Christian Ramirez squares up for the first goal in the club's MLS history. Image credit to Will Bramlett, special to FiftyFive.One.

The Angle

Rewind That: Checking the Tape of Minnesota United’s Loss in Portland

by on 7 March 2017

Minnesota United was taken to task by Portland in its MLS debut, falling 5-1. But was the scoreline more damning than the Loons’ play? In a new series, Jeff Rueter checks the footage to analyze the match.

Consider this a case study in watching a match twice before tweeting overarching opinions.

After Minnesota was done, dusted, and done again, I mentioned that the center back pairing of Francisco Calvo and Vadim Demidov looked solid. With the benefit of hindsight, I’m going to give myself (minorly) partial credit here. My knee-jerk reaction was that, for the first 80 minutes, the two had kept a potentially lethal Portland attack to only two goals. Among my other thoughts: Christian Ramirez looked to be an MLS striker; Rasmus Schüller was solid; and Minnesota United was, now and forever, an MLS club.

FourFourTwo’s Paul Tenorio had this to say about my list:

As for MLSsoccer.com’s Matt Doyle…

You have to admit: we all missed watching live domestic soccer.

This is the start of a new weekly series called Rewind That. I’ll be rewatching the full 90 of every match the Loons play this year, looking at key moments throughout each fixture. Some will be obvious talking points, such as goals or penalty kick calls. Others may have dropped off the radar, like a thwarted attacking chance or subtle defensive play. Keep in mind that there’s no audio on these videos, so feel free to continue to listen to your neighbor’s mixtape. Let’s check the video to see what went right (and what went horribly wrong) for Minnesota in its MLS debut.

Pura vida in the backline

Calvo — the first major signing of the offseason for Minnesota — lined up as the left center back. Tasked with neutralizing David Guzman and Diego Valeri, Calvo was able to clean up several errors made within the Loons’ backline. None of the goals scored by Portland came on Calvo’s marks. Further, a uniquely encouraging moment came in the 10th minute.

Above, Calvo is able to square up Timbers Designated Player Sebastián Blanco and dispossess him with a clean tackle. Instead of making a quick pass to Schüller or Johan Venegas, Calvo looks up. He pushes toward the midfield and offers a long cross to Kevin Molino on the right wing. Molino guides the ball off of the Target logo on his chest and is able to create his own shot. While the play was fruitless, it was the first shot on goal in the MLS era for the Loons. It also showcased Calvo’s ability to help in the attack, as the Tico had scored nine goals with Saprissa in 2016. This versatility will be important to helping Minnesota’s attack stay potent.

Iron skillets wanted

Soon after, however, Minnesota was faced with a real challenge. Portland earned a set piece just outside the edge of its 18-yard box. While the foul leading to the free kick was questionable (from my angle, the call should’ve been on Portland), Minnesota needed to regroup and mark an athletic Timbers contingent. Demidov was left to mark Fanendo Adi, while Jermaine Taylor was tasked with Lawrence Olum.

The result wasn’t pretty, though Demidov held Adi close enough where the forward couldn’t get the ball. However, Olum was given enough space that the ball found him and only needed to put a light touch on it. The shot caught John Alvbåge out of position and skipped over the keeper’s head. Marking on set pieces has to be precise. A player like Olum should never score with his feet in these kinds of situations.

Slide to the right

Looking back at the footage, all five goals were scored on the right side of the Loons’ defense. This includes Valeri’s penalty kick, where Demidov wrapped Adi with a bear hug, which prompted an easy penalty call. Legs tired as stoppage time rolled around and Demidov and Taylor were caught out of position on goals four and five.

On this goal, Darlington Nagbe is leading a four-on-three counter for the Timbers. Taylor is caught jogging back on defense, while Justin Davis is tracking back from an attacking run of his own. This leaves a trailing Mohammed Saeid, Calvo, and Demidov as the last line of defense. Once Saeid is left behind, Nagbe is able to get the ball to Adi. The Nigerian striker puts on a dribbling clinic and finds the back of the net.

As for goal five, stick with the whole clip. The 15 seconds before the attack are crucial to the goal itself.

Here, Taylor makes a tackle on Dairon Asprilla but can’t keep the ball in play. Instead of going back to protecting the right edge of Minnesota’s back line, he parks himself somewhere along the right wing. This leaves Saeid to attempt to pull wide and cover for him. Again, the ball gets past Taylor and leaves Saeid, Demidov, and Calvo alone with Adi. Already on an adrenaline high from his first goal, Adi leaves Demidov in his tracks, and is able to put a clinically-placed shot past Alvbåge.

