Abu Danladi takes cover under pressure from a pair of Crew SC players. Image courtesy of Daniel Mick / danielmickcreative.com

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Columbus Crew 1, Minnesota United 0: Lapse Dooms Loons

by on 4 July 2017

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota United FC kept pace with Columbus Crew SC for nearly an hour on Tuesday evening in a game that began cautiously for both sides. A 58th-minute goal from Crew SC winger Kekuta Manneh on the counter dealt the Loons a heavy blow. With Minnesota chasing the game late, play opened up, and the Loons were perhaps fortunate to leave TCF Bank Stadium with only a one-goal defeat.

Anticipating a 4-2-3-1 similar to the one Gregg Berhalter had used in previous matches, Adrian Heath opted for a 3-5-2 designed to make best use of the personnel available to him — namely a single natural center back in Joe Greenspan. The former Midshipman was flanked by Jérôme Thiesson and Justin Davis, with Kevin Venegas and Ismaila Jome the wing backs. Sam Cronin and Ibson formed the base of a midfield triangle, with Kevin Molino in the hole behind Christian Ramirez and Abu Danladi.

Unfortunately for Heath, Berhalter also opted to adjust his side’s shape, deploying his charges in a 3-4-3. Two notable attacking options were absent: Federico Higuaín (rested) was not a part of the gameday roster, and Justin Meram started the game on the bench.

First half

Minnesota held nearly 60-percent possession in the game’s opening 15 minutes, but it provided its strike partnership of Ramirez and Danladi little support. Neither wing back — Venegas or Jome — took up advanced positions with much frequency. Whether that was an intentionally conservative approach to ease into the contest, or players finding their feet in new roles, the result was Ramirez and Danladi isolated up top. With Molino making very few touches in the attacking third, and no help from the flanks, the Loons were unable to convert early possession into scoring chances.

First-half passes completed by Jome, Venegas and Molino. Courtesy MLSsoccer.com.

Additionally, the Loons’ wing backs often dropped to form a flat back five when defending in their own half. Such cautious play held Columbus to one shot on target in the first half, but limited the Loons to half-chances as they went in search of their first goal.

The pairing of Minnesota’s back three with Columbus’ front three often left the 6-foot-6 Greenspan man-marking Crew SC forwards.

“[I]t was [Greenspan’s] first MLS start, but people don’t realize Joe has hardly trained because of the concussion for maybe three-and-a-half weeks,” said Heath. “I thought he put a really good shift in. He’s exhausted in there, and well he might be.”

Putting Greenspan to the test in the 22nd minute was Columbus winger Ethan Finlay. The ball was sent long in transition following a United turnover, and Finlay found himself in a footrace with Greenspan. The center back just managed to catch up to Finlay, delaying a shot until Thiesson could arrive to block Finlay’s effort as the winger cut back while dribbling inside the penalty area.

The Loons didn’t manage an even-man rush until the 25th minute of the first half. Jome managed to get past his mark as the Loons worked the ball out of the back, and played the ball into space for Molino as Minnesota broke three-on-three. Cutting in from the right flank, the Trinidadian international attempted to roll the ball across the face of goal, looking for Ramirez at the back post. With traffic in front of Columbus keeper Zack Steffen, Molino might have done better to pick out Danladi at the top of the 18-yard box.

Minnesota looked the more likely team to score, producing a pair of half-chances from balls played over the top of Columbus’ back line.

Ibson swung a looping effort across field for Ramirez in the 28th minute, but the striker’s touch to take the ball out of the air ran a bit long and the ball was gathered by Crew SC.

Then in the 37th minute, Molino sought to play Ramirez in behind the Columbus defense. Ramirez was able to run onto the ball, but faced with a narrow angle, drove the resulting shot over the crossbar.

Danladi was removed late in the half, likely due to a yet-to-be-disclosed injury.

“The focus was on 0-0 ahead of halftime” said Berhalter. “Coming into the locker room at halftime, we achieved our objective.”

Second half

Seeking to remedy its offensive struggles from the first 45 minutes, Minnesota made adjustments at halftime and pushed Venegas and Jome further forward. The shift looked promising, but then a defensive lapse swung the game in Columbus’ favor.

Crew SC worked the ball out of their own half, and Wil Trap slipped a pass to Manneh as the winger made a short diagonal run escaping his mark, Cronin. Finding himself in a charitably large amount of space as no Loon stepped forward to challenge him, Manneh skipped a shot from outside the penalty area, beating Bobby Shuttleworth to the the far post.

Columbus led 1-0 on just its second shot on target of the evening.

Minnesota was left with little option but to chase the game over the final 30 minutes, and played with a shape closer to a 4-4-2, with Molino having joined Ramirez up top at the end of the first half. As the Loons pushed forward, they conceded a space in midfield, and the balance of quality scoring chances fell to Columbus.

