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Minnesota United Play to Another Preseason Draw in Preview of MLS Opener

by on 12 February 2017

In two and a half weeks, Minnesota United will open the MLS season at Providence Park in Portland. On Sunday night, fans got a small taste of what that night might look like when the Loons and Timbers played to a 2-2 draw.

Both teams played with lineups that featured very few of the players who will start on March 3; only Bashkim Kadrii, Johan Venegas, Kevin Molino, and John Alvbåge are likely regular starters.

The match started heavily in Portland’s favor as Victor Arboleda looked particularly dangerous down the Timbers’ left flank. After surviving the first fifteen minutes — including a point-blank save from Alvbåge — the Loons started to get their legs.

The game changed in the 25th minute when Kevin Molino did the absolute dirty on Timbers defender Zarek Valentine and sent a hard shot in on Jeff Attinella. The Timbers keeper saved the ball, but it fell to Johan Venegas, who headed it in.

Minnesota struck again soon after when a backheel from Kadrii put Johan Venegas in on goal. The Costa Rican then slipped the ball between Attinella’s legs for his brace.

The game could have been put to bed by the end of the half when Kadrii sent in a scorcher from distance, but it cannoned off the crossbar. He would later send 2nd half keeper Jake Gleeson diving to save another hard-hit shot from distance, giving fans a preview of his power.

In the second half, the Timbers started to creep back into the game, particularly as they subbed on more and more first team players. For their part, Minnesota brought on Christian Ramirez, Eugene Starikov (trialist), and Alvin Jones (trialist) for Johan Venegas, Kevin Molino, and Kevin Venegas.

In the 51st minute, Portland struck back when a poor clearance landed for Jack McInerney, who muscled past a flat-footed Brent Kallman and smacked the ball into the roof of the net. Less than 10 minutes later, the Timbers changed out their entire side and the game had settled to an even back-and-forth.

The Timbers had one last point to make, though, when Fanendo Adi beautifully finished off a cross with a backheel, making the game 2-2.

Despite the match being played between two weakened sides, there were plenty of positives to take from the Loons’ performance. The intricate interplay between Johan Venegas, Kadrii, and Molino will have many fans purring. But some players like Collin Martin, Ismaila Jome, and Brent Kallman showed that Minnesota’s depth may be better than many have imagined.

The Loons play one more match in Portland against Real Salt Lake on Wednesday evening.


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  • Blake Johnson

    The Molino deal is looking like tremendous value at this point. Granted it’s preseason, having a game-breaker like that on our side is the ultimate X factor in any game.

  • BJ

    Jome looked good. Not out of place at all.

    I was surprised at the lack of Subs.

    The first half my stream was hit or miss so not sure if Kevin V was taken out for reasons, or just to get the trialist in.

    • Ryan Hodkiewicz

      Kevin looked awful, so probably a combination of him getting burned numerous times and Heath wanting to a get a look at Jones at RB. Inchy had good things to say about Jones but him being an international is an issue.

  • Jake Rueter

    A few things stood out to me last night as really encouraging:
    – The fluidity of J. Venegas, Kadrii, and Molino was a beautiful sight to behold. All took their turns applying pressure on the Timbers’ backline. None of the three were afraid of maneuvering through tight spaces, and did a great job combining with Miller, Ibson, and Jome. Very encouraging signs in the attack.
    – Neither Ibson nor Miller are going to be confused with a ball-winning #6, but both were willing to track back and put in a tackle. I was happy with what I saw from both players – if this is the tactical setup we’re going to move forward with I feel good about our depth in the middle of the park.
    – A special shout-out to Ish Jome, who really grew into the game as it progressed. He was dangerous in the attack, made himself a nuisance in the defensive half, and found ways to get involved in the game. I was very happy with what I saw from him.

    And a couple of concerns:
    – We haven’t seen Christian play with the same level of attacking talent around him as Danladi and J. Venegas, but I continue to be concerned about how he fits into Heath’s scheme. He’s never struck me as an effective presser, and doesn’t have the ability to float around the attacking positions like we saw in the first half. Hoping that he gets a run-out with more of the presumed first team on Wednesday night.
    – Right back is going to be an area of serious concern for this team all season. Viva and Greenspan were made to look silly by a player from T2 throughout the first 15 minutes of last night’s match. Viva looked more confident from minutes 15-45, but almost always required one of Martin or Ibson coming over to assist defensively. Alvin Jones had a bright start to the second half, but wasn’t entirely impressive. All told I thought he performed better than Viva given the quality of their respective opposition. I’d like to see Josh Gatt get a run-out at RB sometime this preseason because the remaining options on the roster as-is have significant flaws.

    All in all, a very positive showing for the Loons. Looking forward to Wednesday night!

    • Jacob

      Good thoughts.
      –I had assumed Ramirez would start up top, but J-Ven’s performance made that much more of a question mark unless Ramirez gets a chance with the starters against RSL (I can only assume he will) and shows well (who knows). Someone’s going to be the odd one out, but unless there are personality issues, that depth is a huge asset over the course of a season. Especially with Kadrii and Danladi as injury concerns.

