Image credit to Minnesota United FC.

The Angle

Rewind That: Lamentations From a Shorthanded Loons Loss

by on 30 March 2017

In his fourth installment of Rewind That, Jeff Rueter looks at the footage from Minnesota’s defeat against New England Revolution. Four players were out on international duty. Another was on a red card suspension. What did the fresh faces show against the Revolution?

Last week, I wrote about trying to “keep the momentum” after the club’s first (and, so far, only) MLS point. In retrospect, that’s easier said than done. No matter the sport, when a team loses half of their starting lineup, you’ll likely notice a dropoff.

It’d be very easy for me to copy/paste my observations from the drubbings against Portland or Atlanta. A lot of these issues are applicable. The opponent targeted the right side of Minnesota’s back line to great success. The side needs a fourth attacker in the form of a second striker in order to reach its potential. Marking on set pieces isn’t a strong point.

Still, I don’t want to phone anything in with this series. Let’s check the tape from last Saturday’s defeat to look for new (or previously unmentioned) trends. As Jeb Brovsky mentioned on this week’s FiftyFive.One Podcast, absences are no excuse for a bad performance. Here’s how Minnesota fared against Kei “Dipsy” Kamara and the New England Revolution.

What exactly do you do here?

After finding the club’s only success to date in a sort of 4-4-2, Adrian Heath reverted back to a 4-3-3 against New England. The thinking, I’m sure, was that New England usually plays through the center of the pitch. Having three center midfielders would help to slow the opponent’s attack.

Ultimately, the Revs played from out wide, with Diego Fagúndez and Chris Tierney bombing down the left side to cut inside or deliver crosses. Conversely, Minnesota’s three-headed midfield of Collen Warner, Mohammed Saeid, and Ibson seemed to be playing the same assignment as one another.

Early in the match and down a goal, Minnesota gets the ball to Ibson to start their first promising attack. Traditionally a shuttler, Ibson works up the field trying to find someone ahead of him. However, Warner is behind him in a defensive role while Saeid is alongside him, with the Revs’ Scott Caldwell blocking that lane. Instead, he passes back to the back line. The second cycle of passing finds Saeid, but a lack of a No. 10 or second striker forces Saeid to try a through ball to Christian Ramirez. The ball carries on the wet turf and is intercepted.

Having made a stellar debut off the bench against Colorado, Ibson made his first MLS start on Saturday. Here, he collects a pass from Jérôme Thiesson and presses into the attacking third.

Ibson has Saeid available as a backpass, Miguel Ibarra to his right, and Thiesson ready on an overlap. Instead, Ibson holds the ball an extra five seconds before trying a backpass to Warner. It skips on the turf, Warner is unable to collect, and New England recovers. These clogged lanes in the midfield caused confusion, whereas having a second striker clarifies roles for all three players.

Resolve and a tactical switch

For the third time in eight minutes, Ibson finds himself with promising possession. His first pass is a perfect one, well-weighted and continuing Ramirez’s run on the counterattack. However, Ibson recollects the ball and (without looking) crosses it to the right wing, hoping for Bashkim Kadrii or Kevin Venegas to be there. Neither are, and Ibson is visibly upset.

(It looks like I forgot to trim the start and finish of this clip. Enjoy seeing how the sausage is made.)

Speaking of being visibly upset, all three starting midfielders were caught giving up on plays after a turnover. Watch Ibson (kit number 7, pink boots for identification in the clip) after his pass is well-defended.

There’s a lot to dissect here. First, he looks up to the skies like a forlorn hero in an action film, cursing his lot in this world. In the 20 seconds that follow this pass, he fails to get back into the frame of the camera. The Revs are on the counter, still outnumbered by Minnesota. Venegas tucks centrally, giving Juan Agudelo acres to operate in on the wing. He cuts back, finds an opening, and makes a clinical finish.

Later, Heath switched to a 5-3-2 to stop the bleeding. This came at the expense of Kadrii and Ibarra, who had been largely invisible on the day. However, the midfield was no less cluttered in the process. Still, the defensive fortitude of this formation was a stark improvement.

Next, take a look at the lead-up to the Revs’ second penalty call (which was out of the box). Here, Minnesota swarms the player on the ball and stops forward progress. It’s a long clip, but the first 20 seconds would give you the gist.

