Image credit to Daniel Mick -

The Angle

Rewind That: How Minnesota United Can Take the Next Step

by on 13 April 2017

On Saturday, Minnesota United FC suffered a 2-0 defeat at the hands of FC Dallas. The Loons did well to keep Dallas in check. While they were held scoreless, this was Minnesota’s tidiest game yet. So how can they balance defensive fortitude with the earlier attacking spark?

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?

A refined right side

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.

Un-Finnish-ed business

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.

A bashful winger

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.

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.

Next week

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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  • Jacob

    That’s some encouraging news re: Schuller’s scrimmages and settling in. I agree that a strong player in his mold would be a great addition to this starting lineup in Warner’s place.

    I’m looking forward to seeing if the defense maintains its growth. Hopefully the attack can get its mojo back without goalkeeping heroics to spoil the fun. There really was a lot to like about the Dallas game, but Houston aren’t pushovers this year.

  • BJ

    I love Ibarra, but ever since his call up he has sat way back and stayed way to the left — not done his usual cut in and generally not been ultra attacking. I want to see him do those things we know he can do.

    Hopefully Heath can get him on the field and get that going.

  • David Sterling

    Completely agree, except the the DP on the left wing. I simply don’t view it as important or as needed enough to use a DP on the spot. My reasoning is that I think Kadrii’s problems last week may have had more to do with the “increased fluidity” in the attack you mention. From my layman’s view, I thought it was the most open and fluid our front has been, and I would argue that maybe Kadrii was not prepared for it. I’d give him one more shot. Further, if Ibarra can get back to it, I see no reason we need a DP there. With Ibarra starting and performing, Kadrii is a worthwhile alternate. If neither can show they are up to task, then it is a logical position to use the DP; but that would also be the story for the creative midfield (Schuller/Ibson/Warner) or Kallman’s CB spot. I’m not sold on any of those guys being ‘the answer’ at their respective positions.

  • BJ

    Jeff – > “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.”

    We see that last clip of Kadrii very differently.

    I see that play as Venegas taking too long to pass, or make a choice, not Kadrii spacing issue. He Kadrii was wide then started a run, and when he didn’t get the ball passed he was caught with Venegas moving to him, instead of a short 10 foot pass to Kadrii he did a heavy touch to get around a defender, and lost the ball in what should have been a dangerous area.

    Kadrii started near the touch line and moved for a through ball, it didn’t come, he waited to be an outlet, that didn’t come. Venegas all the way.

    • Troy Kadlec

      I’m in agreement with BJ here. Kadrii is in a good position at the start and Venegas decides to run at him instead of pass and cut inside. Kadrii could have backed way off and does seem to be very indecisive, but I attribute that to a lack of chemistry. Maybe Ibarra would drift wide in that situation, maybe not. I think getting Schuller into the mix will fill the center and keep Kadrii farther out, but we’ll have to see. I think Kadrii has shown flashes and he’s been more effective than Ibarra so far.

      Ibarra is kind of a mystery. His speed is there, but his touch is really heavy. Unless he gets a leading pass, he seems to struggle to settle the ball with his initial touch. I think his foot skills just aren’t up to snuff. He defends well, he has the speed, he can shoot, and he can nail a decent pass or cross into the forward. But if you can’t settle the ball and keep it at your feet to control it, you become more of a liability than an asset as your first touch hands the ball right back to the defender. I’m hoping that is just rust and will fade, but i don’t think Ibarra is much of an upgrade to Kadrii.

      I want to see some Rasmus. I think his ability to drop leading passes to our attackers has been underutilized as you point out. That said, I thought Cronin did a nice job at times with passes and a couple shots. If those two develop chemistry and do what we think they can do, we should be able to take control of games and close them out with Ibson and Warner as subs when the game dictates. I still want to see a strong box to box mid who can flex attack and defense as needed, but the addition of Cronin solidifies our midfield and now we have some options.

      We need to press teams. If we sit back and try to absorb, we will get killed. I like the way Kallman and Calvo have worked and Thiesson and Burch are excellent. Davis can fill in and hopefully Greenspan will be able to show some development with Pittsburg that warrants his inclusion. But our defensive bench depth is scary thin. We are one good injury away from some lopsided losses. CB DP is still a must.

      • BJ

        Demidov is getting almost DP type money. I hope he comes around and is the CB the team thought they were signing.

  • Brian Scott

    I am under the impression there isn’t a MLS team with a DP Left Back. I would rather see the club use TAM at that position than a DP. There are more important places to use DP’s.

    • Jeff Rueter

      DaMarcus Beasley came back the league (at LB) as a DP. Still, I wasn’t suggesting getting a DP left back. Left winger would be in the attack — same position Kadrii and Ibarra have played thus far.

  • Garth Grawburg

    Thanks for the great analysis. Kadrii hasn’t shown enough so far to keep him starting or to warrant exercise of his buy option after the season.

    Both LW and #8 are areas where improvement will go a long way. I’d like to give Ibarra and Schüller more time on the field before determining which is a greater area of need for the summer window.

    Hopefully our friends in Golden Valley are scouting both positions. If neither Ibarra or Schüller step up, and we can only have 1 DP, I’d go with the #8. We simply must have better distribution up the spine. Or we could, you know, sign 2 DPs. Last I heard we can have 3.

  • Matthew Johnson

    With both FC Dallas goals coming from our Left side with Calvo outnumbered, i would prefer Davis over Burch at LB. However, i understand if the coaching staff want to see more than 1 game from Burch.