FC Tulsa gets big win at Birmingham

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Hammer: Down.

FC Tulsa struck gold in Alabama with a massive 2-1 victory on the road against Birmingham Legion FC on Sunday afternoon, its second win over Birmingham in the last three weeks. Recently-acquired Jason Johnson got his first goal in Tulsa colors while fellow forward Darío Suárez got back on the scoresheet for the match-winning strike.

It was a muggy matinee at BBVA Field, but recent Green Country weather seemingly gave FC Tulsa the upper hand in the oppressive conditions as Tulsa got on the board first. In the 8′ minute, Johnson opened the scoring off a beautiful pass from midfielder Lebo Moloto, marking the second-fastest Tulsa goal this season. Moloto cleverly flicked a ball from his back heel perfectly into the path of the on-rushing Johnson from the right side of the box. The Jamaican striker made no mistake, cooly finishing over the Birmingham keeper.

The opening goal has been a matter of good fortune for FC Tulsa as the club entered the match 6W-1L-0D when scoring first. A multi-goal output from the offensive is an even better sign, as Tulsa was 7W-1L-0D in that department when Suárez found the second. Midfielder Eric Bird’s through ball broke the Cuban into the clear and he made no mistake, finishing a goal for the first time in 11 matches.

On the other side of the field, keeper Sean Lewis’ improved form continued with a seven-save performance that’s only blemish was a second half set-piece strike from Legion FC’s Junior Flemmings. Defensive subs brought on by head coach Michael Nsien shut down any hopes of a Birmingham comeback.

The road win was badly needed as FC Tulsa had fallen out of USL Championship Playoffs position for the first time all season, but with three points in hand, vaulted back above the playoff line. It was only the second road victory in the last nine matches away from ONEOK Field after FC Tulsa started the year with wins in each of its first two trips outside of Tulsa.

8′ TUL - Jason Johnson (Lebo Moloto)
56′ TUL - Darío Suárez (Eric Bird)
68′ BHM - Junior Flemmings (Thomas Vancaeyezeele)

Forward Jason Johnson got on the board for Tulsa with his eighth minute strike. Johnson’s goal was his 28th in the USL Championship in his career. Johnson took the feed from Moloto on the right side and made no mistake against Legion FC keeper Matt Van Oekel

It had been a while since Suárez scored a goal. His last goal came in Tulsa’s 4-3 victory over Sporting KC II on June 16, 11 matches ago. The 11-match stretch without a goal is Suárez’s longest in his two-year USL Championship career after he scored eight in 15 matches in 2020.

Midfielders Lebo Moloto and Eric Bird each contributed an assist in the victory. For Moloto, it was his second assist of the season, while Bird earned his first with his pass to Suárez. Outside of the assists, the duo orchestrated Tulsa possession, completing 55 (Bird) and 54 (Moloto) passes in the match, the most on the team. Bird led the way with a pass pct. over 90% to lead all starters for FC Tulsa.

In the victory, FC Tulsa managed to do what no other team has when coming to Birmingham, score multiple goals and win. For the first time in nine home matches, Birmingham allowed an opponent to score more than one goal and was unable to come away with a result. In eight previous home matches, Legion FC had allowed a total of seven goals before conceding twice to Tulsa.

In eight matches to start the 2021 season, Lewis posted an uncharacteristic 48.6% save pct., a far cry from the 78.5% he posted in 2020. However after spending six matches on the bench, Lewis looks much more like his 2020 self. Including tonight’s seven saves, Lewis has a 72.7% save pct. since returning to the Starting XI. He’s made 16 saves over his last four matches, allowing six goals.

Today’s match was the first of three in seven days for FC Tulsa in its busiest week of the regular season. FC Tulsa will fly home on Monday for a Wednesday home tilt against Memphis 901 FC. The club will then welcome Atlanta United 2 to ONEOK Field on Saturday night. Kickoff for the two home matches is set for 7 p.m. CT.