It’s very rare that you can call a defeat “a good loss” without eliciting an eyeroll from me. Dropping three points is never a good thing and celebrating these downfalls can be downright poisonous.
However, Minnesota United’s first three losses were by goal differences of four, five, and three, sequentially. They also came by allowing five, six, and five goals, again in order. Therefore, a 2-0 defeat showed signs of improvement. That it came at the hands of FC Dallas, my preseason prediction to win MLS Cup and the defending Supporters’ Shield holders, is even more encouraging for the Loons.
Newcomers Sam Cronin and Marc Burch both started in their Loons debuts. While neither stood out or took over the game, they each seem poised to earn regular starts moving forward. With most of the lineup gelling ahead of this weekend’s bout with Houston, how can Minnesota turn the progress from the Dallas loss into road points?
In Minnesota’s first two games, at least nine of the conceded goals sifted through the right side of the backline. Vadim Demidov proved to be too slow, Jermaine Taylor was deployed out of position, and Jérôme Thiesson was thrust into a start after a transatlantic flight four days before the match.
However, Demidov was replaced by Brent Kallman and Thiesson acclimated quickly to MLS. While neither were projected to start going into the season, they’ve each made their cases to hold onto their starting roles for the long haul.
FC Dallas boasts a lethal attack and, as most teams have done thus far, they targeted the right side of Minnesota’s defense. While Thiesson’s crossing won him praise in his first few starts, he turned in his best defensive performance thus far against the Hoops.
One of the most underrated players in the league, Michael Barrios is pacey and lethal in one-on-one situations. He finds himself lining up against Thiesson, who holds his ground and expertly wins the ball from Barrios.
Again, Dallas is on the break with pace, this time in the form of Belgian Roland Lamah. Thiesson keeps his back to the goal, trying to keep Lamah on the sideline, holding him at bay. He’s able to keep this up long enough for Collen Warner to track back and dispossess Lamah. Four weeks ago, Taylor would’ve been burnt in that exact situation.
Next up, Lamah bears down on Kallman with the game still scoreless. While counterattacks were Minnesota’s bugaboo in the early matches, see how Kallman handles the pressure.
Lamah slips between Thiesson and Kallman, but the Woodbury native is able to win the ball from Lamah. Before this week, Minnesota hadn’t kept an opponent scoreless past the 18th minute. They more than doubled that number this last week and the pairing of Kallman and Thiesson had a lot to do with that.
With Cronin earning a start in his debut, Warner ended up getting the nod as his midfield partner. As expected, this made the midfield very defensive-minded. Above, you saw Warner track back to help stop a counter-attack. Here, both Warner and Cronin get back to fortify the backline against a cross.
As the ball slips through the box, both Warner and Cronin reposition to get between Barrios and a positioning central Dallas contingency. This left Minnesota with six players in front of Barrios and ultimately his attempt was blocked.
Still, this scheme comes at a price. Passing from the defense to the attack was often disjointed, as the two players both specialize in shutting down chances. If Minnesota wants to ensure it isn’t held scoreless often, it will need to have a creator in the central midfield.
Let me reintroduce you to Rasmus Schüller.
Yes, a best-of compilation is far from a full picture of a player. However, the passes starting at the 0:12 mark show the Finn’s vision. For Minnesota to rekindle the attacking spark, Schüller will need to step up and show why he’s a TAM player for the Loons.
To his credit, he’s been doing the right things lately. This week, the team passed on that this was the first week Schüller truly felt at-home in Minnesota. The adjustment period for anyone moving across an ocean can be daunting. Hopefully that transition is complete. Meanwhile, Minnesota has had two scrimmages for the non-starters against lower-level sides. People within the club told me that Schüller was unquestionably the best player on the field in both games.
In his first three starts, Schüller was bogged down by a rotating backline. Covering for the likes of Demidov and Taylor kept him from pressing forward and passing comfortably. He has yet to play since his international call-up in March. Still, this may be the right time to reincorporate the 25-year-old into the fray.
While there were changes in the back line and the midfield, the front four stayed intact. This included left winger Bashkim Kadrii. The Copenhagen-loanee had his best game yet against Real Salt Lake and was hoping to build on this momentum against Dallas. Instead, he was invisible for long stretches and failed to flash any attacking spark.
Adrian Heath has started to allow increased fluidity and freedom to his attackers. Often, you’ll see Kevin Molino, Johan Venegas, and Christian Ramirez changing positions to try to catch the opposition off-guard. As for Kadrii…
Kadrii has drifted somewhere behind Ramirez’s right-shoulder, rendering him useless in the attack. In fact, he’s completely off the screen before the throw-in. As Molino crosses the ball to the left wing, Kadrii is nowhere to be found, leading to a turnover.
Seven minutes later, Minnesota finds itself pressing into the attack. Again, Kadrii is too far central, both limiting Venegas’ potential to cut wide as well as a passing option. Once the Tico does try to pass Kadrii in, Dallas is able to close him down.
Last week, I outlined why I thought that left wing was the right spot for Minnesota to incorporate their first designated player. Reaction initially was tepid. However, I received these tweets six minutes apart from each other.
— Matthew Barnes (@mattbarnes1985) April 9, 2017
— Temple of Loon (@TempleofLoon) April 9, 2017
However, a DP wouldn’t come until the summer at the earliest. If Minnesota wants to play relatively positionless, it would be wise to bring in Miguel Ibarra again. Ibarra thrived in 2014 when he was given total freedom to roam, switch roles with teammates, and create chances with extra space. That’s starting to be the Minnesota game plan. If Ibarra is to get his mojo back soon, this is the perfect system to achieve that.
Here’s the lineup I would roll out against Houston Dynamo. Only the two outlined changes.
Disagree? I’ll see you in the comments section.
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