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The Angle

Ins and Outs: How Did Minnesota United Fare in the Transfer Window?

by on 11 August 2017

The dust is still settling on the summer (secondary) MLS transfer window. After yesterday’s moves Minnesota can still snap up free agents, but there won’t be any international (inbound) signings. The 2017 squad, then, looks to be mostly solidified. So what have we learned after the transfer window?

Lesson one: the great Scandi-sotan experiment is over

When Manny Lagos went across the ocean to scout Scandinavia, no one knew it would be as productive as it turned out. The Loons eventually signed Josh Gatt, John Alvbåge, Rasmus Schüller, Bashkim Kadrii, and Vadim Demidov (they also looked closely at Muhamed Keita, who has now signed with the New York Red Bulls).

Gatt left the club along with Mohammed Saeid in the lopsided trade with Colorado for Sam Cronin and Marc Burch. Alvbåge and Schüller left during this transfer window. The club declined to extend Alvbåge’s contract as he was usurped by the cheaper Bobby Shuttleworth (who also doesn’t require an international spot). Schüller was sent out on loan to his club from 2012-15, Helsingin Jalkapalloklubi. The Loons appear to not want to fully cut ties with him, but after recovering from a few injuries, they felt he could get more playing time back in Finland.

The two remnants of the Scandinavian cull are Vadim Demidov and Bashkim Kadrii. Demidov’s high wages and three-year guaranteed contract make him an albatross that may hang upon the Loons’ necks for some time, but he will not play another match for the club. This leaves only Bashkim Kadrii, perhaps the most confusing case for Minnesota. Kadrii is obviously talented, but has not been able to push for a regular position with the team. Whether this is an attitudinal problem, a sign that he has not fully recovered from injuries, or something else, his signing has not worked out.

Lesson two: you can never have too many wingers

The Loons’ flashiest pick up during the transfer window was their trade for Columbus Crew’s Ethan Finlay. Though Minnesotan-born (Duluth), Finlay considers himself a Wisconsin boy, so use that information however you wish. Finlay does, however, come from the same Creighton pipeline that brought the brothers Kallman and Alex Kapp (more on him later).

Finlay had a banner year in 2015, scoring 10 goals and notching 13 assists, but has since failed to recapture that season’s magic. He possesses an immense amount of speed and could perhaps signal a shift (or allow for a move to) a more counter-attacking tactical approach for Minnesota United. Witness his remarkable run and assist for a counter against the Chicago Fire.

Along with Finlay comes the young Costa Rican left winger, José Leitón. The Ticos prospect moves to Minnesota on loan with a purchase option on the end. Leitón’s story feels almost cliche in its rags to riches narrative, but calling it cliche dismisses how amazing it is.

For obvious reasons, we know far less about Leitón than Finlay. However, one source said that Leitón came highly recommended from his compatriot Francisco Calvo. Leitón made his international debut for Costa Rica last month in the Gold Cup, playing 10 minutes against the United States.

With these two wingers signed at the tail end of the transfer window, it is easy to forget that Minnesota had already signed another winger, the Scottish left winger Sam Nicholson. Nicholson has already made a couple of appearances to mixed reviews, but certainly brings pace to the team.

What remains unclear is just how all these wide players can be incorporated into the same squad: Miguel Ibarra, Bashkim Kadrii, Kevin Molino, Abu Danladi, and Johan Venegas join these three new recruits as fighting for these spots. Likely Molino and Venegas will be employed in the central No. 10 role (where Molino in particularly seems less effective).

This is bad news for fan favorite Miguel Ibarra, who has regularly been called out by Adrian Heath for not working hard enough. It is unclear if this means that the team is looking to offload Ibarra, but it does mean that Ibarra’s fight for a starting place just became a lot more difficult.

Lesson three: the midfield is still a problem

Minnesota shipped out Rasmus Schüller, leaving them with Collen Warner and Collin Martin as their midfield backups. Warner was originally signed as more of a defensive midfielder, but is far happier pushing forward as a box-to-box man. Martin has seen a little more time recently and, though he lacks Ibson’s genius, has a good eye for a pass going forward.

