Three Things: Minnesota United at Colorado Rapids

by on 21 March 2017

On Saturday night, in the thin air of Commerce City, Colo., Minnesota United FC recorded its first MLS point with a 2-2 draw against the hosting Rapids. It’s a bit embarrassing to celebrate such an ordinary draw, but given the circumstances, you’ll have to pardon the Loon Army. After back-to-back drubbings against Portland and Atlanta to open the season, it was refreshing to see a team go out and show basic competence. In a vacuum, a road draw against last season’s No. 2 team is a fine result. Given the circumstances, it feels like a sweet release.

None of this means that the performance over the weekend was up to the standard to which the team should be held to. On the balance of play, the Loons had a fair case for three points, not just one. But once again, individual mistakes were brutally punished by the opposition. A deadlier team than Colorado can (and has, and will) do worse damage. In attack, United made good use of its own opportunities, but it was badly out-possessed throughout the game, and still has a long way to go.

Let’s take a look at three things from the match:

Francisco Calvo was the Loons’ best and worst defender

While his partner Brent Kallman got the headlines and the praise for a composed performance in his first MLS start, the result of the game came down to the play of Francisco Calvo.

First the bad. Calvo was among the primary culprits on Colorado’s opening goal. While he was put in an awkward position by Rasmus Schüller’s bouncing back pass, he made a hash of his response, attempting to kick the ball out instead of running through it. Dominique Badji made the opposite choice, stole the ball, and put it into the net for a gut punch of a goal. Calvo also bears responsibility for the second Rapids score. While both Kallman and Justin Davis also failed to recognize the three opposing players lurking at the back post, it was in Calvo’s area of the field in which they sat.

But despite his mistakes, it was easy to see why Calvo may have the highest upside of any Loon. Here’s his OPTA chalkboard showing just clearances:

That’s at least eight clearances in the box. Calvo is a force in the air and has quick feet on the ground. Cut out the simple mistakes, and you have an MLS Defender of the Year candidate. More than any other player, I’m worried the Loons will miss the Costa Rican against New England.

Rasmus Schüller still doesn’t have a home in the 4-2-2-2

When we first saw the Loons roll out in a 4-2-2-2, back in the season opener at Portland, I wrote:

“If there was a flaw to the formation, I felt it came from Schüller, who didn’t look comfortable in his role and wasn’t the standout player that he was a week earlier against Vancouver.”

Frustratingly, this still seems to be the case. In Colorado, Schüller played on the left side and Collen Warner on the right in a double-6 midfield. They moved laterally well, and effectively shielded the center backs, but it still feels as if the gifts of the Finn are being wasted. Keeping in mind that he only played a half, here’s Schüller’s passing chalkboard:

There’s only a single pass in this board that looks to have penetrated a line of Colorado’s defense.

We know that Schüller was deployed as a central midfielder in Sweden and that he has real two-way ability. In our 4-2-2-2, there’s a natural hole that exists right in front of the defensive midfield and the second striker. I’d love to see Warner pegged back as a stay-at-home parent for the back line, with Schüller given the license to roam into that space and help connect passes or switch the point of attack. Instead, being consigned to a single side of the field and splitting the defensive duties seems to be stifling the opportunities for one of Minnesota’s most technically sound players to show his ability.

The leash is also on Miguel Ibarra

In preseason, one of the most exciting things to see was the interplay between Kevin Molino, Miguel Ibarra, and Johan Venegas. Each has the ability to play the other’s position, and it was exciting to imagine an attack where they could swap spots at will and confuse and overload opposing defenses. On Saturday, we saw two thirds of that. Check out the passing chalkboards of Ibarra (left), Venegas (center), and Molino (right):

While Molino and Venegas rambled all over the field, Ibarra stuck almost exclusively on the left wing. You can imagine a tactical reason for this — right back Mekeil Williams was the obvious weak link in the Rapids’ defense. And perhaps Miguel was simply playing too conservatively, as he sometimes has done when a lot of pressure is put on him. But I suspect a more likely reason is that Adrian Heath has simply put the leash on Ibarra. That seems like a mistake to me; as longtime Loons fans know, Batman is best when allowed to dart in and out of channels across the front line. With Venegas and Molino swapping positions, it’s limiting and unhelpful for Ibarra to operate under different tactical instructions. This kind of attack will be best when its individually brilliant components can work together to identify and exploit mismatches and overloads. Gluing one member of that unit to the left really limits its options.

I’ve seen a lot of people suggesting Ibarra was invisible on Saturday. From the passing charts above, you can see that’s clearly not true. But you can also see how short his passes were (contrast that to Venegas and Molino) and how little they threatened Colorado’s penalty area. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially the short passing, which isn’t quite so common in MLS, but it does illustrate the extent to which he seemed left out of a larger gameplan.

Thoughts on the match and the trends you saw? Share your take in the comments below!

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