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Match Preview: Minnesota United FC vs. New York Red Bulls

by on 21 July 2017

Minnesota enters game three of a five-game home stand with one point to show for its hometown advantage. As duct taped and hot glued lineups have miraculously held opponents to one goal in the last two games, the cost has been on the offensive side, with the Loons unable to pick the lock once over that span. What changes will the Loons bring to pin down that final pass, and will its makeshift defense have what it takes to stop one of MLS’ most prolific goal scorers?

Recent form

Minnesota D L L D W -17
GD
0.95
PPG
New York W W L W L -1
GD
1.53
PPG

Previous meetings

As with the Loons’ match against New York City FC, there is no history between Minnesota and the Red Bulls or their forebears the Metros. At the risk of repeating myself, I will refer to my earlier comments about the soccer history between Minnesota and New York in general.

United fans are no strangers to loathing New York teams, with recent NASL history against the Cosmos consistently siding against the Loons. Minnesota beat the Cosmos just once in eleven tries since the New York club was resurrected in the fall of 2013. In the original days of the NASL, the Minnesota Kicks would regularly do battle with Pelé and the Cosmos of old, memorably suffering a playoff loss to New York in the Conference Semifinal in 1978. Minnesota fans should have no issues dredging up a passion for cheering against still another New York City club.

Even one based in New Jersey.

Officials

Referee Hilario Grajeda
Assistant Claudiu Badea
Assistant Anthony Vas0li
Fourth Baldomero Toledo

Hilario Grajeda is a veteran of MLS, with a career spanning so long (he began in 2004) that his first game was against the Kansas City Wizards and the Dallas Burn, two teams your kids have never heard of. He was named MLS Referee of the Year in 2013. This year he ranks first in fouls per game at 29.6 and sixth in yellow cards per game at an even 4.0. Interestingly, despite his penchant for blowing the whistle often, he has yet to call a penalty this year.

Roster report

Minnesota United
D Francisco Calvo (international duty) – Out
D Jermaine Taylor (international duty) – Out
M Bernardo Añor (hamstring injury) – Out
D Thomas de Villardi (left Achilles) – Out
D Marc Burch (hernia injury) – Out
D Vadim Demidov (knee injury) – Out
G John Alvbåge (thumb injury) – Out
F Abu Danladi (thigh injury) – Questionable
M Johan Venegas (knee injury) – Questionable
D Joseph Greenspan (broken nose) – Questionable

New York Red Bulls
D Kemar Lawrence (international duty) – Out
D Gideon Baah (broken leg) – Out
M Mike Grella (knee surgery) – Out

Tactical outlook

Criticize coach Adrian Heath all you want — there’s fair criticism to be had — but the man has helped MacGyver a defense together that has only allowed one goal in the last two games out of a roll of toilet paper and a spool of wire. Sure, we were at home, and the offense paid the price. Save the caveats, and look at the pieces he had to work with. As hard as it has been to watch this stretch, and as much frustration as one can level at the front office for not shoring up the team’s depth chart, one knows that things must get better as international duty subsides and the club’s rash of injuries slows down.

Before they get better, they may get worse.

Joseph Greenspan has not officially been ruled out yet after suffering a broken nose on Wednesday, but given the young defender’s injury woes this year and the threat of concussion (he’s suffered two this year alone), it would not be a surprise if he sat this one out. Brent Kallman was thankfully spared a suspension from yellow card accumulation thanks to the good behavior rule that removes a yellow card after five clean matches.

The number of playable center backs on the Loons’ roster has officially reached just one.

With defender Michael Boxall (and other Minnesota signing Sam Nicholson) theoretically available Saturday despite almost no time with the club, Heath will have some big decisions to make. Does he include Boxall without any time to gel with the club, an issue that saw even a good defender like Jérôme Thiesson struggle in his United debut against Atlanta? Should the club stick with a four-man back line or move down to a 3-5-2?

Personally, if Boxall is walking and breathing, I feel he needs to make the start. Play three in the back, with Justin Davis on the left, Thiesson on the right, and Boxall anchoring in the middle and essentially marking Red Bulls striker Bradley Wright-Phillips the entire game. This puts Miguel Ibarra at the wide left and Kevin Molino at wide right. Sam Cronin and Ibson get up to their usual shenanigans in the center of the park. If Abu Danladi is ready to play, play him centrally behind Christian Ramirez. If not, Collin Martin had his best minutes as a Loon on Wednesday and could adequately fill in centrally again as well.

Tactically, the width of the 3-5-2 could stretch the opponents horizontally and free up room in the center of the pitch. Perhaps an extra moment and an extra step will help Minnesota finally find that dangerous final pass that opens up the opponent’s back line and helps United put some points on the board. “Could” being the operative word. In truth, this is a conservative strategy, built not to lose, and until the Loons have a serious playmaker working in the attacking midfield, the team will continue to struggle to connect the defense and the offense as it has much of the season.

How will it play out?

New York’s offense has gotten hot lately and the team has hit the ground running after the Gold Cup break. If they keep their momentum, expect to see New York owning possession and the Loons to do something hopeful on the counter. Never the type of game one wants to see from a home team, but it may be the reality given the lineup the club will have to field.

New York will win if…

If New York can keep the pace of the game high, Minnesota’s team of backups and unfamiliar partnerships will be playing on the back foot and often unready to react. That alone should be enough for the Red Bulls to put up a crooked number.

Minnesota will win if…

Daniel Royer has looked hot for New York lately, scoring in four of his last eight matches including a goal in each of his last two. But don’t kid yourself: Wright-Phillips owns New York’s offense. If Minnesota’s defense can keep him pinned down, they won’t be facing too much threat from the wings, so they may be able to turn that into an opportunity for three points.


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  • PaleVermilion

    Cronin has already been listed as out by MNUFC.

  • nomadic loon

    The NYCFC connection was Yankee Stadium (in New York) and the teams that played there past and present.
    Red Bull Arena is in Harrison, New Jersey – not New York. The soccer club has been around since 1996, first as the MetroStars at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The team did have a couple of displaced years (1997, 2000-2001) in New York; but New Jersey is home. This is the Loon’s first match against a Jersey team. What is Minnesota soccer’s history with New Jersey based teams? Overall, 6 wins and 6 losses. In the Thunder-USISL days the New Jersey Stallions in 1996; the New Jersey Imperials in 1994-1995; and the North Jersey Dragons also in 1994-1995 all played in the same USISL league but never met the Thunder.
    The only New Jersey team that faced off against Minnesota was the Cosmos during their Giant Stadium years from 1977 to 1981 against the Kicks, and 1984 against the Strikers. The Strikers played the Cosmos twice at the Metrodome and once at Giant Stadium winning all 3 games! The Kicks didn’t fare as well winning only 3 of their 9 meetings. However, in those 9 games, the Kicks may be the only NASL team to have never allowed superstar Pelé to score against them. Even with 60,000+ fans at Giants Stadium in the playoff loss Mr Martin mentions, Pelé never netted a goal against Minnesota. However, the same cannot be said about the Cosmos’ other superstar, Giorgio Chinaglia, who scored 11 goals during the 9 games against the Kicks.
    Finally, perhaps the greatest performance by a Minnesota soccer player came against the New Jersey-based Cosmos in front of 45,000 fans at Met Stadium in Bloomington. It was 14 August 1978, when Alan Willey scored FIVE goals during a 9-2 victory over the Cosmos. Go Loons!