When Minnesota brought in Sam Cronin, he seemed the perfect foil for Ibson. He offered the bread to Ibson’s butter, the ground to his current, the defensive stability to a roaming playmaker. The result was that Minnesota stopped hemorrhaging goals as it did at the beginning of the season.

However, the Ibson/Cronin tandem continues to be a liability as we saw recently in the 4-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders. A large number of Minnesota’s goals allowed have come in the counter attack. Ibson joins the marauding Loons attack, the team gives up possession, and suddenly the opposition can slice them open and head toward goal with just a few passes.

In the time since the Cronin trade, Minnesota has continued to concede too many good scoring chances. Minnesota allows about 1.85 expected goals (xG) per game (and this number is only counting the matches since Cronin arrived). This is the highest rate in MLS (Montreal allows the next most opportunities with 1.64 xG per game).

This isn’t due to better opponents in the Western conference. Minnesota consistently allows opponents an additional 0.5 xG above that team’s average. This is the worst in the league (Montreal is the second worst with a +.26 xG). In contrast, Kansas City is the best team on this stat and keeps opponents about 0.25 xG below their averages. If it feels like every team seems to have a good day against the Minnesota defense, there is something to it.

It’s important to score goals. It’s also important to prevent opponents from getting good scoring chances. So far this year, xG (against) has a stronger correlation with league points than xG (for) (0.62 v. -0.75 respectively).

The Loons need to address their defensive problem with the midfield (including making sure they are signing attacking players who are good at playing the other side of the ball). Minnesota could have desperately used a Cronin backup or, perhaps, an option to play with two men who can shut down the midfield.

Lesson four: defensive reinforcement may not have been enough

The Loons continue to careen toward a league record for worst defense, but only made one defensive signing during the window. Michael Boxall came in from the South African club SuperSport and was immediately thrown into action as the team struggled without Francisco Calvo or Jermaine Taylor.

Boxall still needs time to bed in, but Heath preferred him over one of this year’s revelations, Brent Kallman. Whether this is a signal that Boxall is the new preferred partner for Calvo or not, there is now more competition with the spot. Coming off a Best XI Gold Cup, Taylor could also once again start pushing for a place.

With Bobby Boswell going to Atlanta United and Aaron Maund to Vancouver, one can’t help but wonder if those signings would have helped shore up the defense more than Boxall.

The team’s most glaring need is for a left back. With Marc Burch injured, Ismaila Jome appears to be favored over Justin Davis, but the team lacks a strong option in that position. Even before Burch’s surgery, he was practicing infrequently as he managed a few recurring problems. Despite this, the Loons did not end up snapping up any left backs, leaving them to make due with what they have for the rest of the season.

Lesson five: This isn’t a lesson, but we signed a goalkeeper

Perhaps the most under-the-radar move for the Loons was the pick up of Alex Kapp in goal. With Alvbåge sent back to Sweden, Minnesota needed a third goalkeeper, and Atlanta did not sign Kapp after they drafted him.

Just how good of a prospect Kapp is remains to be seen. However, the other two goalkeepers are 30 (Shuttleworth) and 28 (McLain) years old. Kapp comes in as a 22-year-old who can learn from goalkeeping coach Marius Røvde and develop.


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  • nomadic loon

    A good no-game-week recap!

    • Wes

      yeah, but I have a feeling like mid-week next week this website might be a bit quiet! Only so much teeth gnashing about signings you can do…

  • Eric Beckman

    Might Leiton be used a left back? Jome’s physicality and defending have seemed good to me. The goals are not coming from his side, at least (though why would Seattle detour to the wing when they could roll right through the center and score 2 v 5…). But, he has offered only a few good crosses going forward.

    • Matt

      I really hope Leiton can be an option. I hope Jome can develop for the future, but he has been so painful to watch at left back.

    • David Sterling

      Agreed. I’ve seen two other sources over the week that said he can play LB.