Jérôme Thiesson is on his way from Switzerland but may not be ready to start come Sunday. This leaves Heath with a choice: keep Taylor in against a pacey Atlanta attack, or go with Kevin Venegas. While Venegas has more pace than Taylor, he saw very few minutes in the preseason. It’ll be a major decision to keep track of ahead of the weekend.

Davis’ debut

On the left side of the pitch, Davis was the lone NASL-era Loon to see the starting XI. Coming off of his third-straight NASL Best XI campaign, the spotlight was still cast on the left back. Many had questions about how MLS-ready he was. In my opinion, Davis turned in a solid-if-unspectacular performance, proving not to be a liability in total.

With Portland pressing for a second goal, Davis is unable to settle a Schüller pass, which results in a turnover. As Blanco hurries toward the Minnesota defense, Davis tracks back, turning in a truly impressive sliding tackle. He stops the ball completely, pushing it out to Calvo who then clears it off of Valeri’s manhood. The well-timed challenge kept the Timbers at bay for the moment.

However, Davis nearly gifted Portland a goal exactly seven minutes later.

Davis attempts a clearance with his head, but the ball ultimately finds its way back to him deeper into Minnesota’s penalty area. Caught out of position, Davis attempts to head the ball back to Alvbåge. Unfortunately, Davis doesn’t get enough on it, putting a scoring chance on a platter for Adi. Strikers of Adi’s caliber rarely miss these types of chances, but Alvbåge comes up with an impressive reflex save to bail out Davis. Lapses like this will happen in any player’s first MLS season. However, Davis will need to minimize mistakes in high-risk areas to build on his debut.

Searching for Superman

Finally, we’ll be leaving the defense to look at the attack. With an abundance of choices, Heath started Johan Venegas up top and Bashkim Kadrii out left, leaving holdovers Christian Ramirez and Miguel Ibarra on the bench. While Kadrii had his moments of creativity and seems to pair well with Davis on the wing, Venegas never looked settled playing alone up top. Here’s an attacking chance early in the second half before Ramirez subbed on.

The interplay between Venegas and Molino is noticeable, showing real creativity and quick decision making from both players. There is only one problem: nobody looks comfortable staying at the top of the box to shoot. Venegas is a second-striker by trade, playing at his best when he can roam between the opposition’s defensive lines to create chances. The lack of the metaphorical tip of the Loons’ spear left the space at the top of their formation vacant and made scoring goals difficult.

Ramirez subbed in at the 69-minute mark and immediately changed the game. Coming in for Schüller, Ramirez parked himself up top, with Venegas dropping back into his favored role. Immediately, the Loons looked more comfortable in the attacking third of the pitch.

Ramirez’s historic goal starts the same as the chance I highlighted above, with Taylor getting the ball to Johan Venegas in a central position. Venegas, now able to freely roam from midfield toward the Portland 18-yard box, delivers a clean pass through the Timbers’ ranks. Ramirez initially struggles to settle the ball, but the rest is history.

The aforementioned scoring chance wasn’t a one-off, either. After the Valeri PK, Minnesota was applying constant pressure.

Ibarra came in and provided some productive interplay with Saeid, Davis, and Johan Venegas. Above, Ibarra and Saeid combine to work the ball to Collen Warner inside Portland’s penalty area. Warner then sends a cross toward Ramirez and the far post. Warner’s cross carries just over the striker’s head, but the string of passes leading up to it was a real signal of intent, just before the bottom fell out from under the Loons.

Takeaways

So where does this leave Minnesota heading into its home opener on Sunday? Atlanta United is a pacy team and the Loons’ defense will have to keep their shape and try to catch Atlanta offside. Meanwhile, Minnesota’s attackers all seemed to play better once Ramirez took the field. It would be a shock if he doesn’t start on Sunday.

On the wing, Ibarra offers his own advantages as a true two-way player who could help keep Héctor Villalba at bay. Additionally, if Thiesson is ready to come in and play, the veteran right back could immediately help to solidify the Loons’ back four.

If it’s up to me, here’s how I’d line the Loons up on Sunday:

Any thoughts on the match that I missed? Disagree with anything I saw? Sound off in the comments below.


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  • Benjamin MacKenzie

    I really like this take on game footage, it’s an easier way to take in analysis with all the demonstrations.

    In other news: my man crush on Francisco Calvo just gets bigger and bigger every time I see him play. (#Calvo4Ever)

    • Jacob

      One of my favorite signature moments is whenever he pushes forward. I’m sure we’ll get a goal or three out of those situations, I’m just waiting for it to happen. Also, he always seems to be on the goal line for the last ditch save effort. Maybe it’s no more frequently than other defenders, but it seems like a Calvo-ish thing to me now.

  • Jacob

    I love the video clips. It’s so handy to have the specific moments we’re talking about at the ready.