Minnesota is on New England like tight pants on a college hipster. While they don’t get time on the ball, Minnesota is able to keep New England from any sort of positive possession. It’s a punt, but the mentality behind the formation was a success. If the Loons can carry that tenacity back to a 4-4-2, it’d be a major boost.

The youth movement

Finally, the squad cycling necessitated that younger players like Abu Danladi and Collin Martin saw the field. The SuperDraft’s top pick made his debut in Colorado. However, Danladi’s entrance came right as Justin Davis saw red and his role was purely defensive. On Saturday, Danladi started to show off his attacking chops.

Here, the 21-year-old tried to turn water into wine coolers, as a heavy first touch forces him to the right wing. Rather than give up, he gives chase and is taken down by two Revs to earn a free kick. This deadball would lead directly to Kallman’s goal.

Conversely, here’s a moment where the same tenacity would’ve been advantageous. (Again, step behind the editor’s curtain. I edited these videos at 1:00 a.m., so cut me some slack.)

Danladi has plenty of space ahead of him and charges into the box. Rather than cut inside between the defenders to either draw contact or move central, the Bruin goes wide. He’s perfectly marked by center back Benjamin Angoua and he shoots from a tough angle. Angoua blocks it and Cody Cropper collects.

Meanwhile, Martin subbed on for his Minnesota debut in the 63rd minute. There were no stand-out moments, but the midfielder was very promising. Take a look at the passing charts for Martin compared to the veteran Ibson.

At worst, one could say he was similarly clinical in his passing. However, Martin (17) did well to keep the ball from languishing in the center of the park, cycling it wide. He did have one successful pass to the fringe of the box. On the other hand, Ibson’s possession near the box never found the promised land, always going either backwards or to the opponent.

Final thoughts

Often, young domestic talent (or college players) are overlooked on expansion sides. Dating back all the way to Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA, the idea of an established international player seems sexier than a 20-something-year-old local. As Kallman and Ramirez have shown, there’s real quality and motivation from these players.

If Minnesota wants to build for the future, test the kids. Put Danladi out there every week, off the bench or in the lineup. Get Martin primed to take over as the box-to-box guy if Rasmus Schüller is called up to the Finnish national team again. Now that he’s healthy, see what Joe Greenspan can do as your third center back. These guys are low-risk propositions with much greater rewards at your fingertips. Nobody would fault a new club for seeing what their prospects can do. For Minnesota, it just may be the surest way to get a lot out of this inaugural campaign.

Keeping all of this in mind, here’s how I would line up Minnesota against Real Salt Lake this weekend.

Look familiar? This is the same starting lineup that got an impressive 2-2 draw in Colorado. The backline sorely missed Davis and Francisco Calvo and both should be reinstated immediately. If Schüller isn’t ready to go after a transatlantic flight, I’d start Saeid or Martin. Finally, I’d give Josh Gatt a run-out off the bench if the game is at least close. His straight-line pace could break the RSL back line.

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  • Alex Schieferdecker

    Bet Jeff is regretting signing up to do a series where he re-watches Minnesota games.

    Should scrap this and start a new series called “I couldn’t bear to watch”

    • Jeff Rueter

      At this rate, it’s starting to sniff Designated Report territory.

  • Kevin Hill

    The “Ibson cursing at the sky” moment is classic Ibson. In game when I saw him do that I said to myself New England will score, and it happened.

    • Tom G.

      Yeah, I had the exact same thought watching the game

    • Steve Lilly

      Not true, he is usually floundering on his backside with his arms to the sky. I was impressed he was still on his feet

  • bartgott

    I think you’re being too generous with your comments about the lead-up to the Revs’ second penalty call. There was tenacity, yes, but there was no shape. Players were chasing without purpose or coordination. New England used good skill to keep possession for more than a minute cycling the ball all around the pitch with United chasing in a un-coordinated fashion. Eventually getting to a dangerous position where a referee decision can happen. This looked to me like players responding to a half-time yelling session about effort and passion and feeling like if they’re seen not chasing they’ll loose their position to someone who will. I’d rather see a team hold their shape and no let the opponent get into the middle or top-of-the-box area and when possession is eventually won, counter attack or establish possession of their own. This just looked sloppy to me. Just my opinion…

    • Jeff Rueter

      Totally valid opinion. With the switch to the 5-3-2, it was all about blocking the Revs outside of the box. It wasn’t pretty, and I agree that holding shape would be far better. After conceding four goals in the first half, though, I think aesthetic was far from the focus.