  • David Sterling

    Burch/?, Kallman/Boxall, Calvo, Thiesson have only allowed 1.5/game. I keep arguing this; due to call-ups and a few injuries, we’ve played patchwork most of the season. I think we focus on the backline too much, and our issues rest solely in the inability of the MF to hold possession, or give it away cheaply.

    Also, Leiton can play LB, and why not find Taylor as a replacement for Cronin? He plays a decent CB. Isn’t terribly quick, but he may do as an option. I’ve also been frustrated with the fact Heath never attempted Demidov at that place. He’s played it before, and his lack of speed could have been countered by a solid back line.

    I also think Ibarra is on his way out. One has to wonder if there was more to him sitting in Mexico than simply a change in management; and I wonder if Molino was consistently played in a central role, if he would perform. With all these new wingers, maybe Heath is trying to get him setup permanently in the middle.

    • Scott Anthony Kerssen

      I don’t think that Ibarra is necessarily “on his way out”. We concentrated on wingers because we traded two of ours (Saied and Gatt) to get Cronin and Burch. In addition, we have two players who have played minutes at winger for us (Molino and J. Venegas) who have been taken regularly for international duty. As for the three we have just acquired, Leiton is a Costa Rican international, Findlay has eight caps for the US national team and Nicholson was a regular choice for Scotland’s Youth national teams and is one of the top ten Scottish wingers (not just left wingers, mind you) playing. It would not be a shock that good play by any of those men would result in more call-ups. One of our most glaring weaknesses, like most first year expansion teams, is depth. I think that our gaffer is simply upping the competition at a position that has not produced a consistent starter, hoping to raise the performance level at that position so that injuries and call-ups will not affect the team’s quality as much as it has this season.

      • David Sterling

        I say this about Ibarra for three reasons; 1) Leiton, Finlay, and Nicholson are all natural on the Left; 2) Danladi and Molino can be placed on the Right wings and play well there, and it may actually be Molino’s better position, making the need for any of these guys playing on the Right unnecessary, 3) Heath has said on a few occasions (and in the last few weeks), that he is disappointed in Ibarra’s work.

        Leiton and Molino are really the only two players who we need to be concerned with for call-ups, because Nicholson, if he would be called up, would be at the very end or vey beginning of the season, and JV doesn’t really play into these positions at all. We haven’t seen enough of Nicholson yet, but he’s already looked far more ‘electric’ than Ibarra -which is what Hearts supporters have said about him.

        • Scott Anthony Kerssen

          Umm, actually, Finlay is a right winger. Played there for the Crew and the National team.

          • David Sterling

            Yes, you’re correct, my bad; but, if anything, that’s even worse for Ibarra, because there is absolutely no need for him.

  • Jim Oliver

    Miguel Ibarra played FB briefly in Mexico (at least under one of the three coaches he had in Leon), and I can think of not one single reason that Ish Jome is a better option at LB than Miguel.

    • David Sterling

      Size, fragility, and strength. All three of these lead to clumsy challenges, and the last thing we need are clumsy challenges on wingers coming into the box, or on any attacking player as last-man on a counter. I see cards and PKs in our future with Ibarra at LB

      • Bruce J McGuire

        I would have to disagree on the Jome-Ibarra case.
        Ish is taller than Ibarra, but that’s his only advantage.
        Ibarra is certainly not fragile, and Ish is not Charles Atlas.
        In the third game of the season out in Colorado after Justin Davis got his red card and Ibarra had to shift back to fullback – I am not saying he was good, but he was lock down safe. No one got past him.
        And if you want an attacking fullback, Ibarra is more dangerous than Jome.

        • David Sterling

          You apparently see a different Ibarra than I do, and also Heath does. I just don’t see Ibarra panning out, sadly.
          We’ll have to agree to disagree re: Jome. Ibarra certainly has the pace, but his touch has been dreadful this season, and he’s easily pushed off the ball and dispossessed.
          I’m not saying Jome is much better, but I’ll take his size and less likelihood of being blown over over Ibarra in the back any day. Finlay and Nicholson will be on the wings, so Heath will inevitably go with Jome or now Leiton in the LB spot. Ibarra may be better suited as a super sub.
          I would bet Ibarra sits on the bench Sunday.

