These two clubs met only two weeks ago in Minneapolis. Despite a few flashes in the attack (Sam Nicholson and Abu Danladi stood out), Minnesota was soundly thrashed 4-0 by visiting Seattle. Jordan Morris earned the start for the Sounders on the wing and the US international terrorized the Minnesota back line with quick, direct runs at the defense. Fellow USMNT star Clint Dempsey bagged a brace, and the visitors continued to solidify their immense return to form in the second half of this season.
The longer history of matches between the two clubs was summarized two weeks ago:
Minnesota and Seattle on Saturday will reignite what was once a divisional rivalry in the days of the original NASL. With the Minnesota Kicks beginning play in 1976, they joined the Western Division along with Portland, Vancouver, St. Louis, and the Seattle Sounders. That first year, the two teams met in the Divisional Championship, with the Kicks winning 3-0 before falling one game short of the Soccer Bowl. Seattle earned its revenge with a 2-0 win in the Divisional Championship the following year. The two teams continued to battle in regular season matches, though they never met in another playoff game.
The two cities renewed hostilities in 1997, when the Minnesota Thunder joined the A-League and faced a new version of the Seattle Sounders that had joined the league two years prior. As members of the A-League, the two clubs faced off in the 1998 Western Conference semifinal, with the Thunder winning 4-2 on aggregate. In 2003, Minnesota once again put the Sounders away in the playoffs, winning 2-0 on aggregate in the Western Conference final and earning a berth in the championship. The two teams continued to play in the new USL until Seattle departed for MLS in 2009.
Ismail Elfath is ranked in the top five referees in fouls per game at 27.8, but is down at 15 of 25 in yellow cards per game (3.3). He has sent off seven players this year, tying at first. Drew Fischer will be performing video review on Sunday, and it will be interesting to follow that aspect of the game as it has not failed to bring drama and controversy in the two weeks the officiating enhancement has been in place.
M Bernardo Añor (hamstring injury) – Out
D Thomas de Villardi (left Achilles) – Out
D Joseph Greenspan (concussion) – Out
D Marc Burch (hernia injury) – Questionable
F Christian Ramirez (hamstring injury) – Questionable
M Sam Cronin (neck injury) – Questionable
D Brad Evans (lower back injury) – Out
This space has said fairly consistently that when Minnesota faces a clearly superior opponent (there are many), the team has a better chance of winning a 4-3 match than a 1-0 match. In other words, with their offense obviously stronger than their defense, the Loons do not have what it takes to bunker successfully against an offense like Seattle’s, so the team may as well attempt to play on the front foot, control possession, and let a good offense be their best defense.
Against Seattle two weeks ago, Minnesota somehow did neither of those things.
United’s attacking chances were few, and Seattle probably could have easily expected more than four goals. The reason it could neither attack nor defend is a disjointed midfield, one with very few players who can successfully play both sides of the ball, exacerbated by poor effort and an off night. Ibson was Mr. Hyde on the night and conceded possession too easily. Kevin Molino is not a No. 10 (no one on the team is) and the team is worse for playing him out of position. Nicholson was a bright spot in attack, occasionally, but dropping back to defend is never going to be his strength. The defense fell somewhere short of glorious, but they were given far too much work to do by a midfield that did little to give them shelter.
It is hard to make a specific tactical recommendation for a couple of reasons. One, the players who took the field two weeks ago are not good enough to consistently perform against a team like Seattle, and “be better” is not tremendously helpful advice. Two, we will almost certainly see a very different lineup this weekend owing to significant personnel moves made at the end of the transfer window last week.
Ethan Finlay will almost certainly see the pitch, though it is unclear what position he will play (perhaps on the right wing, if coach Adrian Heath continues to favor Molino as his center attacking midfielder). There are approximately 39 left wingers on the team and several could make the case to start this week. Defender Brent Kallman should be healthy enough to start and could supplant Michael Boxall after a shambolic showing against the Sounders. Finally, as of writing this, Christian Ramirez seems like a toss up whether he will play on Sunday. All in all, whatever tactics Heath chooses to employ, there will naturally be seams evident that come with changes in a lineup.
Maybe I have been wrong this whole time. Maybe this is a bunker and counter team that just doesn’t know it yet. Its certainly has the speed in guys like Nicholson, Molino, and Finlay to break a good counter on a team like the Sounders that should be playing on the front foot. On the road, it is almost inevitable. Whatever the tactics, it is time to choose strategies that fit the talent the team has rather than fitting square pegs into stubbornly round holes. If the club doesn’t have a No. 10, it needs to stop slipping a No. 10 mask on other players and instead play a formation other than a 4-2-3-1 that relies so heavily on that playmaker role. If the club has more athleticism than skill, then play quick and direct in the attack rather than relying on heavy possession. It won’t turn Minnesota into Real Madrid, but it might help the Loons turn in a few competent performances as a long stretch of primarily road matches unfolds.
Whether they want to or not, Minnesota will be forced to fall back in defense against a superior Seattle offense. The Sounders will have numerous chances, and they have only to finish a couple of those opportunities to guarantee three home points.
…the game takes place as scheduled.
If Minnesota can succeed in hitting a couple of goals on the break, and has a defensive performance for the ages, they may eek out its first road win in MLS.
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Tags: Abu Danladi, Adrian Heath, Brent Kallman, Christian Ramirez, Clint Dempsey, Ethan Finlay, Ibson, Jordan Morris, Kevin Molino, Match Preview, Michael Boxall, Miguel Ibarra, Minnesota United FC, MLS, Sam Nicholson, Seattle Sounders