It was announced several months ago that Birmingham would be joining the ranks of the United Soccer League in 2019, but at the time the team had no name, no colors and only one employee. Thursday evening in front of an overflow crowd at Good People Brewing in downtown Birmingham (note: if you’re driving, do not order a Snakehandler) that all changed.
The team is now named Birmingham Legion FC. For those not up on their Birmingham civic history, that’s a nod to the city’s venerable football stadium Legion Field (itself named in honor of the American Legion), former home of the Crimson Tide and current home of UAB’s football team. Legion FC will not play there, however (the team’s initial home has yet to be determined). The team’s colors will be “molten gold” and “attack black” and its crest symbolizes much about the city of Birmingham:
The colors and the crest’s overall shape bear some resemblance to those of the newest MLS team LAFC, but otherwise are rooted in the city’s industrial history and also give a shout-out to the current Birmingham Hammers team in the Premier Development League, which was the baby of Morgan Copes, Legion FC’s Vice President and first employee. Copes is very well-known in Birmingham’s soccer culture and has been working a long time to bring professional soccer to the city.
The brand reveal announcement had originally been planned for two weeks ago, but the light dusting of snow back then was close enough to the end of the world to force a postponement. That delay ended up fortuitous as it allowed the club to add its newest hire to the presentation. That hire is President and General Manager Jay Heaps. Heaps was a long-time fixture in MLS, playing nine years for the New England Revolution after two years at the long-defunct Miami Fusion, going on to coach the Revs for seven years. Heaps’ second-last game as the Revs coach was the 7-0 loss against our own Five Stripes. Although he took the fall for the Revolution’s lack of success over the past couple of seasons, he was in many ways the victim of the Krafts’ Scrooge-like ways as regards their team that is not called the Patriots (go Eagles, btw).
That will not likely be a problem for him under the Legion ownership. The owners’ pockets aren’t quite Uncle Arthur deep, but in the USL they don’t need to be. They do however have a philosophy to team-building that is very much like what we have seen in Atlanta. Heaps stated that “from day one I knew this was the right project” and that the team is “about community and making this one group together”. Indeed, as seen in the video above, “community” is one of the club’s underlying principles. He also stated that he and his family are excited about moving south (and if like me you’ve ever lived in New England you’ll know that the locals up there don’t move away often) and that the welcome he has received has been “gracious”. Well, of course it has. We’re Southerners. Even if you are a Yankee.
Legion co-owner Lee Styslinger also used terms that will sound familiar to DSS readers, calling Birmingham “a city on the rise”. And newly-elected Birmingham mayor Randall Woodfin described the advent of pro soccer as “a pivotal moment for our city”.
Another similarity to Atlanta United: early season ticket deposit holders are being referred to as Founding Members (if you’re reading this in Birmingham and haven’t ponied up yet, you’re too late; founding memberships closed just before the presentation), and there are a lot of them. Final numbers are not yet known, but are thought to be close to 7,000. As a comparison, in 2017 only five of the thirty USL teams averaged more than 7,000 in attendance and the league average was 4,032. If that’s any gauge, Birmingham is about to reinforce the rapidly developing case that the South rules in more than just one code of football.