          • Bruce J McGuire

            Sure. I am basing my opinion on watching him closely for 5 years, and I feel I know what he can do. I am not basing it on what we have been seeing lately. He clearly has no confidence, and the coach seems to think that the way to motivate him is to demote him. So its up to Ibarra to prove the coach wrong. Its a good challenge. But I feel strongly that Ibarra can do it.

          • David Sterling

            Well, there is a difference between NASL and MLS. Some – most – players will not translate their success. I have watched him just as long, well, maybe not as closely, but close enough. He may have what it takes, but the gaffer has to choose the best players in training to play on any given day, and apparently that is not Ibarra. We’ll be all calling for Heath’s head if he was playing Ibarra week in and out, and we weren’t seeing results. I think there is a bit of bias with players like him, and we need to avoid that.

  • matt knight

    Personally, I was most disappointed that nothing was addressed in regards to finding a replacement for Ibson. His creativity is all well and good, but he lacks the ability to play a dangerous final ball with any regularity. His set piece services are an absolute disaster, I don’t know how he is our best option. He gives the ball away too easily, often in incredibly dangerous situations leading to an immediate counter. I’m sure finding a quality replacement for him is obviously easier said than done, but to not even bring in another option for that spot was incredibly disappointing.

    • Brian

      Maybe they’re wanting to find a DP for that position. This season is a wash. They should spend more time finding and courting a really good DP for next season.

      • David Sterling

        Completely agree with this, and the off-season is a good time for that.

    • Scott Anthony Kerssen

      I find it interesting that Ibson is one of the least understood and most underestimated players by many of the faithful. In this case, it appears that a lack of understanding of his positional duties is the problem. He is serving as a 6/8 (Defensive/ Central Midfielder) leaning a bit toward an 8. (Cronin is doing the same, but leaning a bit on the 6 side). As such, it is not one of his primary duties to be playing Dangerous Final Balls. His primary offensive responsibilities are to START the offense, not finish it. He is supposed to mainly feed attacking players in the middle third. It is the wingers, the Attacking Mid/ Second Striker and the wing backs, when initiating the attack out wide, that he is supposed to be primarily passing to. As to his set pieces being a disaster, well, they have been a bit uneven, especially the corners, but MNUFC is 11th in the league in Set Piece Goals, so I think the word “disaster” is a bit hyperbolic. Saying that he “gives the ball away too easily” is not born out by the stats. He averages getting dispossessed 1.5 times per game. His successful passing per match average is at 85.8%, 36th out of about 300 in the league. And this is while averaging 71.2 passes per game, in which he is 5th in the league. The fact that he is primarily possessing the ball in our half of the pitch means that when he does lose possession, it is often in a dangerous part of the pitch. But that is his position. Finding a replacement for him of greater quality is going to be very difficult. Beyond the above, he is 6th in the league in drawing fouls, 8th in the league in successful tackles, and was one of three United players who was “under consideration” (read as “alternates”) for the All-Star Game. His OPTA rating (the league’s official stat keeper’s rating that melds all these stats into one number) is 7.01 which places him higher than roughly 75% of the league. I think there are lots of positions that need upgrading and/or reinforcement far more than Ibson’s.

      • Troy Kadlec

        Ibson has been a bright spot. But how long will he stay that way? We may get one more good year out of him barring injury. Not addressing his potential loss is dangerous for many of the reasons you note above. He won’t be easily replaced, but he will need to be replaced at some point. I’d love to see him as an exciting game-changing sub vs the guy who wears down 2/3 through the match. It’s probably OK at this point in the season to let it ride, but if it’s ignored in the winter window, we better hope Martin is the answer or Shuller comes back and wows. (I think Shuller is more the Cronin answer than Ibson answer.) Ibson’s set piece delivery is sub-par. Maybe he’s the best on the team, but we need more quality there in the long term.

