Two weekends prior against the LA Galaxy, United came up short. On Saturday, the Loons prevailed as Christian Ramirez took one of his handful of chances, slipping past the City defense to score his eighth goal of the season. The play provided the game’s decisive moment.
In the week that marked the 50th anniversary of (in the author’s opinion) the greatest triumph in European Cup history, it was fitting that a local Minnesotan was the man of the match. In 1967, Glasgow Celtic defeated the mighty Internazionale of Milan to claim the first European Cup for any British team. The Celtic team that day was made up of 10 players born within 10 miles of Celtic Park. The outlier, Bobby Lennox, hailed from 30 miles away.
The “Glasgow and district select” team triumphed in an achievement unmatched before or since. On Saturday, Brent Kallman from Woodbury, Minn. played like a “Lisbon Lion”.
After an average start to the the game Kallman grew in stature and responsibility. His leadership, tenacity, persistence, and skill in defending ensured United kept a clean sheet.
The art of defending is both graceful and combative. The modern defender is no longer a brutal ball winner who returns to the locker room with a collection of limbs. Rather, they’re a ball winner through positioning and interception. In a group setting or isolated, Kallman was immense.
Kallman’s passing is overlooked. Rarely does he give the ball away cheaply, and on Saturday completed 29 of 29 passes.
One weakness may be Kallman’s ability to turn and run with forwards after being caught flat footed, but his ability to use his arms and his commitment to defend limit the consequences of any technical errors.
A key ingredient in any hometown hero is his identification and affiliation with the crowd and the supporters. In the 75th minute Kallman, while grabbing a drink of water, took time to say hello to a small child in the front row. A moment later he was winning two headers in quick succession that reminded Orlando that it was going to get nothing from the United defense.
In the short term, Minnesota United’s involvement of local players will help bring fans closer to the team. Local players form the heartbeat of many successful teams: from Steven Gerrard of Liverpool, to Jimmy Johnstone of the aforementioned Lisbon Lions, to Brent Kallman of Minnesota United. The appreciation of and passion for local players who represent their communities on the field can be of vital importance.
This week United holds its first ever tryouts for its youth academy, which hopefully will unearth future hometown talent.
Ismaila Jome received his first league start of the season on Saturday, playing on the left side of the Loons’ midfield. Well, it was perhaps left midfield on paper, but Jome was found in most positions on the field not on the left.
Jome often dropped inside to the center of the field and rarely used the width on the left-hand side in the first half. Why?
My guess involves two reasons. One, being his first start, Jome perhaps took his instructions too literally. Head coach Adrian Heath may have asked Jome to tuck inside to help defend the Orlando pairing of Matías Pérez García and Scott Sutter on City’s right. That dangerous combination was a point of note in the buildup to the game and United stifled the area well.
Secondly, while dropping in, Jome left himself too much work to do to get into a wide position and was forced to attack down the middle.
Jome, who has appeared to be lacking MLS-level fitness in earlier games, acquitted himself admirably in his first, called into action to replace Kevin Molino. Jome should grow in confidence from his performance.
A little more positional discipline and a clearly understood attacking role will see him improve, but on a night where United needed to be defensive for long periods, Jome put in a solid shift.
At times this season Minnesota United has looked uneasy in defensive situations. On Saturday night, we saw a major step forward from the team. For long periods of the game United was forced to defend, soak up pressure, counter attack in key moments, and hang on until the end.
To defend resolutely for the majority of the second half while still creating a few good chances shows progress on all fronts.
The Loons began the game in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Jome on the left and Ibarra on the right. It wasn’t until after United scored that Heath changed his team around. Jome was transferred to the right side, but more importantly, Orlando had pushed United back. The space between the full backs and the outside midfielders was now dangerous, and the Loons shut down that danger quickly, with an effective yet simple adjustment.
Heath dropped his left and right midfielders back in line with the central-midfield pairing, and creating two lines of four with one attacking central midfield player (Johan Venegas) and one striker (Ramirez). The team’s shape became 4-4-1-1.
This is a common move for teams under pressure and ideal if one does not have to revert to this system too early in the game.
With about 25 minutes to go in the match, Minnesota had played deep enough into the game the shift was viable.
At that point, it was key to ensure the two lines of four stayed concentrated, mentally of course, but also tactically. The distance between the two lines could not too big that it would be exploited by attacking players, but also not too small that United sacrificed territory and defended only in its own penalty area.
The midfield line of Jome (now on the right), Sam Cronin, Ibson, and Miguel Ibarra stayed disciplined without the ball, and the back four mirrored their shape to form a solid defensive shell. It was conservative but Orlando rarely caused them a fright.
As the match wore on, Jermaine Taylor replaced Venegas and United went to a 5-4-1. The posture was ultra defensive for the last five minutes, but the Loons held on. A last gasp Orlando shot that floated over the bar and into my arms was the final action of the night. United had won and deservedly so.
Sprinkled through the performance we’re individual moments of inspired play on the ball.
Venegas’ flick of the ball to put Ramirez in on goal was a lovely bit of skill.
Calvo, during his roulette and run, could have been likened to a wild-eyed Sergio Ramos.
And Ibson’s crab-grab was another point of data suggesting necessity is the mother of all invention.
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