Corinne S Kennedy
| Memphis Commercial Appeal
In the final match of one of the most bizarre professional sports seasons in recent memory, Memphis 901 FC got its first win over rival Birmingham Legion in franchise history. A Cal Jennings hat trick powered Memphis to its 3-1 victory Saturday night at AutoZone Park.
While the season as a whole was underwhelming for Memphis — the team ended the season with a 4-7-4 record (win-loss-draw) — 901 FC finished on a strong note, winning its final two matches.
Interim head coach Ben Pirmann praised his players’ performances and said Saturday night also helped them work out a little of the frustration built up over the season.
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“For 90 minutes there was one team on the field,” he said. “It was excellent from (goalkeeper) Jimmy Hague to the back line to the strikers, guys coming off the bench, the guys that didn’t get a chance to play, that was a very full team performance.”
Saturday’s match also marked Marc Burch’s final professional game. The defender, who played two seasons for 901 FC and 14 in MLS, was honored in a pre-game ceremony and was applauded by fans when he exited the match in the 83rd minute. He said he was happy to go out on a win and to have his family in the stands but that it was difficult to know it would be his final professional outing.
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“It was an honor to come off the field, to hear the fans,” Burch said. “For me, just winning and walking out with my head high is really important.”
Jennings opened the scoring in the 36th minute, hitting home a cross from defender Rece Buckmaster from close range. Birmingham midfielder Bruno Lapa equalized five minutes later, hitting home his own rebound after his first shot hit the post and sending the two sides into the half level.
Jennings gave Memphis the lead in the 54th minute and completed his hat trick in the 87th minute, sealing 901 FC’s fourth win of the season. He credited his teammates for the good service and support they gave him throughout the match.
“It’s always good to win,” he said. “Especially because of the work we’ve put in this year. We haven’t gotten the results and it’s been frustrating, we know the fans have been frustrated. To end like that and to send Burch off with a win at the end of his career, that’s awesome.”
Memphis 901 FC’s second season was unpredictable from start to finish. In addition to the pandemic, the team also saw a midseason coaching change and a player-led protest against police brutality after the shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha, Wisconsin police.
One of the only certainties of the offseason is the coaching search. Sporting director Tim Howard has said Pirmann will be considered for the permanent coaching job.
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Pirmann said what happens next is still a bit of a mystery for everyone, but that the club was determined to keep improving and “giving the community what it deserves.”
“For the club and the organization, we want to keep getting better and better. I’m really glad that the last two games we’ve gone up and up and up because it kind of validates some things we had in our mind,” he said. “Factually speaking, I don’t know what happens. But I know that this club and this community and its citizens and the players and our infrastructure, we have what it takes to win.”
A match against North Carolina FC scheduled for Sept. 23 was postponed after a positive COVID-19 test within the 901 FC organization. The match will not be rescheduled as both 901 FC and North Carolina FC have been eliminated from the postseason.
Corinne Kennedy covers soccer, economic development and COVID-19’s impact on hospitals for the Commercial Appeal. She can be reached via email at [email protected]