When any team loses a game by four goals, the reaction has to walk a line. Focus too much on the loss and the team risks falling into a spiral bad results. Ignore the problems and the same thing can happen. The job falls to Adrian Heath and the coaching staff to make sure United recognizes the problems in its play while also not letting morale sink.
Regarding the latter, there were encouraging signs in the match against Portland. Christian Ramirez netted his and the team’s first MLS goal. Build-up play by Kevin Molino and Johan Venegas connected well at times, particularly after Ramirez and Miguel Ibarra came on as second-half substitutes.
FiftyFive.One spoke to Heath, who had this to say regarding the decision to play three in the midfield: “I thought an extra body in there gave us a little extra stability and more possession… we had a lot of possession, which isn’t normally the case for teams in Portland. On that scale, it worked.”
The team recognizes that their play in Portland was simply not good enough. Heath minced no words, saying “The issue was that we never got enough men in their box and we didn’t defend our box well enough.” He added, “You have to defend your box far better than we did on Friday and we have to get more in their half.”
The Loons will take heart in that the few injuries nagging their players are starting to heal; Heath reported that nearly all players, including Abu Danladi, will be in full training on Friday. The exceptions would be Bernardo Añor, who remains on the disabled list, and possibly Jérôme Thiesson, who only arrived in Minnesota on Thursday.
With a full roster and two days, how should MNUFC prepare for Atlanta? Three specific things the Loons can do could improve results dramatically.
First, the team has to work on maintaining their composure. When Diego Valeri scored his 82nd-minute penalty kick last Friday, Minnesota began to panic. Passes were rushed and off target. Worse, players pushed out of position in an effort to will a goal into being and either could not or would not recover when possession was lost. This should improve with time, but if players remind themselves to keep calm as matches wear on, it will serve them well.
Second, Minnesota needs to sort out its defense. While Vadim Demidov and Jermaine Taylor were the weakest links defensively in the Portland match, the back line as a unit was not cohesive. A back pass from Justin Davis nearly ended up in the net. Demidov and Fransico Calvo were not quite on the same page in terms of marking. Experience with each other and in the league will help, but communication and awareness are going to be key for the Loons’ defense come Sunday.
Third, the Loons need to be proactive. Too often against the Timbers, a Minnesota player would receive a pass and only then look to survey options available. Quick, decisive ball movement will not only help the team maintain possession, but should allow the Loons to manipulate space and unlock defenses as well.
Justin Davis was also the focus of this week’s Training Report.
Davis perhaps said it best when he told FiftyFive.One “It’s tough to draw positives from a result like that, but it is what it is.”
Off-field speculation may play a roll this gameday as well. As Sunday marks first meeting between the two expansion sides, comparisons are going to be made. With the season young, Minnesota United needs to be prepared to deal with the press afterward.
A single loss away to Portland is nothing to be troubled about for the Loons or their fans. The team’s response this weekend, however, may be key in establishing the right mentality moving forward.
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