      –Yeah it seems like everyone has been committed to team defense and to giving the guy with the ball options. That’s a great sign for the state of the team and reflects well on Heath, too. Hopefully it remains the case when guys aren’t fighting for a place on the team.

      –I hope Viva and Kallman can find their MLS legs soon because both have been liabilities. Luckily we have 3 CBs ahead of Kallman so it’s not urgent, but Gatt signing and being a starting-quality RB would be huge for this team. That knee of his is going to break everyone’s hearts one day, but hopefully he can play for a while first.

      It feels good to see this team on the field, and they’re doing quite well so far.

    • Wes

      Didn’t christian also have a terrible preseason last year? I guess I just don’t worry about him. Everytime people wonder if he can do it, he comes out and does something impressive. We haven’t yet seen him get a real run-out with Molino, Venegas, and Kadrii next to him.

      • Jake Rueter

        Yes, I hope we see Christian with more of the first team on Wednesday.

  • Troy Kadlec

    The attack looked solid, we were a bit shaky on the backline at times. I thought Kallman looked OK, but he was culpable on both goals. If he stops hesitating and puts his body into play, he had the chance to stop both goals. Hopefully time and experience will help him step that last notch up. Starikov has looked decent and would be nice to keep around. Greenspan could be a monster on corners.

    • Wes

      I’m not sure why Kallman gets blamed for that 1st goal and not Greenspan. Greenspan could have easily snuffed out the opportunity, but got lost between looking at McInerney and the ball. Kallman was caught flat-footed, sure, but it starts with Greenspan (actually, it starts with Ibson giving away the ball).

      • Troy Kadlec

        While I agree that it was hesitation that even made the play possible, Kallman had his body up against Mac and should have been able to disrupt. Credit to Mac and yes Greenspan was part of the miscommunication, but the play came to Kallman and he could have done better. To me, it’s more a question of technique than skill. On both goals, he “takes a knee” while he kicks out with the other leg. I’m thinking he should have got his body more into the play than just a leg swipe. It might not have changed the first goal, but it was critical in the second. He read the play, made the right movement, but failed to get his body between the attacker and the goal. Your CBs are your last line of defense and we’ll be in plenty of these situations over the course of this season. Kallman had to be that rock when the chips are down. I think he’s got it in him, just want to see it sooner rather than later.

  • Kdog

    Yo, but who forgot to wash the black socks?

  • Bruce J McGuire

    Wes, I am a big Brent Kallman fan, but I can’t see where you got “showed that Minnesota’s depth may be better than many have imagined.”
    He got muscled off the ball for the 1st Portland goal, and beat for speed to the end line on the 2nd cross for the 2nd Portland goal. That is a pretty bad performance.
    He has a lot of learning to do. I know he will put in the effort, now we have to see if he has the talent to pull it off. I hope he does.

    • Wes

      Kallman had quite a few good clearances. He had one really good moment of standing up to Valeri (or Blanco?) late in the game. He was a bit slow to respond on the first goal, but I think he’s maybe 3rd in line for blame on that 2nd goal. I don’t think he looked outclassed. And I think if you put him next to Demidov and a starting left back, then neither of those two goals would have happened and I also think he could be relied upon with solid guys around him.

      • Tres Gatos

        I need some of that kool-aid you are drinking. 🤔

        • Wes

          It’s really good Kool-Aid.

  • Matt

    Jome’s performance was meh for me. He kept up with the run of play but didn’t add much. Interesting to see Greenspan’s height put to use on set pieces, though didn’t result in much. If they can make that connection with him utilizing his height, he could be an interesting X factor.

    Molino, Kadrii and J. Venegas are all very exciting. I’m looking foeward to seeing what Ibarra can do with those guys. If K. Venegas gets in the mix (and he did connect promisingly with Molino in the first half), this will be an entertaining team to watch.

  • Vinyl Haircut

    I agree with many of the comments here. Many encouraging signs in attack. Kadrii and Molino both looking like the real deal. I also agree that I’d like to see Ramirez with a better surrounding cast, because Starikov (even though a nice surprise) was certainly a drop down in quality.

    I was also pleased overall with Kallman and Greenspan. Certainly not perfect, and could have cleaned up the first goal with better play. But that one is on Ibson, really, after a dreadful giveaway. Ibson played well overall, much better than I expected. But this is the type of error he’s prone to.

    As much as I love K Venegas, I am really concerned about right back. Granted, the sample size is very small, but neither Venegas nor Taylor (first game) looked the part there. Venegas did start the play with Molino that led to a goal, but that was one simple pass. It’s not *in possession* that worries me … it’s in defense. Miserable half for him in that regard. I hope it was just a bad night. If not, we have some scrambling to do. Maybe Gatt? Or could could we start Demidov + (Greenspan or Kallman) at CB and move Calvo to RB? I hate taking Calvo out of the middle, but maybe that is an option to consider if we don’t get better showings. Hopefully K Venegas will play great the next time around and prove my fretting to be unnecessary. 🙂