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Rewind That: A Blueprint to Stop Minnesota United’s Bleeding

by on 15 March 2017

After a thrashing in the opener against the Portland Timbers, Minnesota United FC was taken to task once again. Fellow expansion side Atlanta United went to work immediately, and the bleeding continued for the Loons. So what can be done to fix this?

Second verse, same as the first.

Very little of what went wrong against the Timbers was resolved in time for Sunday’s home opener. The defense was disjointed. Certain players had repeat poor performances. The attack didn’t get enough time with the ball to become lethal.

So how can this be resolved? Surely, Minnesota United isn’t [clears throat] “the worst team in MLS history™.”

Everyone has their idea of how to mitigate disaster and some are less practical (and legal) than others.

However, the tweet of mine Lalas quoted laid out my plan. It requires a tactical switch, the return of a couple of familiar faces, and a re-positioning of a regular. Here’s why I think it could work.

A mobile back line

Let’s start in the third minute of Sunday’s match. Atlanta United has the ball and goalkeeper Alec Kann distributes it. Immediately, Atlanta sees many pockets of space across the pitch laid out by Minnesota. A very technical Atlanta side wastes no time. We’re going from box to box in 12 seconds.

Players with the vision of Miguel Almirón dream of chances like this. While many — including myself — initially thought Josef Martínez was offside, it turns out that Jermaine Taylor (playing at left back) was out of position. Playing as a virtual center back, Taylor was also behind the offside trap. That gave Martinez just enough space to sneak past and create his chance.

Taylor’s immobility at the full back positions has been a recurring theme through two weeks. At this stage of his career, he’s best equipped to play centrally. While Francisco Calvo played left back plenty with Deportivo Saprissa, he’s been Minnesota’s best defender. Don’t play your best players out of position.

Meanwhile, NASL regular and opening-day starter Justin Davis was riding the bench on Sunday. If it’s me, I’m putting Davis back in. Davis did well to partner with Calvo on the left half of the Loons’ back line. The pair looked a promising passing tandem and held a steady line at the back. Furthermore, Davis has much better mobility, and his ability to get up and down the flank would provide extra breathing room on the left. More on that in a second.

Vadim Demidov’s legs just aren’t what they used to be and he’s unable to give chase, boxed out by Yamil Asad. I’d give Brent Kallman his debut against Colorado. Kallman has a tireless motor and is comfortable with the ball at his feet. With Davis, Calvo, Kallman, and Jérôme Thiesson, Minnesota would have four players with good stamina and ability on the ball.

A reassignment for the skipper

So where, then, does this leave Demidov? Brought in as a TAM-player, the captain hasn’t looked able to keep up with the likes of Martinez or Portland’s Fanendo Adi.

I don’t think this is an indictment on him as a player. It’s merely a sign that he’s best equipped in the midfield. When he was signed, Kristan Heneage said this about the Norwegian:

“I prefer Demidov maybe at CDM, especially in a league like MLS. Demidov isn’t really an athletic presence, and I could see him being exploited by some forwards with pace in MLS. He’s not very quick, but he is a big guy that can pass the ball. At least at CDM, you have the benefit of his good passing and vision, but also someone that is a good defender at heart.”

Always trust a soothsayer. In fact, Demidov showed this vision against Atlanta just before their second goal. Atlanta has another clinical passing sequence rolling and Demidov sees one ball with less on it than the rest.

With freedom to roam, Demidov could be an effective defensive midfielder, sweeping up in front of his back line to help control the center of the field. Putting him alongside Rasmus Schüller would also give him a creative passing mind to partner with. This minimizes the logjam we’ve seen when Minnesota rolls out Schüller, Collen Warner, and Mohammed Saeid. Speaking of Mo…

Four is greater than three

Saeid was called into action as something of a left midfielder. Playing a level behind Johan Venegas and Kevin Molino, he still was deputized out wide. At heart, Saeid is a central midfielder through and through. In one attacking chance at the end of the first half, this absence was glaring.

Saeid gets the ball in his natural midfield position. However, there’s no left winger ready to take advantage of a lot of space. Taylor heads up the field and puts in a cross from behind the 18-yard box. While the ball finds Venegas, it is too far from goal to pose much of a threat. Meanwhile, the Loons’ back line was again left vulnerable by a lack of numbers.

Adding a left winger like Bashkim Kadrii or Miguel Ibarra could help with these spacing issues. Both are capable delivering a cross, and a major point of contention from my initial tweet was that fans wanted to see Ibarra start.

A few notes on this. First, the U.S. international has 104 fewer minutes than Kadrii through two games, showing Heath’s preference for the Dane. Second, Ibarra is a two-way player, while Kadrii is comparatively more attack-minded. If I’m trying to improve spacing and catch Colorado on the counter, I’d give Kadrii a try. Finally, Ibarra struggled for time in León and is still working back toward regular minutes. He’ll get his chance and it’ll be sooner than later.

Utilizing subs

One-time FiftyFive.One Podcast co-host and aficionado of all things Finnish (Finnophile?), Adam Jarvi landed the tweet of the week.

Snark aside, Jarvi has a point. In both matches, Heath didn’t use a substitution until around the 70th minute. Meanwhile, the Loons’ head coach declined to use all three subs in either of MNUFC’s first two games. For a team that has leaked late goals in both matches, turning bad results into embarrassments, this shouldn’t happen again.

So with the lineup I set out earlier, I’d sub in Ibarra for Kadrii as soon as the Dane seems to be tiring. I’d put in Collin Martin for Schüller at some point to get him into the side. A former D.C. United Homegrown, Martin has great vision and could become a clinical passer, either at the No. 8 or the No. 10. Finally, I’m using the third substitution to replace Demidov with Warner if the midfield needs an infusion of bite. Warner has looked steady in the first two matches and is a reliable player. Martin-Warner is a fine second unit if both Schüller and Demidov need a breather.

So there’s my blueprint to get this train on the rails. With my luck, eight of these 11 won’t start on Saturday against Colorado. What changes would you make? Sound off in the comment section below.


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