Whatever else has gone wrong for the Loons this year, the team limped into the Gold Cup break needing more human souls to play, regardless of positional preference or tactical approach. This brought right back Kevin Venegas off the shelf and into the defense for several games.
Long time Minnesota soccer followers saw a Kevin Venegas they probably know pretty well: sneakily great going forward, with a good cross and speed to burn, but defensively a liability. The solution? Deploy him as a midfielder, a position he played in college (and very briefly for the Loons). Minnesota was scraping the barrel in the attack with Johan Venegas and Abu Danladi unavailable in recent weeks. Having one more choice up top could be a blessing during World Cup qualifiers. Let’s see what he can do.
Kadrii was deservedly benched in favor of Miguel Ibarra several weeks into the season. Ibarra has proved better dropping into defense and has better pace cutting into an opposing defense. However, Kadrii also has had very few minutes playing alongside United’s “preferred” lineup and it would be interesting to see whether he has more to offer when the team as a whole is in better shape. Further, and because this is a throwaway game anyway, seeing Kadrii played in different roles than just on the left wing — as a second striker or as a box-to-box midfielder — could help the team to see alternatives for the attacker before writing him off as a sunk cost.
Yeah, I said it. Look, I don’t think that being the attacking playmaker is necessarily Ibson’s very best position. But this team has felt lost without a creative playmaker underneath Christian Ramirez, and the second striker role has yielded very little fruit. With his strong passing and vision for the movement of others, giving Ibson at least a try as a No. 10 could be a useful experiment. The position he would be vacating is, for better or worse, the position on which the team has the most depth to fall back, with Collen Warner, Rasmus Schüller, and Collin Martin all able to fill in. My only hesitance would be that I would rather see Ibson wrapped in bubble wrap than playing in a meaningless friendly, but United does not have the depth to play no starters in this match. If he is going to play, let’s find a creative use for him.
Warner is not in a position to supplant Sam Cronin right now unless Cronin is at death’s door. But when the team cannot play Cronin, as it was forced to endure with his earlier suspension, the team is worse by an order of magnitude. The club needs a reasonable replacement. Most of Warner’s defensive midfielder minutes came in front of a back line that was not up to the task this year. Warner didn’t light up any award committees with his play, either. But from that early cadre of starters, Warner stood out as probably the most capable backup of the bunch (next to since-departed Mohammed Saeid). Give Warner some minutes and some clear instruction: “you are a defensive midfielder, not a box-to-box midfielder: stay at home.” When he stops thinking he is Ibson and learns to stick to his role, I believe he can still be a serviceable No. 6. Saturday could be a good chance to test that theory.
A lot of the suggestions above really assume a like-for-like replacement within our most commonly used formation: a 4-2-3-1. But the club’s most recent dalliance with a 5-3-2 reminds us that there are alternatives. If the team is pressed for depth, it may be better to play back ups in their preferred positions (with different formations) than to just plug new players into the same roles. An attempt at a more narrow 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield and overlapping full backs, or a 4-3-3 to better utilize the team’s glut of central midfielders, could show some interesting alternatives if the team is once again tested for depth.
It is easy to be dismissive of the midseason friendly. Those who already follow the team closely are more interested in regular season performance than with the club’s bottom line. But those extracurriculars are a genuinely important part of doing business. A few extra dollars makes it that much easier for the club to open the pocketbook during the transfer window. It is also a great chance for fans who are not United regulars to experience the gameday atmosphere for the first time, drawn in by the allure of an international side visiting town. Maybe those new visitors fall in love with the team. With soccer. Maybe they tell their friends. Growing the sport in this country is often a painfully incremental process, and this type of event can be an important piece of that process for some.
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