Area soccer standouts star in Birmingham Legion WFC’s first season

Published 3:02 pm Tuesday, June 6, 2023

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

BIRMINGHAM ­– Birmingham Legion WFC has gotten off to a strong start to their inaugural season, and players from the Shelby County area are driving that success.

Birmingham Legion WFC is a brand-new team created by Birmingham Legion FC along with two youth soccer clubs, Alabama FC and Birmingham United Soccer Association (BUSA).

While the men’s Legion team plays professional soccer in the USL Championship, which is the second division of soccer in the US below just the MLS, the women’s team is a step between college and pro soccer and plays in the pre-professional USL W-League.

The team is built from college players from across the South, including many players currently at Alabama, Auburn, Samford, UAB and other Alabama soccer programs. They are coached by top coaches from Alabama FC and BUSA, including head coach Nathan Archard.

While many of the players played at Alabama FC and BUSA, Legion WFC gives an opportunity to play with other top college players and play in front of Legion fans who wouldn’t normally follow women’s soccer in the area.

“I think the partnership with the Birmingham Legion obviously gives us more of a platform within the community and reaches out to more members of the community,” coach Archard said. “’So just the exposure from that standpoint is going to bring good awareness to the high-quality players that we have in the area, the good style and standard of soccer that we can provide and showcase in the community is something that’s exciting, and something that I think the fans and the community will gravitate to and support.”

For the players, it’s an opportunity to stay fresh in between college seasons. Legion WFC’s schedule runs from May to July, which allows players to return to their schools before the college season starts in August and recent high school graduates to join after their season wraps up in early May.

Legion WFC and Samford defender Jennifer Seward is taking that opportunity to stay fresh, especially since she is coming off a season-ending injury during her college season last fall.

“I think having this creates a very good training environment that mimics college soccer,” Seward said. “But it’s not only preparing us for college, it’s also preparing us for professional [soccer] if we wanted to go after because it is such a good training atmosphere.”

Legion WFC also gives local players an opportunity to play high-level club soccer in their own backyard. Before this year, players would have to travel to cities like Huntsville or even out-of-state to Georgia or Tennessee to play for USL W-League clubs. Now, they’ll get to stay at their homes to train and play their home games.

In addition to their regular home at Spain Park High School in the heart of Shelby County, their attachment to the Birmingham Legion gives Legion WFC the chance to play three of their six home games at Protective Stadium as doubleheaders with the men’s team.

Legion WFC is stacked with former Shelby County area stars. The roster includes two former Shelby County Players of the Year in Haley Duca and Morgan White, and 13 of the players graduated from area high schools, including Oak Mountain, Chelsea, Spain Park, Indian Springs and Westminster at Oak Mountain.

Two of their players jumped straight into the W-League season after finishing their senior seasons in high school. Kierson McDonald led Oak Mountain to the Final Four in 2023 and is playing for Legion WFC ahead of debuting for Alabama this fall. Another impactful player in the county, Indian Springs’ Norah Roller, will play for Furman after Legion WFC’s season finishes.

Roller admitted to being a little star struck by playing with so many great college players, but said everyone has been very supportive even though she’s one of the youngest on the team.

“I haven’t obviously been playing that long with these people, but I think a part of me too is so excited to play with people at this level,” Roller said. “So, I get a lot of adrenaline to play really well with them, but I think having them support me and give me constructive criticism on what to do is totally making me a better player too, and growing my confidence.

Roller in particular has dominated on the scoresheet since debuting for Legion WFC, scoring a goal in each of the team’s first three games.

Legion WFC opened their 2023 season on the road against South Georgia Tormenta FC on May 19 and took a 2-1 win behind an own goal and a Roller goal.

They drew their next game on May 25 at Tennessee SC, 1-1, thanks to an early Roller goal. Then they beat Southern Soccer Academy, 2-0, on May 27 with two goals in three minutes in the second half, the first from Jasmine Greene and the second from Roller.

While Legion WFC lost their last game at Chattanooga Red Wolves SC, 4-1, they took seven points from four road matches. They now sit in second in the South Central Division behind just Chattanooga having played three less matches, putting them in prime position to make the playoffs.

“I definitely think that we’re making good strides heading into the home stretch now,” coach Archard said. “I think we play better game by game and the camaraderie and the team spirit amongst the girls is great. It’s a fun group to work with and I’m just really enjoying the time.”

After playing their first four matches on the road, Legion WFC will now play six of their final eight games at home, three at Protective Stadium and three at Spain Park.

Their inaugural home match against the Tormenta on Wednesday, June 7 at 3:30 p.m. at Protective Stadium will be just one historic moment for the club that day. Immediately after the game, the Birmingham Legion men’s team will play against MLS club Inter Miami CF in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup.

The match against Miami is easily the biggest match in team history. Birmingham set an attendance record with over 12,000 fans at their Round of 16 win over Charlotte FC last month, and the opportunity to play against a David Beckham-owned Inter Miami will surely bring out a large crowd and give the Legion WFC players a platform to showcase their skills.

The women’s team have been warmly embraced by the Legion fans, and they even received hand-written notes from a Legion supporters group, the Magic City Brigade, before their first match.

McDonald hopes that a women’s team can help grow soccer even more in the Birmingham area alongside the men’s team’s recent success.

“I feel like the boys Legion team has already started to make soccer a bigger sport in Birmingham,” McDonald said. “And I think having a girls team is always good to reach more people to come and watch the games and for young girls have something to work for, and people who are a little bit older, like at club levels, have something that’s not that far away from them.”

Tickets for all Legion WFC matches can be purchased at the gate on matchday, and Protective Stadium match tickets can also be purchased by calling the BJCC box office or online at Ticketmaster.