At last, a win. Things were getting touch-and-go for a minute there, as I was running out of ways to talk about what was going wrong in Minnesota. One of my peers keenly observed this in last week’s installment.
While Schief was right — the act of re-watching wasn’t always pretty — it did give plenty of fodder to dissect each week. And, in a way, winning 4-2 against Real Salt Lake did the same thing. The attack was hungry as ever, the defending was crisp as they’d been all year (which, you have to admit, isn’t saying much), and the substitutions were well-timed. In total; it was a complete win.
Earlier in the week, Schieferdecker deliberated whether this team is Dr. Jekyll of last Saturday or Mr. Hyde from their horrifying March results. However, I’m more interested in the trade that stumped pundits across the internet on Friday.
when the rapids get rid of Marc Burch and Sam Cronin and now your life is ruined
— mollie 🌷 (@mollie_cockran) April 3, 2017
This hard analysis summed up the bulk of Colorado Rapids fans’ feelings. Cronin and Burch were vital pieces of the Rapids’ DNA since 2015. Those two were as responsible for their stingy defense in their 2016 Supporters’ Shield campaign as anyone, and needless to say Minnesota could benefit from any ounce of that wherewithal. Where do they plug in, and how soon?
Make no mistake: Sam Cronin is a vital piece of Minnesota’s puzzle and has been from the start.
“Leadership, American, lot of experience in the league. We thought that ship had sailed and built our roster without him, but he continued to be a piece we thought we didn’t quite have.”
-Amos Magee on Sam Cronin
Minnesota was close to acquiring him ahead of the Expansion Draft with a package that would’ve largely consisted of allocation money. Those talks led to the Joe Greenspan deal, but Minnesota was in a loose dialogue with Colorado afterwards. Needless to say, you can bank on him starting against FC Dallas and any week he’s healthy from here on out.
I chatted with Amos Magee over at MLSsoccer.com to get a sense of how long Cronin had been in their sights. I won’t rehash much of what’s over there, but here were my main takeaways: Cronin was somebody that Magee, Adrian Heath, and Manny Lagos all saw as their ideal defensive midfielder. “He checks off a lot of boxes,” Magee said in a quote from the cutting room floor, “Leadership, American, lot of experience in the league. We thought that ship had sailed and built our roster without him, but he continued to be a piece we thought we didn’t quite have.”
For the second straight week, Minnesota trotted out Ibson and Collen Warner in the midfield. While the result was pretty, I think the midfield was actually the Loons’ weakest area of the pitch.
— Adam (@MNorthStar82) April 5, 2017
You bet, Adam.
For a second consecutive week, Ibson is that close to directly costing his team a goal with his failure to get back on defense. If United had gone down 2-0 in the 16th minute, I’m not sure they’d recover with so much aplomb.
While Ibson is a massively gifted player technically, that same ability gets him into trouble sometimes. Here, he fails to look up to clear a ball after a corner kick and dribbles around instead.
Ibson is in a prime place to turn, look up, and either clear or spring a counter attack. Compare that to Warner in a similar situation.
Ibson does well to deflect an RSL pass, and the ball finds its way to Warner. Immediately, Warner lifts his head and sees Johan Venegas bombing forward, playing a ball up to him. With a fortunate bounce, Minnesota got a legitimate counter. It wasn’t a one-off, either.
Again, Warner immediately sees that Ramirez has an open lane and tries a ball. While Ramirez is onside, the ball carries too far and Nick Rimando easily gathers it. Still, it’s a signal of intent, and shows Warner’s ability to think about springing his offense. If he’ll partner with an equally defensive-minded player like Cronin, that recognition will be vital.
Meanwhile, Burch is less of a sure thing to start immediately than Cronin. We’ll start with the counterpoint to my starting lineup, coming from Rapids Rabbi of Burgundy Wave:
— Rapids Rabbi (@rapidsrabbi) April 5, 2017
The gist of it, and a common refrain across the league, is that Burch is a criminally underrated defender. In general, left backs don’t get a lot of love around the league, and Burch has shown an ability to cross the ball. Just look at his assist on the game-tying goal against Minnesota.
And yet… I’m not so confident that he’s going to unseat the incumbent Justin Davis. The reasoning is threefold: first, Heath asserted in his post-game press conference that he only pulls players if they’ve played themselves out of the lineup. While Davis was easily cast aside by Yura Movsisyan on RSL’s second goal, a left back will always look inferior to a target forward. It was a two-on-two, and Davis was mismatched. He did well to neutralize Liverpool loanee Brooks Lennon on the day. In fact, Davis had the third-highest rating for the Loons by way of the Audi Player Index.
Second, Magee confirmed that the Loons were still “very confident” in Davis. He’s been steady in his last two appearances. While Burch may have a strong delivery, don’t sleep on Davis’. You may remember his perfect long-cross to Ramirez in the game-winning goal against the Cosmos in 2016. That was hardly a one-off.
With Bashkim Kadrii in front of him, Davis rarely made it into the attacking third. Still, this ball from the second half was lethal, and Minnesota was unfortunate that nobody was on the end of it. Unless Davis has a shocker in the coming weeks, I’m leaving him in my lineup.
Speaking of Kadrii…
Magee was quick to answer that the team wasn’t done improving this spring. As he put it, “if we found an unbelievable option that would fit in, we’d do that. We’d do that with any position.”
Up until this last week, I would’ve said that the next priority to upgrade would’ve been left back. Miguel Ibarra has yet to impress this year, and Kadrii was mostly invisible in March. However, he turned in a very good attacking performance against RSL. Here, the Danish international puts in a strong cross.
Once Kadrii got to the second half, he seemed to find his mojo. This cross is very similar to Davis’ in appearance, and it started to open up the RSL back line. Here, he has a ton of real estate to work with and nearly gives Minnesota a third goal.
There isn’t much more Kadrii could have done with this opportunity. Brent Kallman delivers a perfect pass up the field and Kadrii has room to operate. The winger creates a tough angle, but matches it with a place-perfect finish. However, Rimando shows his strong reflex ability, and Kadrii is denied.
However, this third clip starts to show why I think Kadrii could be upgraded.
Rather than cut inside to try and draw contact, or look to his right and see Venegas lurking, Kadrii dribbles into a corner where he’s met by Chris Wingert. Kevin Molino (who had a brilliant game himself) would’ve cut that ball in. Venegas would’ve come at it at a better angle, too.
Before the season, I got a sense that Minnesota United wasn’t going to bring in a Designated Player until they got most of the starting lineup established. The idea was to make the DP the final push to a playoff-caliber roster, rather than something to build around. Dare I say it, I’d use the Loons’ first DP spot on a left winger. Someone with as much creativity to rotate roles within a game with Molino and Venegas who can also take over a game himself.
It’s very likely that this player wouldn’t arrive until the summer, when a large number of foreign leagues have players out of contract. Still, if I’m looking for the next upgrade to the lineup (as well as a way to best incorporate a DP), it’s at left wing.
Here’s my projected squad for the big clash in Dallas.
Disagree? I’ll see you in the comments section.
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