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The Angle

Six, Eight, and 10 Things: Minnesota United at Sporting Kansas City

by on 7 June 2017

On Saturday, as you no doubt probably saw, Minnesota United FC played their worst game of the season, apart from those other games, against Sporting Kansas City. It was an excruciating match to watch from a Minnesota perspective. At one end, the hosts scored three goals that should never have been allowed to happen. At the other, the Loons barely even possessed the ball within shouting distance of Tim Melia’s net. Goofy defending and impotent attacking? Good grief.

Nobody really covered themselves in glory, but the nexus of the problems was obvious to all. The midfield simply didn’t function. Here are three ways of looking at that problem.

Depth is an issue, but not necessarily in the areas we think

One of the big storylines heading into the game was the dilemma that Adrian Heath faced at center back with Francisco Calvo on international duty. That actually turned out to not be a major deal. Jermaine Taylor was good enough, and Joe Greenspan is back from over a month of stellar performances on loan with Pittsburgh to provide even more cover.

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The real depth issue turned out to be in defensive midfield, where Sam Cronin was absent due to a retroactive suspension from a tough tackle in the game against Orlando. In his place, Heath started Collen Warner, who had begun the season in that position. The move didn’t pay off. Cronin’s easy chemistry with Ibson has been a key to the Loons’ success in recent weeks. On Saturday, Warner’s relationship with the Brazilian was like an awkward first dance, they kept stepping on each other’s toes. Often there was nobody around to shield the back-line, which forced the centerbacks backward and the fullbacks inward, leaving massive space on the wings for SKC’s Gerso Fernandes.

The problem is that Cronin and Warner simply do not play the same position. Cronin is a cautious defensive midfielder (No. 6) who is diligent about his positioning and rarely ambitious with the ball. His careful movement in midfield opens up space for Ibson, a box-to-box central midfielder (No. 8), to buzz around. But Warner evidently wants to play as a No. 8 as well, and that means that too often SKC could get the ball in behind both central midfielders with a single pass.

Too many cooks in the midfield

When Miguel Ibarra had to leave the match early due to injury, the problems of the Warner-Ibson pairing were compounded by the entry of Rasmus Schüller. The Finnish international has been dreadful for the Loons, but part of the problem is that he has rarely been put in a position to succeed.

There was no clear hierarchy. There was no central midfielder whose job it was to play higher up, no central midfielder whose job it was to defend the back four, no central midfielder whose job it was to harry and harass.

That was again the case on Saturday. With an injury on the right wing, Adrian Heath decided not to insert Bashkim Kadrii, a true winger, but instead switch to a three man midfield with Schüller, while pushing Kevin Molino to the right.

But Schüller is also a No. 8, and the Loons now had three players all trying to do roughly the same thing. There was no clear hierarchy. There was no central midfielder whose job it was to play higher up, no central midfielder whose job it was to defend the back four, no central midfielder whose job it was to harry and harass. The players were simply left to figure it out on their own, and they were eaten alive by a Sporting midfield who are suited to their roles (Sanchez, the shielder, Espinoza, the harrier, Feilhaber, the creator) and have the movements down pat.

These are the critical transfer needs

A lot of attention from folks, including myself, has focused on the role of Vadim Demidov in the early season disasters. But as this most recent match showed, we shouldn’t forget the role of bad tactics as well. The Loons began the year in the Portland, Atlanta, and New England matches trying to play the 4-3-3. They failed, for much the same reasons that they failed in Kansas City.

The team is loaded with No. 8s. Ibson has locked down the starting role. Schüller and Warner are behind him, and poor Colin Martin might be at the back. But there is only one No. 6 on the roster (Cronin) and arguably only one No. 10 on the roster as well (Molino, but I’ve yet to see him play better as the No. 10 than he does on the wing).

In this summer transfer window, the club absolutely has to go out and get some depth in these positions. Last week, I argued for NASL talent like Dylan Mares, Nazmi Albadawi, and Dustin Correa in that No. 10 spot. This past week, our own Jeff Rueter, writing in FourFourTwo, identified more NASL rising stars, including a young defensive midfielder name Bolu Akinyode with North Carolina FC (née RailHawks). I’ll leave it to Manny Lagos, Amos Magee, Adrian Heath, and the rest of the staff to make the real calls, but if they’re not looking at cheap domestic depth for these positions, I think they’re setting up the team for more games like this past one.

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  • Matt

    what kind of player is alvaro fernandez? I’m sure we’re not the only club who are built with too many similar players in MLS, Trade warner or schuller for a number 6 and pick up a no 10 at the summer window.

  • Benjamin MacKenzie

    Am I crazy or was top choice of NASL players part of the draft of expansion rights that Minnesota took over Atlanta?

    • MmattN

      yes, at the coin toss MN grabbed first priority for USL/NASL players

      • Benjamin MacKenzie

        Is that for all players? Or players who are free agents? Or can we just say “dibs on Nazmi Albadawi!”?

  • Dave Williams

    Good analysis. I agree that poor tactical decisions have played a role in the weaker performances. I thought it odd that Schuller came on over Kadri Saturday. That said, Warner should be more disciplined and better able to slot into the 6. He needed to understand what his role was.
    I didn’t think Taylor was all that good. He runs hot and cold. However, you illustrate well how the midfield problems actually make it hard to judge the back four.

  • Jake

    I had this thought when we played Orlando, why not use Viva as a winger instead of Jome or Kadrii? I know we don’t really have a sub for Jerry then, but I think Viva is a better attacker than both those guys and can defend well enough for a winger. Can anyone speak to why this isn’t an option? Does Inchy not rate Viva very highly?

    • Wes

      Viva has only had maybe 45 minutes of playing successfully as a winger and that might have been within his first couple of games in Minnesota. For whatever reason (work ethic, whatever it may be) Inchy definitely does not rate him highly.

      • Jake

        He played vs New England and had some really good crosses (I know they were in control at that point) but I thought Viva played well. I think what he has to offer as a winger is better than what Jome has to offer and Kadrii for that matter. Heath sees him everyday though, so I gotta trust he knows what he is doing but man I just think Viva would be our best option at the moment

  • Timber Dome


  • PaleVermilion

    Was Jome that bad that he wasn’t even worth mentioning? He was by far the worst/laziest player out there. Loan him out ASAP.

    • Alex Schieferdecker

      He wasn’t the big problem.

      • PaleVermilion

        He may not have been the big problem, but he still was a big problem.