    One perk of being an expansion side is we’ll probably improve more relative to other teams as the season goes on. We just have more low hanging fruit to gather, like defensive organization and NASL guys and folks from other leagues acclimating.

    So yeah, defense. I’m fine with where Davis is at. Calvo is encouraging. I’m willing to give Demidov a mulligan, and I guess we’ll see what happens at RB. It may take a while to live down the narrative that a 5-1 loss can generate, but I’m not too worried yet.

    Hopefully the offense has fun at home, facing another expansion defense. I’m excited to see what kind of home field advantage we have here. Hopefully the boys have been able to settle in and get all recuperated.

  • Vinyl Haircut

    Great analysis, Jeff. I know Demidov has taken a lot of heat, but I really thought he had a decent first 75-80 minutes. The final 10 were terrible, but I see a lot of room for hope and agreed with your tweet that the CBs were sharp. I was also happy with Warner, so the middle of our defense was fine. Davis was OK. Taylor, in my opinion, was unacceptably bad. While the first goal stemmed from a bad call, so what? Happens all the time. If Taylor marks properly, we clear and the bad call doesn’t hurt us. It’s weird, but after giving up five goals, I’m actually not disappointed defensively overall, especially once we replace Taylor.

    Now, on offense, I was pretty unhappy. Venegas *never* looked engaged as a striker. Just way too passive. The formation may have had something to do with it, because the way Kadrii and Molino dropped to help the OBs, it almost looked like a 4-5-1 rather than 4-3-3, leaving Venegas really isolated. So in my view it was not only the introduction of Ramirez but also having someone (in this case Venegas) playing under the striker. We looked much more dangerous that way. I thought Kadrii and Molino were fine. I’m not sold on Schuller and Saeid yet.

    I’m pretty agreeable to your suggested lineup. However I would offer the idea of playing Molino at #10 rather than Venegas, and putting Kadrii on the wing.

    • Really?!?!?

      Venegas has shown way too much this preseason and internationally to sit him, IMO. I 100% believe that he should not be a lone #9 however (as he languishes in the role), so either playing him up top in a 4-4-2 or 4-2-2-2, or centrally (or maybe wide right) in a 4-2-3-1 is a must IMO. Kadrii didn’t show a ton IMO, so I would start Ibarra (who might also be better against ATL in a defensive capacity), but one of them should be on the left alongside Venegas & Molino as shown up top.

  • Matt

    Excellent analysis. This is the type of content this site excels at. I say this with respect, the “humor” stuff, not so much.

  • Chris RB

    Agree completely on the lineup. If Thiesson isn’t available, might I suggest Viva, or a stack of traffic cones?

    • GAT

      Taylor was a trainwreck and I’ll be happy if that’s the last we see of him. Unless he’s carrying an injury I’m all for giving viva a shot, particularly considering the pace of ATL’s attack. Couldn’t be much worse, right? Right??

      • Governor Squid

        Maybe we could offer Taylor to PSG. How much you think they’d give us for him?

    • MmattN

      If Inchy doesn’t trust Viva I say move Davis over to the right and start Ibarra at left back.

      • Really?!?!?

        I’d support that for sure (though to be fair, maybe anything) over having Taylor in the starting lineup again…

  • Alberto Valsecchi

    Congratulations for the very good job done!

    I agree on the defensive line.

    The 3 forwards must be Ramirez Molino Ibarra.

    The 3 midfielders have a delicate role and have to run to protect the defensive line and maintain connection with the forwards.
    They must spend a lot of energy for this task and therefore the coach must rotate them considering the state of form and the opponents.

    • Alberto Valsecchi

      Ibarra can be the third forward in 4-3-3 as well as the fourth midfielder in 4-4-2

  • Alex Schieferdecker

    Should’ve been that XI against Portland, minus Theisson of course. In preseason, the 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 looked great and the 4-3-3 looked awful. Heath outmaneuvered himself by playing the 4-3-3 vs Portland, it was a terrible decision.

    • BJ

      Agreed he started a conservative lineup and it wasn’t the best soccer.

    • GAT

      Absolutely the XI I hope to see on Sunday unless Theisson isn’t available…in that case Viva at RB.

  • BJ

    Venegas looked like he got hurt early in the game, seemed to even have a limp at times.

  • Really?!?!?

    #PrayForThiesson

    Please be ready!!!…. 😀

  • nomadic loon

    Nice breakdown. I thought Saeid played better than what his ratings indicate. How can we convince the Loons to put black (or at least slate grey) names and numbers on the back of these away shirts? I know many who are not familiar with the players but had their numbers handy. You can’t see the pastel grey on white. Look at the clips. Portland’s numbers are clear and readable ~ even for players on the far side of the pitch. Make it easier to introduce new fans to the players by making the names/numbers the same color as the TARGET on the front of the shirt.