The home crowd, sensing the urgency of the situation, began a chant of, “We want Batman!” in the 73rd minute, imploring Heath to sub in Miguel Ibarra.

Around the same time, Ibson led a counter attack up the right wing, fell to ground, and held his head in his hands while Columbus launched a counter of its own. The play was concluded at the other end of the field as striker Ola Kamara shot low and across goal, just outside Shuttleworth’s left post, and perhaps should have doubled Columbus’ lead.

In the 78th minute, second-half substitute Justin Meram received the ball in the Loons’ penalty area. His first effort was blocked by Davis, but the rebound returned his way before the 28-year-old squandered the opportunity by skying the ball over the crossbar.

Meram popped up again in the 81st, rolling a ball just wide of Shuttleworth’s left post from the top of the D.

Having been brought on in the 77th minute to an enthusiastic roar, Ibarra was able to test the left edge of Columbus’ defense late. In added time, the winger rounded his mark and had a number of teammates near the penalty spot as he approached the right edge of the 18-yard box. It looked like the Loons might be able to snatch a point at the death, but Ibarra got under his cross, and the ball sailed over a number of options in front of goal before the Loons were forced to gather and reset.

Full time

It was a disappointing night for Minnesota, and while it isn’t unfair to wonder how the game might have unfolded had Columbus not opened scoring in the 58th minute, the late chances squandered by Crew SC suggest the result wasn’t unfair to the Loons.

Heath differed slightly in his postgame assessment.

“I don’t think we deserved to lose it, but I certainly don’t think we did enough to win the game,” stated Heath. “I thought we started the second half very brightly. They got a goal against the run of play. They sort of took the wind out of our sails.”

It also bears keeping in mind Heath was forced to mix and match given the players available to him, after injuries and international call-ups reduced the options available to him.

As to why Ibarra started the game on the bench, with the less-experienced Jome perhaps in better graces with Heath, the Loons head coach was direct.

“Can’t pick and choose when we have that energy. Not just Miguel — that could have been three or four others, to put all that energy in at TCF Bank Stadium. Same three points on the road. Can’t pick and choose when you decide that you want to play full of energy. That’s non-negotiable.”

For Columbus, it marked Crew SC’s first clean sheet since the end of May.

“The thing about us is we play a certain way that will give up chances at times,” said Berhalter. “We don’t want to give up silly goals. We don’t want to give up easy goals.”

“When you talk about guys — [defenders] Lalas Abubakar, who made his debut, Alex Crognale who hasn’t played in a while, Josh Williams who we had to sub in — overall it was a collective effort, and I think that’s what feels good.”

Match statistics

Columbus Crew SC 1 – 0 Minnesota United FC
Stadium: TCF Bank Stadium
Kickoff: 6:00 p.m. (CDT)
Weather: 85°, Sunny

Scoring Summary
Kekuta Manneh (58’)

Discipline
Ibson (9’, Unsporting Behavior)
Zack Steffen (90’+1’, Time Wasting)

Match Ratings

Community Match Ratings: Columbus at Minnesota


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  • David Sterling

    I think it’s pretty safe to suggest Kevin V, doesn’t belong in MLS. He couldn’t keep up, he couldn’t complete crosses, and by about min 70, he was simply flailing at people. As for Jome, aside from that bright, tenacious movement in the second half, I didn’t see a whole lot from him. I’d lost him higher than KV though.
    Heath said he lined them up for the energy, but I don’t think he even knows what he’s talking about. Jome didn’t bring a ton of energy. He’s too raw, certainly quick, but prone to mistakes; KV isn’t overly fast, gets lucky on maybe two crosses a game, and can’t defend; and starting CR21 and Danladi we had nearly no spark for the second half. I would have started like this, R to L:

    Thiesson, Greenspan, Davis
    Cronin, Ibson
    Martin, Ibarra, Kadrii
    Molino
    Ramirez

    I know there is no real Right wing, but KV isn’t providing anything special; and Molino hasn’t excelled in a 10 role, but Ibarra has looked good in a more central role, and we would have had Danladi as a sub for CR21, or a shift into the formation Heath actually played.

    • BJ

      > I think it’s pretty safe to suggest Kevin V, doesn’t belong in MLS.

      Disagree

      • David Sterling

        Care to give any reasoning? He was easily the worst player on the pitch yesterday, and he has failed every time he’s played for us this season; in both LB and Left Winger. Aside from the lack of any depth, there are few, if any, reasons to have him with us.

        • BJ

          Given he has never played LB or left wing I’m thinking you have wrong player in your head.

          Worst player yesterday, that’s a race with a bunch of other people in it.

          • David Sterling

            True, I apparently cannot decipher Left and Right today; however, you have still failed to provide any reasonable argument for your disagreement.
            The only way he’s not our weakest link is if Demidov is on the pitch.