      I just think back to one of the goals that Atlanta put in where they went net-to-net in thirteen seconds. There was shape for Minnesota, but it was all wrong. Plenty of space between each player, and Atlanta exploited. This was like U8, where everyone just wants to get around the ball. It worked to an extent; no goals from the run of play.

      • bartgott

        Yes to all. Sad that we’re comparing this to U8!

  • Matt

    Great analysis. Interesting to see Ibson’s giving up after a turnover contributing to a Revs goal. Compare that to Danladi’s extra effort leading to a free kick and a Loons goal.

    Watching the match, it often seemed like Ibson was the only one taking initiative on offense. This analysis does a great job of showing why he, and ultimately the team, were so ineffective in the final third.

  • MLBlazing

    Regarding the lineup for this weekend, do you think there would be any benefit to putting Molino in Venegas’s spot, try somebody else out wide, and bring Venegas on later as an impact sub? He hasn’t had a great impact in our games, including some bad turnovers leading to some breakaways for the apposing team. If Molino is given more freedom to use his creativity/tenacity, and let the guys on the wings use their speed, it might help us up front a bit. Maybe it helps to organize the rest of the midfield behind them too, as they can sit back a bit more to help defensively.

    • Jeff Rueter

      It’s something I’ll try to nail down with footage for next week, but the interplay between Venegas and Molino is genuinely impressive. The two switch roles to throw off marks, and the linkup they’ve started with Ramirez is potent. I don’t think Venegas has been the issue in any defeat, so I’d start him unless/until Danladi is ready to push him out.

      • BJ

        >Venegas and Molino is genuinely impressive.

        I haven’t had the heart to watch any of the games a second time, I would agree the Venegas and Molino seem at ease with each other, but neither one seems like they enjoy passing the ball to any other players.

        • bartgott

          There doesn’t seem to be a lot of trust among the team. More a sense of, “if I pass to that guy he is going to loose the ball, so I’ll keep dribbling and find another option”. I see that mostly from Venegas and Ibson.

      • MLBlazing

        They have looked impressive at times, but it seems like there are a lot of maddening turnovers in midfield when the team is trying to push up field. I feel a lot of that is at the feet of Shuller and Warner, but the next line is guilty as well. These bad turnovers lead to fast breaks, which our defense cannot handle right now.

        While the defense has been very bad, I’m starting to get the feeling that a lot of the poor play starts from the play in the midfield and those 4/5 players (not closing down on defense, poor passing decisions, poor position awareness). Maybe after this weekend when our starters return it will look better, but I will be watching closely to see improvement.

  • Dave DuJour

    1) “Marking on set pieces isn’t a strong point.”
    Isn’t this the exact reason the Iron Skillet Training Method was created? Since they aren’t banned in the stadium anymore we need to reinstate this immediately.

    2) Ibson getting frustrated and giving up on a play? Say it isn’t so. I’ve never been a huge fan of Ibson so I know that colors my view. I see plenty of talent and some great plays, but he just seems to not have his heart into the game.

    3) My comment #3 has been lost.

  • Ian Y

    Although all your criticisms of Ibson are completely valid, he still has to be in the starting lineup. Regardless of attitude and misplaced passes he is the only player on the team that was connecting our back line to our forwards and moving the ball around the field. No other player on the squad has demonstrated this ability. I think in the upcoming game he will seem a bit less frustrated when Venegas is in that 2nd striker/10 position because he will have someone to connect to when he drops back to get the ball from our defenders. I noticed in the revs game whenever he would do this he never had an option in that area of the field because that is where he was supposed to be, when Venegas is there he will have an outlet to play off of.

  • nomadic loon

    A mighty fine break down of game moments. Thanks. The clips also highlight how distinguished the numbers are on the revs shirts and how impossible it is to see loon numbers and names on the shirts. you highlighted on a possible solution….let’s have all the players wear a different color shoe. or better yet, just paint those numbers black.