Memphis 901 FC: A dominant force in the USL Championship

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  • Things looked bleak for Memphis 901 FC in December, but now they’re a dominant team out East in the USL Championship

This piece is an excerpt from this Monday’s Weekend Recap.

Memphis 901 FC seemed doomed to mediocrity as Christmas approached this offseason.

In a three-day stretch in December, USL Championship All-League Second Team striker Kyle Murphy and fullback Mark Segbers both decamped to Miami FC. New signings slowly rolled in throughout the winter, but most were USL journeymen that, frankly, didn’t inspire a ton of confidence. The league’s official preseason power ranking placed Memphis 9th in their conference and 19th overall

Today, Memphis sits on top of the Eastern Conference, solidly in the upper echelons of the league in terms of goal scoring, goal difference, and underlying expected goals data. Fresh off of a 5-2 victory against Atlanta that capped off a five-game win streak and seven wins in eight matches, how has this seemingly ragtag group been so successful?

Coach Ben Pirmann

Coach Ben Pirmann was the first key retention for Memphis – and he’s helped build a squad that reflects his principles. Despite leading the club since 2020, he only shed his interim label a month before the 2021 season. Pirmann forged a counter-attacking side that made the playoffs in 2021 with the second-lowest possession share in the entire USL. With a full offseason this time around, Pirmann recruited a unit that now keeps a majority of the ball.

Below, the key cogs in Memphis’ offenses are shown alongside their Goals Above Replacement percentiles. That metric, which rates USL player performance relative to the mean, shows how 901 FC’s most-used pieces have improved year-over-year in the Pirmann system. 

Unlikely stars in the attack

The key difference has come in attack, where an unlikely group has emerged as stars.

Jeremy Kelly, a fullback with eight appearances for the Colorado Rapids and a short loan spell to Phoenix last season, has emerged as a wing dynamo with four goals and a league-leading six assists. Phillip Goodrum, a forward with six goals across 34 appearances for Atlanta United 2, already has seven goals for Pirmann’s side this year. Rece Buckmaster and Patrick Seagrist, a pair of fullbacks on their fourth clubs in as many years, have been stalwarts on the overlap.

Two vital retentions have been every bit as important as the new faces. Niall Logue, a central defender signed on a full deal after a 2021 loan, rates in the 97th percentile of USL defenders for his pass completion rate. He’s also in the 89th percentile for the share of his passes that go forward. His incisiveness playing out from the back is the starting point for Memphis’ buildup. 

Further up the pitch, Laurent Kissiedou dictates play as a No. 10. He collected four goals and five assists last season and ranked in the 98th percentile for combined xG and xA. In 2022, the attacker already has five goals and four assists.

Between their roster and on-field performances, Memphis’ dominance this season is clearly a product of smart roster construction and a singular managerial vision. Memphis is a team to watch as the season heats up – and they’re a real contender in the USL’s Eastern Conference.