      • David Sterling

        You forgot leading the league in time spent on the floor, crying like a little baby. I agree with everything else

        • Scott Anthony Kerssen

          Did not forget. I repeat, he is fifth in the league for drawing fouls. Drawing a foul results in a set piece. This is considered a positive development for a team in the soccer world. I will not say that he doesn’t overdo it occasionally, but drawing attention to the foul by what he does frequently works, as the stats show.

          • David Sterling

            Occasionally? You have no credibility if you cannot admit he’s one of the worst divers in the league.

          • David Sterling

            He’s possibly the worst diver in the league, hence why he draws so many fouls.

          • Scott Anthony Kerssen

            Diving? Mostly not. What he does is accentuate the foul. Flings his arms out and rolls on the pitch a bit. Carps at the ref when he doesn’t get the call. But the contact he receives is usually real. Diving is going down from no or very little contact. Because of his skill with the ball, he does get ankle hacked quite a bit by players who are not as agile with their footwork.

          • David Sterling

            Ha!

    • David Sterling

      Wait till the off-season. He’s more than adequate right now.

  • Ian

    Can Finlay play the #10?

    • Wes

      no. He’s a wide guy. Won’t drift inward as much either. He’s useful for his speed.

      • Ian

        That’s too bad. I don’t doubt that Finlay will be a great addition to our team. But, for a player that had his best season two years ago and was expected to be benched due to Columbus bringing in a DP in his position, I feel like the crew definitely would have let him go for less or we could have found someone more important to our team (like a #10) for the price we paid.

        • David Sterling

          I have no idea why they brought in Finlay, unless they have literally zero faith in Ibarra. It seems like an odd, and rather expensive addition.

    • David Sterling

      Nicholson can play a more central role, though. Not sure about a #10. Haven’t heard anything from Hearts supporters anyway.

  • Offensive Loons Fan

    You bring in a #10 that can do some of what Ibson does well, but does it up higher, allowing Ibson to play a bit deeper and tightening the leak in the center of the midfield on a counter attack, and we’ve made an important stride forward. I love Molino but he just isn’t that guy.

  • Troy Kadlec

    We have a dearth of wingers. I think Heath is trying to get his wingers to play 90 minutes both ways. Ibarra has struggled with that. I think Kadrii struggled with that for more than a half. Nicholson and Finlay likely fill that need and offer quality first options. Having the likes of Ibarra, Kadrii, and Leiton to back them up isn’t bad. It also generates competition. If we’re playing one forward up top, the wingers have to get forward and help and be able to pace back and recover defensively. That’s a tall order for 90 minutes all season, so having depth there is good.

    We seem determined to make Molino a #10. J. Venegas is the only other person to play that role so he appears to be the sub/backup. I want to see a DP #10 that makes Molino a winger or forced to compete for the spot.

    Ibson and Cronin – I love them, but they need to be considered short term and backups/competition brought in. I would love to see us bring in a DP in this area this winter. I like Ibson, but the writing is on the wall. He has maybe a year left as a starter, but I would rather see him subbing next year. Maybe Martin or Warner can back up Cronin, but Cronin’s style of play lends him to missing a game or two and we need that role covered by quality.

    The back line is a mess. We need consistency in our CB pairing. If Kallman is healthy, he’s my choice. I like Boxall, I think he’s solid. So play Kallman and Boxall as the CBs and switch Calvo out the LB spot. You have Taylor and Greenspan (if he ever gets healthy) as backups. RB is Theisson’s, and I think Boxall could back him up there. Either way, the back line has players, we just need to field a consistent group and know we have guys to slot in during injuries.

    We are unlikely to make the playoffs. We’d need to win 6 or 7 games and draw most of the rest to have a chance. I think our signings gave us options and depth, but were not intended to take us into the playoffs. It also gives us some room to deal a player like Ibarra and bring in some DPs over the winter break.

    All in all, a decent recruitment window with more to come for next year.