Minnesota United is continuing to progress from game to game. That improvement is being fueled by a balance of defensive shape, rigidity, and an attacking style that is creating a large number of chances.
On Sunday, MNUFC lost to a classy but ill-disciplined LA Galaxy outfit due to a lack of luck and a lack of clinical finishing. For the second week in a row, Christian Ramirez scored into his own goal and United, which created 22 scoring opportunities, was left to rue its wastefulness.
The Galaxy opened the scoring just before halftime with a touch of class, when Giovanni Dos Santos flicked the ball beyond Bobby Shuttleworth after an incisive, yet delicate cross from Romain Alessandrini. Rarely does a move involve three decisive touches with the outside of the boot. When it does, it’s a beauty.
The ability of LA to pick the lock of the MNUFC defense was in contrast to United, which banged on the door all day, but could not come away with the goals and result its performance deserved.
The Loons’ recent improvement has to be credited to MNUFC’s entire staff, from front office to locker room. The acquisition of Sam Cronin and Marc Burch has strengthened the team in key positions and encouraged more players to settle into their roles.
The solidity added by Burch and Cronin to a previously leaky defense has allowed familiar faces — Ibson and Christian Ramirez — to become more influential. Further, the inclusion of Burch and Cronin has led to a consistency in the the overall structure and balance of the team.
The discipline and defensive shape of the two central midfield players, Ibson and Cronin, has helped United to attack in numbers, while remaining solid in defense.
Rarely now is United as overexposed as it was earlier in the season. The positioning of the central-midfield paring has given the Loons’ full backs the license to attack more. Further, it has given confidence to central defenders Brian Kallman and Francisco Calvo, which has helped their partnership progress nicely.
The central areas for MNUFC have become a strength. On Sunday, Ibson and Cronin were much more active and positionally disciplined than LA’s pairing in the center. As a result, United bossed the game and had over 65 percent of the possession. In contrast, the Galaxy players showed flashes of excellence and were more fluid in their movement. This allowed MNUFC to positively influence the game through the middle of the field.
This more disciplined approach from United has led to better performance, an increase in the number of chances created, and ultimately will lead to better results.
Ibson is the busier of the Loons’ two battlers, making 110 touches and 90 passes in the game. The Brazilian adds an efficient tempo to proceedings, while his ability to protect and carry the ball in difficult moments can provide welcome relief from opposing defenses, and made up for the three times he lost possession.
Sam Cronin is an unheralded player in MLS, but a vital member of Minnesota’s team. Solid, disciplined and as tough as bell steel, Cronin allows the Loons to attack while providing cover behind.
His crucial contribution is not limited to positioning, and on Sunday, Cronin was economical. From 68 total touches, he produced 58 passes, one dribble, one tackle, one interception, one loss of possession and one aerial win — the last the vital singular that led to Ramirez’s goal.
Cronin showed immense bravery in winning the header that allowed Ramirez to score. Leaving himself exposed, he selflessly over-committed to produce United’s most important moment of the game.
Marc Burch has been a modest, but stable addition and also impressed at the weekend.
Clearly encouraged to get forward and provide width on the left hand side, Burch – who has been guilty in the past of conceding possession too cheaply – only turned the ball over on one occasion. This was a marked improvement.
Getting Christian Ramirez on the ball more has to be a key focus for United. On Sunday, Ramirez only touched the ball 23 times. One touch produced the Loons’ lone goal. If there is a better goal poacher in MLS, I have yet to see him.
However, Ramirez — who also contributed six shots in the game — should have scored another. His header which was pushed onto the post by LA’s keeper could have gone back across goal, but he will continue to be the main threat for United in the box if he can get more of the ball.
The Loons need to get Ramirez the ball in dangerous positions and he will capitalize, but the forward also needs to help himself. Too often lacking strength in possession with his back to goal, Ramirez is not an inviting target to build through.
Admittedly, this was a difficult task this past weekend when faced with the behemoth Belgian Jelle Van Damme, but Ramirez’s tendency to lose possession under pressure should be addressed. Holding up the ball to allow the midfield to join the attack should lead to more chances for the crafty striker.
Unfortunately for United, the decisive touch from its striker came in the 84th minute when Ramirez deflected the ball into his own goal. This was an unlucky moment that was harsh on both the player and the team.
MNUFC needs some reinforcements to provide depth to its squad, but with a few more additions like Marc Burch and Sam Cronin to supplement the likes of Ibson and Christian Ramirez, things will keep looking up for the Loons.