          • Ian

            Admittedly Viva had a poor last 20 min where it was obvious he needed a sub. But up until then he was perfectly solid. He wasn’t getting up too far prematurely, on attack he was lively and unlike everyone else on the team he didn’t just stop when he had room to dribble, and defensively he was solid as well, he wasn’t getting beat easily and he was blocking crosses.

          • David Sterling

            He wasn’t getting forward at all; and look at the Audi Player Index, he was a -64
            He gave away 8 passes in his own half which was more than 50% of his passes in that area. His passing in Crew’s half was 73%, but he didn’t have any successful long passes, so dink and dunk, basically. He was blamed for the only goal as well.
            While his Indexing was better against NYC, it was due to all the corners and set pieces they had (good scoring for aerials and clearances), otherwise he was dreadful in the opposing half again.
            Clearly there is an unhealthy attachment.

          • Ian

            Stats can’t tell the entire story. As I said he didn’t get forward prematurely, when your team is playing boot ball for most of the game it is stupid to get up quick as an outside back, also for much of the game we were just possessing so it was more important to have Venegas as an option for our centerbacks than sitting on the back line waiting for a long ball when we already had guys in that position. In terms of the passes he gave away I don’t doubt they happened but they did not result in anything, meaning either him or a teammate quickly won the ball back or it wasn’t very deep in his own half where he lost the ball. Also I don’t know how he could possibly be blamed for the goal, we lost the ball near the crew’s box and they played the ball through the midfield to eventually shoot for outside the 18 on Davis side.

          • BJ

            It’s been clear that he has been told to stay back and we also did very little on the right hand side on Tuesday. I was really expecting much more from him and Jerry.

        • PaleVermilion

          It looked like Venegas got hurt yesterday towards the end, after we had used up our subs. It was pretty noticeable how his play changed after that. So the statement of “it’s pretty safe to suggest Kevin V, doesn’t belong in MLS” is pretty laughable. He was not our weakest link yesterday.

  • 래리 갭 닉

    Hats off to the folks with the “political statement” banner. It was a much better response to the Salute to Freedom than me just staying at home in response to a ban on the Philando/Red Loons banners. Whoever you are, thanks.

  • Clark Starr

    Oof that was a tough one to watch (especially in that heat). Greenspan needs some heading lessons. Ish needs to be loaned out. I would like to see some tactical variance. I, like everyone, wants to see a procession-based offense, but a few balls over the top from time to time wouldn’t be a bad idea. Christian isn’t seeing enough of the ball. From our seats (138) we often get a good angle of what the left back seems to be seeing when they have the ball at midfield. We need to try a few to an angling Christian/Abu/whomever’s up there.

    • David Sterling

      Greenspan needs to stay and get minutes. Overall, he put in a solid performance, definitely worthy of a backup role. I’ve never been a fan of low-percentage passes, over the top being one, but you may be right. I’d say this as long as there is midfield support to scoop up the loose balls, not brought down, but we are so terribly vacant in the center of the pitch sometimes.

  • Almontanello

    Looking at yesterday lineup, it is dramatically evident that only Thiesson was a reliable starter in the defensive line.
    Burch Calvo Kallman were out for different reasons.
    FO must improve the depth, especially of the back line, signing Latin American or MLS experienced players.

    Otherwise the final wooden spoon is behind the corner, waiting for MNUFC

  • Troy Kadlec

    Given the makeshift back line, I can’t complain too much about giving up one goal. I thought Davis and Venegas slowed noticeably deeper into the game, but overall they didn’t completely get blown away. That said, I think both are subs or backup players rather than regular starters. You can go to them at times, but it would be foolish to rely on them as primaries. Greenspan had some moments and played pretty solid overall. He definitely is raw, but the size and talent is there to be a good player for us long term. I do worry about his knees on our turf. Almost very time he came down from a jump, he was messing with his knees and jogged a bit gingerly at times after a leap and landing. So from the defensive side, the game wasn’t bad.

    Offensively, this was one of our worst performances. Outside of a few runs by Molino, a couple of Ramirez whiffs, and Ibson’s “last gasp for a foul in my favor run” – we did not threaten. Lots of lofted crosses that never really hit the target. We rarely attacked with numbers and we did not press the way we did against Vancouver. We never pinned Columbus back uncomfortably. We never made them panic.

    Our pacing throughout the game was pedestrian. There were very few spans of urgency and we are not built to win 1-0 yet. We have to press and threaten. Those midfielders have to push hard. I liked the energy Warner brought. He was a disruptive force. It was good to see Columbus scrambling.

    I liked Inchy’s comments following the game. We need that spark, that fire, that grit from everyone the entire time they are on the field. (of course, he could use his subs before our entire team is gassed)