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.
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.
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.
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.
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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