta United FC in a preseason friendly.
Despite opening preseason camp only a few weeks ago, the hometown squad delivered an impressive performance against a lineup of MLS stars from Atlanta and went into halftime trailing by a single goal.
After a pair of saves by Legion FC goalkeeper Matt VanOekel, Atlanta’s Ezequiel Barco opened the scoring from inside the penalty area a few moments before the break.
Legion fans witnessed many trialists making appearances along with new faces such as Bolu Akinyode and Neco Brett, all while the squad donned the brand new red “Sweet Home” third kit.
Brett scored Legion FC’s first goal of the 2020 season on a penalty kick almost immediately after halftime. Akinyode started alongside midfielder Anderson Asiedu and halted several Atlanta attacks.
Any Atlanta attacking play that beat the midfield was dealt with by former Columbus Crew center back Alex Crognale.
Head coach Tommy Soehn was pleased with the result of the first match of the season.
“Overall, I’m pleased with the whole group,” said Soehn during a press conference. “Obviously, I would’ve liked to come out with the result, but this isn’t result time. This is more about getting the experience, getting preseason under your belt and sticking to the process over the results. I’m happy with everything that happened, and our fans came away with a pretty good show today, so I’m pleased with that.”
Both Birmingham and Atlanta made extreme lineup changes in the second half, allowing several newcomers such as Jaden Servania to earn some major playing time. Ghanaian 18-year-old newcomer Rudolf Mensah showed off his elite speed and slotted home Birmingham’s second goal in the 80th minute of the contest after a brilliant assist from 36-year-old veteran Daigo Kobayashi.
When asked about Mensah and Servania, Soehn said, “They’re young guys, you know. They’re 18-year-olds who get to come in and play like that and show their quality. I’m really happy for Mensah; he just traveled in from Ghana and overnight his world changed, and he scored a great goal.”
Atlanta scored a penalty in the 67th minute and would eventually score a game-winner in stoppage time.
The match was a memorable experience for both fans and players at BBVA Field.
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin was present for the coin flip and walked around the stadium greeting fans and posing for photos.
“Having Atlanta come, it’s an honor to have them,” Soehn said. “They’re looked at in our country as one of the top teams and being able to open the season against them in 2020 immediately sets a high bar. Watching our fans and giving our fans the chance to enjoy something like that is tremendous; we’re going to continue to try to grow the game here and try to represent Birmingham as proud as we can.”
The Legion will begin their USL regular season with two home games.
First, they will host Charleston Battery SC on March 15 and then face the likes of new USL franchise Miami FC a week later.
USL games, including all Legion FC contests, can be streamed on ESPN+.
Gunnar Sadowey is the sports editor for the Crimson. He is a senior from Elkhart, IN. Gunnar is currently a journalism and mass communications major with a print concentration and a German minor.